Exercises to Strengthen Your Rotator Cuff Muscles

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The rotator cuff consists of a group of four muscles that perform several functions, including: helping to lift your arm away from your body, rotating your arm in its socket, and stabilizing your shoulder during overhead motions. Generally, these muscles act as dynamic stabilizers while you are lifting your arms up and away from your body.


The rotator cuff muscles can be prone to inflammation and tears due to repetitive overhead motions. An important way to reduce tears or rotator cuff injury is by strengthening these muscles—and the exercises below will show you how to to do just that.

Be sure to check in with your healthcare provider before starting these exercises for your rotator cuff muscles. A visit or two with your local (or online) physical therapist can also help ensure that you are doing the exercises properly and that they are safe for you.

Exercise One

  • Lie on your stomach on a table or a bed
  • Put one arm out at shoulder level with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and your hand down
  • Keeping your elbow bent, rotate your shoulder so that the back of your hand raises up towards the ceiling
  • Lower the hand slowly
  • Repeat 10 times
  • Perform with opposite arm

Exercise Two

  • Lie on your side on a bed or the floor
  • Place your upper arm at your side with your elbow bent to 90 degrees, and your forearm resting against your chest, palm down
  • Rotate your shoulder out, raising your forearm until it is level with your shoulder
  • Lower the hand slowly
  • Repeat 10 times
  • Perform with opposite arm

Exercise Three

  • Stand with your arms slightly behind you with both thumbs down
  • Raise your arms up, pretending that you are emptying a can with each hand
  • Lower the arms slowly
  • Repeat 10 times
Woman Putting Hair In Poney Tail


You can make any of these exercises more challenging by holding a small dumbbell. Start light—usually 2 or 3 pounds is enough to create adequate resistance. Another way to add resistance is to perform shoulder exercises with a resistance band.

The rotator cuff exercises can be done 2 or 3 times per week or as directed by your physical therapist. Be sure to stop the exercise if you feel worsening pain in your shoulder, shoulder blade, or arm.

Common Problems

If you have weakness in your rotator cuff muscles, you may experience various problems with your shoulders. These may include:

Any and all of these problems can cause a loss of range of motion and limited function of your upper extremities. Working to keep your rotator cuff muscles strong can help you possibly avoid these problems with your shoulders.

A Word From Verywell

If you are looking to keep your shoulders strong, consulting with your physical therapist to learn rotator cuff strengthening exercises is a good idea. Your physical therapist can tailor a rotator cuff exercise program just for you to help keep your shoulders strong and mobile.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Rotator cuff injury. Updated December 2018.

  2. Heron SR, Woby SR, Thompson DP. Comparison of three types of exercise in the treatment of rotator cuff tendinopathy/shoulder impingement syndrome: A randomized controlled trial. Physiotherapy. 2017;103(2):167-173. doi:10.1016/j.physio.2016.09.001