Rotator Cuff Exercises With a Resistance Band

​Shoulder pain can limit your ability to move your arm properly during basic tasks like reaching to put away dishes or brushing your hair. There are many causes of shoulder pain including arthritis, a rotator cuff or labrum tear, or shoulder dislocation.

Physical therapy for shoulder pain typically focuses on decreasing pain and improving your shoulder range of motion (ROM) and strength so you can regain normal function.

Your physical therapist may use therapeutic modalities like ultrasound, heat, or ice to help you manage your pain. Although these may feel good, active exercises are essential to help you regain normal mobility in your shoulder after an injury.

Exercises to help increase your shoulder strength may be prescribed by your physical therapist. The exercises contained in this step-by-step article are common shoulder exercises to help strengthen your shoulder and rotator cuff muscles.

If you have shoulder pain or have had shoulder surgery, you should ask your healthcare provider if physical therapy is needed to help you improve your shoulder mobility. Also, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider or physical therapist before starting any exercise program and before attempting the exercises in this article.

Before starting these strengthening exercises, you must obtain a resistance band. You can purchase these bands at your local sporting goods store, or your local outpatient physical therapy clinic might be happy to provide you with some for a small fee.

Be sure to get the right resistance. Usually, different color bands indicate different amounts of resistance in the band. Again, a quick consult with your physical therapist here can ensure that you are using a band with the proper resistance.


Shoulder External Rotation

The first rotator cuff exercise is shoulder external rotation. Start by tying your resistance band to a stable object or on a closet doorknob. Make sure you use a door that no one will open while you are performing the exercise. Then:

  1. Stand perpendicular to the door with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Hold the band in the hand of the shoulder you wish to exercise and bend your elbow 90 degrees. Keep your elbow tucked into the side of your body with your hand over your navel.
  3. Slowly rotate your shoulder outwards.
  4. Your hand should move outward until the back of your hand faces behind you. Hold the end position for two seconds.
  5. Slowly allow your arm to return to the starting position.

Repeat for 10 to 15 repetitions. After a set of 10 to 15 repetitions, you are ready to move on to the next exercise.


Shoulder Internal Rotation

A man doing a shoulder internal rotation

Brett Sears, PT, 2012

With your resistance band still attached to the door, turn around 180 degrees and hold the end of your band in the hand of the shoulder you are exercising. You should still be perpendicular to the door. You may need to step away from the door a step or two to keep tension on the band. To do the internal rotation:

  1. Keep your elbow bent 90 degrees and tucked into the side of your body. This time, though, your hand starts near the doorknob.
  2. Slowly pull your hand in toward your navel. Be sure to keep good posture and keep your elbow bent and tucked into the side of your body.
  3. Hold your hand into your navel for 2 seconds, and then slowly return to the start position.

Repeat this motion slowly for 10 to 15 repetitions. Then move on to the next exercise.


Resisted Shoulder Extension

A man doing a resisted shoulder extension

Brett Sears, PT, 2012

Shoulder extension with a resistance band is done by making sure your band is securely tied to a closet doorknob or other stable object. Face the door with the band in one hand. Be sure there is slight tension on the band. To do the extension:

  1. While keeping an upright posture, slowly pull the band backward while keeping your arm straight. Your hand should move just slightly past your hip.
  2. Hold this end position for 2 seconds.
  3. Slowly return to the starting position. Be sure to control the motion; the band should not allow your arm to snap back to the starting position.

Repeat this motion 10 to 15 repetitions and then move on to the final shoulder strengthening exercise.


Resistance Band Shoulder Abduction

A man doing a shoulder abduction

Brett Sears, PT, 2012

Stand perpendicular to the door that has your therapy band attached to it, and hold the end of the resistance band in the hand furthest from the door. Keep your elbow straight with your arm at your side. To do the abduction:

  1. Slowly lift your arm out to the side until it is not quite parallel with the floor. Be sure that your arm stays in line with your body and does not move too far forward or behind you.
  2. Hold this position for 2 seconds.
  3. Slowly lower your arm back to your side to the starting position.

Repeat 10 to 15 repetitions.

These shoulder strengthening exercises are great for regaining strength in weakened rotator cuff muscles after an injury or after shoulder surgery. Performing these exercises too often may cause significant muscle soreness, so it is a good idea to only do these exercises three to four times per week.

A Word From Verywell

By keeping your shoulders strong, you may be able to regain normal function. Strong shoulder and rotator cuff muscles may also help to prevent future episodes of shoulder pain. Again, be sure to consult your physical therapist or healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.

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. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Shoulder problems: What are the types of shoulder problems?

  2. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. How are shoulder problems treated?

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.