Rotator Cuff: Why the Measly Little Internal/External Rotations Just Won't Cut It

By Jake Francis

Having worked and been in gyms for quite a long time, I've heard a lot of people talk about their rotator cuffs... I've also seen the exercises that most people do to protect them. As the title of this blog might suggest, it tends to be very small rotations of the shoulder using a band or a small dumbbell weight. Which is fine! These movements need to be trained! But, are these actually protecting your rotator cuff?

First, what is the rotator cuff and what does it actually do? The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that originate from your shoulder blade and insert into various points of the shoulder. It's function: to dynamically stabilise the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff musculature is essentially there to hold your shoulder together during movement.

So, why aren't those internal and external rotations protecting your rotator cuff? Well let's think about when people injure their rotator cuff. What are they usually doing? A very large movement at the shoulder with lots of force going through it. A couple of examples: a rugby player in a scrum, his shoulder is externally rotating and abducting at the same time whilst a large amount of force is trying to push his/her shoulder in the opposite direction; or a cricket player catching a ball with one arm, above his head with the force of the ball forcing his shoulder into external rotation. These are common mechanisms in which the rotator cuff is injured. Probably because it has multiple movements involved with a lot of force. These multi-dimensional movements aren't often trained in the gym, so how can you expect to protect the rotator cuff?

The single plane movements (internal and external rotations) aren't going to provide enough protection. Instead, let's start thinking about how we can incorporate multiple movements into one exercise; an exercise that includes abduction of the shoulder and external rotation, or adduction and internal rotation. If we start to work our shoulders across multiple planes at the same time, we will get far better adaptations and far better protection of our rotator cuff musculature.


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