How often should I train the rotator cuff? You probably asked the question because you understand how the rotator cuff in your shoulders can easily get injured if it is too weak to handle your workouts.
Like any muscle group, the rotator cuff needs time to heal after you train it. That’s why you might want to train your rotator cuff once or twice a week but make sure that you leave an interval of three to five days between training sessions to make sure that your rotator cuff has fully recovered.
The rotator cuff can easily make or break your fitness goals because of how strong the shoulders are in any of the workouts you can do for your upper body. As long as you keep your rotator cuff healthy and robust, you will be able to feel confident that it can hold up to the grind of your regular gym workouts.
Still, there are a lot of things that you might need to know more about the rotator cuff.
What is a rotator cuff?
When it comes to arm movement, you should never take your shoulders for granted because of how important they are in the things you do regularly, regardless of how light or heavy the activity may be. Reaching out for that can of beans in the cupboard involves having to stretch your arms out and move your shoulders away from your body.
Even something as simple as combing your hair already involves many shoulder movements, no matter how small they may be. Of course, when you play your favorite sports, your shoulders make this happen.
Different movements you do with your arms and shoulders all involve different muscle groups and tendons that each play their own roles. The rotator cuff has one of the biggest roles in that complicated system.
A rotator cuff is a group of muscles that are found in your shoulder area. It is comprised of four muscles, namely supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.
The rotator cuff surrounds the ball of your upper arm bone in the socket found in the shoulders, and it is what protects and keeps it connected there. As the name suggests, the rotator cuff is responsible for different arm movements, such as rotating your arms or raising your arms.
Why is the rotator cuff important?
Because of how the rotator cuff is responsible for protecting the ball of your upper arm, we cannot stress how important it is that you keep it healthy injury-free. As mentioned, the rotator cuff allows the shoulders to move and rotate around.
In that sense, the importance of the rotator cuff cannot be overstated, as having a healthy rotator cuff means that you will be able to move your shoulders and arms a lot without feeling any pain. Many simple movements that you do regularly involve moving your shoulders.
Combining your hair, reaching for the showerhead, and driving your car involves using your rotator cuff no matter how small, or simple such movements may be. With a bad rotator cuff, you won’t be able to do the more complicated stuff, such as lifting weights in the gym or playing sports competitively.
If you want a more technical way of putting it, the rotator cuff is responsible for that downward force on the glenohumeral joint. It keeps the ball of the arm muscle or the humerus at the center of the shoulder socket or the glenoid fossa.
By exerting that downward force, the rotator cuff prevents the head of your upper arm from moving upwards. Now, you have to understand how important it is to keep the humeral head in its place.
There is a small space (about 10mm) between the humeral head and the arch of the scapula called the subacromial space. When you are doing your regular shoulder movements, the rotator cuff maintains that small space to protect the important muscular structures in that tiny space.
However, as your rotator cuff gets tired, the joint gets weaker, and the space between the head of your upper arm and the arch of the scapula decreases. Because of that, the critical structures found in the subacromial space get impinged between the two structures.
This can cause severe pain, injuries, and inflammation. That is why you will feel pain and weakness whenever you move your shoulders around. This happens when you have suffered from a rotator cuff injury or, at the very least, if your rotator cuff has weakened due to excessive use.
How often should I train the rotator cuff?
As mentioned, the rotator cuff is composed of four different muscles, and like any muscle, the muscles that make up your rotator cuff can get stronger as you train them. That’s why you should never forget to train your rotator cuff and include it in your regular fitness routine, especially if you are frequently doing resistance workouts.
Training the rotator cuff allows the muscles that form it to get stronger so that they can handle the load of your routine. The stronger your rotator cuff is, the less likely it will give in to the stress and pressure of your regular day-to-day activities.
As such, training your rotator cuff will allow it to handle heavier loads and will improve its resistance. In short, you will be able to carry heavier weights and do more things without overfatiguing your rotator cuff.
But, like any other muscle, your rotator cuff is also prone to fatigue, excessive use, and overtraining. Over time, especially if you are training your rotator cuff too much, the muscles that form it will weaken and feel tired due to how you are using and pushing them to the limit more so than you should. This is when a lot of workout-related injuries to the rotator cuff happens.
Many people have suddenly found their rotator cuff in either the left or the right shoulder giving in while they are lifting weights because they weren’t able to rest those muscles properly. The key element you have to remember here is rest. Like any muscle, the rotator cuff needs to rest after every training session so that it will be ready and healed enough later on when you are going to train it once again.
If you don’t know, muscles do not grow bigger and stronger as you are training them. Technically, training your muscles allow them to have an avenue to grow bigger and stronger, but it is actually the resting and healing period between training sessions that develop those muscles.
As you rest and let your muscles heal from the small damages and tears caused by your training sessions, your muscles will adjust to the grind and become stronger the next time around. A similar concept applies to your rotator cuff as they also grow stronger in due time when you rest them properly.
Given that, you must give enough time for your rotator cuff to rest in between your training sessions. Ideally, you have to train your rotator cuff once or twice a week. If you are hitting them hard and pushing them to the limit, you only need to train once a week.
But if you would like to train your rotator cuff for endurance by focusing more on repetitions instead of strength and power, you may be able to train twice a week.
However, take note here that you have to give your muscles a lot of time to rest and recover. If you want to train your rotator cuff twice a week, give those muscles about three to five days to recover before you think about hitting them again.
So, suppose you trained your rotator cuff along with your other shoulder muscles on Monday. In that case, you probably should wait until Thursday or Friday to train your rotator cuff again by incorporating it with other shoulder-heavy workouts such as bench presses.
Again, the key element here is the rest. Resting your rotator cuff will allow it time to recover and heal so that it will become stronger in your next training session. It isn’t always about hitting your muscles hard every time you have an opportunity to do so, or else you will put yourself at risk of injuries.
Best Rotator Cuff Exercises
If you are looking to train your rotator cuff, here are some exercises that will work well to strengthen those muscles and to help you decrease the chances of injuring them:
1. External Rotation
Doing the external rotation workout is great at allowing your rotator cuff to move around naturally while also improving its range of motion. For starters, it might be best to do this exercise without the help of any resistance to allow your rotator cuff some time to adjust to the movement.
Meanwhile, if you feel like you are ready to go for it, you can use a light dumbbell to add some resistance to the workout so that your rotator cuff will have to work harder to grow stronger. Carefully progress through the dumbbells to improve your rotator cuff’s strength.
● Start by lying down on one side of your body while keeping your knees bent to improve your balance and stability while you are doing the workout.
● Raise your head towards the side slightly while keeping the bottom arm bent at the elbow under the side of your head. Use the bottom arm to support the weight of your head.
● Meanwhile, keep the upper arm at the side of your body but bend it 90 degrees at the elbow as your hand should be pointed in front of your body.
● From there, rotate your arm upward until you reach the point where you can no longer fully stretch your arm out. Return to the starting position and then repeat the movement. Switch with the other side after completing one set with this side.
See how it is done in the video below:
2. Internal Rotation
The internal rotation is a workout similar to the external rotation, but your shoulders move internally. This improves the rotator cuff’s natural range of motion while also allowing it to develop in terms of its strength.
You may also use a dumbbell here if you want to increase the resistance, but it might be best for you to start without a dumbbell so that you can allow your shoulders to adjust.
● Do this with your body lying down on the ground on one side. Keep your knees bent in front of your body to provide you with a stable base for the workout.
● Keep the bottom arm extended out towards the front of your body instead of keeping it under your body or your head.
● Fold your arm at the elbow and make an L shape with it. Your forearm should be right in front of your face.
● From there, slowly rotate your arm inward and try to rotate it to the ground. You can use your off-hand to assist the arm that is rotating by pushing it to the ground. However, if you feel like you could no longer stretch it that far, don’t force it, or else you might end up straining your rotator cuff.
● Return to your starting position slowly and repeat the workout. Do the same with your other arm.
See how it is done in the video below:
3. Reverse Fly
The reverse fly is a workout that is primarily designed to work the shoulder muscles at your back and your lats as well. But because of the rotating motion, you will be doing with this workout, you are incorporating your rotator cuff as well.
● Start out by grabbing two dumbbells (one in each hand). Stand up straight.
● From that position, slowly bend your body down at the hip while keeping your back straight and spine neutral. Bend your knees slightly as well to improve your balance.
● With your elbows slightly bent, allow your arms to drop down right in front of your body while keeping the dumbbells firmly in your hands. This will serve as your starting position.
● From the starting position, raise your arms laterally and fully raise them until your hands are just about leveled with the side of your body. Keep your elbows slightly bent the entire time.
● Return to your starting position and then repeat the movement as many times as needed.
See how it is done in the video below:
4. Doorway Stretch
This one should be the easiest workout you can do to strengthen your rotator cuff. It mostly serves as a warm-up exercise to wake up your shoulder and chest muscles, but it also strengthens your rotator cuff as you move them against the resistance of your body weight. This workout is so easy that you won’t need any special equipment whatsoever.
● Start off by opening a doorway at your home or by using a sturdy post (for single-arm stretches).
● Rest your arms at the side of the doorway and make sure that you are creating a 30-degree angle from your elbow to your shoulders. Grip the side of the doorways with your hand as securely as possible.
● From that point, lean forward while keeping your back straight to apply pressure on your shoulders as you stretch them. Shift your weight over to your toes but make sure that you are keeping your body secure the entire time. You should feel your shoulder stretching hard but make sure that you don’t stretch them farther than you should to reduce the chances of straining them.
● Slowly return to your starting position and repeat the stretch as many times as needed. You can also do this one side at a time.
See how it is done in the video below:
The rotator cuff is a muscle group found in your shoulder that performs a very important function. You can’t move things or even raise your arms if your rotator cuff is not functioning well. Therefore, training your rotator cuff is a must to make it strong and healthy.
The ideal frequency of training your rotator cuff is once or twice a week. This is to give your shoulder muscles a rest and to allow them to regrow.