To limit injuries and enhance mobility, strengthen the muscles and tendons around your shoulder joints with these three best rotator cuff exercises… 

The rotator cuff is the collective term for the intricate system of muscles and tendons that surround your shoulder joint. Strong rotator cuffs are essential for just about every upper-body exercise – from the obvious shoulder press to flyes and pull-ups. Combine these rotator cuff exercises with shoulder stretches and moves with the best foam rollers for workout recovery for even greater mobility.

Unfortunately, this is also one of the areas of the body most prone to tears – particularly among regular weight lifters. 

To prevent an injury to the rotator cuff, there are a number of strengthening exercises you should be performing regularly – either at the beginning of your shoulder/upper-body workouts or as part of a more general prehab routine.  

As demonstrated by Shane O’Sullivan, founder of Hybrid Physique Coaching, these rotator cuff exercises will keep your shoulder muscles strong and resistant to load-related wear and tear… 

These are the best rotator cuff exercises

Man performing start of Side-Lying External Rotation - best rotator cuff exercisesMan performing end of Side-Lying External Rotation - best rotator cuff exercises
1. Side-Lying External Rotation

If you’re looking to improve stability in your shoulder area, adding side-lying shoulder exercises will help train the rotator cuff for function, provide mobility to the shoulder blades, increase your range of motion and build overall shoulder strength.  

How to do a side-lying external rotation: 

  • Lie down on the opposite side to the shoulder that you’re working. 
  • Bent the elbow of the arm you’re working to 90 degrees and rest the elbow on your side. 
  • Holding a light dumbbell or fraction plate in your working arm while keeping your forearm close to your abdomen, slowly raise the dumbbell towards the ceiling. 
  • Hold the dumbbell up for a few seconds, before returning to the start position with your arm down. 
  • At first you may find your range of motion limited – stop rotating your arm if you feel any strain.


Man performing start of Cuban Press - best rotator cuff exercisesMan performing end of Cuban Press - best rotator cuff exercises
2. Cuban Press

The Cuban press is an exercise that not only targets the rotator cuff, but also the muscles in your shoulders and upper back. It’s a hybrid between an external shoulder rotation and a press. The aim with the Cuban press is to activate and strengthen the rotator cuff while stabilising the shoulder muscles. It’s a great warm-up for benching or heavier shoulder work. It’s best performed with relatively light weight as part of a dynamic warm-up for upper-body resistance work. 

How to do a Cuban press: 

  • Take the dumbbells or fraction plates in each hand with a pronated grip in a standing position.  
  • Raise your upper arm so that they’re parallel to the floor, allowing your lower arms to hang in a ‘scarecrow’ position. This will be your starting position for the movement. 
  • Initiate the movement by externally rotating the shoulders to move the upper arm 180 degrees. Keep the upper arms in place, rotating the lower arms until the wrists are directly above the elbows.  
  • Press overhead by extending the elbows. 
  • Return to the start with control. 

Man performing start of seated external rotation - best rotator cuff exercisesMan performing end of seated external rotation - best rotator cuff exercises
3. Seated External Rotation

The seated dumbbell external rotation greatly increases strength in the shoulder while also improving shoulder joint mobility and health. Using dumbbell or fraction plates ensures muscular balance throughout the body, while the seating position isolates the shoulders by removing assistance from other muscle groups. 

How to do a seated external rotation: 

  • Sit on a bench with your right leg elevated, so that your foot is on the bench. 
  • Keep your knee bent, while allowing your right elbow to rest comfortably on your knee.  
  • Keep your left leg planted firmly on the floor for balance.  
  • Take your dumbbell with your right hand and bend your elbow 90 degrees on your right knee, with your forearm crossing your body. This will be your starting position. 
  • Keeping your upper arm as still as possible, externally rotate your left forearm until it’s perpendicular to the floor.  
  • Reverse the pattern of the movement for 1 rep.  

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