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Exercises for Strengthening the Rotator Cuff

by Sha Buckines

About Sha Buckines

Sha Buckines is a freelance writer, fitness and nutrition expert based in Atlanta. She has trained celebrity clients as well as business professionals since 2001. She obtained her B.S. in exercise science from Georgia State University, is American College of Sports Medicine certified and teaches group fitness classes.


The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and several tendons that surround the top of the upper arm bone. The rotator cuff holds the arm bone in place at the shoulder joint and allows movement at the shoulder. Injuries to the rotator cuff are common and result from trauma or overuse. Individuals participating in sports such as tennis, baseball and weightlifting have a higher risk of suffering rotator cuff tears. Observe proper form when strengthening this small group of muscles. Use light weight and perform high repetitions.

Empty Can

Stand with light dumbbells in each hand and rotate your palms so they face behind you. Keeping your thumbs pointed toward the floor, lift your straight arms toward the ceiling at a 30 degree angle in front of you. Hold the top position for two to three seconds then lower both arms back to starting position. Repeat the lifting and lowering of the arms until they become fatigued or for 12 to 15 repetitions.

Side Lying Internal Rotation

Lie on a bed or on the floor on your right side. Place a light-weight dumbbell in your right hand. Position your left arm straight and along your upper body. Bend your right elbow 90 degrees. Roll your right shoulder in bringing the right palm over to the left side. Lower your arm to starting position slowly. Perform repetitions until your right arm is fatigued or for 12 to 15 repetitions then switch and perform the exercise using the other arm.

Side Lying External Rotation

Lie on a bed or floor on your right side. Stretch your right arm overhead for support. Rest your head on your right arm. Place a rolled-up towel under your right side for cushion, if necessary. Bend your left elbow to 90 degrees while holding a light-weight dumbbell. Keep your left elbow close to your side and roll your left shoulder out, bringing your forearm away from the body as much as possible. Hold this position for one to two seconds then return the arm to starting position. Repeat this exercise until your shoulder tires or you complete 12 to 15 repetitions. Switch and use the other arm.

Prone Shoulder Rotation

Lie on your stomach on a bed or table. Place your left arm off the bed or table, while holding a light-weight dumbbell in your hand. Bend your left elbow to 90 degrees with the palm facing down. With your elbow bent, slowly raise your left hand, taking it slightly backward. You should feel tension in the back of your shoulder and your arm shouldn't travel too far backward. Hold this position for one to two seconds then return the hand to starting position. Perform 10 to 15 repetitions then switch and use the other arm.

References (2)

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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.