6 Best Rotator Cuff Stretches and Exercises

Rotator cuff stretches to improve your shoulder flexibility and relieve tight shoulder muscles.

by Brad Walker | First Published May 22, 2019
Rotator cuff stretches are important for the flexibility and range of motion of the shoulder, chest and upper back muscles. Good rotator cuff flexibility allows for unrestricted, pain free movement of the shoulder and arm.

Sports that Benefit from Rotator Cuff Stretches

Sports that benefit from the rotator cuff stretches below include: Basketball, Netball, Baseball, Softball, Cricket and Golf. Boxing, Martial Arts, Wrestling, Gymnastics, Swimming, Lacrosse, Archery, Rock Climbing, Rowing, Volleyball, Tenpin Bowling and Water Polo.

Racket sports like Tennis, Squash, Badminton and Table Tennis also benefit from regular shoulder stretching. And any other sport or activity that involves a catching or throwing movement.

Rotator cuff stretches and exercises

Rotator Cuff Muscles being Stretched

While performing the rotator cuff stretches below there are a number of muscles within the shoulder, chest and arm that are stretched. Below is a comprehensive list of the anatomical muscle names involved in the following rotator cuff stretches.

The four muscles that make up the rotator cuff are called:

  • Supraspinatus;
  • Infraspinatus;
  • Teres Minor; and
  • Subscapularis.

Other muscles involved in the rotator cuff stretches below are:

  • Pectoralis major (Chest);
  • Biceps brachii (Upper arm);
  • Trapezius and Rhomboids (Upper back);
  • Anterior deltoid (Shoulder)

Rotator Cuff Stretching Safety Guidelines

As with any activity there are guidelines to ensure that it is safe: Stretching is no exception. Stretching can be harmful and cause damage if done incorrectly. It is very important that the following guidelines be adhered to, both for safety and for getting the most out the stretches below.

  • Breathe. Don’t hold your breath. Holding your breath can cause tension in your muscles. Breathe deeply and stay relaxed while stretching.
  • Never force a stretch beyond the point of mild discomfort. Stretch only to the point of tension and hold the stretch there. You should never feel any sharp or intense pain. If you do, stop immediately.
  • Be consistent. Stretching for a few minutes each day will gradually build flexibility and range of motion. This is better than stretching only once a week for a longer time.
  • Wear loose comfortable clothing. It’s obviously very difficult to stretch if your clothes are tight and restrict movement.

Sample Rotator Cuff Stretches

Slowly move into the stretch position until you feel a tension of about 7 out of 10. If you feel pain or discomfort you’ve pushed the stretch too far; back out of the stretch immediately. Hold the stretch position for 20 to 30 seconds while relaxing and breathing deeply. Come out of the stretch carefully and perform the stretch on the opposite side if necessary. Repeat 2 or 3 times.

Elbow out rotator cuff stretch
Elbow-out Rotator Stretch: Stand with your hand behind the middle of your back and your elbow pointing out. Reach over with your other hand and gently pull your elbow forward. Hold this stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds and repeat at least 2 to 3 times on each side.
Arm up rotator cuff stretch
Arm-up Rotator Stretch: Stand with your arm out and your forearm pointing upwards at 90 degrees. Place a broom stick in your hand and behind your elbow. With your other hand pull the bottom of the broom stick forward. Hold this stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds and repeat at least 2 to 3 times on each side.

Sample Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Stretching Videos

Below you’ll find a few good stretches for your rotator cuff. But don’t rely on just a few shoulder stretches; it’s important to do a range of stretches for the shoulders, chest, and the upper back. Please be careful, if you haven’t been stretching your rotator cuff muscles, some of these stretches will put a lot of stress on the rotator cuff tendons. Warm-up first, then gently and slowly is the best way to proceed.

Reverse Shoulder Stretch (0:54) Stand upright and clasp your hands together behind your back. Slowly lift your hands upward. Do not lean forward while lifting your hands upward. Hold the stretch position for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Parallel Arm Shoulder Stretch (1:18) Stand upright and place one arm across your body. Keep your arm parallel to the ground and pull your elbow towards your opposite shoulder. Keep your arm straight and parallel to the ground. Hold the stretch position for a minimum of 20 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.

Parallel Arm Chest Stretch (1:23) Stand with your arm extended to the rear and parallel to the ground. (Or for a variation, bend your elbow to 90 degrees.) Hold on to an immovable object and then turn your shoulders and body away from your outstretched arm. Hold the stretch position for a minimum of 20 seconds and then repeat with the opposite arm.

Above Head Chest Stretch (0:57) Stand upright and interlock your fingers. Bend your arms and place them above your head while forcing your elbows and hands backwards. Vary the height of your hands. Lower your hands behind you head to place an emphasis on the anterior deltoids and raise your hands above your head to emphasize the pectoral muscles. Hold the stretch position for a minimum of 20 seconds.

Get more of the best Rotator Cuff Stretches here!

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Research and References

Brad Walker - AKA The Stretch CoachAbout the Author: Brad Walker is often referred to as the "Stretch Coach" and has even been called the Stretching Guru. Magazines such as Runners World, Bicycling, Triathlete, Swimming & Fitness, and Triathlon Sports have all featured his work. Amazon (author page) has listed his books on five Best-Seller lists. Google cites over 100,000 references to him and his work on the internet. And satisfied customers from 122 countries have sent 1,000's of verified customer reviews. If you want to know about stretching, flexibility or sports injury management, Brad Walker is the go-to-guy.

Disclaimer: The health and fitness information presented on this website is intended as an educational resource and is not intended as a substitute for proper medical advice. Please consult your physician or physical therapist before performing any of the exercises described on this website, particularly if you are pregnant, elderly or have any chronic or recurring muscle or joint pain.

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