Home Baseball Content Training the Rotator Cuff and Scapular Stabilizers Simultaneously

Training the Rotator Cuff and Scapular Stabilizers Simultaneously

Written on May 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm, by Eric Cressey

I’m always surprised when I see “arm care” portions of baseball strength and conditioning programs that attempt to break rotator cuff exercises and scapular stability exercises into different categories.  In my eyes, while you can certainly prioritize one over the other, treating them as mutually exclusive means that you’re missing out on a great opportunity to educate an athlete on “positional stability.”  Here are a few examples to demonstrate my point:

In Band Distractions w/Rhythmic Stabilizations, you’ll see that Orioles prospect (and Twitter phenom) Oliver Drake, actively counteracts the distraction force created by the band by pulling the scapula back onto the rib cage.  Then, we challenge the rotator cuff with rhythmic stabilizations.

Likewise, in this Half-Kneeling 1-arm Manual Resistance External Rotation, Sam needs to make sure to position the scapula appropriately on the rib cage to make sure that he’s in the best position to create eccentric strength for the cuff.  This is of particular importance in guys with low shoulders who may be very lat-dominant; gravity will have an additional downward pull on the scapula, so many guys need to intentionally activate upper trapezius prior to starting the set.

Or, consider a Prone External Rotation (one of our old Strength Exercises of the Week). This is definitely viewed as a rotator cuff exercise, as the goal is to learn to externally the humeral head in the socket without the “ball” migrating forward (preventing anterior instability). However, you also have to appreciate that gravity is forcing the scapula forward into anterior tilt, so the lower trapezius must be turned on to counteract it.

Likewise, just about every time you do any exercise that involves holding weights in your hands, your rotator cuff is firing reflexively.  

With all these examples – and surely many more – in mind, we realize that “categorizing” arm care exercises can be pretty difficult, as we’re always looking to find a balance between doing enough and doing too much.

Sign-up Today for our FREE Newsletter and receive a four-part video series on how to deadlift!


15 Responses to “Training the Rotator Cuff and Scapular Stabilizers Simultaneously”

  1. Jono Freeman Says:

    Nice one eric. The arm bar commonly use by gray cook and his affiliates is always a great one!

  2. dave Says:

    Do you use the elbow extended overhead bottom up carry with any of your athletes? Or do you avoid that position since we are dealing with overhead athletes and potential impingement in the overhead position.

  3. Fredrik Gyllensten Says:

    Some great examples there Eric, Thanks!

  4. Simon Boyce Says:

    Do you ever work with the body blade to train scapular stabilization and rotator cuff strengthening? You can combine it with external rotation in different positions and also scaption.

  5. Luis Iglesias Says:

    E.C. Great Post
    What do you meand witrh guy with low shoulders?
    how do you know if they are lat-dominant?

    thank you


  6. Marie Says:

    Thank you Eric! Great info as always and love the band distraction w/rhythmic stability.

    What cues do you give to get client to pull the scapula to the rib cage. I usually say squeeze the bottom of shoulder blade down and back. Do you have others?

    Also, the height of the band – can it be shoulder height or is it purposely placed higher?

  7. Cole Ellis Says:

    Great explanations and videos. Just finished watching the last functional stability video as well. Looking forward to the upper and lower extremity addition. Keep on posting…


  8. Roberto Says:

    Good exercise except you need a partner and this is not always possible.

    At least in my case I always train alone.

  9. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Cole! Hope you’re well.

  10. Eric Cressey Says:

    Hi Marie,

    I usually cue the individual to pull the scapula toward the opposite hip, but focus on keeping it ON the rib cage. A lot of people will retract, but pop off in the process.

    I intentionally put it above shoulder height so that the athlete has to actively pull the scapula DOWN and back, not just back. It’s more in the line of pull of the lower trapezius.

  11. Eric Cressey Says:


    Give this a read:


  12. Eric Cressey Says:


    I’m not a huge body blade guy because we do a lot of rhythmic stabilizations, but there is a place for it. Give this a read:


  13. Eric Cressey Says:

    Dave – we do it quite a bit. OH athletes have a different kind of impingement (internal) than general fitness folks (external). Good reading on this front:


  14. Conor Says:

    Nice read. Such an important part of the training puzzle that too often gets left out.

  15. Brian Says:


    Great info. Thanks!!


  • Avoid the most common deadlifting mistakes
  • 9 - minute instructional video
  • 3 part follow up series