Training the Rotator Cuff and Scapular Stabilizers Simultaneously

About the Author: 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.

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