Rotator Cuff Exercises

By Robert Nirschl M.D., M.S.

After our last blog on shoulder pain many of you asked about exercises to treat or help prevent shoulder problems. We always recommend seeing a sports medicine physician to get an accurate diagnosis and then follow up with a physical therapist for a full evaluation to determine exactly where your strength and range of motion deficits lie. We understand that you are anxious to get started and even try and prevent shoulder pain. So we have included a few shoulder exercises that we recommend for our athletes. 

Please remember you DO NOT want to work through any pain as this will only intensify any shoulder issues. If your pain continues or gets worse please give us a call to schedule an appointment at 703-525-220 or visit our website at

Remember – You get in shape to play a sport, you don’t play a sport to get in shape!


Perform exercises three times a week, allowing at least one days rest between exercise sessions. Start with one set of 8-12 reps and progress to 3 sets of 8-12 reps. Perform each exercise properly and slowly.  But do not work through pain.

  1. Begin with no weight doing 8 to 12 repetitions for each exercise, unless otherwise instructed by your therapist.
  2. Slowly progress until you are comfortably doing 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions for several exercise sessions without increasing your symptoms.
  3. Increase to a one-pound weight (a small can of soup works well). Go back to one set of 8 to 12 repetitions for each exercise. Slowly work up to 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions again. 
  4. Increase to a two-pound weight and again cut back to one set of 8 to 12 repetitions. Slowly progress to the 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions.  
  5. Continue this gradual progression until you are using a three-pound weight for 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions without increasing your symptoms.


If an exercise causes pain please modify by:

  1. Decreasing the amount of weight you are lifting and/or
  2. Decreasing the number of repetitions you are performing and/or
  3. Moving through a lesser range of motion (“pain free” range of motion).

If still painful check with your therapist or doctor.


Nirschl Orthopaedic Center is a leader in sports medicine and general orthopedic services. In addition Virginia Sportsmedicine Institute physical therapy has been rated one of the top sports medicine clinics in the area. If you have an orthopaedic injury, schedule an appointment with one of our doctors today. Visit our websites at and to learn more about our services. For more info on orthopaedic issues visit our blog at Follow us on Twitter @nirschlortho

Nirschl Orthopaedic Center for Sports Medicine & Joint Reconstruction
1715 N. George Mason Drive, Suite 504
Arlington, Virginia 22205

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013