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June 06, 2021 9 min read

Our shoulders are busy muscles. We use them for almost everything we do, including standing upright or picking up something.

Still, the shoulders are one of the most injury-prone areas of the body due to their pliability and high-usage role. While we do everything we can to avoid injury, sometimes even the best of warm-up stretches can’t keep a shoulder injury from occurring. 

For those who sustain a rotator cuff injury, getting those muscles back in shape can seem like a daunting task. Using heavy weights to rehabilitate an injured shoulder is a recipe for further disaster. Luckily, resistance bands provide a low-strain and effective method for getting your muscles back into lifting shape.

Rotator cuff anatomy chart

What is a Rotator Cuff?

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, it can be difficult to find the exact source. The rotator cuff refers to the muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint. These muscles allow for connection between your humerus and your scapula. 

The rotator cuff contains four separate muscles, the subscapularis, the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, and the teres minor. Each of these muscles aids in vital arm movements that allow you to do a multitude of actions. 

Athletes who do sports that require a lot of arm movements, such as tennis or swimming, are prone to rotator cuff injuries. Typically, the rotator cuff muscles can tear over time with repeated usage.

In addition to overuse, there are several other factors, such as posture and even genetics, that can play a role in rotator cuff tears.

A rotator cuff tear may sound very scary but is usually a minor injury that can be treated with physical therapy. Tendinitis or impingement is also common in the rotator cuff since overuse can cause excessive rubbing and inflammation. 

How Can Bands Help?

Resistance bands are an amazing tool for any fitness goal but are especially helpful for muscular and tendon injuries. They are highly versatile, easy to use, and provides an affordable way for anyone to get a good workout. Additionally, they are easy to carry, which can be important for someone with upper back injuries.

With resistance bands, you can choose from a large range of weights, materials, and widths. In addition to this, there are several different types of bands for various types of exercises, including:

  • Therapy Bands: Therapy bands are typically long thin rubber bands of light resistance. They are great for rebuilding strength after injuries or helping maintain range of motion and muscle health, hence the name. You can find these sold as a loop, but typically they will come as a long piece of unlooped rubber. 
  • Power Bands: Power bands are typically very thick and long, and come in a wide range of resistances, making them a good choice for those in need of muscular therapy. Unlike therapy bands, these are sold as a loop. Perhaps you have seen them being utilized by your favorite  bodybuilding YouTubers or even in your own gym as a pull-up assist tool. 
  • Circle/Mini Bands: Circle or mini bands are small looped bands made of rubber or elastic fabric. These are great for lower body workouts as they typically fit well around the thighs, ankles, knees, etc. However, they can be useful for upper body movements, as well. 
  • Tube Bands: Tube bands are rubber bands made into a thick, usually hollow, tube. They can come with handles, in a figure-eight form, or just as simple tubes with no attachments. The handled tube bands are ideal for upper body workouts.

8 of The Best Band Rotator Cuff Exercises for Shoulder Pain

While you can definitely do the shoulder exercises below to help eliminate pain, these movements can also be incorporated into an exercise program even if you aren’t experiencing pain. Strengthening your shoulder muscles and tendons will help prevent injury, which is one of the main goals of fitness.

For many people dealing with an injury, it can be difficult to decide the number of repetitions and sets to do for each exercise. However, it is really the amount of resistance to consider that is most important for those with pain.

If you have an injury or are dealing with pain, it may be best to choose a resistance that is very low even if it feels far too easy. Since your main goal is rehabilitation and not hypertrophy, you don’t want to cause too much stress on the muscles and tendons.

If pain occurs with any of these exercises, stop and seek medical advice before continuing as you may cause further injury.

1. Banded Shoulder Extension

Shoulder extensions require a small range of motion, making them a great choice for those suffering from shoulder pain. For this movement, a longer type of band such as a tube band or therapy band is best.

Set up for the exercise by tying or anchoring the band around a stable structure. The anchor should be at about hip height, however, you can change the position of the anchor later to work the shoulder at various angles.

You can pick up one end of the band to work one shoulder at a time, or both ends in either hand and do the exercise with both shoulders simultaneously. Facing your anchor, stand far enough away to create some tension in the band.

Begin the movement by holding the band about a foot away from your body at hip height and at shoulder width. Keeping your arms straight, pull the band towards your body. Keep a forward gaze and a neutral spine. Squeeze your shoulders together.

End the movement when each hand is slightly extended behind you. Slowly return to the start position.

2. Standing Row 

Rows are a great way to get a total upper body workout, but they can be especially great for your shoulders. They are also quite simple and can easily be set up at home with resistance bands.

To do a row, choose your preferred type of band. Nearly any type of band will work, but avoid small bands as they may impede your range of motion. We recommend a long tube band with handles or a therapy band.

To prepare for the movement, find something to anchor your band around. This can be a pole or a table leg. Before beginning the movement, make sure both the anchor and your band are well secured.

Find a stance with good balance. This is typically a stance in which your feet are shoulder-width apart. You may also find that a bend in the knees helps with stability.

Next, grab the left end of the band in your left hand and the other end in your right. Begin the movement by pulling the bands towards your body and bending your elbows. Keep your elbows close to your sides and maintain good posture.

Your hands should nearly be touching your body before you begin your return to the starting position. Upon returning, simply unhinge your elbows so that your arms are straight out in front of you again. This motion should be slow and controlled.

3. Shoulder External Rotation

Since one of the main roles of the rotator cuff is rotation, rotational exercises can be among the most beneficial for these muscles and tendons. To do an external rotation exercise with bands, again choose a longer type of band that will leave a good bit of length when anchored to an object.

First, anchor your band to a secure object. This is a one-handed exercise, so it may be best to tie the band in a way that leaves a lot of length on one end. Next, stand facing the anchor object, then turn 90 degrees to your left.

With your left hand, pick up one end of the band. Start the movement with your hand at your stomach and extending out from your body at the elbow so that you’re pulling the band sideways away from the anchor. Only your forearm and hand should move while the elbow, upper arm, and shoulder are stationary. Imagine your humerus as your rotating axel.

Once you’ve reached the complete rotation of your arm, slowly return to the starting position. After you’ve reached your repetition goal with the left side, turn yourself 180 degrees and do the exercise with your right shoulder.

4. Shoulder Internal Rotation

The main difference the internal rotation has from the external rotation is which hand you use in each position. While the external rotation requires moving the band away from your body, the internal rotation requires you to bring the band towards your body.

Set up the band using the same method from the external rotation instructions. Stand in front of your anchor and turn 90 degrees to the left. Pick up the end of the band with your right hand this time.

To begin the exercise, pull the band slowly towards your body. Use your humerus as your axel of rotation, keeping your upper arm and elbow close to your body while only moving your forearm and hand.

Once you nearly touch your stomach, start the return to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner. Then, once you’ve reached your goals for the right arm, turn 180 degrees to the right and begin working your left arm.

5. Vertical Shoulder Abduction

Like rotations, your rotator cuff is also responsible for abduction and adduction movements, which occur when you lift your arms straight out from the sides of your body and place them back down. To do a shoulder abduction with bands, a longer type of band is recommended as there is a large range of motion required for this exercise.

To do shoulder abductions, simply stand on one end of the band and hold the other end in your hand. Your feet should be about hip-width apart. Before you start the movement, check in with your posture.

To start the movement, bring the band up, out, and over your head. Think about creating a half-circle with your arm. This motion should be fluid and controlled. However, if you find it too hard to bring the band all the way up, you can stop halfway at shoulder height and work up to a larger range of motion.

Repeat with one arm until you reach your goal, then do the same with the other arm.

6. Wall Crawl 

Wall crawls are an easy way to work the rotator cuffs. This movement is also less strenuous, so it may be ideal for those with more severe injuries. For this exercise, you’ll need a smaller type of band like a circle band.

To prepare for the movement, loop each end of the band around your hands and pull the band taught so there is some tension. Next, find a wall and place your forearms on the wall so you’re forming a 90-degree angle with your arms. Keep your elbows bent.

Begin the movement by slightly lifting your right hand off the wall, sliding it up, then placing it back down. Do the same with the left hand. Continue this alternating pattern for two rounds, then begin “walking” your hands back to the starting position.

For this exercise, keeping tension in the band is key. Remember to keep good posture by squeezing the shoulder blades together slightly and keeping your chest up. Also, keep your neck straight by maintaining a forward gaze.

7. Banded Shoulder Flexion

In addition to rotation and abduction, your rotator cuffs also allow you to perform shoulder flexion movements. To do a banded shoulder flexion exercise, simply stand in the middle of a long resistance band with your feet together.

Grab the ends of the band in either hand and hold them at your sides. As always, check in with your posture and maintain a forward gaze. To start, pull the resistance band out in front of you slowly using an overhand grip.

You can stop at shoulder height, or continue until your hands are above your head. Once the desired height is reached, lower your arms back down to the starting position. Repeat this movement several times.

man doing banded bicep curls

8. Banded Bicep Curl

You may be wondering why bicep curls are on this list. Yes, we know they work your bicep primarily. However, resistance bands encourage the use of stabilizer muscles, which are muscles that do not drive the main movement but rather aid in keeping your body balanced and stable.

In this exercise, your rotator cuff would be considered one of the stabilizer muscles that aid the bicep in moving the band. For this reason, bicep curls can be a great resource when looking to gain some shoulder stability.

To do this exercise with a band, stand on the middle of the band with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab each end of the band in your hands. Utilize an underhand grip for this movement and hold the bands with your arms relaxed by your side.

To begin the movement, pull the band up towards your shoulders by bending at the elbows. Keep your elbows and upper arms close to your body. For each repetition, aim for a full range of motion for best results. Keep your shoulder blades squeezed for posture.

Last Thoughts

While there is a lot you can do to rehab shoulder pain with resistance band exercises, you should always seek advice from a health care provider immediately if you experience any type of pain. In some cases of a rotator cuff injury, you may be referred to a physical therapist.

Avoiding an injury is always better than sustaining one, so keeping a one-step-ahead approach to your shoulder health is ideal. Proper nutrition, training, and recoveries are all vital to preventing injury.

For extra reassurance, there are many supplements available to you that can  aid in your workouts and recovery.