Not-So-Gross Anatomy: Rotator Cuff

SCUBA, TGIF, FBI, IRS, FUBAR, PBR, are all acronyms that many folks are familiar with. Anyone with a shoulder injury in their past of current situation is likely familiar with another acronym - SITS.

S - subscapularis

I - infraspinatus

T - teres minor

S - supraspinatus

picture provided by:  Duncan Sports Therapy and Wellness

These four little muscles make up one of the more powerful labor unions in your body, affectionately known as the rotator cuff. When a problem arises with these muscles, there is likely a decrease in your productivity and functionality. 

The "cuff" is the deepest group of shoulder muscles that all originate on the scapulae and wrap around the glenohumeral (gh) head of the humerus.

Translation: The muscles start on your shoulder blade and wrap around the top of the arm bone. The primary goal of the cuff is to keep the arm nestled down and in the "shoulder joint".

Technically the rotator cuff secures the head of the humerus into the glenoheral joint and provide support around the capsule and allows the acceleration and deceleration of internal/external rotation of the shoulder, abduction of the shoulder, and stabilizes the shoulder girdle. 

S - subscapularis - located under the scapulae and connects to the lesser tubercle of the humerus. Primary function is to internally rotate the humerus.

I - infraspinatus - located along the infraspinatus fossa along the posterior of the scapulae and connects to the greater tubercle of the humerus. Primary function is to externally rotate the humerus.

T - teres minor - located along the lateral border of the scapulae and connects to the greater tubercle of the humerus. Primary function is also to externally rotate the shoulder.

S - supraspinatus - located along the supraspinatus fossa along the top of the scapulae and connects to greater tubercle of the humerus. Primary function is abduction of the humerus.

Keeping the rotator cuff working efficiently is about training movements, of course, but also doing so with optimal posture. This means effectively using stability and mobility throughout the body to allow the spine to be neutral allowing the scapulae to glide correctly and allow the sub joints of the shoulder to move in a way that make the rotator cuff work well. 

If nothing else, as you read through the "Not-So-Gross" series learn that the body needs to be trained in an integrated fashion. Poor thoracic mobility is going to alter shoulder function.

The next line of defense for support of the rotator cuff muscles are the rhomboids, the serratus anterior, and the long head of the biceps. These muscles have functions  that mimic and support the cuff with movement. We will table this for a future blog.....(that's called a teaser :-))

Mobility of the spine and shoulder are necessary when talking about the cuff. Here are some of my favorites to warm up prior to training:


Transitioning to a dowel for the next several movements to help allow greater tension into these muscles and movement patterns. 


Strengthening the cuff:

Suspension training has a place in cuff work as well.....


Resistance bands have been used for years on cuff strengthening and are still incredibly useful today. The pull, rotate, and press is a great movement that encapsulates many of the movements of the cuff. 


Bodyblades have a niche and I still use them with shoulder work. The constant tension really can light up the cuff and supporting structures. Here is a tapas portion of some bodyblade movements that can be applied.


The kettlebell is a rehab/prehab tool and magically can unlock shoulder dysfunction. An entry level movement, the halo, seems to offer internal/external rotation, abduction/adduction, horizontal flexion/extension......a little something for everyone. 


Few integrated movements can be used in every blog in the Not-So-Gross series, but the get up is one of them. All shoulder movements are in play here as well as proper spinal alignment.

Start with a shoe before you start loading up the bell, pretty please?!  Take a look back at our blog series on Deconstructing Kettlebells to get a deeper look at the get up.

Poor posture,acute injury,  overuse, alter kinematics, tight and weak muscles will lead you towards cuff issues. If you have been blessed with good shoulders - make 'em great with some cuff work at least once per week!

For our US based readers - Have a safe and happy independence day! 

Be fit. Be fueled. Be full of life. b3 wellness. 


Don Bahneman

p.s. - Special thanks again to The Energy Club and the b3 Lab for providing the spaces to shoot.