Exercises to Strengthen the Supraspinatus and Infraspinatus Muscles of the Shoulder

You would be hard pressed to make it through a day without doing something that used your supraspinatus or infraspinatus muscles. These muscles, which make up half of your rotator cuff, help to lift your arm away from your body and make activities like bathing, dressing and overhead reaching possible.

There are several shoulder exercises you can do to strengthen your shoulders. (Image: Hero Images/Hero Images/GettyImages)

In addition, the infraspinatus helps with external rotation, which is needed for things like washing your hair or putting on a seat belt. Several different infraspinatus and supraspinatus exercises can be performed to strengthen these important muscles.

Do two to three sets of 10 repetitions of each exercise two or three times weekly. Shrugging the shoulder while you complete these exercises can cause increased pain, so be mindful to avoid this as you work out.

1. Full Can

The full can exercise specifically targets the supraspinatus muscle by challenging it to lift a weight away from the body.

  1. Stand on one end of a resistance band and hold the other end in your right hand. A 1- to 2-pound hand weight can also be used.
  2. With a straight elbow and your thumb up, raise your arm at a 45-degree angle with your body.
  3. Once you have lifted the arm slightly above ear level, hold this position for one to two seconds and then slowly lower back to your right side. Do not shrug your shoulder as you perform. After 10 repetitions, repeat the exercise on the left side.

2. Prone External Rotation

Prone external rotation strengthens both the infraspinatus and supraspinatus muscles and helps improve shoulder posture.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your right upper arm hanging halfway off the side of a bed at shoulder level.
  2. Holding a 1- to 2-pound weight in your hand, rotate your forearm and hand backward until your forearm is parallel with the ground.
  3. Hold this position for a second or two and then return to the initial position. After completing 10 repetitions, perform the same exercise with the other arm.

3. Resisted External Rotation

This exercise uses a band to add resistance and gives the infraspinatus muscle a great workout.

  1. Stand with your left side facing a door. With one end of a resistance band secured in the door, hold the other end in your right hand. Keep your right elbow bent at a 90-degree angle and resting firmly against your side.
  2. Rotate your right forearm away from the door as far as you can without turning your trunk. As you do this, squeeze your shoulder blade down and back. Do not allow your elbow to leave your side.
  3. After a one- to two-second hold, release your shoulder blade as you rotate the forearm back to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions before repeating on the left side.

4. Prone Elevation

Prone elevations target both the infraspinatus and the supraspinatus as they incorporate shoulder rotation and elevation.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your right arm hanging off the edge of a bed. Hold a 1- to 2-pound weight in your right hand.
  2. With your right thumb up, raise your arm slightly above ear level until it is even with the bed. Do not shrug your shoulder or lift your shoulder off the bed as you perform.
  3. Hold your right arm in this position for one to two seconds and then lower it back down. After completing this 10 times, repeat with the left arm.

5. Side-Lying External Rotation

The side-lying external rotation exercise uses a weight and the force of gravity to challenge the infraspinatus and supraspinatus.

  1. Lie on your left side with your right elbow bent at a 90-degree angle and your palm resting against your abdomen. Hold a 1- to 2-pound weight in your right hand.
  2. Set your right shoulder blade down and back. Then, rotate your right palm and forearm away from your stomach until your forearm is straight up and down.
  3. Maintain this position for one to two seconds and then slowly rotate your arm back to your belly. After 10 repetitions, repeat the exercise with the left arm.
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