It is common to see scapular and rotator cuff dysfunction in clients. Repetitive overhead motion and certain lifts and exercises can expose the shoulder to increased strain, and muscle imbalances may further elevate injury risk over time. This exercise offers an option to condition the rotator cuff in a safe effective manner.
Begin in standing holding light dumbbells at the side. Next, deliberately set the scapulae by lightly retracting them (not pinching them together excessively). Now, raise the arms up to shoulder height with a neutral wrist position. Pause at the top, and then return to the start position. The cuff is most active from 70-120 degrees of elevation, so you may opt to raise above shoulder height provided it is pain free.

I suggest using roughly no more than 4% of body weight and focusing on quality movement and maintaining good scapular alignment. Perform 2-3 sets of 8-15 repetitions.

Initially, pause for longer periods at the top increasing time under tension and/or increase cadence for eccentric phase of the exercise. Eventually, progress to alternating active reps x 10, followed by an isometric hold on the right side with 10 consecutive reps on the left side, followed by an isometric hold on the left side and 10 consecutive reps on the right side.


Straight arm dumbbell lateral raises put a high amount of strain on the rotator cuff due to the long lever arm. As such, I always recommend bent arm lateral raises to shoulder height in the scapular plane as an alternative. However, shoulder scaption allows for a markedly reduced load and provides a more scapular and rotator cuff driven exercise that emphasizes appropriate scapular alignment and glenohumeral stabilization. This exercise is an effective prehab and rehab exercise. It can easily be implemented with any overhead athlete or client with shoulder imbalances and used as an activation exercise prior to heavier multi-joint exercises.

Brian Schiff, PT, OCS, CSCS, is a licensed physical therapist, respected author and fitness professional. Currently, he serves as the supervisor for Athletes' Performance at Raleigh Orthopaedic in Raleigh, NC. Brian conducts live continuing education webinars and presents nationally at professional conferences and seminars on injury prevention, rehab and sport-specific training. For more information on his products and services, visit