This Functionally Fit feature is third in a series of exercises you can use to maximize shoulder functionality and health. Visit our archives and continue to check out our E-News to view the entire series as well as all Functionally Fit exercises. This week features the standing shoulder scaption.
Stand with slightly bent knees, holding the dumbbells in such a way that your thumbs are on top of the dumbbells. Keeping the arms in the scapular plane (30â° to 45â° forward of the frontal plane of the body), raise the arms to shoulder height.

Pause at the top, and slowly lower to the start position.

Keep the elbows straight throughout and avoid any painful range of motion. Perform two sets of 15-20 reps.

This exercise is ideal for strengthening the supraspinatus muscle of the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff consists of four small muscles, but the most commonly injured muscle is the supraspinatus. Over the years, many universities have taught an "empty can" exercise to strengthen the supraspinatus; however, EMG studies now indicate that scaption (thumb up) is just as effective as the empty can (thumb down) maneuver in activating the supraspinatus. More importantly, scaption avoids internal rotation of the humerus the exact movement that creates shoulder impingement.

Additional Notes
Keep in mind that the rotator cuff muscles are small, endurance-based muscles. I generally advocate using no more than four percent of body weight for this exercise. The rotator cuff is most active between 70â° and 120â° of elevation. Always avoid having your clients push through painful ranges of motion during exercise. If clients have persistent shoulder pain, they should see a medical professional for evaluation.

Brian Schiff, PT, CSCS ( is a licensed physical therapist, respected author and fitness professional. He became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) in 1998. In 2000, he opened his own personal training and sport-specific conditioning facility, Fitness Edge, in Dublin, Ohio. Brian has presented at several professional conferences and seminars on injury prevention and sport-specific training.