I try to strengthen my rotator cuff muscles in order to prevent injuries when lifting weights. I do some internal as well as external rotation movements with an elastic band before my actual workout.

With the right arm, I can really feel the muscles in the back of my shoulder and to some degree at my shoulder blades working when performing the movement. However with the left arm, it kind of fields like my bi- and triceps are taking over and doing the main work. I don't feel the muscles of the rotator cuff working at all. Rather a burning feeling on the inside of my upper arm (kind of a burning feeling like when you do a reps on an exercise and your muscles fatigue).

Since, from what my gym buddy and I can see, I'm performing the movements exactly the same I'm guessing it's not a technique problem. Otherwise it would occur in both arms, right? I'm also trying to grip the band at the same length so the resistance is the same for both arms.

Is this a common issue? Am I doing something wrong? How can I fix this?

4 Answers 4


Pull with your shoulders and scapulae. Even if the movement looks the same it doesn't mean it happens the same way. You are probably bending your arms at the same time you try to pull back your shoulders.

If you want to isolate the rotator cuffs,let your arms loose like ropes and just use tour scapulae.


Like mentioned above, you may want to try a lower weight and work on “feeling” the muscles working. Which shoulder external rotation are you doing? The one where your elbow is beside your body or shoulder flexed to 90?

Minimise any movement of your biceps and triceps in terms of the angle your elbow forms. Keep it as 90. Biceps and triceps comes into play if you straighten or bend your elbow.

You can try this variation: https://youtu.be/v5bPOsQbq7g

  • Go down to lower resistance. Low resistance allows you to focus on the small muscles. Also, do you have access to a cable system? I prefer cable systems over bands because you can set the resistance right where you want it for these small muscles Now, at my gym, the cable system steps up in 15 lbs increments, which is too big an increment for the rotator cuff muscles. In my home, I have a lower weight cable system which has 2.5 lbs increments. This allows me dial in the resistance to just the right amount. Unfortunately, almost no gyms have this kind of low weight cable system.
    – Chris
    Apr 28, 2021 at 17:58

I can see I am late to the party, but at the same time this topic is very important. I hope you already found an answer on your own, but if not, here are some ideas that might help you or others.

I would advise to start the exercise(?) with your weaker arm, this way you will not gain any more imbalances. The way you describe this situation you are indeed compensating with other muscles, and to avoid this you could lower the weight, make less reps or mitigate the risks by making some small adjustments. You could also bend your legs slightly for example, this way you can’t use your lower body.

Try to keep in mind what you are trying to achieve with the movements, during the exercise, and try to establish a strong mind muscle connection. For me, this really helps me isolate the muscle as much as I can. In my case it means that I put a light tension on the muscle I am training, so I can really feel what I am doing. In your case it would translate to focus on the shoulder and approach your arm like it was an opening and closing door. Think of it in a sense that your upper arm is a hinge, and your lower arm is the door itself.

Furthermore, it is advisable to reflect on your movement and ask for feedback, like you are doing now, however keep in mind that your buddy must have a great eye for detail and make sure you aren't wearing any clothes that could obscure his judgement. It would be best to let him record you every once in a while, so he can give his feedback and at the same time provide you with visual feedback that you can interpret yourself.

In addition I would advise you to look online for this specific exercise combined with something like “avoid mistakes” and try to find experts in this specific area of training like. Athlean-X, who talks allot about internal and external rotation and he dedicated allot of his videos to this topic. With this information you can reflect on a training and also interpret any video footage I talked about earlier in a better way.

Regards from Holland


Forget about strengthening small muscles like the rotator cuff. Do you really believe that when lifting heavy loads, be it overhead or during bench pressing, your small muscles will save you ?

It's the other way around. Build strong, effective big muscles (chest, lats) so that they take the load and avoid the other small structures to get injured because they have to take the slack for weak and/or wrongly functioning main muscles.

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