Rotator Cuff Training – Part 1

The shoulders are the most movable and unstable joints, and next to the fingers they are the most at-risk body parts for rock climbers. In particular, those of us with a preference for overhanging walls and V-hard boulder problems must recognize the potential for developing a shoulder injury that could plague us for years or even require surgical intervention. Every time we crank up a steep wall with an elbow pulled backward beyond the plane of our body, we are in jeopardy of subluxation. Furthermore, excessive hanging with straight arms produces an accumulated strain on the shoulders that can eventually lead to shoulder instability. The bottom line: Climbing—especially hard bouldering—is a minefield for the shoulders.

Knowing these dangers, a wise climber will be proactive in minimizing exposure to the most dangerous positions and engage in disciplined training of the stabilizing muscles that surround the shoulder. Use of various push-muscle exercises such as push-ups, shoulder press, and dips, are a good start for protecting the shoulder joint. However, there are several smaller muscles of the rotator cuff that must also be trained via targeted exercise. Detailed below is an exercise for strengthening internal rotation–next month I’ll cover the exercise for external rotation.

Internal Rotation



  • Lie on your side with your bottom arm in front of your waist: place a rolled-up towel under your head to support your neck. Rest your other arm along your hip and upper thigh.
  • Hold a two- to five-pound dumbbell in the hand of your bottom arm, positioning this your forearm perpendicular to your body.
  • Lift the weight up to your body and hold for a moment before lowering it back to the floor. The upper portion of your arm should remain in contact with the floor throughout the range of motion—think of your upper arm and shoulder as a door hinge that allows your forearm to swing “open and closed.”
  • Continue in a slow, but steady motion for a total of fifteen to twenty-five repetitions.
  • Do two sets on each side, with a three-minute rest in between sets.
  • Training tip: Increase weight in one or two-pound increments, but do not exceed ten pounds. Using heavy weight is not necessary and may even result in injury.
  • Safety tip: Stop immediately if you experience any pain in your shoulder. Try using a lighter weight.
  • Alternatively, you can train internal rotation in the standing position using an exercise band. With your arm bent at 90 degrees and you elbow held by your side, pull the exercise band in toward your navel.

  • Copyright 2009 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.