Rehabilitation & Recovery

6 Easy Infraspinatus Exercises For The Rotator Cuff

infraspinatus exercises

When your infraspinatus muscle is injured, this may result in shoulder pain and discomfort.  

Performing targeted infraspinatus exercises can play a crucial role in the rehabilitation and recovery process. 

In this article, we’ll suggest some rotator cuff exercises designed to target the infraspinatus muscle that may help to improve muscle function, range of motion, and enhance stability to the shoulder muscles.  


Recommended Reading – 8 Simplistic Shoulder Rehab Exercises To Reduce Muscle Pain


Before that, let’s look at the infraspinatus muscle in a little more detail, and why it’s important for the health of your shoulder.  

What Is The Primary Muscle Action For The Infraspinatus Muscle

The infraspinatus muscle is one of your four rotator cuff muscles, and it plays an important role in stabilizing the glenohumeral joint, which is the most mobile joint in your body.

It’s a thick triangular muscle and located to your upper back, originating from the back of the shoulder blade (scapula) and attaching to the back of your upper arm (humerus).

infrasprinatus muscle anatomy

The primary muscle action of the infraspinatus muscle is external rotation of the shoulder joint.  

It works with the teres minor and the posterior deltoid muscles to help with this action, which is to move the arm away from the body.  

It also helps to stabilize the humeral head within the glenoid cavity during arm movements.  

The suprascapular nerve helps to power the infraspinatus muscle.  

Suprascapular nerve damage can result in shoulder weakness and muscle loss (atrophy).

The rotator cuff shoulder muscles, which also include the teres minor, subscapularis, and the supraspinatus muscle, are essential for overhead activities, such as throwing, swimming, and weightlifting.

rotator cuff joint

What Sports Uses the Infraspinatus?

The infraspinatus muscle is actively involved in a number of sports that requires a lot of shoulder movement, such as golf, tennis and swimming.  

It’s particularly important for actions that involve throwing, hitting, or performing overhead movements. 

Some sports that heavily rely on the infraspinatus muscle include:

Baseball And Softball

Baseball players actively engage the infraspinatus muscle as they get ready to throw their ball.  

baseball swing with bat

It becomes activated during the cocking phase and is responsible for external rotation of the shoulder as the arm of the player prepares to throw the ball.

Tennis

Tennis players activate the infraspinatus muscle during the serving motion and when undertaking various shots that involve rotation and extension of the arm, such as forehands and backhands.

tennis serve

Swimming

In swimming, the infraspinatus muscle contributes to the rotational movements of the shoulder during strokes such as freestyle, backstroke, and butterfly.  

butterfly swimming shoulder injury

If the infraspinatus is weak, it can become very stressed during the repetitive movement of bringing the arm up and overhead.  

Basketball

The infraspinatus and external rotators engage when basketball players perform shooting movements, particularly when shooting jump shots or three-point shots.

basketball shoulder injuries

Golf

In golf, the infraspinatus muscle is used during the backswing and follow-through phases, helping to generate rotational power during the swing.  

golf swing shoulder injury

Whilst the rotator cuff muscle group may be minor muscles, when they are weak this can reduce the power of a golfer’s swing.  

Infraspinatus And Shoulder Injuries

Rotator cuff tears or injuries are a common cause of shoulder pain and can affect the infraspinatus muscle.  

A subscapularis tear can also lead to infraspinatus pain.

subscapularis muscle
Subscapularis

Injuries to the infraspinatus muscle can range from mild to severe, and the type of tear will determine the best course of treatment.

Some potential causes of infraspinatus pain include repetitive overhead movements which stress the muscles, poor posture, and trauma.  

Athletes who participate in activities that involve throwing or overhead movements tend to be more susceptible to rotator cuff injuries.  

To prevent injury to the infraspinatus muscle, it’s important to maintain good posture and avoid repetitive overhead movements if you can. 

If you do experience shoulder pain, it’s important to seek medical attention to determine the cause and an appropriate treatment.

Best Exercises For Infraspinatus

If you’re looking to strengthen your infraspinatus muscle, there are several effective exercises you can try.  

Strengthening this muscle can improve mobility and help with injury prevention.  

shoulder therapist assessing shoulder health

Please note that the below exercises are intended for guidance purposes only and it’s important to seek the advice from a qualified professional, such as a physical therapist before you commit to a new exercise program.  

Let’s jump into to some of the best infraspinatus exercises you can do to activate and strengthen this muscle.  

Side-Lying External Rotation 

The side lying external rotation exercise is a shoulder mobility and stability exercise that can help to improve the range of motion and strength of rotator cuff muscles.

It specifically targets the external rotators of the shoulder, including the infraspinatus.  

How To Do The Side-Lying External Rotation:

  1. Lie on your side on a flat surface, such as a mat or the floor. Keep your legs stacked and bend them at 90 degrees to help with stability. 
  2. Rest your head on a cushion or something similar.
  3. Place a rolled-up towel under your armpit of the top arm.  This helps to keep your shoulder in a neutral position. 
  4. Keep your top arm bent to a 90-degree angle.  This is your starting position. 
  5. From here, rotate your arm until your hand points towards the ceiling.  You should feel a gentle stretch to your shoulder muscles.  
  6. Hold for a count of 3 before slowly lowering back to the start.  
  7. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 10 repetitions and then repeat on the other arm. 

Prone External Rotation

This is a good exercise to progress from the side-lying external rotation as you’ll be keeping your upper arm in an elevated position making the external rotation a little more challenging.  

You could also hold a small weight in each hand to apply some resistance to the muscles.  

This exercise will work all the muscles to the back of your shoulder.  

How To Do The Prone External Rotation:

  1. Start by lying on your stomach on an elevated surface, such as a weight bench. 
  2. Position your upper arms so that they are parallel to the ground with elbows bent to 90 degrees.  
  3. Rotate your lower arms up towards the ceiling. 
  4. Pause briefly and then rotate back to the start. 
  5. Complete for 3 to 4 sets of 10 repetitions.  

Banded Internal Rotation

The banded internal rotation exercise primarily targets the muscles responsible for internal rotation of the shoulder, such as the subscapularis muscles.

Banded Internal Rotation

It can be beneficial for improving your shoulder stability, flexibility, and strength.

How To Do The Banded Internal Rotation:

  1. Securely anchor one end of a resistance band at waist height or slightly below.
  2. Stand perpendicular to the anchor point with the arm you want to exercise closest to the anchor point.
  3. Hold the resistance band with the hand of the same side and keep your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle, close to your waist.
  4. If you wish, you can tuck a small rolled up towel under your arm as this can help you maintain the correct position throughout the exercise.  
  5. Initiate the movement by rotating your arm inwards and across your body, keeping your elbow tucked into your waist and forearm parallel to the floor.
  6. Slowly return to the starting position in a controlled manner.
  7. Perform 2 to 3 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions.  

Banded Angel Exercise

The banded angel exercise can help to stretch and strengthen the muscles around your shoulders, including the rotator cuff muscles and the muscles that control scapular movement. 

It can be particularly beneficial for you if you happen to spend long hours sitting or have poor posture.  

This is because it counteracts the forward shoulder slouching and helps to maintain healthy shoulder function. 

How To Do The Banded Angel Exercise:

  1. Start by anchoring your resistance band to a door or similar so it’s just below chest height. 
  2. Take hold of each end of resistance band with both hands, positioning your hands down by your sides and palms facing forwards.
  3. Slowly and smoothly, take your arms up and overhead in a wide arc, whilst keeping your elbows straight the whole time. Imagine you are drawing a big “angel wings” pattern.
  4. Reverse the movement and bring your arms back to the starting position, maintaining control throughout the motion.
  5. Complete 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions.  

Elevated Push Up

An elevated push-up, when done with proper form, will engage the infraspinatus muscle to some extent, along with other muscles in the shoulder and upper body.  

elevated push up

Whilst the infraspinatus is not the main muscle targeted during an elevated push-up, it is essential for shoulder stability and control during the exercise.

How To Do An Elevated Push Up:

  1. Use a sturdy surface such as a weight bench or even a countertop.  The higher the surface, the easier the push-up will be.
  2. Stand facing the elevated surface with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  3. Reach out and place your hands on edge of the elevated surface, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. 
  4. Walk your feet back to create a plank position so that your body forms a straight line from your head to your heels. Engage your core to maintain stability throughout the movement.
  5. From here, lower your chest towards the elevated surface by bending your elbows. Keep your elbows at about a 45-degree angle to your body and don’t allow them to flare out to the sides.
  6. Pause briefly then push through your palms to extend your arms back to the starting position.
  7. Complete 3 sets of 8 to 10 repetitions making sure you do each rep at a full range of motion.  

Banded Reverse Fly

The banded reverse fly primarily targets the muscles of the rear shoulder and upper back, including the infraspinatus, teres minor and rhomboids.

Banded Reverse Fly Using Resistance Band

These muscles are responsible for scapular retraction and shoulder external rotation, which are essential movements for maintaining proper shoulder function and posture.

How To Do The Banded Reverse Fly: 

  1. Anchor a resistance band at around chest height. 
  2. Take hold of either end and step back to create some tension in the band. 
  3. Start with your arms parallel to the floor and straight out in front of you, keep a slight bend to your elbows and palms facing each other.
  4. Keeping your shoulders down and back, draw your arms back until they are out to your sides. 
  5. Pause for a second or two and slowly return to the start.  
  6. Perform 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.  

Overall, incorporating different exercises that target the infraspinatus muscle can help to improve muscle strength, internal rotation, and dynamic stability of the shoulder joint.

By regularly performing these exercises, you can reduce the risk of injuries and improve shoulder function.

Specific Considerations for Infraspinatus Exercises

When performing exercises that involve horizontal abduction or overhead movements, it’s important to maintain proper form and avoid overloading the infraspinatus and placing stress on your shoulder joints.

You can do this by using light weights or resistance bands. Be sure to always focus on proper technique and control.

Repetitive motion is one of the most common reasons for overuse and strain on the infraspinatus, so remember to incorporate rest and recovery into your exercise routine.  

Additionally, acute injury can occur from sudden trauma or overloading the muscle, so listen to your body and avoid pushing through pain and never force an exercise.

heavy shoulder press shoulder injury

Finally, it is important to note that the infraspinatus is innervated by the suprascapular nerve, which can be damaged from excessive pressure or tension.

Therefore, exercises that involve lower shoulder abduction or higher abduction with internal rotation should be performed with caution.  

If you’re unsure, seek the advice from a personal trainer or physical therapist.  

By keeping these specific considerations in mind, you can effectively target and strengthen the infraspinatus muscle while minimizing the risk of injury or strain.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Infraspinatus Injuries

Diagnosis of an infraspinatus injury can be done by a physical therapist or other medical professional.

They will likely conduct a physical examination and may also recommend imaging tests such as an MRI scan or X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.

X ray of shoulder anatomy

Infraspinatus injuries can be treated with a range of options depending on the severity of the injury.

For mild injuries, rest, ice, and physical therapy can help in reducing pain and inflammation.

Physical therapy exercises can help to improve range of motion and strengthen the rotator cuff muscles.

If the pain continues, your doctor may recommend steroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain.

However, these tend to wear off over time.  

In the most severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the injured muscle or tendon.

infraspinatus shoulder surgery check up

This is usually recommended when conservative treatments have failed to provide relief. 

In some cases, infraspinatus injuries can be caused by trigger points or a pinched nerve.  

Trigger points are knots or tight bands of muscle that can result in pain and discomfort.

Physical therapy or massage therapy, such as myofascial release, can help to release these trigger points and relieve pain.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent further damage and improve your chances of a full recovery.

Conclusion

By incorporating infraspinatus exercises into your workout routine, you can strengthen your rotator cuff muscles and reduce the risk of injury.

The infraspinatus muscle plays a crucial role in shoulder stability and mobility, making it important to target during your workouts.

These above suggested exercises can be done with little to no equipment and can easily be incorporated into your workout routine, whether that’s at home or in the gym.

As your strength and mobility improve, you can gradually increase the weight and intensity of your exercise to help make continuous improvements.

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