Rotator cuff strengthening is a critical part of rehabilitating the shoulder and eliminating shoulder pain and weakness. Traditional shoulder exercises often isolate one or a couple rotator cuff muscles at a time. A common example is internal/external rotation with a band or dumbbells. Isolation strengthening for the rotator cuff is beneficial, but adding some more comprehensive functional exercises is better.

This program consists of functional rotator cuff strengthening exercises with kettlebells. Not only do they target the multiple big working muscles of the rotator cuff but also the little assisting muscles. Check out these 4 kettlebell exercises for rotator cuff strength.

The Kettlebell Military Press to Strengthen the Rotator Cuff

  • Perform the military press at 30 to 45 degrees to the frontal plane. This is the natural plane of the scapula and the safest and most biomechanically efficient way to perform a military press. This position is approximately halfway between the arm if it is pointed straight forward and when it is out straight to the side.
  • With the KB resting on the back of the wrist, press it straight up overhead while keeping your eyes on the kettlebell.


The Kettlebell Halo to Strengthen the Rotator Cuff

  • Stand with your feet about as wide as your hips. With a light to medium sized KB in front of you on the ground, use both hands to squat down and grab the KB. Grab the KB with both hands and the bulk of the weight positioned upwards.
  • Lift the KB to the right side of your face and circle it around the back of your head to the other side. Try to maintain control of the weight and avoid letting it touch your back.


The Kettlebell Windmill to Strengthen the Rotator Cuff

  • Clean and press the KB overhead so the palm is facing forward and the weight is resting against the back of your wrist.
  • Stick your butt out towards the side with the KB and angle your feet away from that side about 45 degrees. Reach with your free hand and touch the floor as you bend laterally at the hips. Maintain eye contact on the KB. When you touch the floor, pause, then return to the initial position.


Kettlebell Turkish Get Up to Strengthen the Rotator Cuff

  • Use a medium-sized KB for this exercise and start on the floor lying on your side. Turn onto your back and straighten your right arm with the KB resting against the back of your wrist. Make sure to keep your eye on the KB.
  • Bend the leg on the same side as the KB and place your opposite arm out flat on the floor at 45 degrees.
  • Begin to sit up; rising first to your free arm’s elbow and then to the hand. At the same time, tuck the leg opposite the KB underneath so you are eventually kneeling on the floor.
  • Drive up from the heel on the side of the KB and bring the hips up and forward as the hips extend. You should be in a standing position and now look straight ahead.
  • Reverse all the steps back to the initial position.

Before beginning these, it’s always important to ask your chiropractor, physical therapist, or sports medicine doctor if they’re right for you.  Generally, they will be great for regaining strength in the rotator cuff and can help relieve shoulder pain from a chronic injury, acute injury, or post-surgery.

These exercises can also be beneficial if you’re just trying stabilize your shoulder and prevent injury. “Prehab” is always better than rehab.  I often recommend them to those who participate in CrossFit or similar training programs.

Who should Use kettlebells?
Everyone should be using kettlebells in their functional fitness routine. If you’re in a CrossFit program you’re already using them. If you’re working out at a conventional gym or at home make sure you incorporate them. Strengthening the rotator cuff is not just for those with injuries, it’s a CRITICAL step in preventing injuries too.
Can I use dumbbells for rotator cuff strengthening?
Dumbbells are good to use for rotator cuff strengthening too, but a little more cumbersome. If you’ve already got dumbells at it’s fine to use them instead.
What about using elastic bands for rotator cuff strengthening?
I love using elastic bands for strengthening the rotator cuff as well. Bands work for isolation exercises but you can use them for some broader multiple joint movement routines.
Where do I find more kettlebell exercises?
Rehab and movement focused chiropractors like those at AccessHealth are a great resource. If you’re looking to prehab or rehab your rotator cuff I recommend getting your shoulder examined and then getting an exercise prescription from a professional.
How heavy should the kettlebell be for these exercises?
Everyone’s different, but a good rule of thumb is to start off at a lower weight and move through a pain-free range of motion in your shoulder. You can always move up in weight when you get the movement down. Strength is built gradually and with correct movement patterns.
Should I do these kettlebell rotator cuff exercises on both shoulders?
Yes. If you have a painful shoulder don’t only focus on that shoulder. Create balance in your strength routines and make sure to work your non-dominant side as well.
Where can I get kettlebells?
Buy used kettlebells if you can find them, it will save you some money. Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace usually have some. If you have to buy new ones, it’s worth the investment. Kettlebells are great equipment for strength training. I’ve bought some from Amazon or Dick’s.
What If I'm still concerned about my shoulder?
If you have shoulder pain and want to get it looked at give our Cary chiropractic physicians a call. Shoulder pain is one of the most common complaints chiropractors see and we’re good at diagnosing and treating shoulder injuries.

Dr. Jason Williams DC is a chiropractic physician practicing at AccessHealth Chiropractic in Cary, NC. He treats neuromusculoskeletal pain and injuries using chiropractic manipulation, dry needling, acupuncture, rehab exercise strategies, and other supportive therapies. Primary areas of focus include back pain, neck pain, muscular pain, extremity pain, and orthopedic injuries. Dr. Williams is experienced in treating athletes, especially those in the CrossFit, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and MMA community.

If you’re interested in whether he or another AccessHealth provider can help you, navigate to our contact page or follow this link to request an appointment.