As physical therapists prescribing exercises for rehabilitation, we are often tasked with selecting the best 1-3 or 3-5 exercises that are going to serve our patients the best. In the name of keeping this list efficient, it is nice when we can select an exercise that serves multiple purposes or strengthens multiple muscles or muscle groups.
In making my exercise recommendations for individuals with shoulder pain or upper extremity issues, I like to benchmark back to some of the laboratory data on shoulder and scapular muscle activation (EMG) during different exercises. One of my favorite papers on this subject is an excellent literature review (2009) by Authors: Reinold, Escamilla, and Wilk: “Current Concepts in The Scientific and Clinical Rationale Behind Exercises for Glenohumeral and Scapulothoracic Musculature”
I have created a quick table below that distills the exercise that I feel are the best representation of this data and those that I tend to select due to their utility in strengthening rotator cuff and scapulothoracic musculature (Click HERE for PDF DOWNLOAD of the table below):
Best Scapulothoracic Exercises (Based on EMG Studies) (Feldman, 2009; Reinold et al., 2009; Reinold et al., 2004):
Best Rotator Cuff Exercises (Based on EMG Studies) (Feldman, 2009; Reinold et al., 2009; Reinold et al., 2004):
Feldman D. Electromyographic Analysis of the Supraspinatus and Deltoid Muscles During 3 Common Rehabilitation Exercises. Yearbook of Sports Medicine. 2009;2009:90-91.
Reinold MM, Wilk KE, Fleisig GS, et al. Electromyographic Analysis of the Rotator Cuff and Deltoid Musculature During Common Shoulder External Rotation Exercises. RESEARCH REPORT. 2004;34(7):10.
Reinold MM, Escamilla R, Wilk KE. Current Concepts in the Scientific and Clinical Rationale Behind Exercises for Glenohumeral and Scapulothoracic Musculature. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2009;39(2):105-117.