Squats & the Rotator Cuffs


Your rotator cuff includes four muscles that stabilize your shoulder joints. They work to keep your upper arm bone securely in the shoulder capsule. Although squats are a lower body exercise, some versions of squats can place a significant amount of stress on your rotator cuff. If you suffer from shoulder discomfort, you can either modify the exercise or incorporate other types of squats into your workouts.

Stress on the Rotator Cuff

  • Back squats involve performing the squat exercise while you hold a weighted barbell on the back of your shoulders. To keep the bar secure, you reach up and grip the bar with your hands, which are typically positioned a couple of inches beyond the width of your shoulders. To do this, you’ve got to extend and externally rotate your shoulders and this position places stress on the rotator cuff and shoulder capsule. As you extend and externally rotate your shoulders, your upper arm bone and the tip of your scapula bone pinch together. When this happens, they can pinch your supraspinatus, which is one of your rotator cuff muscles.

Modifying the Exercise

  • If you’d like to continue to incorporate back squats into your workouts, try modifying your hand position on the bar to decrease the amount of external rotation by the shoulders. Widen your hands out on the bar so that they’re a few inches outside of your shoulders. Modifying the exercise in this way decreases how secure the bar is on your shoulders, so avoid using this technique if you’re squatting heavy weights.

Using a Manta Ray with Handles

  • A manta ray is a piece of equipment that you can place on the back of your shoulders. Some manta ray attachments feature handles that run down over your clavicle and hold the bar on the back of your shoulders. This keeps the load on the back of your shoulders, but it doesn’t require you to stress your shoulders to hold the bar. Place the manta ray on your shoulders and then load the barbell on the piece of equipment by using a squat rack.

Other Types of Squats

  • To lessen the stress on your rotator cuff, you can also incorporate other types of squats into your workouts. Front squats are similar to back squats except that they involve holding the weighted barbell at the front of your shoulders, which means you don’t have to extend or externally rotate your shoulder joints. Dumbbell squats involve holding a pair of dumbbells up at your shoulders with your elbows directly under your wrists or down by your sides on either side of your legs.

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