6 Best Infraspinatus Exercises (with Pictures!)

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
November 28, 2022

The rotator cuff is a set of four muscles located around the shoulder girdle, wherein it acts as an anchor for the arm and aids in rotation of the shoulders throughout their range of motion.

Among the muscles of the rotator cuff is the infraspinatus; notorious for being the most frequently injured despite its relatively large size.

Due to this reputation, many exercisers wish to preemptively strengthen their infraspinatus and other portions of the rotator cuff so as to potentially reduce the chance of future injury and strengthen their shoulders as a whole.

For the most part, any exercises that target the rotator cuff will also target the infraspinatus. Movements like weighted external shoulder rotations and reverse flyes will induce training stimulus in the infraspinatus, while stretches like the sleeper stretch will aid in rehabilitation if needed.

What is the Infraspinatus?

The infraspinatus is a skeletal muscle located beneath the scapular spine of the posterior shoulder. It works in tandem with the three other portions of the rotator cuff so as to stabilize and rotate the arms during dynamic movement.

infraspinatus muscle

The infraspinatus muscle is particularly useful for athletes who participate in activities that feature frequent and wide rotations of the arms or shoulders, such as swimmers or weightlifters.

Injuries to the infraspinatus are most likely caused by sudden acute impacts to the arms, or otherwise through repetitive motions that strain the rotator cuff while they are under significant levels of resistance. Activities like performing a military press exercise improperly or swimming for excessively long periods of time at high intensity can result in infraspinatus tears.

Benefits of Exercising the Infraspinatus

Reduced Injury Risk

The infraspinatus is the quintessential portion of the rotator cuff, being responsible for the majority of the force produced by the muscle group, as well as significant stabilization of the arm when under load.

As such, it is no surprise that reinforcement of this muscle will result in denser and more effective tissue, thereby improving the stability and durability of the shoulder as a whole.

Furthermore, the sort of exercises used to train the infraspinatus will also train the entirety of the rotator cuff as a whole; inducing development of not only the muscles therein but also the connective tissue that holds the shoulder girdle in place.

Greater Shoulder Power

Though the deltoids produce the majority of the force associated with shoulder-based power output, the rotator cuff provides stability and incremental rotational adjustments that allow the deltoids to function to their fullest capacity.

In turn, this equates to the infraspinatus (and surrounding muscles) aiding in total shoulder force development - an invaluable ability for any type of athlete.

Improved Shoulder Mobility

Though not exactly a result of infraspinatus exercise, the sort of movements associated with training this particular muscle can result in adaptations of the connective tissues that make up the shoulder. 

This can create a more durable and stable shoulder joint that is capable of maximizing its own range of motion without risk of injury or weakness.

For the best results regarding shoulder mobility, it is best to perform infraspinatus stretches alongside infraspinatus exercises so as to encourage such improvements.

Greater Arm Stability

Considering the fact that the rotator cuff is responsible for rotation of the humerus bone in a radial degree, strengthening and rehabilitating the infraspinatus will result in far more stable arm movements - especially overhead movements under load, such as in the case of the overhead press or snatch exercises.

Improved Posture (External/Internal Shoulder Rotation)

Though the rotator cuff does not play as significant a role in posture as other muscles of the torso, it is nonetheless essential for ensuring that the shoulders maintain a straight and natural rotation in relation to the spine.

As such, cases of minor external or internal shoulder rotation may be rehabilitated with careful training of the infraspinatus alongside other muscles like the trapezius and scapular muscles.

Infraspinatus Stretches for Rehabilitation and Warm-Up

1. Sleeper Stretches

A convenient and no-resistance stretch meant to target the infraspinatus and the teres minor muscles, sleeper stretches may be used as both a mobility warm-up for the rotator cuff as well as late-stage physical rehabilitation for injuries of the infraspinatus and its surrounding musculature.

How-to:

To perform a sleeper stretch, the exerciser will lie on their side with the lower arm extended forward.

Grasping the hand of this lower arm with the opposite hand, the exerciser will then bend the lower arm at the elbow until it is facing upright.

From here, the opposing arm will exert force against the lower (now upright) arm, pushing it towards the floor as the elbow remains bent and the arm remains extended ahead of the torso. A stretch should be felt along the posterior side of the shoulder, next to the back of the neck.

The exerciser will then hold this position for several seconds before repeating it with the opposite side of the body.

2. Pendulum Stretches

A lesser-known dynamic stretch produced by clinicians for the purpose of reinforcing the entirety of the shoulder structure - pendulum stretches are aptly named but are unfortunately somewhat unsuitable for (medically unsupervised) rehabilitation.

pendulum stretch

Instead, pendulum stretches will function far better as a mobility warm-up prior to a shoulder workout.

How-to:

To perform a pendulum stretch, the exerciser will bend at the hips and back as one arm supports their torso atop a table.

Then, allowing the free arm to hang beneath the torso, the exerciser will draw their arm backwards before allowing it to swing forward, continuing this pendulum-like motion with no input from the legs or any other musculature but that of the shoulders.

Once the shoulder structure is sufficiently warmed up, the exerciser will repeat this action with the opposite arm.

3. Elbow-Out Rotator Stretch

A classic static stretch that targets the entirety of the rotator cuff (including the infraspinatus), the elbow-out rotator stretch should be carefully performed if utilized for rehabilitation, as it places the shoulder in a disadvantageous position and may worsen the injury if performed excessively.

elbow-out rotator stretch

Otherwise, the elbow-out rotator stretch is excellent for ensuring the entirety of the rotator cuff is warmed up and stretched in a static manner.

How-to:

Performing an elbow-out rotator stretch is simple; placing one fist behind the waist, the exerciser will point the elbow of this arm outwards, producing a triangle with their arm.

Then, with the free hand, the exerciser will grasp this outward-pointing elbow and pull it forward, making sure to keep the hand behind their back firmly in place.

If performed correctly, the exerciser should feel a stretch behind their shoulder.

Infraspinatus Exercises for Hypertrophy and Strength Development

4. Y-Raises

An exercise that may be performed with resistance machines, free weights or with no resistance whatsoever, Y-raises are an excellent method of training the shoulder in its entirety alongside the serratus and scapular muscles.

dumbbell incline y raise

They are most frequently encountered in functional fitness workouts, but also have a place in athletic rehabilitation when performed in a structured and careful manner.

How-to:

To perform Y-raises, the exerciser will stand upright with their arms at their sides and their feet in a balanced yet ready stance.

Gripping the source of resistance in both hands (or simply closing the hands into fists), the exerciser will then raise their arms upwards as they maintain a neutral bend at the elbows and wrists.

At the apex of the repetition, the torso will form a letter “Y”, hence the name of the exercise. Once this point has been reached, the exerciser will then slowly return their hands to the starting position, thereby completing the repetition.

5. Reverse Dumbbell Flyes

Reverse dumbbell flyes are a variation of the bodybuilding classic fly exercise - a deltoid isolation movement that coincidentally will also recruit the infraspinatus due to the angle of resistance and rotation of the shoulders involved in each repetition.

dumbbell reverse fly

Generally, this particular infraspinatus exercise is unsuitable for individuals attempting injury rehabilitation, as it requires an already established level of strength and stability of the rotator cuff in order to perform safely.

How-to:

To perform reverse dumbbell flyes, the exerciser will grip a pair of light weight dumbbells in both hands as they bend at the hips and knees - keeping the torso relatively parallel with the floor for the optimal angle of resistance.

If the exerciser is having trouble maintaining this position throughout the exercise, they may also make use of a bench instead. 

Allowing the arms to hang beneath the torso before them, the exerciser will then contract their scapula and deltoids, drawing the dumbbells up and outwards as if forming a letter “T” with their upper body.

After raising the dumbbells as high as they can manage, the exerciser will allow the dumbbells to return to their original position beneath the torso, completing the repetition.

6. Dumbbell Standing External Rotation

An excellent infraspinatus isolation exercise with a relatively low level of impact, the dumbbell standing external rotation is more often seen in late-stage physical rehabilitation of rotator cuff injuries, rather than bodybuilding or athletic training.

dumbbell external rotation

Despite this, it is still an excellent movement for exercising the infraspinatus and the rest of the rotator cuff muscles.

How-to:

To perform the dumbbell standing external rotation exercise, the exercise will stand upright with one or both hands gripping lightweight dumbbells.

Raising the dumbbells to approximately head-height at a 90 degree angle and bending the elbows as if preparing to perform an overhead press, the exerciser will then rotate the shoulders forward until the palms are facing the ground. 

Ensure that the elbows and upper arm remain in a parallel plane to the ground throughout this portion of the repetition.

Once the forearms are also parallel with the floor, the exerciser will slowly return to the original position by reversing their rotation of the shoulders.

This completes a repetition of standing dumbbell external rotations.

When to Exercise the Infraspinatus During Injury Rehabilitation

Note that if you have sustained an injury of the infraspinatus, jumping straight into active physical rehabilitation can make matters worse.

It is best to consult a medical professional prior to attempting any sort of stretching or exercise of an injured area, as there is a certain length of time in which the muscles or tendons must remain immobile prior to attempting to regain mobility and strength of these tissues.

During medically prescribed infraspinatus rehabilitation, the usage of stretching and resistance exercise is often left until the medial or latter stages of a recovery program, wherein they are meant to build upon an already recovered foundation of physical ability prior to even being performed.

Final Thoughts

While the most common infraspinatus stretches and exercises have been covered in this article, one should note that not every exercise has been. 

In the event that you experience pain or instability when performing any of these aforementioned exercises, it is entirely fine to stop performing them and instead seek out an alternative that is more comfortable for you.

Remember that the rotator cuff is quite delicate in regards to injury sustained from heavy loads, and that performing preventative (or rehabilitative) exercise is an excellent way of ensuring that you maintain full shoulder capabilities throughout your life.

References:

1. Ha, Sung-Min; Kwon, Oh-Yun; Cynn, Heon-Seock; Lee, Won-Hwee; Kim, Su-Jung; Park, Kyue-Nam (2013). Selective Activation of the Infraspinatus Muscle. Journal of Athletic Training. 48 (3): 346–352. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-48.2.18.

2. Yu, Il-Young; Lee, Dong-Kyu; Kang, Myoung-Joo; Oh, Jae-Seop (2019-03-01). Effects of 3 Infraspinatus Muscle Strengthening Exercises on Isokinetic Peak Torque and Muscle Activity. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation. 28 (3): 229–235. doi:10.1123/jsr.2017-0110.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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