Fixing Shoulder Pain: A rough rotator cuff

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When I see or suspect rotator cuff dysfunction, I usually also see an unbalanced training program. Unbalanced, in this case, meaning a preponderance of chest and shoulder exercises (flat bench press, incline bench press, overhead/military press, etc.), back exercises that emphasize internal rotation (bent over barbell rows, prone/overhand grip pull-ups, etc.), and few to no (mostly no) back exercises that emphasize external rotation. This imbalance ultimately leads to or exacerbates poor posture (slouched shoulders), shoulder pain, and, eventually, either voluntary or involuntary time off from the gym. workout that includes flat, incline, decline, and machine presses or flyes which is probably about 12-15 sets. Then a deltoid workout with standing or seated military presses, side laterals, or leaning side laterals with dumbbells or cables and maybe reverse flyes or bent over side laterals for posterior delts. Then a back workout including an overhead pull (lat pull down), a horizontal pull (seated row) and maybe some free weights. So the imbalance lies in the 3-4 pull movements which emphasize the retraction of the scapula & stabilize the shoulder and 7-8 push exercises without any scapular retraction. This is why so many people in the gym have shoulders that round forward resulting from this unbalanced workout between muscle groups.

The easy remedy to this is to implement a back/pulling workout after each push workout. For example, a weekly training layout could look like this:

Day 1 – Upper body pull

– Seated cable row variation (main movement)

Day 2 – Lower body (hip dominant)

Day 3 – Upper body push

– Bench press OR overhead press (main movement)

– Single arm dumbbell row (accessory movement)

Day 4 – Lower body (quad dominant)

This is a more balanced approach and add your arm exercises, abs, cardio etc…..that’s convenient for your fitness goals and you should be good.

If your shoulders hurting, feeling like its about to start hurting, or just doesn’t feel 100% add these exercises to both of your back pulls day

Ext Rot Sequence


External Rotation using a Resistance Band or Cable

  • Attach resistance band to a stationary object
  • Stand with right side perpendicular to the wall
  • Hold resistance band with left hand
  • Bend elbow to 90-degrees with hand facing your stomach
  • IMPORTANT: Keep your elbow tight to your body. You can put a towel between your elbow and your body to make sure it stays tight.
  • Slowly rotate your hand 180 degrees from your stomach to your side
  • Return to starting position.

So next time your in the gym & you catch yourself massaging your shoulder after a set of bench, think about this article and make some adjustments to your program.

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