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  • Writer's pictureSarah Barbosa

Why Lifters Should Train Their Rotator Cuff: The Key to Shoulder Health


Powerlifting Bench Press

In the pursuit of strength and muscle mass, powerlifters and bodybuilders often focus on major muscle groups like the chest, back, legs, arms and shoulders. However, one critical area that frequently gets overlooked is the rotator cuff. Understanding and training your rotator cuff muscles is essential for maintaining shoulder health, preventing injuries, and optimizing performance.


Understanding the Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff consists of four muscles that play a crucial roll in shoulder movement and stability:

  • Supraspinatus

  • Infraspinatus

  • Teres Minor

  • Subscapularis

Rotator Cuff Muscles

These muscles each have their own individual function but also work together to keep the "ball" of the shoulder joint centered within the "socket" of the joint. They don't work alone though, they also rely on several other muscles that attach to the shoulder blade. Furthermore, they require enough mobility from the thoracic spine (mid-upper back) and other smaller joints within the shoulder (AC and SC joints).


Importance of Rotator Cuff Stability


A balanced and strong rotator cuff ensures shoulder stability. This term gets thrown around a lot, but what it means is that the shoulder is staying centered within the joint - it isn't traveling too far upward, forward or back, which if that happened, could lead to impingement, dislocations, or damage to other tissues like the labrum.


When powerlifters bench, there is so much force going through the pecs and front delts (and triceps). If that was all that happened in the shoulder, your shoulder joint would likely explode forward through the joint. However, "stability" should take place, meaning the rotator cuff muscles in the back of the shoulder (opposite of the pec/ front delt), kick on to maintain the shoulder joint centered.


Similarly, when you overhead press, the rotator cuff should work together to prevent excessive upward migration of the shoulder joint.


This applies to so many different exercises performed on a daily basis by powerlifters and bodybuilders.


Consequences of Neglecting Rotator Cuff Training


Failing to train the rotator cuff can lead to muscle imbalances and many other issues such as:

  • Rotator Cuff Tears: small tears that result from degeneration overtime or large sudden tears

  • Shoulder Impingement: When the rotator cuff doesn't do its job, the shoulder joint can migrate too much and pinch the tendons that travel near it, such as the rotator cuff or biceps tendon.

  • Labrum Tears: when the rotator cuff fails, the joint has to rely extra hard on the rim of cartilage that provides a suction to the joint, the labrum.

  • Chronic Shoulder Pain: If you lift weights in the gym, it's common, but not normal, to experience shoulder pain! Don't neglect the rotator cuff.


Exercises to Strengthen Your Rotator Cuff


  • External Rotation with Arm by Side

    • See short video below! Perform 2 sets of 12 reps.


  • External Rotation with Arm 90/90

    • Set a resistance band to about waist height. Bend your elbow to 90º and raise up to the level of your shoulder out to your side. Set your shoulder blade down and back and then rotate the arm. Perform 2 sets of 12 reps.


Shoulder External Rotation with Band at 90º

  • Full Can

    • Similar to a lateral raise for your shoulders, but with your arms in a 45º angle in front of you and your thumbs up. Set the shoulder blades down and back, and lift the arms up to shoulder level. Perform 2 sets of 12 reps.

Shoulder Full Can Exercise

  • Internal Rotation with arm 90/90

    • Using the same band and shoulder set-up as the second exercise, kneel down facing away from the band. Setting the shoulder blade back and down into place, slowly rotate the shoulder inward and control it on the way back. Perform 2 sets of 12 reps.


Shoulder Internal Rotation at 90º

Stay tuned for some more gym-based exercises that work your rotator cuff!


Conclusion


For powerlifters and bodybuilders, a strong and stable shoulder joint is crucial for both performance and injury prevention. By incorporating rotator cuff exercises into your training routine, you can enhance shoulder stability, prevent injuries, get more developed looking shoulders, and ensure longevity in your lifting career. Don't neglect these small but powerful muscles - they are part of the key to shoulder health.


Looking for more ways to keep your shoulders healthy? Check out my FREE eBook here!



*DISCLAIMER: This is for informational purposes only. If you currently have a rotator cuff or any shoulder injury, please do not seek advice, diagnosis or treatment from this article or anything else you find online. Stronger Performance Physical Therapy LLC and Dr. Sarah Barbosa, PT, DPT will not be responsible for any result that comes from you following information in this article. Get an assessment from a physical therapist or physician who can evaluate your specific condition and provide treatment just for you. If you're in the NJ area, I'd love to help! Shoot me a message on my contact page and I'll be happy to help.

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