RESPECT YOUR ROTATORS
By Eric Broser
The shoulder joint (and its connective muscles, tendons, and ligaments) has a greater range of motion than all other joints in the human body, which provides a very wide array of movement. The group of muscles and connections that combine to facilitate this movement is called the rotator cuff. However, the extremely complex anatomical structure that provides so much flexibility in movement patterns also unfortunately make the shoulder joint quite susceptible to injury, especially to those who spend a lot of time in the gym pushing and pulling heavy iron. So if your shoulders are constantly in pain, there is a good chance you have irritated and inflamed the joint and need to take a look at 7 reasons your rotator cuffs may be angry with you!
1 Incomplete Warm-Up:
This may be the most common cause of rotator cuff issues, as the majority of trainees out there fail to take the proper time to warm-up their shoulders before even beginning the first upper body movement. I highly recommend everybody put together a basic series of callisthenic-type exercises (such as arm windmills, shoulder rolls, etc.) to begin each workout, followed by high rep sets of rear, front and side laterals, as well as overhead presses. Then, when you get to your first true exercise, make sure to perform several progressively heavier warm-up sets to prepare the joint for the exact movement pattern it will soon be engaged in under high loads.
2 Behind the Neck Movements:
Behind the Neck Pull downs and Presses have certainly been responsible for many an injured rotator cuff. However, for a healthy shoulder joint, neither of these two exercises is inherently “evil.” The problems lie in too exaggerated range of motion, improper technique, and/or use of too much weight (where the joint is in a somewhat “compromised” position this can be rather hazardous). I suggest never allowing the bar on pull downs or presses to go below the level of the bottom of the ears to keep from overstretching the attachments. Also, make sure to move the weight extra slowly, such as 2-3 second positives and negatives, to keep the tension on the muscle and off the joint.
Respect your rotators my friends, because you need THEM to respect YOU!
Finally, I believe it is best to perform no less than about 8-10 reps on behind the neck exercises.
3Upright Rows: This is another exercise that can also be hard on the rotators, but in a different way than those in #2 above. The problem here is when one performs this movement with too close a grip and/or lifts the bar too high at the point of peak contraction. This can cause impingement at the joint, which can result in pain and irritation of the rotator cuff tendons, and eventually a chronic condition. I suggest utilizing a shoulder width grip on the bar and that you pull it no higher than the point where the elbows are in line with the shoulders.
“Overuse injuries” occur in the weight room when the same exercises are used too often in a training program, with the rotator cuffs being highly susceptible to this type of issue. Unfortunately when we force our bodies to use the same movement pattern over and over it causes micro trauma in the surrounding tendons, bones and joints, eventually leading to injury. This can easily be avoided by constantly switching in and out of your workouts somewhat different exercises on a rotating basis.
5 Failure to Train Rotators Directly:
Very few people do I ever see in the gym performing exercises that directly work the various rotator cuff muscles. This is not a great approach to pain-free lifting because it will eventually create a strength imbalance between the upper body muscle groups, which in time will force the rotators to withstand loads they are not prepared for. If you add 100 lbs. to your bench press you better also make sure your rotator cuffs are also getting as proportionately strong as your delts, tris and pecs! Learn about the various internal and external rotation exercises and add them into your routine.
6 Too Heavy Too Often: While heavy, lower-rep, training is both satisfying and effective, it is not the best way to go about making continuous progress in muscle growth. In addition, forcing the rotator cuffs to constantly deal with extremely heavy poundage is not the best way to keep your shoulder joints healthy and pain free! You must remember that the rotator cuffs are not “built” for heavy pounding like the main deltoid muscles, so you must take care to rotate your training between periods of low, medium and high reps in order to allow proper recovery to take place.
7 Sloppy Form/Technique:
Let’s face it – most injuries of all kinds occur in the gym because of poor lifting form and technique. Using momentum, body English, swinging and/or uncontrolled rep speeds can wreak havoc on the lower back, neck, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, and without a doubt, the rotator cuffs. I implore you to keep your ego in check and to always move the weights from point A to B under full control, and by using only the intended target muscles.