Once You Injure These Muscles, Your Shoulders Are Never The Same
That’s right, your rotator cuffs are that important.
I’m speaking from direct experience here and I can only say that you absolutely must take care of your rotator cuffs. Rotator cuff injuries affect your whole upper body mobility and can cause you a world of pain.
I’ve been training for about 20 years and my upper body mobility is limited because of heavy and repetitive shoulder exercises.
I tell you, if I knew than what I know now, I would have approached certain aspects of my training a little differently.
You see, years of heavy bench presses, incline presses, and shoulder press have taken there toll on my shoulders and rotator cuffs.
When I was 20 years old, I didn’t even know what a rotator cuff was and didn’t care. All that mattered to me was lifting as much weight as I could – whenever I could. To me, there was no such thing as properly warming up my shoulder girdle or rotator cuffs before attempting heavy lifting. All I cared about was moving heavy weight.
However, when I think about it now, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’m really paying for my silly mistakes by only using a limited range of motion in my shoulder girdle. There are certain exercises that I used to live for, but now, I can’t even attempt to do because of the pain in my shoulders.
Before I go any further, I’m sure there are some of you who don’t know what a rotator cuff is so let’s find out what they are first.
What Are Rotator Cuffs?
Rotator cuffs are made up of four connecting muscle groups called:
• Supraspinatus muscle;
• Infraspinatus muscle;
• Teres minor muscle;
• Subscapularis muscle
These muscle arise from the shoulder blade and connect to the top of the arm (humerus) to form a cuff. These muscles and their tendons act to stabilize the shoulder but their main function is to keep the head of the humerus in the shallow cavity called the glenoid fossa, which is basically a ball joint called the glenohumeral joint.
Try lifting your arms upward, as far as you can go. You can do this because the rotator cuffs compresses the glenohumeral joint in order to allow the large deltoid muscle to further elevate the arm. Without the rotator cuffs, you wouldn’t be able to do this. Rotator cuffs allow your arm to move through a full range of motion.
See the image below.
Rotator cuff injuries generally arise from overuse. The tendons of the rotator cuff may have small tears in them from years of overuse. In our case, as active weight trainers, rotator cuff injuries generally arise from constant over head lifting. Exercises such as over head presses and lateral movements are the main culprits for rotator cuff injuries.
The symptoms of rotator cuff injuries are localized pain in the side, top and rear of the deltoid muscle. When you rotate your arm around in a circle, a small pop or crack will indicate to you that you may have rotator cuff problems. If any over head movement causes you pain, you most likely have problems with your rotator cuffs. If you find you have hard time putting on a shirt or jacket because of shoulder pain, you may have rotator cuff issues.
Try this simple little exercise. Hold your arms straight out and twist your hands from left to right. Don’t move your arms, just your hands. If you feel deep pain in your shoulder/s, chances are, you may have rotator cuff problems.
Pain or weakness on inward and outward rotation of the arm may indicate a tear in the rotator cuff tendon. Now, I’m no doctor so I can’t give you any medical advice but if the pain is severe, I suggest you see a medical professional.
I strongly suggest you stop doing what your doing in terms of weight training and take two weeks off, immediately. This will allow your shoulders to recover a little and you can get a better handle on what’s causing the problem.
Apply cold and hot therapy to your shoulders and try taking anti inflammatory medicine to help relieve the pain. Now, I’m not a big fan of taking loads of aspirin to relieve the pain so I’ve tried other methods with some pretty good results.
I’ve had great results with herbal treatments such as Lakota Joint Pain and Celedrin. You can get these at your local drug store. The thing you have to remember about these kinds of treatments is that they take time to work. Give them at least 8 weeks to take effect.
However, the biggest adjustment I have had to make was with my training. Once I started to cut out certain exercises, I immediately started to feel less and less pain in my shoulders. I’ve had to cut out all manner of heavy bench presses, shoulder presses, and laterals. I’ve had to swallow my pride and work with a much lighter weight.
I think it was Larry Scott (Former Mr. Olympia) who said he had the most magical cure for sore joints when it came to weight training. He said why should you keep doing the things that are causing you the most pain in your life? Simply cut out those exercises that are causing you the most pain and you will improve your joints almost immediately.
Very smart man. Of course, you have to swallow your pride but it is well worth it. I’ve heard stories of professional body builders who have to take handfuls of aspirin just to dull their joint pain before weight training.
This is a very bad situation which can only get worse. If you’re taking aspirin prior to training just to dull the pain in your joints, you’re going to have to stop what your doing, immediately and take some serious inventory.
Regardless of whether or not you are suffering from rotator cuff injuries, I’m going to tell you right now that you absolutely must start warming up properly. That is, you have to make sure your rotator cuffs are warmed up properly before attempting any over head movement.
• If you’re in serious pain, stop all activities and see a medical professional.
• If you have noticed some pain in your shoulders, and think it is your rotator cuffs, I strongly suggest you stop training immediately and take a two week break. This break should tell you if your shoulder pain is due to heavy weight training.
• If the pain continues, see a doctor. However, if you’ve noticed that your pain has subsided, you know that there is something in your training routine that you will have to change. I strongly suggest you get rid of some shoulder busting exercises such as heavy upright rows and heavy laterals. Heavy upright rows kill your shoulders.
• Lighten all loads that involve pressing, such as shoulder presses and the bench press. No more 3 to 6 reps in these exercises. Lighten the load that allows you to do 12 repetitions on all sets.
• Apply hot and cold therapy to your shoulders at night.
• Try taking herbal anti-inflammatories such as Lakota, Celedrin, and Glucosamine Sulfate
• Always warm up the shoulder area by performing rotator cuff exercises. Try these rotator cuff exercises here. Try and perform these exercise every time you get to the gym. Remember, do not go heavy on any of these exercises. Keep them very light with little or no weight.
I strongly suggest you warm up thoroughly before attempting any heavy poundages. That is, make sure you do some rotator cuff exercises and work up to your max poundages carefully. Also, always take 2 weeks rest after 12 to 15 weeks of hard and heavy training. This way, you can ensure your body gets the rest it needs to repair itself, especially the shoulders.
Why Talk About Rotator Cuffs?
I was sitting at my computer the other day and I went to pick up my pencil from the shelf and a sharp, stinging pain shot through my arm. I knew this pain and knew what it was from. At that moment, I started to think of the years of heavy lifting with no breaks, no rest and recuperation, and no warm ups.
I started to think about how my training style greatly affected my shoulder pain and mobility. I decided than and there that I would include an article about this serious training issue. I wanted to take this opportunity to warn you about the seriousness of rotator cuff injuries and how to avoid them.
I know for a fact, that if you don’t take care of your shoulders and rotator cuffs when you start out training, you’re going to pay for it a little later down the road.
Remember, treat your rotator cuffs right today and you can avoid possible future problems that can give you a world a pain and discomfort.
Here are some other articles I’ve written about this injury:
All the best,
Blake has been weight lifting for about 28 years now. He's 45 years of age and started seriously training when he was 18 years old.
Blake is the founder of Building-Muscle101.com, a successful fitness website that has been around for more than 15 years.