Shoulder Injuries & The Rotator Cuff | Part 2 – Preventing Shoulder Injuries

In the first article of this series, we gave you a basic overview of the shoulder anatomy and made a couple of things clear:

  • The shoulder is a mobile, but vulnerable joint
  • It is comprised of superficial muscles (deltoids) but also deep, stabilizing muscles (the rotator cuff)
  • The shoulders are involved in all upper body movements in some way, further increasing the probability of injury

We also had a look at some common shoulder injuries, such as rotator cuff tears, dislocations, bursitis, and shoulder socket inflammations (frozen shoulder). In this second article, we are going to tell you more about how you can prevent these unpleasant injuries and enjoy sustainable upper body training for years.

Without further ado, let’s get to it!

How To Prevent Shoulder Injuries

In most cases when people think of shoulder training, the first things that come to mind are weighted exercises like dumbbell presses and front raises. And while those are certainly good picks for developing strong deltoids, they give the rotator cuff very little work to do. As you lift heavier and heavier on those movements, the cuff is imposed to progressively greater amounts of stress, making it far more likely for an injury to occur.

Below are our best tips that you can use to minimize the risk of a shoulder injury.

Tip #1 Train your rotator cuff!

As we just said, the traditional shoulder exercises do not really emphasize the rotator cuff, which is a detrimental element of shoulder health. Implementing resistance band rotator cuff exercises in your routine is a perfect way to exercise all shoulder functions and keep the joint healthy.

Furthermore, this type of exercise is a good way to warm up the shoulders and prime them for the heavier lifts in your workout. Here are the 4 best resistance band exercises for your cuff, with written exercise steps:

1.     External rotation

Attach the resistance band securely on a pole/anchor at the height of your belly button. Stand next to the band and hold it with your outside hand, with an overhand grip. Maintain an upright torso position, keep the back straight and avoid hunching your shoulders. Pull the band, opening the arm to the outside (external rotation) – Do this slowly to maintain tension. Go back to the initial position slowly, keeping the tension on the shoulder.

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This exercise can also be done on both arms simultaneously, by holding a band closely with both hands and stretching it out with the same external rotation. NOTE: Keep the upper arm closer to the body!

2.     Internal rotation

With the same initial position, hold the resistance band but this time with your inside hand. Step away from the resistance band so that it starts generating tension. Close the arm in, pulling the band towards your belly button. Again, use an even pace that is relatively slow, on both portions of the movement.

NOTE: Don’t let the band lose tension

3.     90-Degree External rotation

Attach the band to a pole/anchor at lower chest height and stand in front of it. Move to the side, so that the band is right in front of your working arm. With that same arm, grab the band and take a step back to generate tension. Raise your arm up so that the upper arm is parallel to the ground, with elbow bent at 90-degrees. Pull the resistance band back, raising the arm to a 90-degree vertical angle. Go back down slowly, maintaining the tension on both portions of the movement.

NOTE: Do this movement on both sides!

4.      Downward Pull (extension)

Attach the resistance band to a higher spot, so that it is anchored above you. Stand in front of the band upright then grab it with a neutral grip (palm facing to the opposite side). Take a step back to generate resistance, keeping the arm straight and parallel to the ground. Pull the band down to the side of your hip slowly, then return to the initial position.

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NOTE: Again, do the movement slowly on both sides – Even pace.

Tip #2 – Manage Your Workout Split

As we mentioned, the shoulders are engaged in all upper body movements. This is exactly why your training split should allow them to recover properly, before having them engaged heavily again. To do so, you can:

  • Avoid direct shoulder training the day before chest training
  • Place a lower body or rest day in-between upper body training sessions
  • Combine all pushing muscle groups in 1 workout with lesser volume

By carefully distributing your heavy pushing movements across your workout plan, you will allow all tendons and muscles to recover and perform optimally, thus reducing the risk of injury.

Tip #3 – Manage Your Workout Intensity

If you go all-out on every single upper body workout, odds are that sooner or later a shoulder injury will occur. This is exactly why managing your workout intensity (working weight) is of prime importance for shoulder health (and joint health in general). Higher intensity by nature is more demanding and thus, requires more time to recover from.

To manage your intensity, you can:

  • Leave a couple of reps in the tank – Don’t go to failure on every set
  • Program higher intensity days & moderate-intensity days
  • Every now and then, use lower weights for more reps

In doing so, you will allow all shoulder muscles to become stronger from workout to workout.

Tip #4 – Use Compound Movements

The more you isolate a muscle group, the bigger the chance of tendon inflammation and/or tear is. This is exactly why, compound movements that utilize a variety of muscle groups, are a viable injury prevention tool. These exercises will allow secondary muscle groups to engage in the movement, thus supporting the shoulder and its muscles.

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In doing so, you will not only take away from potentially harmful tension of the shoulder joint but will also be able to lift heavier to maximize shoulder development.

Here are our best compound movement picks:

  • Standing barbell overhead press (uses the shoulders & triceps, back muscles stabilize the torso)
  • One-Arm dumbbell overhead press (uses the shoulders & triceps, engages the rotator cuff more to balance the arm)
  • One-arm dumbbell lateral raises (uses the shoulders & trapezius, reduces peak contraction angle leading to less pressure on the joint)

Tip #5 – Warm up, warm up, warm up!

Last but not least, warming up before heavier lifts is of prime importance for shoulder health. A good warm up will kick up your heart rate, warm your body up and activate the muscles you’re going to target in your workout. Generally, if you combine low-intensity cardio (5-10 minutes) with the resistance band exercises you are good to go. Additionally, it is recommended that you gradually increase the working weight on your first couple of sets, in order to work your way up to higher intensity.

To Wrap It Up

The shoulder is a complex, very mobile joint that generally lacks stability, making it vulnerable during high exertion. For this reason, key elements of your workout plan are important to consider, in order to prevent an injury. Those are your warm-up, exercise choice, recovery periods between upper body training sessions, as well as proper integration of auxiliary, strengthening exercises for the rotator cuff. By making sure you have all these key points in check, you make it far less likely for a shoulder injury to occur.