Getting back into the rotation of things
December 7, 2006 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Help me fix my stubborn rotator cuff.

I have been very involved in fitness and lifting for a number of years. Last year I stepped up my workout routine and moved on to much heavier weights and experimented with powerlifting.

Inevitably, I injured my rotator cuff with all the heavy weights. I immediately went through physical therapy for nearly 2 months and stopped lifting almost completely. By the time I had returned to the gym, I had lost a substantial amount of strength, though I was still able to lift.

However, the problem persisted and I could still feel nagging stings in my shoulder--which was my body telling me it was time for a much more serious break.

Well, it's been almost six months of break--no lifting whatsoever--and I've decided to go back to the gym. I've gone off all supplementation and have moved the weight down to nearly nothing (my 325 pound bench press has shrank to a very tough 135).

I'm trying to take things slow and easy, but I'm still feeling some lingering pain in my arm and I really do not want to re-injure my rotator cuff... but I love strength training!

Main question: What kind of exercises can I do to strengthen my rotator cuff while I'm at the gym? Exercises that work, please! I'm looking for things that specifically target the rotator cuff, in order to strengthen it for other exercises and prevent injury.

What should I avoid?

Has anyone else ever gone through this?

Should I give up strength training entirely?

Any other rotator cuff advice is welcome, thanks!
posted by dead_ to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I recovered 100% from rotator cuff surgery. It did take about a year to not notice any twinges. But I am not a weight lifter. The only suggestion I can give is to see a sports doctor. I don't think a layman could answer your question.
posted by JayRwv at 10:59 AM on December 7, 2006

Yes, you can totally get through all of it via rehab. Even if you're feeling good, I'm surprised that your PT didn't give you maintenance exercises for your shoulder.

Rotator Cuff exercises can help
Link 1
Link 2

Serious question:
Why Powerlift?

Really. Even "Why Bench?"

I ask this, because Powerlifting, a test of how much weight you can throw once, exposes the joint structures to force levels near damage levels for a joint.

But you know this, because it's how you got hurt.

I think you need to ask yourself, can you lift weights and get the benefits, without the ego of powerlifting moves?

All the major powerlifting moves, the clean and jerk, the deadlift, the squat, and the bench press, are dicey when performed safely for 8+ reps. (min 45 sec under load.) When you get down to singles and doubles (yes, even after pyramiding up), you're still working in a very dangerous area.

So, I ask again, why powerlift? Oh, I see you feel frustrated with your bench strength dropping. But remember, benching is very much about skill (and in powerlifing about how to 'throw' as well).

I'd say, strength train, get stronger, heal your shoulder, but leave the powerlifting (and the ego that results) at the door.

I'm a fan of HIT training, but even still, find a weight you can do 2-3 sets of 10 reps (with say a specific interval between the sets.) When you can do 10 reps in both sets, add weight.

Regardless of whether it's freeweights or machines.

Go slow and controlled (no throwing/bouncing etc.) and you'll hypertrophy (get stronger) again.
posted by filmgeek at 11:33 AM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

I’d pretty much echo filmgeek. I tore my rotator in a parachute accident and my shoulder, while healed, hasn’t been the same. I’d work on the small and tight motions (as from filmgeeks links) but give yourself plenty of time to heal. Sounds to me like you hadn’t been paying attention to the small muscles in the first place. Best way to get yourself hurt.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:43 PM on December 7, 2006

Can you tell us more about what you hurt, exactly? I swim and have injured my rotator cuff, but what you hurt has a lot to do with what you should do. Also, a lot of swimmers I know understand that rotator cuff injury is definitely something you manage, not something that is hurt then completely improves. Finally, very few people are fans of total rest--usually working it a little bit (unless you are injured enough to be in a sling) keeps the flexibility and loosness up, which is important.

Some other shoulder info.
posted by dame at 1:26 PM on December 7, 2006

you'll hypertrophy (get stronger) again.

I'm not sure what your problem with powerlifting is, but it's unimpressive to see a guy who can't even define hypertrophy (get *bigger*) railing against the evils of powerlifting (which is squat, bench, and deadlift, not clean and jerk). There is nothing especially dicey abou most powerlifting moves performed with proper form any more than there is with most other repetitive motions done with freeweights or on machines. Perhaps it would help you understand why one might enjoy powerlifting if you viewed it as a sport or a hobby instead of simply an activity done in the pursuit of fitness.
posted by ch1x0r at 9:43 PM on December 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Please explain to me how a given muscle in an individual can be stronger without being larger. One yields the other, every time.

Clean and jerk is no longer as common a powerlifting exercise. That doesn't mean that it hasn't/wasn't for years. And still done by many.

Nothing dicey about powerlifting movies with proper form?
You mean where someone is doing a max lift, can't lift the weight and arches their back a foot off the bench? Proper form where? For safety? At a contest? Between a couple of buds?

How do you think the poster got hurt? Powerlifting is done with the heaviest weight possible, and exceeded the joint capsule's ability to withstand stress.

Yup, totally get it as a sport/hobby.
posted by filmgeek at 5:29 PM on December 8, 2006

I'm a jiu-jitsu athlete, and have had occasional bouts of light tendonitis in each shoulder as a result. I don't do barbell flat bench presses anymore. And really, who needs them? Stick to dips, chins, (then add weight to both), and standing shoulder press. And my secret: I find that the benching with dumbells instead is much less stressful for my shoulders. I have no idea why, but I can do them and not feel pain, so you might consider giving that a try, carefully.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 5:30 PM on December 8, 2006

filmgeek- Weird response, dude. The poster didn't ask, and probably doesn't care whether or not you get his hobby. My hobby's dangerous too. Doesn't make me love it any less, and I couldn't give two poops if somebody 'gets it' or not. Any sport pursued seriously brings the risk of injury with it-that's just the reality of being an athlete. Athletics in general are about pushing limits and testing your physical abilities; if you make a habit of that, at some point you'll probably have to deal with an injury or two.

dead_ -Rotator cuff injuries are a biotch, as I understand them, and I don't have any idea if you'll ever get your bench as high as it was. But if you enjoy lifting, get back to it, and experiment. See what you can do without hurting yourself, and then do that. Of course, consult your physician, PT, whatever, but as long as you're being careful and working within the limits they set for you, I'd be shocked to hear that they weren't supportive.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 5:41 PM on December 8, 2006

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