How to keep your shoulders healthy

Have you ever experienced bad shoulder pain? This is where you realize just how important your shoulders are. Every move you make to grab something, low or high, even simple things like driving your car – it’s all very painful. I see more and more people suffering the pain of shoulder injury all the time.

And I’ve seen a few reasons for these injuries. Now, I trained for more than 10 years, competed in 2 bodybuilding shows and won the Lean Body Challenge in 2008. I never had a shoulders injury. Lucky? No! It’s just how I train. Even if I compete in bodybuilding, I try to protect my shoulders.

How do I do this? It’s simple. When I perform an exercise like a chest press – whether it’s with the barbell or dumbbell – when I lower the weight, I stop when my elbows are in line with my shoulders. That makes a perfect 890 degree angle with my upper arm and my forearm.

You could use a deeper motion, and try to get a little more, but trust me it’s not worth it. Of course your range of motion is smaller, but you have no stress on your shoulder joint and this makes a big difference in the long run. Remember you do your strength training to be healthier; not to injure yourself. Because you have to stop the motion before you go all the way down, that means you need to control the weight more. Some people go so low during the chest press that they stop only because they cannot go any further with their range of motion. Wow! I don’t want to see those shoulders in few years!

You will see the dynamic is very different with a shallower range of motion. You need to get the perfect control during the eccentric phase (the ‘negative’ or ‘down’ part). Did you know, during the eccentric phase of a movement your muscles produce about 30 percent more force than the concentric phase (‘positive’ or ‘up’ part). Make sure you don’t waste this part during your workout. It’s the best time to recruit more muscles fibers during your lift.

The next problem: it’s great to train your shoulders, but many people never train the rotator cuff. What is the rotator cuff? It’s a group of 4 muscles that hold your shoulder joint in place. If you don’t train your rotator cuff, your deltoid can be too strong for your rotator cuff.  When that happens, it’s hard for those 4 muscles to keep up and stabilize your shoulder joint – the deltoid can actually pull the shoulder joint apart!

All four muscles originate from the scapula (the shoulder blade) and pass across the shoulder joint to attach onto the humerus bone of the upper arm. The rotator cuff,  like I said, is 4 muscles. You will find 3 of these muscles in the back , the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus and the teres minor. The subscapularis is situated in the front.

The best exercise to strengthen the rotator cuff is an external and internal rotation with a cable machine or band. Try this:

Roll a towel and place between your elbow and your oblique (Side of your body).
Stand sideways to the cable pulley with the pulley at your waist level. Grab the handle with your thumb up
Hold your elbow tight and move the handle inward (internal rotation) or outward (external rotation).
Keep your forearm parallel to the floor.
Visualize a clock; your motion should stay between 10 and 2 o’clock.

External Rotation

Internal Rotation


I don’t recommend you use dumbbells for this exercise because of the weight – you will activate your biceps and you won’t work the rotator cuff the way you need to.  You can use an elastic band, too, but always make sure you keep your shoulders still and the motion is only from the elbow.

Perform this exercise for the internal and external rotation for 2 to 3 sets of 15 reps for each set.

Another cause of shoulder injury is the behind-the-neck lat pull down and the military press exercises. These are two exercises where your shoulder joint is in an unnatural range of motion, and that causes a lot of stress to your shoulders. Skip those 2 exercises, and stay in front for the lat pull down and military press.

Have a great workout and remember to train your rotator cuff on your ‘shoulders day’!

Keep Moving, Stay Fit,

Martin Bolduc, CPT, ACE, BCRPA

** Martin Bolduc is the author of the Ultimate Guide to Express Fat Loss and the winner of the Lean Body Challenge 2008. Martin is a Certified Personal Trainer ACE and BCRPA and a natural bodybuilder. Martin helps hundreds of clients to reach their goals. Get Your Special Report on Express Fat Loss

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One Response for How to keep your shoulders healthy

  1. FRANK D

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    April 2, 2010 2:19 am

    Rotator cuff strength is critical to musiscians as well. The repetitive strain of playing gets worse as mucles around the shoulder tighten when working out!. Thanks Martin