For any of you experienced lifters out there, you have likely come across shoulder pain while lifting heavy weights at some point in your life. Whether it’s while doing pushups, or loading up heavy on the bench press, it’s one thing that almost anyone has had to go through. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to cut your lift short because your shoulder has started acting up… again.

For those of you who want to learn more about the anatomy of the shoulder and what you can do to keep your shoulders healthy and pain-free, read on!

In order to keep a healthy shoulder, it’s important to first understand how the shoulder is composed. Of course, you’ve got your larger thicker muscle called the deltoid (the one that most people think of when they think of shoulder exercises), however, there’s 4 smaller muscles that are responsible for keeping your shoulder in the right place in your shoulder socket. We refer to these muscles as the rotator cuff. These muscles are called: Supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor. While you’re not expected to memorize the names of these important muscles, if you can memorize these 3 great exercises, you will have taken one of the first steps for building a stronger, healthier shoulder joint. Let’s get into it!

Cable Internal Rotation

To perform this exercise:

  1. Set the cable with a handle to a height that is in line with your elbow and forearm.
  2. Slowly rotate at the shoulder, pulling the cable towards the opposite side of your body.
  3. Once across your body, slowly let the cable pull your arm back towards your starting position and repeat.

Note: This exercise is performed by using light weights (typically I recommend using between 3-10lbs of resistance). With these muscles being relatively small, I prefer using lighter weights with a higher number of reps in order to strengthen these essential muscles. Aim for between 12 and 15 reps for 2 sets at the beginning and gradually increase your sets to 3 over time.

It is important to keep your elbow flush against your body in order to prevent using your chest muscles from taking over in this exercise. It is all about being slow and controlled with this exercise.

Cable External Rotation:

To perform this exercise:

  1. Set cable at the same height as previous exercise (in line with your elbow and shoulder)
  2. Slowly rotate at the shoulder externally rotating your arm
  3. Once your arm reaches 90 degrees, let the cable slowly pull you back to your starting position, repeat.

Note: This exercise is best performed for 12 reps using a light weight (between 3-10 lbs) for 2 sets. Again, build up your endurance and strength for this exercise over multiple sessions to best suit the needs of your body. All too often people may believe that it’s not working after a couple reps because it feels so light, just wait till around rep 8-10 and you’ll begin to feel the burn.

This exercise is going to work the back of your shoulder and is another essential exercise for keeping your shoulder healthy and pain free. As mentioned in our last exercise, it is important to keep your elbow against your body to prevent other muscles from taking over

Open Can:

This last exercise is another great exercise for working the last part of our rotator cuff which is our supraspinatus.

To perform this exercise:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your thumb side facing directly in front of you, mimicking the holding of a tin can.
  2. Slowly raise the dumbbells to shoulder height, while keeping your shoulders back and with proper posture.
  3. Slowly lower the weights back down and repeat.

Note: Remember, for all of these exercises we want to be using a lighter weight. If we go too heavy for this exercise, we will begin shifting the focus from the rotator cuff muscle and instead be using more of our deltoid. Anything over 10 lbs for this exercise will de-emphasize the rotator cuff and instead be using our deltoid.

These 3 relatively simple exercises are great for strengthening each area of our shoulder. When performing any of these exercises, you should not be experiencing any pain. Shoulder pain is not something that you push through and if it is something that you have been experiencing for a while, it is strongly recommended that you seek professional help in order to obtain a proper diagnostic.