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By all means, perform exercises to strengthen your rotator cuffs, but stick with light resistance, a weight that’s not challenging at all, and high reps, until you feel a mild burning sensation from lactic acid buildup in the area.


Like many of you, I suffer from occasional pain in the rotator cuffs, a small group of muscles that can cause agony in the shoulders and can seriously compromise your ability to train. After injuring my left shoulder to the point where it required a cortisone injection, I set about to beef up my rotators as a preventive measure against future trouble. As is all too often the case in bodybuilding, though, being overzealous proved my downfall. 

I often advise people inquiring about rotator cuff exercises to keep the resistance light and the repetitions high. They are small and relatively fragile muscles; therefore, they can’t be treated like larger muscle groups. If only I’d taken my own advice! My external rotations on the cable apparatus were executed as described at first, with the pin only a few holes down the weight stack and for sets of 15 to 20 reps. What followed can be chalked up to two terrible qualities: greed and impatience. 

Two irrational thoughts came into my mind at once: This isn’t very heavy, and I want to get moving with my “real” workout here. So I removed the pin and sank it into a hole a few plates down the stack, a weight that limited my reps to around seven or eight. Everything felt fine, and I didn’t give it a second thought as I wrapped up my rotator cuff work and proceeded to train shoulders. 

The next morning I woke up with a sharp pain in my right shoulder, pain that made the simple acts of eating breakfast and brushing my teeth sheer agony. I’d royally screwed up, and now I was paying the price. As I write, about 10 days later, the pain is just barely starting to subside, but it’s clear I’ll be paying for my foolish mistake for quite some time. 

Please learn from my stupidity so I didn’t suffer that pain for nothing. By all means, perform exercises to strengthen your rotator cuffs, but stick with light resistance, a weight that’s not challenging at all, and high reps, until you feel a mild burning sensation from lactic acid buildup in the area. If you attempt to do therapeutic movements with a weight that challenges you, you run the very high risk of badly hurting the very area you’re trying to bolster against injury. IM

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