Lifting weights is a battle. It is a struggle of you versus the iron and nothing feels better than overcoming a barrier and hitting a personal best in the gym. If your goal is a big bench press it is a great feeling once you get to 2 plates per side, then 3 plates, and sometimes if you have paid your dues 4 plates per side! That is strong, and feels fantastic!
However with this battle comes injuries. And there is nothing as bad as being able to bench press 300lbs, yet something as simple as picking up a glass, or closing a car door can cripple you in pain. How can something so small set you back so much? The answer usually lies in a small group of muscles called “The Rotator Cuff”
As the old saying goes you are only as strong as your weakest link, and in most cases improving your bench (and overall upperbody strength) can be dramatically improved by training your rotator cuff and by reducing future rotator injuries. Ask anyone with a rotator injury it is not fun! I can speak from experience as I have hurt mine twice, but never had surgery and learned how to get mine stronger. At my heaviest I benched 405lb for 4 reps. A big factor in this was always training my rotator cuff muscles.
The next the paragraphs are the anatomy behind theses mucles, don’t get too caught with the ins and outs of it. As long as you get an understanding and add these exercises in the gym that is more important.
The rotator cuff is a group of four relatively small muscles (the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and Subscapularis, or “SITS” for an easy way to remember them all) that help keep the ball-and-socket joint intact. Rotator cuff muscles get strained from 1) sudden impact (a fall or high-velocity movement such as throwing when a person is not used to that particular activity), 2) overuse, particularly in sports such as swimming, baseball or tennis, 3) training with too much weight in the primary movements such as bench pressing or overhead pressing without proper recovery time, and 4) doing too much of certain types of movements without balancing them out with opposing movements (i.e. not enough pulling and too much pushing.)
Because the rotator cuff muscles are so small, when strengthening them, it is important not to train with too heavy a weight. Initially a 3 or 5-pound dumbbell may suffice for most women, and an 8 to 12 pound dumbbell for men. When performing rotator cuff exercises, keep the movement slow and controlled, and be sure to train in the pain-free range of motion. Keep your wrists neutral rather than flicking the wrist to add range. Another option is using therabands or exercise tubing, although remember that in doing so, the end range of motion will be overloaded far more than the start, and in this case handheld weights (be it soupcans, 2-liter bottles or dumbbells) or cables are preferable to bands.
If necessary consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
The 3 Exercises
-Cuban Press with bar or Dumbell
-The Hitch Hiker
-Thumb Down Front Shoulder Raise
Add these 3 exercises in on your chest or press days. It will help reduce chance of injury, improve pressing strength and also aid in improving shoulder strength and health.