Everyone who benches knows and fears the torn rotator cuff. So it makes sense to be preemptive in avoiding it. Assuming I'm healthy and uninjured, what single exercise can I do to help avoid the tear? (Preferably a compound exercise, but since the goal is to strengthen a stabilizer, I understand if this isn't possible.)

The suggested duplicate is a question about rehab (i.e. answers targeted at people who are already injured), whereas mine is about prevention in healthy individuals.

  • possible duplicate of Rotator cuff strengthening for shoulder overuse injury
    – JohnP
    Apr 22, 2015 at 16:06
  • 2
    Regarding the close votes, the duplicate thread is for lifting with an existing injury but this question is about being healthy and uninjured. Related for sure, but not a duplicate in my mind.
    – Eric
    Apr 22, 2015 at 18:15

4 Answers 4


I'm a big Rippetoe fan and his use of the standing overhead barbell press. It's my go-to upper body pushing lift, I try to do it 2x as much as I bench. Being able to press your own bodyweight is a real strength achievement in its own right, and steady pressing has had my own shoulders in good shape.

There's a good answer with discussion over here.

I don't have any hard data on it, but I've been doing gymnastics for a while on rings, and the stabilization required for that is tremendous. If you have a set of rings laying around consider trying to maintain the support position for a while, and maybe move into ring dips (if you aren't there already). Off topic, but another great thing about rings is that you can do a ton of really tough exercises with them and they travel well.

Looking around a gym it's pretty easy to see where a lot of the shoulder injuries come from: non-stop bench pressing with little back (or rear deltoid) development, isolation work (again, almost always neglecting the back), and impingement inducing zany exercises.

  • I like the rings suggestion. I'll have to think about where I could hang them. I do a lot of OHP, but iirc, they only barely hit the rotator cuff at the very top of the movement and not very hard either. (I read this somewhere and it was attributed to Rippetoe, actually. Can't find the link though.)
    – Tyler
    Apr 22, 2015 at 16:11
  • In leu of support on the rings, would a similar position on the dips bars have similar effect? I.e. just get in the starting position for dips and hold.
    – Tyler
    Apr 22, 2015 at 16:13
  • @Tyler the rings are much harder to stabilize on, and that's what makes them so valuable. By default your arms will just fly outward so it takes a lot of strength and stabilizers to maintain a position and move about on them. If you look at male gymnasts you'll see shockingly powerful shoulders. An iron cross (as example) puts something like 6x-10x your bodyweight load on each shoulder.
    – Eric
    Apr 22, 2015 at 16:39
  • This should be at the top in bold "shoulder injuries come from: non-stop bench pressing with little back (or rear deltoid) development"
    – pufferfish
    Apr 22, 2015 at 18:15

Swimming would probably be the safest exercise.

A properly constructed workout plan will eliminate injuries

  • Do not over train
  • Know your 1 Rep Max and multi-rep equivalents
  • Do not exceed your 1RM Capacity except in very small overload increments
  • Do not work to failure (maximal load) every workout
  • Use Progressive Resistance with first set workload at least 10% below Maximal
  • Do not push your self too hard on the last rep of your last set

Some sports are prone to Rotator Cuff injury

  • Baseball especially Pitchers
  • Tennis
  • Swimmers

Accidental Injuries

  • Falling on shoulder
  • Breaking fall with arms
  • Lifting Heavy Object
  • Over Stretching
  • Rapid Twisting

BTW, the Bench Press does not work any of the Rotator Cuff muscles. Except the a very minor workout of Subscapularis which no resistance exercise targets.

Muscles and Resistance Exercises

Below is a list of the Rotor Cuff Muscles with some common and safe resistance exercises that work those muscles.

Shoulders Bent-Over Lateral Raises
Shoulders Low Pulley Bent-Over Lateral
Shoulders Pec Deck Rear Delt Laterals
Back Bent Rows
Back T-Bar Rows

Teres Major
Shoulders Low Pulley Bent-Over Lateral
Chest Dumbbell Pullovers
Chest Barbell Pullovers
Back Reverse Chin-Ups
Back Lat Pulldowns
Back Back Lat Pulldowns
Back Close-Grip Lat Pulldowns
Back Straight-Arm Lat Pulldowns
Back Seated Rows
Back One-Arm Dumbbell Rows
Back Bent Rows
Back Deadlifts

Back Press

No resistance exercises?

PosteriorView of Rotator Cuff

Rotator Cuff Muscles

  • 2
    Unless you have good form, swimming can be incredibly hard on the RC.
    – JohnP
    Apr 22, 2015 at 16:08
  • @JohnP I almost ended that statement with a question mark. I was thinking a leisurely swim, not competitive. Swimming was the only exercise I could think of that targets the rotator cuff with a movement that would help prevent injury and not create muscle imbalance. You must have a lot of experience in that area as swimmers are at high risk for rotator injury. Any ideas? Apr 22, 2015 at 19:37
  • Mmm...not really on the swimming part. The problem is, that unless you have good form, leisurely swimming can be just as hard if not harder on the shoulders and elbows than competitive. I might amend it to reflect that, and add that many RC exercises can be done against resistance in a pool and still get a decent aerobic workout in. (BTW, I did not DV your answer at all, I like the rest of it.)
    – JohnP
    Apr 22, 2015 at 19:41

When you perform a bench press, the movement pulls the shoulder mostly inwards i.e. toward the chest, and potentially upwards and downwards depending on whether you are doing incline / decline. If your shoulders are weak, then they can easily become overloaded as your bench press improves. Ideally you should strengthen the rotator cuff from all angles, but if I was to pick only one as you've specified, I would strengthen it in the direction of external rotation, as this is the opposing direction to which the weight is pulling your shoulder. Strengthening the muscle in this direction will mean your shoulder will better be able to stabilise itself by resisting the pull that is placed upon it.

An easy way to train this is to perform Cable External Rotations, I have experienced rotator cuff stress from benching, and performing external rotations with every workout that involves shoulders resolved the issue for me.


I strongly recommend YTW routine:

How to do it: Grab a set of dumbbells (3-5 lbs) and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Draw your shoulder blades down and back and keep them there during the entire movement. Raise your arms up into a Y position, keeping them straight the whole time. Pause, then slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.

To move on to T raises, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Keep a slight bend in your knees as you shift forward at your hips. Keep your back parallel with the ground and your abs engaged. Raise your arms out to shoulder height in a T position, palms facing forward. Pause, then slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.

Finally, for W raises, start in the same bent-over position as you were in for T raises. Bend your elbows more than 90 degrees and raise your arms up to shoulder height, squeezing your shoulder blades together as you lift. At the top of the movement, your arms should form a W. Pause, then slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat 10-15 times.

  • You should explain your answer fully. The link you provided may become obsolete.
    – rrirower
    Apr 25, 2015 at 15:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.