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Is it a good idea to do rotator cuff exercises (as a means of prevention of injury) using weights prior to doing exercises that utilize the rotator cuff such as the shoulder press or bench press and others?

  • Performing dynamic stretching before your workout sessions should take care of these issues. Also, warming up with lower weights should keep you safe as well. – Kneel-Before-ZOD May 28 '15 at 15:21
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    I'd make a point of separating "exercises" with "warmups". Anyone doing heavy overhead pressing (as an example) should be starting with an empty bar, then ramping up their weights. So while I think it's a little dangerous to "exercise" your shoulder muscles before heavy pressing, it certainly makes sense to warm them up. And someone's warmup is someone else's max. – Eric May 28 '15 at 22:45
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It is a very bad idea. The main role of the rotator cuff muscles is positioning the center of the Humerus head in the precise place during each movement (avoiding the dreaded humeral head migration), so that the action of the "big" muscles (pecs, lat, deltoid heads) does not result in soft tissue impingement and the rotation takes place smoothly.

By exhausting those tiny muscles before the big exercises, they will be less ready to protect your shoulders. Really, it is a very bad idea. It is asking for injuries. Just read here

Researchers have established that superior migration of the humeral head increases after fatigue of the rotator cuff muscles.

(...)

Rotator cuff exercises, if any at all, should be done after your workout. And also, you have to do a truly big effort in abandoning your bodybuilder instinct during those exercises. They must be done (in case you still insist in doing them) with very light load, high slow reps, and trying simply to get a bit tired, never to exhaustion.

If you are young and you haven't had any shoulder issues, your best way of protecting your shoulders is by having perfect form during your normal exercises. Also, avoid behind-the-neck press/pull exercises. And do not be very obsessed with working your shoulders separately very often.

  • Just curious - is this based on anecdotal information? – rrirower May 28 '15 at 16:35
  • @rrirower It is based on reading here and there (I am not a professional), but I always look for scholar references. I had a shoulder injury and then became very interested in learning about how shoulders work. There are many interesting studies. For instance reading this helped me decide which shoulder exercise I would add to my workout. There are many similar papers. At the end one gets a more or less complete picture of what to do and what to avoid. But I am not a health professional. – Mephisto May 28 '15 at 19:00
  • @Mephisto As I said, just curious. I've had an actual RC repair and I don't recall any contraindicated exercises other than behind the neck presses. In fact, I was encouraged to continue the rehab exercises as a way to continue strengthening the repair. I use them as a warm up for my shoulder work, and, then proceed cautiously. My PT recommended this approach. – rrirower May 28 '15 at 19:07
  • @rrirower I've added my answer that includes a reference. – Imran Azad May 28 '15 at 19:13
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I myself have become very interested in this area, based on my research I have discovered that Massachusetts General Hospital actually DO recommend doing warm up exercises under the heading Prevention of Injuries in Weight Training

The source can be found here:

http://www.massgeneral.org/ortho/services/sports/rehab/Strength%20Training%20for%20the%20shoulder.pdf

  • Thank you for the clarification. I think that's what my answer indicated. – rrirower May 28 '15 at 19:15
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    That is a very interesting link (+1) and of course I cannot say anything against that approach because I am not a health professional. But for my personal workouts (and me alone) I will never do rotator cuff isolation prior to a strength workout because of the risk of fatigue. I think that the normal warmup (light shoulder presses, arm circles and so on) is enough. It is very easy to fatigue those tiny muscles, at least for me. I notice very quickly when they are fatigued because my shoulders start to do small popping noises when moving them. In my case the effect is noticeable. – Mephisto May 28 '15 at 19:25
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    @Mephisto I absolutely appreciate what you are saying, thanks. – Imran Azad May 29 '15 at 10:30
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I think that you need to consider whether or not the rotator cuff exercises before lifting are a light warm-up or performed to the point of fatigue.

If the exercises fatigue the rotator cuff muscles, then as @Mephisto cautions, the humeral head will migrate superiorly especially with overhead exercise such as the shoulder press. This is an unwanted consequence causing less room for the cuff between the acromion and humeral head.

Dr. Wickiewicz did an xray study looking at the effect of rotator cuff muscle fatigue and humeral migration. He found (pg 6) :

that the effect of exercise fatigue in individuals with “normal” rotator cuff musculature will cause the humeral head to superiorly migrate in the glenoid during overhead motion, mimicking the same superior humeral head migration that occurs in individuals with rotator cuff pathology.

The fatigued rotator cuff could not “offset” the strong pull of the deltoid musculature previously described, resulting in a superior migration of the humeral head on the glenoid during overhead ROM.

His Xray Study Shows

After fatigue, excursion of the humeral head increased .... With the initiation of abduction, the humeral head demonstrated significant superior migration or translation in all positions tested.

This result has important implications for conservative treatment of shoulder impingement and underscores the importance of rehabilitation to maximize the endurance and strength of the rotator cuff musculature.

However, if exercised to the point of fatigue, prior to weight lifting or overhead activity, these muscles will not offer joint protection.

The Massachusetts General recommendations that you cited are

as a warm-up using light weights.

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The rotator cuff is collection of four tendons and muscles. Most people don't target them until they've had some form of injury to the area. They are typically exercised using bands, towels, cables, stretches, and very light weights. If you've had previous problems with your rotator cuff, it's not a bad idea to warm up first. Make sure to perform any exercise with strict form. If you currently have problems with the RC, you should seek the advice of a physical therapist.

  • Thankfully I've not got any problems right now but I was asking more for preventing such injuries from occurring. – Imran Azad May 28 '15 at 14:48
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their shouldn't be any problem unless you don't warm up and stretch properly. but with weights and the rotator cuff be careful, i would say to be safe work the rotator cuff on off days to build it up so that then you can begin using the exercise for it on chest/shoulder days.

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