Due to over weightlifting I ended up with a "tear of the supraspinatus tendon" in my right shoulder. My doctor advised that I have to live with it, and not to lift weights.

Descriptive image of Rotator Cuff Tear

I don't want to make things worse but at the same time, I would like to train other muscles.

Are there exercises to train individual muscles such as biceps, triceps, arms, chest, lats, traps, etc. without the use of the shoulder muscles at all? My focus is on bodybuilding [specifically from a visual standpoint, no competition].

This will be really helpful as I have stopped training for 6 months now. I feel bad and my body starts to get weaker and in bad shape.

I appreciate your advice and programs if possible.

  • Focus is bodybuilding - From a purely visual standpoint? Or do you intend to compete in the future?
    – JohnP
    Nov 13, 2019 at 14:18
  • @JohnP just for visual standpoint, no competition, I just want to look good
    – asmgx
    Nov 13, 2019 at 22:10

3 Answers 3


Bodybuilder with rotator cuff tear here.

I have a shoulder injury as well in my rotator cuff although I'm very curious about yours because most tears heal. Either way, I'd suggest seeing a few different bone specialists or orthopedics or physiatrists and a well qualified physical therapist. Making sure they specialize in sports will help too.

The treatment plan I had was to stop actually doing rotator cuff strengthening that involved bands and do static stretches for my rotator cuff internal, external, etc. and some very lightweight (1 lb) rotator cuff exercises. I was advised to do this and it should heal in 6 to 8 weeks enough to continue. Shoulder raises with no weight helped reduce the risk of a frozen shoulder.

So here are things you can do or should avoid:

  • Focus on healing first! If you feel any pain exercising then stop. You can really permanently damage your shoulder. All that could be prevented.

  • After 6 weeks of rest and physical therapy use a 20-30 rep plan with very lightweight and slowly increase your weight. After a few weeks, you can try lowering the rep range and adding weight, although I'd stay in the 20 to 30 rep range for a while, then stay in the 15 rep range. Use this as an opportunity to build muscular endurance. You can test the waters with heavier weights in a few weeks.

  • Avoid lifting ANYTHING overhead until your shoulder is healed then start with light reps.

Be careful about:

  • Horizontal pushing such as barbell bench press should be very carefully approached. Try it with not letting your elbows go below parallel and retract your scapula. if this doesn't work you can try reverse grip bench press or even dumbbell bench press. This will work triceps.

  • Bicep curls as these use your shoulders as stabilizers. Use dumbbells seated or even try preacher curls so your arm doesn't need a shoulder stabilizer.

  • Triceps, avoid overhead exercises such as tricep extensions or skull-crushers. Use close grip bench press or tricep pushdowns.

Back exercises on a bench support, such as bat wings, scapular retractions, t-rows with dumbbells, cable exercises, etc should be ok.

Your shoulders and lats can get indirectly targeted through bench, one arm db rows, and more.

Your body will force you to use absolute correct form to do exercises now. If you feel pain instantly quit that exercise. Do not be a hero.

Be sure to check with doctors first! If anything, use this as an opportunity to build your back and weak muscles.

  • Thanks heaps mate.. good advice
    – asmgx
    Nov 15, 2019 at 4:27

I'm not a doctor, blah blah blah, but...

Over the past several years of lifting weights, playing with strongman training and rock climbing, I've had numerous injuries including (but not limited to) a fractured thumb, popped finger tendons, severe shoulder trauma (can't remember exactly, but only narrowly avoided surgery), rotator cuff issues with both shoulders and more recently a dislocated ankle.

Throughout all of this, I've never stopped training, I've just adapted what I do (upper body broken = train lower body and vice versa).

Though I can't find a specific article, Dan John talks, in some of his podcasts and interviews, about the time that he fractured his wrist (or something very similar) and carried on training everything that he could, including his non-injured side. He found that training the non-injured side actually had a surprising amount of carry over to the injured side.

I can't comment on your particular injury, but when I injured my right shoulder (by being an idiot and not letting go when my foot slipped on a bouldering problem) I started deadlifting every day using a program I read about in Easy Strength. Once I'd got a bit bored with that, I made a routine based around some machine work, lunges and split squats (dumbbells held at my side, didn't irritate my shoulder), dumbbell bench and overhead press with my left arm, lots of core work, deadlift variations (snatch grip pulled too much, so it was mainly conventional, sumo and Romanian), single arm pulldowns and cable rows, and once the injury had healed sufficiently, daily Turkish get-ups.

I've never liked doctors for physical injuries like this. The only advice I've ever been given was "rest it", or at best, a print out of some general exercises that they seem to hand out to everyone who goes in with that particular injury (there was a pile for ankles, one for backs, one for knees, etc, etc).

Go see a decent sports physiotherapist, or a personal trainer who has experience with sports injuries.

  • Thanks mate, that helped
    – asmgx
    Nov 13, 2019 at 22:09
  • @asmgx No worries man. Didn't want to put this in the answer, but have you asked the Dr about surgery to repair the tear? I did a little reading around it and my understanding is that unfortunately, not many tears like that heal naturally
    – Dark Hippo
    Nov 14, 2019 at 8:56
  • @asmgx I've added a link to one of the Dan John podcasts where he talks about training while injured
    – Dark Hippo
    Nov 14, 2019 at 12:32
  • 1
    Thanks heaps mate, I am excited for going to back to workout again
    – asmgx
    Nov 14, 2019 at 21:34

Don't listen to your doctor on this (sorry for you guys). Traditional medicine tends to give over-conservative advices for those kind of issues.

If you read through stories on the internet, you will find numerous people that were told to stop training by doctors. They did not listen and returned to high-level competition with dedicated and hard work (yes, you will have to work for that). For example, go read some Stuart McGill stories on how he fixed serious back issues for high-level competitors. This will ease your mind !

So ... You can definitely come back from this. Even if you had a complete tear, you could probably compensate through other muscles. Again, this requires you to seek capable people to help you with this, provides you the right treatment and advices. And this will require you to work every day on this issue and probably to do maintenance work after that. And if you succeed in healing your torn tendons, you should understand what caused the issue (acute injury ? muscle imbalances ? improper mechanics/technique ?) to avoid it reappearing in the future.

Now where to look for proper advice I don't really know. I could just direct you toward crossover symmetry which provides good program for overall shoulder health. But you need to find a person able to properly look at your issue as a whole and provide you proper training/recovery program.

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