Unfortunately, most people find that in the course of training their shoulders they experience more pain than gain. If you want gain size and strength in your shoulders there is much more to training those muscles than just your basic military press, lateral raises, front raises, and reverse flyes/rear delt raises.

Your muscular strength and size gains are dependent upon your ability to overload the muscles of the shoulder without doing harm to the shoulder joint. Overloading the muscles of the shoulder primarily becomes possible through stabilization of the shoulder joint. Greater joint stability will allow you to safely perform the exercises, use the weights and do the number of repetitions that will make your shoulders grow.

The safety of the shoulder joint is more dependent on the muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint than the muscles that mobilize it. This means that if you want to decrease your risk for shoulder injuries, training the muscles of the rotator cuff is crucial. The rotator cuff (RTC) is comprised of four muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.

These muscles are all attached to the shoulder blade (scapula) and provide stability for the shoulder in movements such as the military press. The muscles of the deltoid are incapable of flexing the arm without the stabilization that the RTC provides. In fact, in the military press, the RTC as a whole is capable of generating about 50% of the force required to perform that movement. Also for movements like lateral raises, front raises, and reverse flyes/rear delt raises, even greater joint stability is required.

So next time you work your shoulders, just remember that your RTC is a big part of keeping your workout safe.

Here is a quick routine to use to help strengthen your rotator cuff muscles.

Internal Rotation Using Dumbbells

  • Lie on side.
  • Hold dumbbell on same side, Bend elbow to 90-degree angle. Keep elbow against body.
  • Slowly lift dumbbell upward and toward body.

Internal Rotation with Strength Bands

  • Attach resistance band to doorknob / wall.
  • Stand with right side to wall.
  • Hold resistance band with right hand.
  • Bend elbow to 90-degree angle, hand facing frontward and elbow close to body.
  • Slowly rotate hand toward the middle of the body.
  • Return to starting position.

External Rotation Using Dumbbells

  • Lie on your left side.
  • With right arm, hold dumbbell next to body, elbow bent 90-degrees.
  • Slowly lift upward until back of hand faces backward.

External Rotation with Strength Bands

  • Attach resistance band to door, wall or secure object.
  • Stand with left side to wall.
  • Hold the band with right your hand.
  • Start with right hand in middle of body, elbow bent 90-degrees.
  • Slowly stretch band by moving arm outward until back of hand facing backward.

Lateral Raise Using Dumbbell

  • Sit in a chair.
  • With arms at side and thumbs pointed upward, slowly raise arm to the sides but slightly toward the until almost shoulder level.

More stable shoulders can help you to produce the strength required to get bigger shoulders but, one thing that is often neglected in training is power movements such as push presses and split jerks. Power movements can help you break through strength plateaus. Most people avoid power movements because they don’t understand that loading your shoulders with heavy weight is going to help you move heavy weights in strength movements as well. Although performing push presses and split jerks requires momentum from the legs, these exercises allow you to load the shoulders with weight that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to military press.

When performing strength exercises such as military presses, stay in the 8-12 rep range but when you are doing power exercises you can safely go heavier and drop your reps to 3-5 because you are using your legs to assist in moving the weight. Furthermore, the increased activity of the RTC will assist you in overloading the muscles and not the joint. Combining traditional shoulder strengthening exercises with RTC training and power movements will reduce the pain and increase the gain you are looking for.

Shoulder Blasting Routine

  • RTC Internal and External exercises listed above
    • 3×30-40
  • Split Jerk
    • 3×5
  • Push Press
    • 3×5
  • Military Press
    • 3×8
  • Side lateral Raise
    • 3×10
  • DB Front Raise
    • 3×10