Your shoulders and rotator cuffs are some of the most important areas of your body—and that means you need to take extremely good care of them.
Unlike some sports injuries, a rotator cuff injury doesn’t need a jarring impact to occur. Stressing this part of the body every time you hit the gym is enough to break down soft tissue over time, and cause the type of intense pain that keeps you off the bench for weeks. But don’t get scared and stop lifting—just lift smarter.
We asked CJ Murphy, trainer and owner of Total Performance Sports, for his advice on avoiding this all-too-common injury.
Here are the four things you can do to help save your shoulders.
1. Vary your upper-back work
Mix up your back work and see results.
Don’t focus entirely on boosting your bench press; leave room for rows as well. Murphy suggests performing half of your upper-back work as pull-down/pull-up movements, and half as rows.
2. Work around your rotator cuff
Don’t push too much direct strain on your rotator cuffs.
Contrary to popular opinion, Murphy says direct rotator cuff work is unnecessary and may be detrimental to your development. He adds, “The cuff is a stabilizer, and direct work is not necessary to maintain shoulder health.”
3. Tighten your form
Tighten things up in your form and make a difference.
Many benchers are guilty of one fatal flaw when it comes to staying injury-free: failing to pinch their shoulder blades. “It keeps the shoulders stable” says Murphy, and thus helps prevent injury.
4. Perfect your grip
Your grip can make a big impact on things.
In order to prevent rotator cuff tears, Murphy gives us one last bit of advice: “Squeeze the bar as tight as possible on all lifts to engage the rotator cuff.” This forces the shoulder to stabilize itself, and is the most effective and healthy way to make the rotator cuff better at its job.