Training Rotator Cuff to Fatigue = FAIL!

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When it comes to keeping the shoulder healthy (and thus, athletes on the playing field) there are a whole host of things to consider:

  • Making sure one has ample t-spine mobility.
  • Is glenohumeral strength up to snuff?
  • What about scapular stability?  For many, it stinks, and they’re essentially shooting a cannon from a canoe.
  • Are they making my eyes bleed when I watch them perform a push-up?  (Ie – elbows flared out, forward head posture, neck in cervical extension).
  • What about general programming parameters?  Are they doing too much pressing as opposed to pulling?  Are they doing a lot of back squatting (which lends itself to placing the shoulder in the “at risk” position)?  Is it “suitable” for them to even attempt to perform any overhead pressing?
  • And, least we forget other things like acromion type, soft tissue restrictions, as well as breathing patterns.  ALL will undoubtedly come into play insofar as the shoulder is concerned.

In consideration to the points above, many (if not all) trainees will at some point or another enter what is known as “shoulder prehab” mode.  Others reading may call it something different:  shoulder rehab, shoulder prehab, preventative maintenance (I like this one),  “I have an ouchie and I want to fix it,” so on and so forth.  The point is, the shoulder is arguably the most beat up joint on the human body, and, as such, we’re always trying to figure out ways to prevent that from happening in the first place.

This is especially true with the population we deal with at Cressey Performance, which, coincidentally enough, is about 80% baseball players.  But, just so we’re clear:  the advice I’m going to lay out below applies to EVERYONE reading whether or not you throw a baseball for a living.

I’m not going to go into detail on every nook and cranny of shoulder health here – as that would make for A LOT of typing – but suffice it to say, one common mistake that I see many of our high school, college, and even professional guys make is thinking that the rotator cuff needs to be trained to fatigue or failure.


The above couldn’t be further from the truth.  And, as Mike Reinold has noted on numerous occasions, training the rotator cuff to fatigue increases superior humeral head migration.   Put another way, when the rotator cuff is fatigued, the humeral head will shift superiorly towards the acromion process, effectively increasing the likelihood of shoulder impingement.  So, contrary to popular belief, all of those 50-100 rep sets of band or side lying DB external rotations you’re doing to keep your shoulder “healthy” isn’t doing your shoulder any favors.  In fact, you could be doing more harm than good.

Now, this isn’t to say that band work or side lying external rotations are necessarily bad exercises!  Far from it.  In fact, side lying external rotations (with the arm abducted slightly) have been shown to have the greatest EMG actvation of the rotator cuff – when done correctly.

All I’m saying is that you don’t need to go all powerlifter like a nd start doing max effort rotator cuff work, or worse, training the RC to failure.  While I can appreciate people wanting to work hard and push their body to the limits, training the RC in this fashion isn’t productive, and shouldn’t be high on your list. No, seriously, stop it.

Better yet, do yourself a favor and check out Muscle Imbalances Revealed – Upper Body (wink wink, nudge nudge).  There, I go into A LOT greater detail on this and other shoulder shenanigans.  Plus, you can actually hear my voice, which, you know, is incentive enough.  Not really, but whatever.



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