In my Training – Then vs. Now post I made reference to training rotator cuff and the lower trap muscles to help maintain muscle balance. I mentioned that my posture had suffered as a result of neglecting these areas. I failed to mention that improving performance is another very good reason for training these area.
Why will doing external rotation and lower trap movements improve your lifting numbers?
Metaphoric reason – a well tuned car will run better than a car that misfires on one cylinder, even if each car uses the same amount of gas in the same period of time. Well the body is the same way so if it is well tuned (has proper muscle balance) it will be able to move a greater load with the same amount of energy. When someone suggests that you do external rotation movements to help you improve any of your lifts, the goal is to restore or establish balance in your body.
Practical reason – balanced rotator cuff muscles allow the shoulder joint to move in a natural way thus reducing impingement’s while balanced trap strength allows an athlete to retract and set their scapula correctly before lifting to ensure proper movement patterns.
Balanced lower traps and rotator cuff muscles will allow for appropriate recruitment patterns given that the body does not have to overcome false load vectors due to bio mechanical compensation caused by misaligned force vectors (if your not moving the load in the right direction, part of your body needs to pull it into the right direction which will waste effort). What it comes down to is if you are able to use ONLY the muscles that move the load in the direction that is needed more of the recruitment energies go to those muscles and your lift numbers will increase.
Aren’t traditional shoulder pressing or lateral raises enough work for the rotator cuff and lower traps? No. There is almost no humeral rotation with laterals and overhead pressing so, with these movements, the rotator cuff muscles play only a stabilizing roll. These isometric contractions do not improve strength significantly throughout the entire range of motion so the benefit of these movements is mostly to the primary movers (deltoids). Therefore, these movements are not sufficient to correct strength imbalances in the rotator cuff and lower trap muscles; with someone who is balanced however, they will often be enough.
If you want to lift heavier you need to correct any rotator cuff and lower trap imbalance as soon as possible. Doing so will not only improve your numbers, but it will also improve the quality of the movement sparing your shoulder joint a lot of unnecessary stress.