As a result of the way I trained for years, I found that my shoulders hurt a lot. In high school I trained chest too much and when I found my way back into the gym as an adult, I trained only the big muscle groups – chest, back, legs, shoulders and arms – because that’s what people do. I figured I was just unlucky and had bad shoulders.
When I started working with SST, I was introduced to rotator cuff training because they have found that too many young athletes trained the way I used to – building up the glory muscles while ignoring the ones that keep the machine moving perfectly. To say that I was imbalanced would be an understatement. When I was tested on external rotations, I was only able to lift about 5lbs for 8 reps – to be considered balanced I should have been able to lift about between 17.5 and 22.5 lbs for 8. The consequence of this weakness is an unstable shoulder and pain – given that the rotator cuff muscles are the body’s primary way of adding stability to the shoulder.
Over the last few years I have trained the rotator cuff consistently through a number of different angle and positions so it is now more than 400% stronger than before. I would now consider myself balanced since I’m able to move 22.5 lbs for 8 reps. My shoulder pain disappeared and my other lifts have gone up dramatically – even ones I didn’t train – because my body is working the way it is supposed to.
I got cocky and stopped training rotator cuff thinking that now that I’m balanced, I don’t need to work at it anymore. It didn’t take long for the pain to return and the pain was as bad as it was in high school – a sharp stabbing pain that pulls you out of a deep sleep and leaves you thinking that maybe the shoulder is dissolving. It’s a pain that you cannot turn off by changing lying or arm positions. I put up with it for a couple of weeks hoping that by doing nothing to address it, it would go away. It didn’t.
So on Monday I go to the gym and before I train my shoulders and back, I train rotator cuff – 2 movements (low cable external rotations and elbow on knee external rotations) and 1 movement for the scapula retractors. My back and shoulder workout did suffer slightly – I wasn’t able to lift as much weight as I could when I didn’t train rotator cuff, but the pain went away. I slept right through the night without even thinking about my shoulders. The pain hasn’t come back either. Who would have thought that 15 minutes of work before my glory muscle work would have made me feel like new again?
Sadly, I should have thought about that. I wouldn’t let my athletes get away with not training rotator cuff. Structural balance is not a short term thing, it’s an always and forever thing because life does not provide enough opportunities to work these muscle in a way that keeps them stronger than they need to be.