Weight Training and the Rotator Cuff

Strength training is an essential component of a balanced fitness program and should be part of everyone's weekly routines, men and women, young and old.

Done properly, strength training should be an extremely safe activity with minimal injuries occurring -- huge rewards with minimal risks. That is not to say that you can't get hurt or into trouble.

The number one problem we see with those who lift weights regularly is shoulder problems, especially involving the rotator cuff. Most are preventable. The rotator cuff comprise a small group of four small thin strap muscles and tendons that sit deep in the shoulder area below the deltoid muscle, but on top of the ball and socket of the shoulder itself. The rotator cuff is extremely important in terms of shoulder stability and function.

Problems with the cuff can range from tendonitis or impingement syndrome to rotator cuff tears (partial or complete). In addition to weight lifters, cuff problems are common in athletes who regularly perform overhead/repetitive arm motions (like swimmers and baseball pitchers).

The best way to prevent shoulder problems is:

  • Warm up before activity. Break a sweat and stretch the shoulder muscles, front and back.
  • Be balanced. Don't just strengthen the front of the shoulder area. Spend equal amounts of time working the rear shoulder and scapula (shoulder blade) area.
  • Do specific rotator cuff strengthening exercises with elastic tubing.
  • Don't over-train your upper body, and also allow for adequate muscle recovery between workouts.

If problems persist or recur, get things checked out by a sports medicine professional before you do more damage. Sometimes a little therapy can go a long way in keeping your shoulders healthy, pain-free, and in good working order.