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Building Stronger Shoulders Part II

Apr 17th, 2013

Comments: 1
Category: Injury Prevention

Building Stronger Shoulders Part II

It’s of no coincidence that the BBB has awarded us as the training studio with the fewest injury reports (zero!) in the Saint Louis metro area. We understand the complexities of the issues that our clients face and work with them to figure out the best approach for their individual needs. In Michael’s previous post he received a question regarding shoulder rehabilitation which is becoming an exceedingly common issue in our industry that can be corrected/ prevented by gradually incorporating a training program that addresses all aspects of the shoulder joint.

We all know the pecs, lats, and delts have outstanding growth potential, but few recognize that this potential can’t be fully realized unless the external rotators are up to par. Weak external rotators are limiting factors to development of internal rotator strength, as the body won’t allow progress to continue in the presence of an imbalance which could lead to injury. The rotator cuff is of paramount importance in injury prevention.

Strengthening the rotator cuff and the resulting improvements in stability significantly decreases the occurrences of subluxations, dislocations, and nagging overuse shoulder injuries. It goes without saying that injuries are one of the greatest barriers to progress in the gym. By giving the muscles of your rotator cuff the attention they deserve, you can eliminate the loss of valuable training time to injuries and increase your training longevity.

The Workout:

  1. Floor Press (or Dumbbell Incline Press): 6-8 reps/ 3 sets
  2. Muscle Snatch: 6-8 reps/ 3 sets
  3. Dumbbell External Rotation: 10-12 reps/ 2 sets
  4. Side Lying Dumbbell Abduction to 45 degrees: 10-12 reps/ 2 sets


Floor Press: To perform the floor press, simply lay on the ground and bench press like you normally would. Instead of going through a full range of motion, you’ll obviously stop when your upper arm comes in contact with the ground.


One of the issues many lifters have when barbell bench pressing is the stress it places on their shoulders. The internal rotation at the shoulders can close off the subacromial space, which can irritate an impinged shoulder. To rectify this, switch to dumbbells where they can use a neutral (palms facing each other) grip. This opens up the subacromial space and allows you to keep benching. Another benefit of the floor press is it decreases the range of motion and typically places less stress on the pecs, shoulders, etc.

Along with the basic floor press, you can also implement bands and/or chains into the mix as well to really overload the top position. Finally, dumbbell floor presses are another great option, but can be incredibly cumbersome to get set-up without a partner or spotter. If not having a spotter is an issue for you try the dumbbell incline press.

Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: Set up the same as you would a bench press, but turn your thumbs up which will reduce shoulder stress and make the movement feel more natural. With this variation you get the benefits of dumbbell work (less shoulder stress, more pec development) coupled with the benefits of incline pressing (more clavicular head/ upper pec development).


Muscle Snatch: Grasp a barbell and perform a wide-grip upright row until the bar is about twoinches below your clavicle. Once the bar reaches this level, hold the elbows steady while externally rotating the bar as if you were trying to touch it to your forehead. As the external rotation phase completes, press the bar overhead.

Lower the weight along the same path and repeat for reps. This exercise preferentially recruits the rotator over the teres minor, and there’s certainly significant contribution from the delts and traps as with any upright row or press. Be forewarned that the muscle snatch isn’t an ego booster; the external rotation phase is a limitation to moving big weights with the movement.


muscle snatchmuscle snatch

muscle snatch






















Dumbbell external rotation: Set-up is easy; sit down on a bench and put one foot up on the bench in front of you. With a dumbbell in hand, “screw” your elbow into the side of your knee and let your arm hang down. From here, slowly rotate the dumbbell up to a point approximately perpendicular to the ground, and then lower under control to the starting position. One thing you have to watch here is your leg; if your leg is moving in and out throughout the movement, you are probably using too much weight and/or trying

to improve your leverage. To fix this, think about pushing your elbow into your knee while simultaneously pushing your knee into your elbow. This will keep everything tight and force your external rotators to do the work.

dumbbell external rotation

dumbbell rotation














Side Lying Dumbbell Abduction to 45°: Think of this as a single-arm, half-lateral raise while lying on your side. The two-second pause at the end of the concentric (lifting) portion of the movement really intensifies the exercise. For some individuals, performing this exercise on a flat bench may feel awkward; a low incline is an acceptable alternative.

side lyiing dumbbell shoulder extension
On days you aren’t performing this program, I recommend performing high rep external rotations with surgical tubing or a stretch band. Throughout the day, perform 100 total reps divided among three to four sessions (25 to 35 per set). Make sure you aren’t working even close to muscular failure. You can easily secure the tubing or band around a doorknob. This is an excellent way to promote active recovery, increase work capacity, enhance stabilizer endurance, and bring lagging body parts up to par. Just remember to start with light resistance and an easy tempo in the beginning. Be sure to check out Drew Seward’s upcoming post on the importance of nutrition during rehabilitation and recovery this Friday.


  1. Ray Speed April 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    I shredded my rotater cuff years ago and it’s bothered me for years. I thought you were crazy JP but this exercises are really strengthing my shoulders. I don’t have near the amount of soreness I used to. I will never call you crazy again…at least until you hit me with some other crazy exercise!

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