I tore my labrum after a posterior dislocation and humerus fracture in 2009. After surgery, my PT “graduated” me out 4 weeks ahead of schedule because of my recovery plan. And 12 months later my bench was back to pre-injury numbers (125% BW for reps). Here’s what I did:
- Starting about 3-4 weeks after surgery, as soon as I was completely off prescription pain meds, I started training - the other arm. I read here at T-Nation if you only train one side of the body, the other side will grow. Not as much as the trained side, but still grow. Which is why baseball pitchers don’t have giant throwing arms and withered non-throwing arms.
So, I did one arm push ups, seated DB presses, DB hammer curls, one arm cable rows, and rotator stuff. Pretty much everything I could do that wouldn’t bump/hurt the other arm. I also did lots of body weight free squats - like 100/day - to maintain as much conditioning as possible.
- I did nothing for the injured shoulder except the official PT exercises until they cleared me to start using very small hand weights. The minute my PT said “let pain be your guide” I started to work that shoulder. If stuff hurt, I stopped. But then went back a few hours later to try again. I started by putting my hand on the wall and leaning a little.
Once I was comfortable with that, I did a push-up motion leaning my body into the wall. I was doing this 3-4 times per day, as many sets and reps as I was comfortable with. As my arm started to come back, I leaned more and put my hand lower on the wall. Then I put two hands on a chair for pushups, then a stool, then finally the ground. I trained the other arm as much as I could using the exercises above.
Once I was able to do pushups without pain, I was doing them every day, building up volume as I could. I was doing a lot of external and internal rotation moves with a band to keep muscle balance. I was also doing as much rowing (horizontal pulling only) as I could handle comfortably. Pain in the repaired joint was the signal for how much to do. I never put that joint at risk for setback. Going slow may add a week or two two your recovery time, but re-injury could set you back months.
When the PT graduated me, the next task was vertical pulling. That took about 6 months before I was able to do a pullup again. The biggest challenge for me was getting my rear delt on the injured side to strengthen. I could get plenty of burn from bent laterals, but not stronger. Eventually I discovered that doing “Kroc” rows, one arm DB rows for high reps, was the best medicine.
I did them with ridiculously light weight (35lbs) and did sets of 20, letting my elbow flare out to the side so that the rear delt was fatiguing more. Eventually when I was moving 85lbs in that hand for 20, I felt I was ready to do vertical hangs, slow eccentrics, and other stuff. There are a bunch of great pullup articles on here for people who can’t do one. I just followed those.
- Once you are pretty much back, be a shoulder-nazi. My shoulder will ache after hard training if I have been neglecting my rotator and rear delt work. If I keep the rows and rotator stuff in my weekly program, I can stave off pain, even when doing heavy bench, back squats, front squats and overhead pressing. In fact, the only thing that still hurts my shoulder now is an approaching thunderstorm. I am like an old farmer predicting the weather with this thing.
And Ach34, don’t let your doctor tell you what you can and can’t do. Docs mostly deal with people who have no desire to really rehab, so they give them that kind a #$%@$ about “never do this…never do that…” If you can lift 2 lbs overhead without pain, then you can lift 200 overhead without pain, if you give your muscles time to heal and get strong. Never let anyone else determine what your limitations are.