T Nation

Need Serious Enlightenment on RC Strengthening


Hi all, had chronic subacromial bursitis/tendinitis from an old injury (20 years back) caused by doing upright rows with crazily bad form. The injury has now subsided since the PT got me on scap pulls/stretches, and emphasised rear delts. Just last week I ran Neer’s test plus a bunch of other tests, no pain. I have pretty big and strong delts all round. I’m only now getting around to actually strengthening my cuff, but here’s where I find a lot of conflicting advice and general fuzziness;

  1. What is the name of that exercise (that forms the 2nd of the 3 movements in the Cuban Press) where you have your elbows out at 90 degrees away from your body, holding DB’s pointing to the floor, then you rotate your shoulders so the db’s point up? I know it involves external rotation but annoyingly I haven’t seen a name given to this movement grrrr!;

  2. What weight do I go up to? All the material I’ve seen agrees to start very light (2lbs) and I have about 10 days back, I quickly strengthened to 5lbs in the first week, but at the other end, there are some articles advising “serious trainers” to work their way up all the way to 25% of bodyweight per hand(in my case, 60lbs), others scream not to exceed 20lbs per hand…or is it a % of what you can bench? Some of them don’t even bother with numbers and just meekly state, “Don’t go to failure” (thanks, I guessed that!!) I have very strong triceps (I can push down about 200lbs) but can only bench 230*2). So clearly I need to strengthen my RC’s BUT I don’t want do all this work only to later incapacitate these very small muscles via ignorance of upper limits which would leave me back at square 1;

  3. What rep range? I’m building strength not size BUT a lot of the articles advocate a 10-12 range - again, is this for safety? So you have more progression that spreads the load over more reps thus helping you to avoid going to failure? Why not 2-4? Or 4-6?

  4. Internal and External - do we have an antagonistic muscle pair here? And as such, should we aim for balanced development between the two/Int+Ext, as we would build triceps and not just biceps?? If so, like bi’s/tri’s, should one be stronger than the other? If so, which, and by what ratio? Should Internal and External be trained together (supersetted) or on separate sessions?

I’m just really really frustrated at the lack of science and best practice I’m seeing here, I’d be very grateful for some authoritative and experienced input.




I’m not a doc or PT, but have been to tons based on repeated shoulder issues. My labrum is messed up again, and the strategy to hold everything in is based on developing rotator cuff strength, so this is all an assumption that this would apply in some regard to your situation as well.

  1. I don’t know what that is, but check out the “shoulder horn” as it sounds similar. Although you can replicate this motion easily without spending 60 bucks or whatever it is now. I like the side laying db external rotation and band stuff (screw therabands and just get an orange elitefts band and cut it in half if necessary). I like the band better for the abducted external rotation stuff because the DB version kind of loses resistance at the top when your forearm is vertical.
  2. light… 60lbs sounds insane, 20lbs sounds fairly nuts too. if you’re overloading it too much you may end up weirdly compensating the movement, the goal is quality.
  3. All of the stuff I’ve had recommended is 20-30 reps, I’ve seen some lower though, like your articles. Not sure how true this is but some of the PT’s seem to repeat the idea that going to heavy will cause the larger muscle groups to take over to compensate the movement.
  4. You can do internal rotations, easiest with a band, but external is likely much weaker. Your internal rotators are naturally much stronger muscles (pecs/lats). Worth doing, but external will take more volume.

Check with your PT on it, with the tendon and bursitis issues there may be variations that would be better on your case to avoid irritating what’s already messed up.


Hi bud, thanks for the reply - man this place has gotten quiet, when I first joined you’d have 10 replies in the first 24 hrs!!

Some further reading indicates a sliding scale, so the more intrusive the injury, ie a full labral tear, the more radically you favour starting out with high-reps/lighter-weight/lower increments, to the point where, post-op, you actually begin with a tv remote control, batteries out, very high reps, then to increase resistance, put the batteries in - yeah. Where in my case I started with 5lbs and progressed, but then couple of days ago found that shoulder has a slight mobility issue, was doing internal rotations with a waist-level cable, and felt the old twinge - so I have indeed re-irritated it, probably by using a little too much weight which I could have avoided by using less with more reps, but thankfully with no loss of mobility and the slight discomfort I felt the morning after was largely gone today. I’ll address that issue before my next strengthening session.

Charles Poliquin, on this very site about a year before I joined, said the golden rule is about 10% of what you bench cg, which in my case would be 20kg, another article on this same site again concurred and took it further, it did an analysis of proportion between your big 5-6 lift’s poundages, and asked readers to:

  1. do likewise;
  2. note any stark deviations;
  3. treat these as at best as bad form and at worst biomechanical deficiencies (most commonly RC weakness) ;
  4. correct accordingly.

Some of the articles make quite startling claims for the effect on your bench, and wdhile normally I’d be sceptical, I’ve known guys generally weaker than me bench 160Kgs where I can only do 100kg for 2 - so I wouldn’t be surprised if my bench suddenly jumps :slight_smile:

I read somewhere the difference in Ext vs Int strength is 25-33%, but can’t remember which is which.