T Nation

Unstable shoulders. :((

Yes that’s me. Obviously I have to train my rotator cuff muscles. However most of these exercises hurt and not in a good way. Apparently my shoulders are so unstable that my humerus isn’t rotating properly in the glenoid but has some play side to side wise(obviously not much or well you get the idea). Anyways, if I move my arms in certain paths and arcs of movement you can hear various cracks. Which hurt. I believe it is my tendons/ligaments etc. being plucked or strummed if you will. So what is my question? Well Since traditional rotator cuff exercises cause me pain I was thinking of something Chad Waterbury(spelling) mentioned. Figure 8’s I believe(Walking in a figure 8 with dumbells over your head). Has anyone used these with sucess? I figured since it wouldn’t really involve much movement it would be a perfect exercise to get me started. Chad have any other exercises like that? I am also aware that cleans etc. will work my rotators. Any other suggestions on mjm that will hit the rotators beyond the traditional bench press, chins, overhead squats etc. Also I should note that I don’t think my rotators are especially weak. As I have done rtc exercises with a fair amount of weight. Possibly its more of a strength ratio thing? Ie: this specific muscle is too weak. Any tests to figure this out? Posture wise my shoulders are not rounded, but relaxed my arms do fall infront or me with the palms facing backwards. Which is internally rotated. Is that a big deal? I mean everyones different right? I feel I’m forgetting something damn! Note to self get sleep. Regardless anyone have any ideas? Any suggestions welcomed. Please excuse any and all spelling/grammer/logic errors. Thanks in advance. Ciao. :slight_smile:

I had the same problem, the only thing I found that really took care of it permanantly was surgery. It was an arthroscopic thing, and rehab was only a few weeks, within 2 months I was back to lifting heavy again. Mine had gotten to the point where it’d crack if I rolled over in bed, and it got painful, so I got it all fixed. Just something to think about.

I had a similar problem, although I dont know if my circumstances are the same as yours. I was lifting chest much more often and treated my shoulders as an afterthought. I was swimming for my cardio, and shortly afterwards, the range of motion in my shoulders was about 20%. I asked my dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon. He suggested that I had a muscle imbalance, ie the muscles in my front shoulders were considerably stronger than the rear. I stopped lifting and swimming for about 2.5 weeks for recovery and then started OVT, which besides kicking the ever living shit out of me (namely leg days), worked the shoulders, especially the upper rear delts. Awesome work out, but I did that for about three weeks while giving my rear delts a chance to catch up. I started swimming again two weeks ago and have had no problems with my shoulder clicking since.
I dont know if that helps at all.


The benches, chins, and overhead pressing are actually contributing to your problem. You need to strengthen the external rotators, rest the injury, and stretch the external rotators.

PM me and I’ll hook you up with more info.

Thanks for the replies. Eric I think I may have mislead you. I usually don’t do much over head movements. I just figured an overhead squat would be similar to Chad’s figure 8’s? As for benching and chins. I used to do alot of chins and sometimes still do. As for benching until recently(I’ve had this problem for a while…2 years???) I mainly did incline dumbbell presses. Also I am sure the volume of work for my back was more than my chest etc. But I will pm you and take you up on your offer. Thanks again. Ciao. :slight_smile:

I find my shoulders far more stable after I used this workout.

Stay off your other shoulder exercise for a month and do this twice a week. I use dumbells for the cuban because I needed something less than 45lbs and more than 15.


First and foremost, you need to get your shoulders checked out. Finding an ART practitioner would be a very good idea. Second, as already mentioned, you should focus on some serious external rotator training (by serious, I mean volume not intensity). Third, I would highly recommend performing some light traction in various planes on the shoulder joint (unfortunately, the info for this is complex and would make this post too damn long). Fourth, ditch all horizontal pressing for at least 4 weaks and focus on strengthening your upper back musculature and pec minor. Also, strengthen your traps and medial/rear delts. Lastly, stretch those internal rotators every day!

There should be plenty of info here on the subject. No matter how smart any of us are or aren’t we cannot diagnose online even if qualified. Only a therapist can do this hands on. Everyone here recommends ART. Never had it, don’t know anything about it.

Polquin has an interesting article on structural balance. There are also articles in FAQ on shoulders.

I wouldn’t go putting all your money on one exercise, particularly one done statically in one position. Both muscle and tendon stabilise the shoulder.

You need to work the whole area carefully of course in all its various functions, taking particular care with the rotator cuff muscles. Too much too soon or too hard will stretch and injure your joint capsule further.

If you have serious stretching of the tendons and ligaments you may need professional help.

I had shoulder problems, just as you described, for two years. I tried ART and it made it worse, although I think it was of no fault of the practitioner. Eric hooked me up with an external rotation program which I followed for a month and I now have no shoulder pain at all, zero, nada, zip. I’m not saying it is the cure all but you should at least give it a try for a month and see if it works for you. BTW…(I continue to do one extra day of external rotation a week, I don’t want that coming back on me)

Let’s see if I can cover these one by one:

-The scenario to which jodgey alluded is all too common among weight lifters, and athletes (e.g. swimmers, tennis players) for whom the internal rotators are the prime movers.

AC (ArcaineCocaine, not acromioclavicular joint)-Simply training your back more than your chest is not enough to prevent problems. It’s important to have balance between horizontal push/pull and vertical push/pull. The problem is that the lats and teres major are both internal rotators, yet they get fried with chins and some rowing variations. Unless you have plenty of exercises for the rhomboids, posterior delts, infraspinatus, and teres minor, you’ll like have an imbalance of some sort.

Chad’s right on the money with his recs. The overhead walks are a valuable addition to any program because they call upon the horizontally directed muscles of the rotator cuff- supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor- to contract isometrically and prevent the humeral head from subluxating in the glenoid fossa. You’ll see the same scenario any time that you deadlift or carry a suitcase, too.

If you guys could hold off on the PMs, that would be great. I’ve already submitted my article to TC, and I hate to let the cat out of the bag too everyoneJ

Good God, I was typing way too fast in that last paragraph. Sorry about the typos.:frowning:

Okay I?m almost not sure where to begin. Thanks for all the responses. It?s appreciated. Raoulsam I?ll read that article. O?Shea good points. Online diagnosis is flawed from the get go. Eric I sent you an email. Chad I have had my shoulders diagnosed by ART professionals. The first one couldn?t really give me an explanation about what was exactly wrong, one that would satisfy me anyways. The exercises he gave me didn?t help either nor did the ART he preformed. Anyways latter on I went to the SWIS and Dale Buchburger(spelling) diagnosed my shoulders as unstable. He preformed ART on them too(only briefly though). It felt much different than the other guy. Ie: It hurt a lot more! Which would make sense, as I?m sure my adhesions etc. are probably quiet severe. I think he actually said something along the lines of ?Oh god that?s a fibrotic mess.? Thanks Dale. Heheh. Dale is a great guy. Too bad he?s far from me. I?ll look into getting ART done by someone else in my area in a short time. Chad good point Volume over intensity! That?s why you get the big bucks. Ditching all horizontal pressing is no problem. Just a few questions?clarification really. Upper Back I guess bent rows are probably best? Pec minor without horizontal pressing?incline flys?(Can you tell I am not a kinesiologist?) Traps?shrugs?duh. Hehhe. What about partial rep deads? Rear and medial delts?laterals and bent laterals? Stretching my internal rotators?this is asking a lot but could you describe some of these stretches and what muscle they are stretching exactly? Should I give up chins for the next 4 weeks? I?ll try some overhead walks or figure 8?s. I may post some more questions, as I want to work your suggestions in with Eric?s program. If that is feasible? Thanks again guys. I?ll let you know how things workout. Ciao. :slight_smile:

Hmmmmmmmm when I cut and pasted my response in alot of the characters were changed. I don’t know where all the ? came from. Sorry about that. :slight_smile:

You brought up an excellent point about your first ART treatment. Obviously, the guy is not well-versed (i.e. experienced) enough to be a real benefit. I suggest you locate someone else. Just because someone performs ART, doesn’t mean that they are any good. Just as any strength coach, teacher, or massage therapist isn’t necessarily any good just because they do it for a living. I had ART performed on my left shoulder that made a dramatic difference after one treatment. I had a different ART practitioner attempt to treat the same problem a few months later who made it worse. Keep seeking a reputable ART practitioner.
Pec minor = incline db or cable flys.
Upper back = upright rows, seated cable rows. Ditch the pulldowns/pull ups for awhile.
Traps are more complex. I can’t believe how many people don’t know how to train all aspects of the trapezius muscle. This muscle is freakin’ huge. You need many different exercises/angles to hit all aspects. Shrugs are great for the upper traps. To work the mid traps, perform the following:
Lie face down on the highest bench you can find. Hold a light db in each hand with the arms straight and level with your shoulders (like you are trying to make a “T” with your arms and torso). Supinate the hands so the thumbs are facing up. Keep the arms straight and lift up and down.
Lower traps = use a 60 degree incline bench and lay face down. While keeping the arms straight, lift up in front as if you are performing a front raise. Keep the thumbs pointed up and keep the arms in a position of 10 and 2 o’clock at the top.
Hope this makes sense.

Oddly enough if I told you who it was you would think he should know what he’s doing. Since I don’t like to bad mouth people I won’t say. I guess I’ll give him the benifit of the doubt and say that he was having an off month or two. Thanks for all the exercise discriptions. And your right I should have know about training the traps in more than one plane of movement. In fact I have done the lower trap movement before. And now that I think of it my traps are lacking. Especially the lower parts. Just some clarification with the mid trap exercise. If I’m in the T position and my hands are supinated the palms would actually be facing towards my head? So that if I had a bar in each of my hands they would be perpendicular to the ground? I know this should be obvious but I’m just making sure. Thanks again Chad. Ciao. :slight_smile:

Yes, if you were holding a barbell in each hand, they would be perpendicular to the floor. If your hands were fully supinated, the palms would be facing the ceiling. The exercise calls for a semi-supinated position as you described.

Dale’s a great doc. You probably won’t find a better shoulder guy anywhere. Also, with ART, the provider has to “bring it” meaning getting enough tension. Many inexperienced providers don’t use enough tension and fail to make a change.

Thanks again Chad. :wink:

Irondoc yes that’s pretty much what everyone says of Dale that he’s the man for shoulders. I also think your right about the tension thing. It was night and day between him and the other guy.

Well I start the rotator cuff training Monday night. Tweaking the rest of my workings out around it. Wish me luck. Thanks to all the responses. Ciao. :slight_smile: