The vast majority of individuals measure their strength and even their manhood based on how much they can bench. Try out this great rotator cuff routine and take your bench to new personal records!

By: Mike Westerdal

The Importance Of Rotator Cuff Exercises In Your Bench Press Training

Whether you agree or not the barbell bench press is one of the most highly regarded weight room exercises period. Have you heard this conversation in the gym lately?

    "So how much weight can you use for preacher curls?"

    "I'm moving some heavy weight, how much can you use for kickbacks?"

    "I've been struggling on those and I have a kickback meet coming up in a few months!"

I'll take a wild guess and say this conversation has never and will never take place. The truth is the vast majority of individuals measure their strength and even their manhood based on how much they can bench.

You could be at the gym, or even at a bar having a beer but when the topic of working out comes up people are almost certain to ask the infamous question, "How much you bench?" If you don't care how strong you are then I don't know why you're lifting weights anyway. The bench press is a benchmark of your strength plain and simple.

What Can You Bench? What Can You Bench?
"Inspired by the average bench for a male being just 135lbs, someone wondered what the average bench would be on this forum."
[ Click here to learn more. ]

Back to the conversation we didn't hear at the gym. What our friends above should have been asking each other isn't how much weight they use when doing kickbacks but rather how much weight they use when they're performing an external rotation exercise.

Did I lose you there? I know, I know we declared the bench press is the true measure of our strength not all these isolation and stabilizer exercises right?

This is true, but have you ever heard the expression, you're only as strong as your weakest link? When you bench press there are four tiny muscles that play a major role in whether your bench press takes off or if you're going to suffer from a bench press blowout.

Click Image To Enlarge.
Barbell Bench Press.
Video: Windows Media - Real Player

Build these muscles up and you can dramatically decrease the chance of blowing out your shoulder. If you're benching heavy weight and not paying attention to these muscles you run the risk of muscular imbalances, shoulder pain, and getting stuck in a serious plateau.

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The Rotator Cuff

When bench pressing it is essential to have stability and strength in the shoulder. The four relatively small muscles predominantly responsible for stabilizing the shoulder - teres minor, infraspinatous, supraspinatous and sucscapularous - are known collectively as the 'rotator cuff'.

Anatomy of the Shoulder
Click Image To Enlarge.
Basic Anatomy Of The Shoulder.

When these muscles contract they pull on the rotator cuff tendon, causing the shoulder to rotate. While bench pressing you may experience some rotator or shoulder pain, during part of the movement. This is likely due to weak muscles in this area. Weak muscles are often but not always the cause of rotator cuff impingement syndrome and associated rotator cuff tears.

If you have the rotator cuff strength of a little girl, your body has no choice but to limit the amount of weight you can stabilize and move to prevent injury. It's not uncommon to see an individual break through a bench press sticking point simply by incorporating direct rotator cuff training.

shoulder injury
Click Image To Enlarge.
The Rotator Cuff Strength Of A Little Girl?

OK maybe now I have your attention. So how do you make sure your rotator cuff isn't the weak link in your bench press? Or even more importantly how will you prevent a bench press blowout where you damage the rotator cuff?

Like we discussed you need to strengthen the muscles, so let's take a look at this workout routine. Remember if you already have an injury you should not use this routine as a rehab program but rather visit a sports medicine physician. If you want to prevent a future injury and break past a bench press sticking point then follow this routine twice a week.

Matt Weik Podcast Interview: Shoulder Kinesiology. Matt Weik Podcast Interview: Shoulder Kinesiology.
Dan Gastelu interviews guest Matt Weik. Matt covers the important anatomical/kinesiology points about the shoulder joint. He also discusses the rotator cuff and role of the delts.
[ Click here to learn more. ]
audio Download Interview #6!
(42:03; mp3 - 38.5 MB; May 11, 2006)

If you're not in pain now, that's an even better reason to follow my advice. Trust me if you have a nagging injury you're not going to be growing or getting any stronger. Train smart, so that you can hit the weight hard when you do bench.

Rotator Cuff Training

The first thing you need to do is stretch the muscles you are about to train. Make sure you have warmed up for a good five minutes on the bike or treadmill before you start stretching. This will help you acquire greater flexibility. You already know stretching is important so just do it. You don't need any equipment for this stretch. You can do it one arm at a time or with both arms at the same time.

Extend your arms out from the torso at a right angle. Now bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Place your forearms on the frame of the doorway and lean forward. You will feel the stretch in your pecs and the back of your shoulders. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. Next I want you to hang from a pull up bar for 20-30 seconds. This isn't a grip strength test so no you don't have to hang on for the full 30 seconds.

Click Image To Enlarge.
Doorway Stretch.
Video: Windows Media (225 KB) - MPEG (1.7 MB) - Video iPod (228 KB)

Cuban Press Rotation:

    Grab an EZ Curl bar and perform a wide grip upright row until the bar is a few inches below your collar bone. Now keep your elbows stationary while you externally rotate the bar as if you were trying to tap your forehead. Next you will press the bar overhead. Lower the weight along the same plane and repeat for ten reps. You will not be able to use the same weight you use for standard overhead presses due to the external rotation. This exercise won't build your ego right now, but you'll be thanking me when your bench press increases.

Rotator Cuff Rotator Cuff Rotator Cuff
Click Image To Enlarge.
Cuban Press Rotation.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG - iPod Video

Cable External Rotation:

    Raise the pulley until it is even with your elbow. You'll be standing sideways next to the weight stack so if your right hand is holding the handle, your left foot should be closest to the weight stack.

    Grasp the cable attachment with your far arm while keeping your elbow close to your side and forearm across your stomach. Your palm should be facing in. Pull cable attachment away from body by externally rotating your shoulder. Return and repeat. Turn around and continue with opposite arm.

Rotator Cuff Rotator Cuff
Click Image To Enlarge.
Cable External Rotation.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG - iPod Video

Cable Internal Rotation:

    Again raise the pulley until it is even with elbow. You'll be standing sideways next to the weight stack but this time if your right hand is holding the handle your right foot should be closest to the weight stack.

    Grasp the cable attachment with the closest arm. Keep your elbow close to your side with your palm facing in. Pull the cable attachment across your body by internally rotating your shoulder. Return and repeat. Turn around and continue with opposite arm.

Rotator Cuff Rotator Cuff
Click Image To Enlarge.
Cable Internal Rotation.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG - iPod Video

90-Degree Dumbbell External Rotation:

    To finish off the infraspinatus, hold a dumbbell in each hand, and perform a lateral raise to 90-degrees while keeping the elbows bent at 90-degrees. Once your upper arms are parallel to the floor, externally rotate your arm so that your forearms are perpendicular to the floor.

    It will look like starting point of a dumbbell military press. Now lower and repeat. Remember to use light weight. The infraspinatus is a tiny muscle so it can't handle a heavy load. The shoulder horn is a great piece of equipment that keeps your arms in place while you perform this motion.

Rotator Cuff Rotator Cuff
Click Image To Enlarge.
90-Degree Dumbbell External Rotation.
Video: Windows Media - MPEG - iPod Video


    Do three sets of ten repetitions for each exercise. Perform the routine once a week in conjunction with your current workout. This is important so listen up. The last thing you want to do is pre-exhaust your rotator cuff before training the bench press.

    Never do this workout prior to a heavy bench press or shoulders session or you run an even greater risk of aggravating the area. You can give these exercises a try at the end of your workout, but be sure you always give your rotator cuff muscles 48-hours rest after a workout before training chest or shoulders.

    print Click Here For A Printable Log Of Rotator Cuff Routine.

Points To Remember

  • The muscles of the rotator cuff are very small. Even if you're pushing five bills on the bench press you'll still be using five-pound dumbbells for many rotator cuff exercises. So leave your ego at the door!

  • Avoid lat pulldowns and military presses behind the head as they place the shoulder in a poor biomechanical position which encourages impingement.

  • Training your rotator cuff muscles can help you avoid pain, prevent future injuries, and fix muscular imbalances.

  • It's not uncommon for a trainee to add 20+ pounds to their bench press simply by strengthening the rotator cuff muscles.

  • Never perform a rotator cuff routine prior to bench pressing or overhead pressing movements.

  • If you feel serious pain in your shoulder it may be too late. Go see a sports medicine physician.

Have You Ever Had A Rotator Cuff Injury?



We all know people who were really into bodybuilding/powerlifting and looked forward to bench pressing only to eventually drop out after a few years of hardcore training. Why? In many cases nagging injuries especially those of the shoulder, simply took the fun out of it. This doesn't have to happen to you so you're ahead of the game.

shoulder injury
Click Image To Enlarge.
You Don't Have To Let Injuries
Take The Fun Out Of Training.

The best thing you can do to keep your shoulders healthy, and make sure your bench press continues to improve is strengthen your rotator cuff muscles so that they will never be your weakest link! After all your bench press will be going nowhere fast if you're injured.

Pick up the girlie weights for a few sets once a week so you'll experience a bench press blastoff instead of a bench press blowout.

About The Author:

    Mike Westerdal is the President of Critical Bench, Inc. He earned his BS from Central CT State University and holds certification as a personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise. Westerdal also has experience coaching and playing professional football. His articles are published throughout the Web and in numerous weight lifting magazines. His personal best RAW bench press is 450 lbs. Mike can be contacted at his Web site or by emailing For more information on increasing your bench press read about the Critical Bench Program here.

Mike Westerdal

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Thanks for this. Prior to getting back into (machine) lifiting, I impinged my rotator on a spur at the top of my shoulder, tearing partially down into it. Your advice gives me confidence that I won't reinjure myself, at least not from stress. Still have to limit my overhead ROM, so I don't cut the rest of the way through it.

Mar 11, 2012 8:11pm | report

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i have taken a few days off because my shoulder was getting sore and started to hurt. today i got on looking at shoulder injuryies and saw this article. my shoulder soreness has started to die down and i want to prevent it from coming back. i was told by a physical therapist years ago that i have lax rotator cuffs and i need to keep them strong to prevent dislocation. i thought i was doing the right excerises but after reading this article i see that i was not. now that i know i have to quote my favorite cartoon GI Joe, "Knowing is half the battle."

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Jun 15, 2012 12:31pm | report

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How important is it to use the same weight for both the cable internal and external rotations? I am comfy using 15 lbs (10 reps) for the external, but I am much stronger 35-40 lbs for the internal. I realize the 2 movements incorporate different muscles, but I am concerned that the imbalance might lead to additional problems. Any thoughts?

Nov 20, 2012 8:48am | report

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This might be a little late but it is normal for the internal rotation to be the stronger movement. As for the ratio I am not 100% sure, I did see it in an article recently but can't remember the value. There is also more room for 'cheating' on the internal rotation movement as you can move the elbow, wrist and slightly use the bicep in the moment and exaggerate the difference.

Jan 2, 2013 9:39am | report

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One of the best articles ever !! helped me a lot ! thank you so much

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Mar 7, 2013 10:18pm | report
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Great Article, Ive just injured mine again having had surgery 4 years ago so I definitely need these exercises to strengthen the chocolate shoulder

Thank you !!

Jun 20, 2013 5:20am | report
Showing 1 - 6 of 6 Comments

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