The Shoulder Exercise You Shouldn’t Skip

When I’m rushed to get a workout in, I prioritize lifts I cannot skip – squats, deadlifts, rows, bench press and pull-ups are my go-tos.

You’ll note that list doesn’t include a shoulder lift – but since it’s one of the most injury-prone joints in the entire body, that needs to change. But the lift I add might surprise you! In the past, I might’ve said overhead press (either barbell or dumbbell) here. But training the shoulder is a different animal than training other movements in the body – the deltoids (muscles around the shoulder that you think of when you note how big someone’s shoulders are) get aesthetic attention, but where strength, stability and longevity comes from is a soundly built rotator cuff.

To that end, let’s say we’re short on time (as I am for my workout today). I can do just one shoulder exercise. I’m going with internal/external rotations.

Your shoulders will face the most torque when they’re moving backward and forward, in relation to your torso (as opposed to up and down, which is their natural movement). You put a great amount of stress on not only the deltoids, but the joints and ligaments in the shoulder, in many other lifts that don’t train the shoulders directly. Flys, for example, use internal rotation at the shoulder as you move the weights together; one-armed rows, to an extent, externally rotate the same joint. That joint will easily be the weakest link in any of these lifts – so we train it.

Use a cable for internal/external rotations, with a one-hand extension. Your forearm should be parallel to the ground/perpendicular to your body throughout the whole movement.

For internal rotations: Start with your elbow tucked tight to the side with your palm outward of your body, draw your shoulder blades back and together, and use only your shoulder to rotate the handle inward.69gUvsw.jpg

For external rotations: Start with your forearm across the front of your body, palm facing your abdomen, elbow still tucked tight, and use your shoulder only to rotate the handle outward.


Go light on these! I use 10 pounds on the cable for three sets of 10 per rotation, per arm. Remember the joint is a very injury-susceptible one – you won’t get a “swole” rotator cuff by going heavy, but you might get an injured one.

I go in groups of four rotation sets:

Right arm external; left arm internal – turn around in relation to the cable handle – right arm internal; left arm external.

Try these out and let me know what you think! If you don’t have a pulley or cable system in your garage gym, you can simulate this exercise by lying on a bench and using a light dumbbell.

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