The shoulder joint is unlike most joints in the body because it’s primarily supported by muscle. Unlike the hip joint with its large ball and socket of bone and cartlilage, the shoulder joint has a shallow ball and socket and relies on muscle to stabilize it and keep it in place, especially during motion. Every joint in the body does receive support from surrounding muscle tissue but the shoulder joint REALLY relies on surrounding muscle tissue for joint support.
The best way to promote shoulder joint stability is not through traditional primary mover focused exercises like chest press (for pecs), lat pull down (for back) or overhead press (for shoulders) where the rotator cuff is used as a secondary stabilizer; the rotator cuff needs to be directly worked. This does not only apply to the person that has a history of rotator cuff problems. Whether you have had a shoulder issue or not, incorporating rotator cuff exercises as part of a regular exercise routine encourages healthy shoulders and injury prevention.
When a workout program doesn’t include rotator cuff exercises, the larger primary muscles (including lats, pecs, deltoids and traps) will out-strengthen the rotator cuff, leaving it weaker by comparison. This strength imbalance leaves the rotator cuff susceptible to injury. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of new client inquires over the years from individuals who have injured themselves because they made this very mistake.
The best approach when beginning an exercise program is to immediately include rotator cuff exercises as part of the exercise routine. It is a costly mistake to get injured first, then add rotator cuff exercises to a program, when these exercises could have prevented the injury altogether.
For those who have already achieved an advanced state of fitness, rotator cuff exercises make great warm up exercises for any upper body workout. They prepare the shoulder by warming up the tissue, making the rotator cuff less susceptible to injury, and engaging the muscles so they are ready to do their job of shoulder joint stabilization.
When it comes to lifelong health and fitness, it’s not about the beach muscles. Lifelong fitness includes attention to your body as a whole, including conditioning the little muscles, such as rotator cuff and postural muscles that give you joint support and a healthy frame.