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Why Excellent Shoulder Care Improves Leg Day

Author : Jason "Hackattack" Hackney, CPT

The rotator cuff--misunderstood, ignored and most commonly, mistreated.

I am here to inform you about these four critical muscles that are also responsible for the mobility of one of the most important and complex joints in the body: the shoulder!

If ignored or trained improperly, problems ranging from poor posture, tendonitis, impingement, or even tears can sideline you from your sport or day-to-day life, so correct shoulder care is important.

Ironically, the biggest lifters in the gym (benching over 300, squatting over 500 and moving massive amounts of weights on the big lifts) often have weak rotator cuffs. Why? Because they NEVER specifically train them! Thus, making them more prone to injury.

I get it. The rotator cuff may not be as sexy or as exciting as ‘leg day.’ But, make sure to include it in your training rotation because it will help keep leg day (and ALL your days for that matter) stay on point.

Remember, it’s the little things that help the big things. Bench-pressing with a weak rotator cuff is like building a mansion on a foundation of only sand. Someday, there’s going to be a structural collapse.

The rotator cuff has a singular name, so many people think that it is a single muscle. It is actually four muscles, each with its own function and attachment points. The names of these muscles read like various pasta dishes off an Italian menu: the infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis and the teres minor.

Now, without evoking too much medical school jargon, lets quickly talk about the unique function of each muscle in this glamour group: 

  1. Supraspinatus—responsible for abducting (or lifting) the humerus (upper arm bone) away from the body

  2. Infraspinatus—responsible for externally rotating the humerus

  3. Teres minor—has the infraspinatus’ back by also backing up external rotation

  4. Subscapularis—this one is all by its lonesome self on the other side of the scapula. Its the main driving force behind internal rotation

Signs of cuff issues can be: pain in certain movements, weakness, creaking or lack of mobility in either shoulder. The good news is strengthening exercises will reverse, if not resolve, many cuff issues! Remember, the shoulder joint is primarily built for mobility, NOT stability. Adding strength will always lend itself to making a joint more stable.

The most common forms of treatment for rotator cuff injury are conservative. They involve rest, ice and physical therapy. Within physical therapy, range of motion and strengthening exercises will be incorporated. The following list is a compilation of moves that I feel best hit all four muscles.

Hackattack Top 10 Rotator cuff exercises!

  1. Face Pull with a rope cable attachment (pictured below)

  2. Low pulley Face Pull w/handle attachments (from a semi-pronated curl position)

  3. Scoop Pull

  4. Sword Draws

  5. W-Raise

  6. Tubing Internal Rotation Step-aways

  7. Pitcher step-aways

  8. Wall Raises

  9. W to Y’s (prone on a bosu ball)

  10. Cuban Press

1) Face pull with a rope/band--The cue here is to maintain good posture with the chest out, ensuring that you keep your elbows BELOW your shoulders. Hold the squeeze in the back for one second before returning to starting position.*

So how often should you train your rotator cuff? A lot! I recommend taking your favorite cuff exercises and throwing them at the end of every workout, ideally a few times a week. The cuff is tough. It is comprised of a good amount of slow-twitch muscle fiber, meaning it has endurance and can handle a lot of contraction. With shoulder work, less is more. The goal is not to One-Rep Max, so select lighter resistance and aim for longer, mindful, burning sets centered on good form and time under tension. I recommend 3-4 sets of 12-15 reps. Drop the ego, drop your weight, and go to fatigue. Think of shoulder care as an insurance policy for when you’re lifting heavier elsewhere.

Rotate that rotator cuff into your weekly training to keep your shoulders healthier throughout life!


Feel free to schedule a session with me ( to learn these and other moves as well as discuss any shoulder concerns you may have.

Jason Hackney is an ACSM Personal Trainer. He trains at Bodywise Fitness (SLC), Wasatch Training Center (Park City) and in-home.

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