The Pain Game
Q: Iím 28 years old and was told I had reactive airways from an on-the-job injury four years ago. I was told Iíd never work again. I went from 175 pounds to 250 mostly due to no workouts and being trapped in the house. Iím now 205 pounds and back at work. I still have problems, but I manage them with natural herbs. I started working out five months ago. My bench press was 230 pounds for a one-rep max, and I inclined 165 for a one-rep max. Now my flat-bench one-rep max is 275 pounds, and my one-rep max on the incline is 250. Iíve seen massive gains on all my lifts. I train at home, as I live in a very rural area where there are no gyms or personal trainers. Two weeks ago I started to notice a pain in my right shoulder. At times it burns, but not all the time. When I bench, it goes away for a day or two, but if I do lateral raises, it burns for about four days. It makes me sick that I started feeling better about myself, only to have a shoulder injury set me back. Do you have any advice for overcoming a shoulder injury?
A: I can relate to your frustration, as Iíve also experienced many injuries during my bodybuilding career. As you mentioned, injuries often occur just when everything is going great.
In your case I think your rapid strength increase may have contributed to your shoulder problem. According to the statistics you mentioned, your bench press went up 45 pounds in five months, and your maximum incline bench was even more dramatic, increasing by an incredible 85 pounds.
Iím not a doctor, but my guess is that youíve strained your rotator cuff muscles. I did the same thing last year when I tried to rush the process of coming back from a layoff due to biceps tendon surgery. I pushed myself to use heavier and heavier poundages on basic exercises for the chest and shoulders.
After about two months of training very heavy, I started to feel some pain in my left shoulder. Since the pain wasnít very severe, I ignored it and continued to train as heavy as possible. Finally, when the pain kept getting worse, I decided to take a week off to let my shoulder heal.
I was disappointed that when I came back to the gym after my layoff my shoulder was worse, not better. Thatís when I knew I needed to get some help. Rest alone was not going to fix the problem.
I consulted my chiropractor and a sportsmedicine doctor, who both gave me some exercises to help the rotator cuff get stronger. At the same time I completely avoided any movements that aggravated the injury. I tried my best to work around it, but I did lose some size and strength during the two months I spent rehabbing my strained rotator cuff.
The first exercise is performed using a preacher bench. I grab a dumbbell with one hand and sit sideways on a preacher bench so my elbow is on top of the pad, with my arm positioned as if I were going to flex my bicepsóforearm perpendicular to the floor. Keeping my arm at a right angle, I slowly lower the dumbbell forward and then back up through a 90 degree angle. I use a relatively light weight and do two to three sets of 12 to 15 reps.
For the next exercise I lie on my side on a flat bench and grab a dumbbell with the arm thatís not against the bench. Holding the dumbbell straight out, with my arm bent at the elbow and my upper arm pressed against my side, I move the dumbbell down toward the bench and up again through a full range of motion. The trick is to keep the upper arm stable; the only part of my arm that moves is the forearm.
Those two exercises isolate the rotator cuff muscles by eliminating assistance from the deltoids or lats. Most rotator cuff problems occur because thereís an imbalance between those muscles, which pull your shoulders back, and the powerful muscles of your chest and front deltoids, which pull them forward. If that imbalance continues, itís only a matter of time before the small rotator cuff muscles become strained.
By avoiding the exercises that aggravate the rotator cuff strain and focusing on building the strength of the rotator cuff muscles, you can eventually eliminate your problem. The vast majority of rotator cuff injuries donít require surgery and can be overcome through rehabilitation exercises.