People, let me tell you about the rotator cuff. These little muscles are what anchor your humerus to your scapula, your arm to your shoulder, in what we folks like to call the glenohumeral joint. These little fellows are delicate, essential, and easily damaged. When you see people wincing and pressing their fingers into their shoulder joints, that’s what they’ve hurt. Mess up badly enough, and you can tear your rotator cuff, and then you’re out of the game. That’s bad news, people, and yet people still insist on messing their shoulders up, right and left, with these awful exercises. Why oh why? Stick to good shoulder exercises like those from Slim in 6, or Body Gospel. Here are the worst shoulder exercises I’ve seen during all my years walking this green Earth. Don’t do them people, stay away.

The worst of the worst, let’s start off with the one that makes me wince when I see it. Lat pull down behind the head. You know the one. That guy is staring nails straight ahead as he strains to pull the bar behind his head, shoulders wrenched back, neck angled awkwardly forward, face red, veins writhing across his face like earthworms trying to flee vinegar soaked soil. What’s wrong with this movement? Why is it so much worse than the regular front lat pull down, where you lean back slightly and pull the bar down to your sternum? It’s because most people lack the flexibility to pull the bar comfortably back behind their heads. They have to round their spines to place their heads forward, they have to strain their shoulder joints since they’re pulling down at an oblique angle toward the back, and they run the risk of banging the bar into their delicate neck vertebrae. Plus it’s not even all that beneficial even if done ‘right’. All you get is mocking, pitying looks from people who know what they’re doing in the gym. Don’t do this!

Another weird one that ends up hurting your shoulders is the standing pec fly. A pec fly refers to your pectoral muscles (chest), and the fly motion is when you open and close your arms as if hugging an invisible friend. Now, when performed lying flat on your back, this works out great. You get great chest expansion if this is done on a bench, and can really do some good work. But standing? First of all, a wake up call: it’s not your pecs that are working when you stand. It’s your shoulders. At best you get a strained front deltoid workout. At worst, there go your rotator cuffs.

Next worst exercise for your shoulders are military press behind the head. This is going to sound a lot like the first one, but it’s so common it should be mentioned. Military press is where you stand straight, hold a barbell, and press it up into the air, stepping under it as it goes up so that it ends up directly over your head, and then lower it down to your sternum. Military press behind the head is all wrong, and is where you press up, and then lower the barbell behind your head as if into a squat position. This not only strains your shoulders for forcing them to operate at that wrong, oblique angle, but strains your neck, is much harder to do, and risks injury for putting your neck at risk. Don’t do it!

So what do you do if you injure your rotator cuff? RICE it. You guys know about RICE, right? Here it is:

Rest the injured area.
Ice the injured area.
Compress the injured area.
Elevate the injured area.

RICE should help with most injuries. If however you’ve torn your cuff, you need to go see a physical therapist as soon as you can. And good luck, because you’re going to be out of commission for awhile.

Photo comes from WebMD article.