No matter your fitness level, there is one constant when it comes to the way the body’s designed: the weak spot of the whole unit is, in almost all cases, the shoulder.

Why? Simply put, the way it’s built. The three deltoids get all the attention, and yes, when they’re well-developed they can certainly change the overall look of one’s physique. But even the biggest delts can’t overcome the shoulder’s true design flaw: the rotator cuff.

Even if you aren’t sure what it is, you know one thing about the rotator cuff: It’s prone to injury. The muscles that make up the rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, Teres minor and subscapularis) each have different roles, and, as you might expect, they’re pretty specific to what you can do at the shoulder, where the upper arm meets the shoulder blade. This is where athletes who train their shoulders (or other large upper-body muscles that depend on shoulder stability) can run into problems — the amount of force/weight/work necessary to encourage growth in large muscles often exceeds the capabilities of the muscles of the rotator cuff.

But it’s not just the muscles that cause the problem; the cartilage and tendons connecting the cuff are also susceptible to injury, not just through singular, blunt force (i.e., lifting a weight too heavy), but also wear and tear (light or zero-weight movements with the shoulder at an elevated angle). And basically everything you do in the weight room requires you to lift your arm to the side, or forward, or backward, and you can’t move your upper arm without the rotator cuff getting involved.

This week is a look at the rotator cuff and how you can strengthen it to prevent injury and boost performance in other lifts. Athletes will find that often, too much dependency is hoisted on an area that can scarcely take it like the larger muscle groups can.

EXERCISES FOR STRENGTHENING THE ROTATOR CUFF

Internal Rotations: Set up a handle on a cable pulley at mid-chest height, and stand with it at your side. Keeping your elbow tight to your body with your shoulder blades pulled together, simply rotate the handle across your torso, focusing on using only the shoulder to do this. The weight should be very light.

External Rotations: Keeping the pulley at the same height as you did for the internal rotations, simply grab it with the opposite hand and rotate the handle toward the outside of your body.

Lateral Raises: The supraspinatus, just a strip of muscle under the lateral deltoid, bears a lot of responsibility for vertical scaption — your arms going up and down. By strengthening this muscle with lateral raises, keeping the arms as straight as possible, you can work up to heavier weights to target the delts without fear of straining the supporting muscles of the rotator cuff.

SUPPLEMENTS TO STRENGTHEN THE ROTATOR CUFF

When you stress your joints through repeated exercise or even just the act of getting older, inevitably they wear down. This, as we’ve mentioned already, is especially true in the shoulder. You can help protect and heal it with JOINT THERAPEUTICS, and here we’ll go into detail on it.

The advanced joint support formula in JOINT THERAPEUTICS is based on Synergistic Anti-Inflammatory Technology, on top of several key ingredients of pharmaceutical quality. It’s the best available option for joint health and function, and it also will protect your joints and help keep you pain-free.

This post’s goal is to break down JOINT THERAPEUTICS’s formula and blends to show you how it can help prevent and relieve not just joint pain, but wear and tear itself.

Glucosamine HCl: Your body naturally produces this substance in the cartilage, storing water and keeping the joint in good shape to provide strength and flexibility. As we age, however, the production of this substance slows down, leading to a less elastic quality of the joint itself (this is known as osteoarthritis). How well you can move around pain-free is hugely dependent on your joints. Glucosamine Hydrochloride is a molecule that restores the elastic qualities to your joints, helping preserve them. It’s composed of glucose and glutamine, and it works to stimulate the fluid production in the body’s cartilage — this helps with joint repair, the synthesis of connective tissue and more. Its hydrophilic (water-loving) profile means it will attract more water to the cartilage, improving elasticity and preventing brittleness that leads to pain and deteroriation.

Chondroitin Sulfate: Also naturally occurring inside your own body’s cartilage, this compound is known as an arthritis fighter with its ability to support cartilage tissue. Your body produces enzymes that help break down worn-down or injured joint tissue, and chondroitin sulfate helps regulate the balance of those enzymes in the joint itself. This means better ability for your joints to repair themselves. Chondroitin is very important — naturally, your body produces it specifically to help generate and maintain healthy cartilage — and helps joints and cartilage regenerate and renew themselves with new tissue, either repairing or replacing old, worn cartilage.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM): A sulfur compound that is formed naturally in in the body, MSM supports healthy joint tissue, promotes strong flexible joints and helps the body maintain strong connective tissue. Sulfur is necessary for the production of collagen, glucosamine, chondroitin and certain anti-oxidants — all of which are vital to healthy cartilage and overall joint health. MSM is believed by some to have multiple health benefits including anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and healing properties. MSM is also claimed to help with blood circulation, muscle cramps and free radicals.

Hyaluronic Acid: This is the normal lubricant in human joints. Its presence, even in well-worn joints and cartilage, can provide a cushion effect, thus relieving pain and friction. One of its primary functions is to lubricate movable parts such as joints and muscles by restoring the amount and viscosity of synovial fluid.

Anti-Inflammatory Complex: Inflammation — pretty much every kind of “-itis” is related to this symptom — is one of the body’s most common responses to irritation or injury. It usually includes pain and sometimes redness and swelling in the area of the damage. The pain relieving, anti-inflammatory ingredients in JOINT THERAPEUTICS are designed to support healthy joint function, assist in the healing of minor sprains, strains, muscle injuries, and the pain, swelling and tenderness that accompany sports injuries. Pain can slow you down, not just in the gym, but in your day-to-day life, and it’s often brought on by inflammation. The Anti-Inflammatory Complex helps provide relief to arthritic and sore joints as well as improve flexibility and mobility.

All of that makes JOINT THEREAPEUTICS a great alternative to expensive prescription painkillers when it comes to treating arthritic joints. Specific ingredients in our Anti-Inflammatory Complex contain constituents that share pharmacological properties with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s) such as Celebrex.

THE QUICK FORM FIX

One mistake thousands of gym rats make that eventually costs them shoulder soreness, pain or, even worse, serious structural damage, happens on the single-most common lift in the weight room: the bench press. When benching, the tendency is for the lifter to dramatically have the shoulder angle — the angle formed at the armpit by the upper arm and the torso — at about 90 degrees, with the upper arms flared out far to the sides. This puts an incredible amount of strain and torque on the rotator cuff, which is using those tiny muscles to stabilize the weight in the first place. Under the tension of heavy weight, this becomes problematic.

The fix: Keep the elbows tucked, at about 45 degrees. The benefits of doing this not only include protecting the shoulder, but also a stronger chest — which is why you’re benching in the first place. You might notice, at first, that you lose a little bit of strength when you take out the shoulders’ assistance, but soon, you’ll develop real explosiveness in the chest as you train it correctly.