That doggone rotator cuff!

Here are 10 strength training exercises to AVOID if you have a sensitive rotator cuff.

If you have a painful rotator cuff, here are the 10 worst weight routines, especially with heavy loads or inadequate warmup.

These routines are likely tol bring out pain in your injured or inflamed rotator cuff or worsen pain that’s continuously there.

I have done all of these weight routines, and I’ve had rotator cuff issues in the past.

Believe me, these strength training moves are notorious for causing RC problems as well as aggravating existing rotator cuff pain.

Though some people may find a few of these actually friendly to their compromised rotator cuff, the general rule is that these 10 exercises are not very friendly to the RC muscles and their tendons.

In order of bad to worst, here are the weight exercises that will make a strained rotator cuff bite back at you.

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

This means dumbbells, barbells and machines. For dumbbells and machines, use a neutral grip (palms facing each other), as this usually minimizes shoulder pain.


Overhead Triceps Press

With one dumbbell, this presents a potential problem if the weight is heavy enough — not necessarily during the actual exercise, but getting the weight up above your head from your lap in the first place. It’s even worse bringing it down.

Credit: Roberto Berlim

I was using a 45-pound dumbbell (for both hands) when my shoulders were perfectly healthy, and even then, I could sense that my rotator cuff didn’t like it when I hoisted that weight from my lap to over my head, and then bringing it back down when the set was finished.

I can deduce that if you have rotator cuff issues, these maneuvers will bring out the pain.

Bench Dip


If you have RC pain, you may want to skip seated dips, even with bodyweight only.

Parallel Bar Dip

Shutterstock/Syda Productions

Ditto. This just won’t feel pretty if you have an inflamed rotator cuff.

Wide Grip Lat Pull-Down 

These will really sting a problem rotator cuff at heavy enough weight. It’s even worse if done from behind the neck. Oddly, when done with very, very light weight, the frontal version can be therapeutic.

Nevertheless, even moderate weight might aggravate an injured rotator cuff. Use a narrow grip for strength training on this apparatus.

Behind Back Military Press

Shutterstock/Artem Postoev

Even people with healthy shoulders shouldn’t do these. They can CAUSE rotator cuff injury.

Flat Bench Press

Many people who do a lot of heavy bench pressing have suffered rotator cuff pain at one point. Anyone with rotator cuff issues will feel pain doing these, often even with light weight.


This shouldn’t be surprising; it’s an inverted bench press. Deep pushups are even worse.

Ask a person with a painful rotator cuff what it feels like to do a pushup. They won’t even want to think about it.

Lateral Raise (Side Raise)

If arms are straight or only vaguely bent, these will kill, depending on which rotator cuff tendon is irritated.

Credit: George Stepanek

The person won’t even be able to raise their arms (straight) much, sometimes even without any weights in their hands.

The more the elbow is flexed, the less pain, but if the rotator cuff is damaged enough, the person won’t be able to do these even with bent arms.

Upright Row

Shutterstock/Mihai Blanaru

This exercise is a major enemy to an injured rotator cuff. If your shoulder feels tweaky even in the slightest, avoid this exercise.

Cable Crossover

Shutterstock/Jasminko Ibrakovic

I’ve ranked this the worst because this is the routine that injured my rotator cuff the worst.

The pain was frightening when it happened — a sudden onset of acute pain during the routine — and accompanied me all day long as a strong ache that took several days to dissipate.

The result? My chest routines were squashed; most shoulder routines eliminated, along with no dipping.

It took over a year, possibly 18 months, before I had regained the strength I had before the injury.

So take it from me, these are the worst weightlifting moves for the rotator cuff, healthy or injured.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


Top image: Shutterstock/KDdesignphoto