In October of 2014 I had major surgery on my right shoulder. Basically, I had a partial tear of the rotator cuff, two meniscus tears, and a broken collarbone.
The doctors went in and removed part of my clavicle and also repaired the meniscus and rotator cuff.
The surgery was tough, but the recovery was even worse. I could hardly lift my right arm for a good month after surgery. Slowly after that, I began to regain partial range of motion.
I thought I was doomed never to lift a weight, or swim a lap again. It was easy to become depressed at the thought!
Besides the fact that I gained 25 pounds, I had become deconditioned. I was eager to start weightlifting again.
Sometime around May of 2015 I had finally started regaining close to full range of motion.
I had started to build a base of absolute strength, squats and presses. I would do shoulder warm ups and also stretches.
I won’t bore you with the details of my physical therapy program, but to make a long story short I was not able to alleviate a small pain in my rotator cuff until I implemented these exercises.
Earthquake Bench Press
This may seem like a silly looking exercise, but this is the MAIN factor that has allowed me to get back to bench-pressing pain free.
Once I began doing this exercise at the beginning of each workout I ended up breaking my previous PRs, and also lifting pain free.
What this exercise does is turn on the stabilizer muscles (rotator cuffs). Especially in the traumatic event of surgery as a defense mechanism your body will turn off these muscles.
When I came back from surgery I was literally struggling to curl 5-pound dumbbells. When the month previous I was curling the 40-pound dumbbells for reps.
This is just proof that the body creates this situation in where you literally have to retrain your nervous system to activate these muscles.
In the physical therapy industry, people call it unstable surface training. Some people have bastardized this term; this is why you see people barbell back squatting on bosu balls.
I would complete two sets with 25 pound kettle bells, and then two sets with 35 pounders, before beginning my bench press workout.
You can see why this is referred to as the “Earthquake” bench. The shaking, similar to that of an earthquake, is what forces the stabilizer muscles to activate.
Overhead Earthquake Press
Once again this is an unstable surface exercise, forcing my body to use the stabilizer muscles, and retraining my nervous system too.
What I did for this drill is once at the top I would pause for 10 seconds. This would give me a little extra time in the most unstable position.
Another key to remember here is just like in any overhead pressing motion it is crucial to keep the muscles of your torso contracted and tight, that way you make sure not to let your back go into over extension.
Some overextension of course is fine if you are an experienced lifter or athlete. If not, it is not worth this fault just for a couple more pounds.
Keep your torso nice and rigid and in a neutral position.
I complete this in the same rep and set scheme as the earthquake bench.
Bottom Up Carry
This also being considered an unstable surface exercise, this is a little more convenient and not as much of a hassle as getting the kettlebells, bands, and bench needed for the quake press.
I began with light kettle bells and worked my way up, focusing mainly on keeping the weight stable.
This exercise could cause serious damage when done with too much weight. It is easy to allow your arm to go into internal or external rotation, but when the weight is just right you can keep your lower arm perpendicular to the ground.
All of these exercises are great as warm ups, or individually. It would also be beneficial if you did some banded rotations to help strengthen that rotator cuff even more.
All that being said I do have a full video course over shoulder health for triathletes. Although written for triathletes it could be useful for any athlete that needs to build stronger, more stable shoulders.