The Worst Shoulder Exercise Of All Time


The Worst Shoulder Exercise Of All Time

Mitchell Starkman, Physiotherapist, The Movement Centre

4 June 2018

Let’s talk about one of the worst shoulder exercises of all time. As a Physiotherapist, I can’t tell you how many times I am working out in the gym (minding my own business) and I think about walking over to a fellow human, handing them my card and them to call me when they’re ready…from an injury stand point of course!

But if we’re being honest, there are a lot of people doing a lot of odd exercises in the gym on a daily basis. Today we are focusing on one of the worst culprits of all; Standing Shoulder Twists with Dumbbells. Here is a video all about the good, the bad and the ugly of this exercise:


So here is the problem

When you are holding dumbells with your elbows bent at 90 degrees, gravity is acting downwards on weights – that means it is loading your Poppei like biceps. Now is this bad in isoloation? No. But here is the problem.


Most people are completing this exercise in an attempt to  warm- up the shoulder or warm-up the rotator cuff, when in fact we are barely challenging the rotator cuff at all. The long head of the biceps is one of the most commonly injured structures in the shoulder and is often involved in shoulder impingement. When we load the biceps we are compressing the long head into a groove in the bone – all good stuff. The issue comes when you start to rotate your hands back and forth, in and out. We are now grinding and frictioning this biceps tendon in this groove and causing some pain!


So, what is the solution?

Well, if your goal is to activate and strengthen your rotator cuff, the Side Lying Shoulder External Rotation exercise is by far superior.

This has to be one of the best and most often overlooked exercises. In fact, this shoulder strengthening exercise has been found in the research over and over again to be one of the most effective exercises to strengthen and retrain the rotator cuff. The great thing about this exercise is that most of us (okay, maybe not you), have weak rotator cuff muscles. At home, using something as simple as a soup can, or even half-filled water bottle will do the trick as a resistance. This can also be a super helpful exercise for correcting and improving your shoulder posture.


We’ve created a full write up post on this shoulder strengthening exercise if you need a full review.

Now, what if you are struggling with pain?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! If you are having issues or trouble with your shoulder we recommend you check out the PhysioReady Shoulder Impingement Program. It’s an entire online program dedicated to getting your shoulders pain free and feeling awesome.

You can also check out our Ultimate Guide to Shoulder Impingement where we teach all you need to know about what the heck is going on with your shoulder and show you how to fix it!  

Authored by:

Mitch Starkman

Mitch Starkman

Physiotherapist and Founder

A Toronto-based Physiotherapist with a passion for sports, orthopedics, and human movement. Mitchell’s goal is to understand how the site of pain is impacted by the entire body – rather than pinpointing a specific disturbance. He is also the founder of - a website geared toward giving people the tools they need to self-manage, treat and prevent their injuries.


Video Transcript

Some people prefer to read and we’ve got you covered!

Hey guys, thanks for stopping by. Just before we get started I wanted to let you know about a free resource that we have for you today. The ultimate guide to shoulder pain so you can feel and move better. All you have to do is head down to the description below, we’ve got the link there. Head over, download that, or you can head directly to the website, and download it from there.

But without further ado, let’s get started and take care of what you came here for. Hey, what’s up guys, this is Mitch Starkman back from the movement center, and welcome to our Don’t Do It series. So we’re talking about things you should not be doing and we see people doing this all the time incorrectly at the gym. So the first one we want to talk about is this shoulder warmup. So a lot of people will kind of hold two weights like this and kind of twist them back and forth and try to warm up their shoulders like this. Everyone’s seen this. Stop doing it if you’re doing it. Walk up to people and show them this video if they are. Because the problem with this is most people think, “Oh yeah I’m warming up my rotator cuff.” This issue is that your rotator cuff doesn’t run up and down.

So if I want to mimic that muscle of my rotator cuff, and I come on the inside of my arm … So let’s say this green band right here is my rotator cuff. So if I pull on this band it’s going to pull me into what we call external rotation. It’s going to pull me into this externally rotated position. Again, like this. So if I want to load this muscle I need to effectively lower myself to resist this movement. The problem with this low rid rotation exercise like this is it’s now loading my arm in this direction. Against gravity. So what that means is if I hang this and kind of mimic my bicep this way, I’m actually only loading my bicep in this exercise, as apposed to that twisting. So why that’s bad or why that matters is if we look at common injuries that happen in shoulder, like shoulder impingement, bicep [inaudible 00:01:49] or tendinosis. Anything where you’re getting that pinch overhead, the issue that happens here is this bicep tendon often gets stuck or pinched as the shoulder comes up overhead. So if we then take these two weights and hold in this position and resist the bicep down like this, and then we twist it back and forth, we’re essentially grinding or frictioning that bicep tendon along the upper arm bone.

And that, my friends is not a good thing. So what I propose to you is an alternative. If you want to warm up the shoulders and strengthen the rotator cuff, what you can do instead is pop down on your side, just like this, give yourself a weight, nice and supported, and you’re going to twist up and down, up and down. We have a video of how to do this exercise, how to support the shoulder, how to stabilize it, but this movement is a much more effective way for you to challenge that rotator cuff in that rotational movement, and stability and strengthen it, as apposed to what we’ve been doing in the past, which is more this sort of throwing the arms back and forth under that loaded arm position.

So that’s it, don’t do this one if you’re doing it, an alternative would be to get into this other type of shoulder exercise such as the one we were describing here which we’ll put a video to, and that’s it, and that’s all. If you have any questions or comments, leave them below, subscribe, and of course remember to move like you mean it.

Hey everyone, thanks for watching all the way to the end. If you haven’t subscribed, please go over and hit that subscribe button. Give us a like, share it, we appreciate that, but more than anything we did create a free resource for you guys today. The ultimate guide to shoulder pain. You can head over the description down below and download that, or head right to our website., and [inaudible 00:03:29] today. Really hope it helps. Have a great day. 

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