Reflections in a Head Mirror

Jul 2 2014
Exercises I Hate: Part 1 (Empty Can Raises)

A while back I did a series of posts about exercises that I love. They are ones that I tend to use a lot and include in a lot of home programs for my patients. In order to be complete, I think the series needs a follow up including exercises that I don’t use very often. To keep the theme going, I am calling these the exercises I hate, but please know that I don’t hate exercise. This group includes exercises that I don’t use often, mainly because of the stress it puts on the joint that I’m trying to rehab. 

For some people it might be a fine exercise, but not always when recovering from an injury. I expect that some people might disagree with my selections here, so feel free to try and convince me otherwise. Here is the first one; check back soon for the next one. 

Empty Can Raises

This exercise involves doing a shoulder raise out to the side with your thumbs pointing down, like if you are emptying a can. I was taught this one in school as a way to isolate the supraspinatus muscle (part of the rotator cuff). 

We see a lot of people with rotator cuff pathology, so you would think I would use this one a lot. However, research has shown that doing the exercise in a Full Can position shows just as much muscle activation without having to put the joint in a compromised position leading to impingement (which may be the reason the patient is coming to the clinic). I know a lot of physical therapists out there use this one, but it has been taken out of my rotation and substituted with the Full Can raises.

Empty Can Raise Don't


With tubing or a dumbbell, hold the object next to your side with your thumb pointed toward your hip. Raise your arm at a 45 degree angle in front of your body with your elbow straight and thumb pointed toward the floor. Raise your arm to shoulder height. 

(I found this on another physical therapy company’s website as part of one of their home exercise program handouts.)

Full Can RaiseDo


Stand with arms in a thumb-up position at your sides. Move arms 30 degrees toward the midline of your body. Lift arms to shoulder height and hold 2 seconds. Slowly return to starting position. 

(This is from one of our exercise program handouts.)


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