Looking to strengthen your shoulders and prevent injury? Then it’s time to add the Cuban press to your workout routine! This exercise, which combines an upright row, external shoulder rotation, and overhead press, was invented by Cuban Olympic weightlifters to keep their shoulders in top shape.
It was later popularized by famous strength coach Charles Poliquin and has become a go-to move for those looking to bulletproof their shoulders and keep their rotator cuff and scapular muscles strong. In this article, we explore the benefits of the Cuban press and provide step-by-step instructions for adding it to your workout. So get ready to give your shoulders the love and attention they deserve!
What Is Cuban Press?
The Cuban press is a dynamic exercise that provides a comprehensive workout for the shoulders, rotator cuff, and upper back. It is a combination of a shoulder external rotation with a dumbbell press, training multiple muscles and movements in one sequence. This exercise is typically performed with relatively light weights, making it ideal for a warm-up before upper-body lifting. The Cuban press can be performed standing, or as a more challenging variation while face-down on an incline bench.
The Cuban press is a great way to target the muscles that are often neglected in other upper-body exercises. It is especially beneficial for lifters who want to improve their shoulder mobility and stability, reduce the risk of injury, and build overall upper-body strength. The exercise also provides a good stretch for the rotator cuff and upper back, which can help to alleviate tightness and improve the range of motion.
How To Do Dumbbell Cuban Press
Here are the steps to perform the Cuban press:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your body upright and your core braced throughout the exercise.
- Grasp light dumbbells with your palms facing behind you and your arms by your sides.
- Lift the weights out to the sides until your elbows are bent at 90° and the weights are hanging straight down.
- Rotate your arms so your hands point upward, keeping your upper arms horizontal.
- Press the weights directly overhead, extending your arms fully.
- Reverse the movement, bringing the weights back to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for the desired number of repetitions.
Cuban Press Muscles Worked
The Cuban press is a multi-faceted exercise that works multiple muscles in your upper body, from your shoulders to your arms. The three exercises combined in the Cuban press are the upright row, external shoulder rotation, and overhead press.
First up, your traps and rhomboids in your upper back get a workout as you lift the dumbbells out to the sides. All three heads of the deltoids are involved, including the anterior for flexion and medial rotation, the medial for abduction, and the posterior for extension and external rotation. Your rotator cuff, made up of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis, also gets a workout, helping to stabilize your shoulder joint and initiate movements.
Finally, the biceps in your arms are involved in the first part of the exercise, helping with elbow flexion and supination of the forearm, while your triceps, located on the back of your upper arm, help extend your elbow in the last part of the Cuban press.
With all these muscles working together, the Cuban press is a great way to improve your overall upper body strength and stability, while reducing the risk of injury.
Cuban Press Benefits
The Cuban press is a versatile and effective exercise that provides a number of benefits for your upper body and overall fitness. Here are some of them:
Comprehensive Shoulder Workout
The Cuban press is a great exercise for hitting all three deltoids at once, saving you time and making sure you don’t miss any muscle groups. Unlike other deltoid exercises, the Cuban press works all three heads simultaneously, making it a very efficient workout.
Rotator Cuff Training
While the rotator cuff is important, it’s often only trained after weakness or injury sets in. With the Cuban press, you’ll be working your deltoids and rotator cuff at the same time, giving you preventative benefits and helping you avoid RC problems.
Cuban presses involve pulling your shoulders down and back, which is also known as scapulae setting. This helps stabilize your shoulder girdle and joint, reducing the risk of shoulder injuries and allowing you to lift more weight in other exercises.
Cuban presses can help improve shoulder mobility and flexibility. Light sets with a broomstick can be a great warm-up for your shoulder joints, and the movement also stretches key shoulder muscles. If you have healthy shoulders, incorporating Cuban presses into your routine can help maintain that health.
Cuban Presses May Not Be Ideal For Everyone: Drawbacks
Shoulder concerns – If you have any pre-existing shoulder pain or issues, the Cuban press may not be the best option. The exercise requires a large range of motion and could exacerbate pain if you have conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis, calcification, swimmer’s shoulder, or a SLAP tear. It’s recommended to start with a lighter weight and a broomstick, and gradually increase if there are no negative effects.
Challenging to master – The Cuban press requires good coordination and control, and it’s important to perform the three movements (upright row, external rotation, overhead press) correctly. As such, it may not be the best choice for those who are new to weightlifting or fitness.
So, if you’ve got healthy shoulders, give the Cuban press a try! But if you have any shoulder concerns, or if you’re a beginner, it may be best to consult with a trainer or physical therapist before attempting the exercise.
Cuban press Variations
The Cuban press using dumbbells is a great exercise for your shoulders, however, it’s not necessary to always include it in your workout routine. There are multiple other options and variations that you can switch to in order to maintain the effectiveness and diversity of your exercise regimen.
1. Barbell Cuban Press
How to Perform the Barbell Cuban Press:
- Grip the Barbell: Grab a barbell using an overhand grip that is slightly wider than shoulder-width. You can also opt for a thumbless or false grip if that feels comfortable.
- Stance: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, bend your knees slightly, brace your core, and pull your shoulders down and back.
- Upright Row: Bend your elbows and perform an upright row, bringing the barbell up to your sternum or lower chest. Your upper arms should be parallel to the floor and your elbows bent to 90-degrees.
- External Rotation: Without lowering your upper arms, externally rotate your shoulders and lift the barbell above your head.
- Overhead Press: Extend your arms fully, pressing the barbell up to arm’s length.
- Lower the Bar: To return to the starting position, reverse the movements. Lower the bar to your head, rotate the bar down to your sternum, and return it to hip height.
Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.
2. Lying Cuban Press
The lying Cuban press is a unique take on the classic Cuban press exercise. By adjusting the angle, this exercise puts a different stress on the rotator cuff muscles, making it an important addition to any shoulder health routine.
How To Perform The Lying Cuban Press:
- Set up the bench at an angle of 30-45°.
- Start by holding dumbbells with your arms hanging straight down.
- Lift your elbows out to the sides.
- Externally rotate your arms until your forearms are in line with your body, keeping your elbows bent at 90°.
- Finish the movement by pressing the weights straight ahead of you.”
3. Cuban Rotation
The Cuban rotation is a focused exercise on the rotator cuff muscles, which omits the upright row and overhead press from the standard Cuban press.
How To Do The Cuban Rotation:
- Choose a seated, kneeling, or standing position and hold a barbell with an overhand grip that is wider than shoulder-width.
- Pull the bar up the front of your body to your sternum/lower chest, keeping your upper arms parallel to the floor and your elbows bent to 90-degrees. This is your starting position.
- Rotate the bar out and up to just above your head.
- Rotate the bar back down to your sternum and repeat.
- Alternatively, you can also perform this exercise with dumbbells.
Standing Four Point Press
By combining pressing and rotating the shoulders in a single movement, the standing four-point press is a great exercise for the shoulders.
How to perform Standing Four-Point Press:
- Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your core engaged.
- Hold a pair of light dumbbells at shoulder level, with your elbows pointing to the sides.
- Press the weights overhead, fully extending your arms.
- Once your arms are extended, rotate your elbows to point forward, so that your palms end up facing each other.
- Lower the weights back to shoulder level, while keeping your arms straight.
- Repeat the movement for the desired number of repetitions.
Cuban presses may not be the best exercise for building bigger muscles, as they involve the use of levers that limit the amount of weight you can use. However, they are very effective in increasing shoulder stability, mobility, and health, which in turn can lead to improved performance in other upper body exercises like the bench press, bent-over row, and overhead press, resulting in increased muscle size.
With various variations such as the dumbbell Cuban press, barbell Cuban press, lying Cuban press, Cuban rotation, and standing four-point press, it is possible to tailor the exercise to your specific needs and goals. Regardless of the variation you choose, proper form and light weights should be emphasized to minimize the risk of injury.
It is recommended to include Cuban presses in your warm-up routine or as a final exercise after your upper body workout to ensure that you’re getting the most out of your upper body workouts.
Rahul is a sports and performance consultant. Over the course of his 15-year career in the fitness sector, he has held positions as a strength and conditioning instructor, gym owner, and consultant.
He is deeply committed to assisting people in finding happiness and feeling good about themselves.
Rahul has a master’s degree in exercise science and is a certified NSCA CSCS and CISSN.