“How much do you bench press bro?” This is by far the most commonly asked questions amongst gym bros. Everybody wants to be able to lift some pretty heavyweights on the bench press. Undoubtedly, bench press happens to be one of the most popular upper body exercises targeted towards enhancing strength and muscle gains. Simultaneously, if performed with an incorrect form or using a sloppy technique, it can get you injured in no time.
Shoulder pain when bench pressing happens to be one of the most common problems encountered by many lifters. A shoulder injury from bench press adversely impacts their overall lifting performance and puts their shoulders in an injury-prone position. Most people also have the misconception that bench press hurts shoulders. This fitness and wellness guide will enlighten you about the reasons responsible for inflicting shoulder pain from the bench press. It will also throw sufficient light on some tips which you can follow to get rid of bench press shoulder pain.
Shoulder Pain During Bench Press
Shoulder pain during bench press can be broadly classified into two types:-
- Pain in the front shoulder when pressing.
- Shoulder blade pain during the bench press.
Front Shoulder Pain Bench Press
Many lifters experience front shoulder pain when bench pressing. What could be the prime reason behind it?
Think about lying down on the bench as if you are about to perform a bench press. Imagine this for a while, that when you are just about to lift the bar, are your shoulders or upper arms rounded forward?
If your answer is yes, that means your technique and form are not right. Due to this, there is unnecessary stress on your rotator cuff. It certainly is a red flag.
A Quick Fix
Before pressing up the weight, you need to roll your shoulders down and away from your ears. Afterward, retract your shoulders back and imagine that you are squeezing them together.
Now holding that position, gradually extend the imaginary bar over your chest mimicking the bench press. Now notice the position of your hands. Are they too wide or too narrow? An excessively wider grip puts unnecessary strain on your shoulders. At times, this leads to an injured shoulder from the bench press. On the contrary, an excessively narrower grip puts unnecessary stress on your elbows.
A Quick Modification
While performing the bench press, you must ensure that your grip width is no more than one and a half times your shoulder width. This will aid in eliminating any kind of pain in front of the shoulders when bench pressing.
Shoulder Blade Pain Bench Press
There might be probable chances that you feel pain in your shoulder blades or in between the shoulder blades while performing the bench press. It is sometimes referred to as interscapular pain.
You feel this pain in the upper part of your back that is in between the shoulder blades. Shoulder blade pain occurs owing to any one of the following:-
- Poor posture
- Excessively heavy lifting
- Muscular imbalances
This kind of pain can be relieved by proper stretching.
Shoulder Pain After Bench Press
There are some instances in which the lifter feels perfectly fine while performing the bench press. He experiences no pain in his shoulder area whatsoever. But when the lifter has completed bench pressing, pain starts to set in. There are some cases where the lifter experiences shoulder pain after bench press, probably after 12-24 hrs of bench pressing.
If your case is similar to the case mentioned above, then consider the following:-
Effect of Bench Press Weight
When it comes to performing the bench press, numerous lifters load the barbell far beyond their lifting capacity. It should be avoided at all costs. After all, performing reps with poor form and technique is not going to provide you with any gains. On the other hand, it also puts unnecessary strain on your shoulders.
If you are one of those lifters, you might be experiencing shoulder soreness from the bench press. This happens because your shoulders come into play to lift the weight up, which stresses them out. Even though every pressing movement tends to involve shoulders to some extent, their overall involvement while performing the lift should be avoided. This can be done by choosing a weight that proves to be adequately challenging to you.
Mechanics of Shoulders During Bench Press
When you are benching, you need to make sure that your overall form and technique are correct to the extent that it doesn’t cause any kind of shoulder pain during bench press whatsoever. Hence, it becomes imperative to understand the mechanics of shoulders while performing the bench press.
When you are performing the bench press, you should focus on the following checkpoints:-
- Lie down on a flat bench with your face up and grip the barbell slightly wider than your shoulder width. It is called the medium-width grip.
- Now make sure that your shoulders are rolled back and down. Now, retract your shoulder blades by pinching them together.
- Place your feet firmly on the ground and press them into the ground. Also, make sure to press your hips into the bench as you start lifting the barbell off the floor.
- Start lowering the barbell to your chest by bending at the elbows.
- Now once the barbell reaches your chest height and your elbows dip slightly below the bench, press your heels into the ground as you raise the barbell.
- Finally, get to your starting position. Keep in mind to extend your elbows but don’t lock it out at the top.
Following these steps will make sure that your shoulders are in the correct position when you are performing a bench press.
You must keep in mind that when you are lifting the bar, your scapula (shoulder blades) are retracted. You can imagine pressing the shoulder blades together as if you are trying to make them touch each other. This aids in providing great stability to your shoulders while you perform the bench press.
Bench Press Form
The bench press is a compound movement that involves multiple muscle groups in its execution. To make sure that you get the best gains out of it, you must perform the bench press with a perfect form. There are numerous physical therapists and experienced trainers who advocate the benefits that you avail yourself by performing the bench press with a proper form.
A bench press that is well executed by maintaining a proper form helps in preventing injuries, increasing efficiency, and improving effectiveness.
There are certain common mistakes which most lifters make while performing the bench press. Some of them are:-
- Flaring out the elbows.
- Rolling back the wrists.
- Gripping the bar with an improper grip (either excessively narrow or excessively wide)
- Making the bar rest on your chest (unless you are performing a paused bench specifically).
- Dropping the bar to one side.
- Raising your other body parts like head, butt, neck, or feet during the lift.
All the above-mentioned points are red flags that you need to avoid at all costs. This will allow you to progress well with the bench press in both the short- and long-term.
How To Fix Shoulder Pain After Bench Press?
If you experience shoulder pain after bench press, the following phases of physiotherapy would be helpful.
Early Phases of Physiotherapy
The prime focus of the early phase of physiotherapy is to target enhancing the overall mobility of the shoulder involving movements in which the arm is raised to shoulder height. While performing those movements, one must ensure that their execution is pain-free. However, a little discomfort is acceptable.
Shoulder external rotation
To perform this movement correctly, you need to follow the given steps:-
- Start by standing up straight and pinching both the shoulder blades back slightly.
- Then with the injured arm, place a small rolled towel in between your elbow and torso.
- Afterward, hold a resistance band with both hands.
- Finally, keeping the rolled towel pinned against your body, pull the band using your injured arm.
To perform the scaption raises correctly, follow the given steps:-
- Stand upright on one end of the resistance band and hold its opposite end with the other hand.
- Maintaining a straight posture, slightly pinch both of your shoulder blades.
- Then lift your arm holding the resistance band at a 45-degree angle and stop when it reaches your shoulder height.
- Perform this exercise for a few weeks and then switch to performing some lateral raises where you will be raising your arm to your side.
Mid Phase of Physiotherapy
This phase targets working on overhead mobility. While performing the movements under this phase, a little discomfort and pain are acceptable.
90/90 shoulder external rotation to overhead press
To perform this movement, follow the given steps:-
- Stand upright pinching both shoulder blades back slightly.
- Stand on one end of the band and hold onto its other end.
- Start with lifting your elbows and keeping your forearm parallel to the floor.
- Now rotate your forearm making your palms face the wall in front of you.
- Then firmly holding the band, push it upwards as if performing an overhead press. You can also imagine punching the ceiling.
Pulling out the sword
Follow the given steps to get this movement right:-
- Stand upright and slightly pinch your shoulder blades back.
- Hold the band with both hands and start this movement with the hand that is on the opposite hip of the injured shoulder.
- Finally, pull the band in an upward direction towards the injured shoulder. You can imagine pulling out the sword from its sheath.
Late Phase of Physiotherapy
The late phase of physiotherapy includes movements that mimic the bench press to some extent. This phase involves movements like the following:-
Chest and overhead press with kettlebells
To perform this movement follow the given steps:-
- Take a light 10-15 lbs kettlebell.
- Then lie on a bench and execute a bench press by inverting the kettlebell.
- The inverted kettlebell allows you to focus on balancing the weight. It also makes sure that you execute the exercise at a slow pace.
With the kettlebell, you can perform flat/incline chest press and overhead shoulder press.
Chest and overhead press with dumbbells
Once you are comfortable using kettlebells, you can switch to dumbbells for performing chest and overhead presses. Dumbbells provide you with a greater range of motion. Owing to this factor, you can vary your shoulder position while performing this exercise for added comfort.
Chest and overhead press with barbell
The final part of the last phase of physiotherapy includes performing chest and overhead press with a barbell. With the use of a barbell, the entire motion of a chest press and an overhead press becomes more strict. You just need to keep your elbows slightly tucked down while performing this bench press. This makes sure that you are putting less strain on the shoulder joint.
7 Tips To Eliminate Shoulder Pain During Bench Press
Whether it’s the case of a strength athlete or a regular gym bro, everybody wants to hit some impressive numbers on the bench press. The bench press is undoubtedly a great exercise that works towards enhancing the upper body’s strength, hypertrophy, and athleticism. But if performed with an incorrect form and technique, it can be quite detrimental to your shoulder joints.
Experiencing pain in the shoulder joints during or after performing the bench press is a symptom that your form is getting compromised. To make sure that you perform the bench press with a strict form and eliminate any kind of shoulder pain owing to the movement, consider following the given steps:-
Retract your scapulae
Keeping the scapula retracted ensures tightness in the upper back. If it is not kept retracted during the entire lift, it will lead to scapular tilt at the bottom of the movement. This further translates into anterior/front shoulder discomfort.
Retracting your scapula back while performing the bench press provides you with better stability throughout the movement. It also helps in eliminating any probable chances of shoulder pain and improves your overall performance on the bench press.
Lifting too heavy
It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about attaining your goals; before stepping into the gym, leave your ego at the door. Lifting excessively heavier weights during benching can inflict pain onto your shoulders along with making you susceptible to many probable injuries. You must choose a weight that is challenging enough for you but should not be beyond your lifting capabilities.
Keep your grip slightly narrow
When you narrow down your grip, you get in a position to tuck the elbows more aggressively. It decreases the amount of shoulder abduction that is needed while performing the bench press. This further saves your shoulders from unnecessary stress.
To make sure you hit the correct grip every time, you just need to move each hand in a half-inch and re-assess. The grip which allows you to perform the bench press without any shoulder pain would be the ideal grip for you.
Give a try to the low incline bench press
If your shoulders tend to hurt while performing the regular bench press, you can try out the low incline bench press. On an adjustable bench, just set the angle to one notch above flat. This slight incline angle allows your chest muscles to get involved to a greater degree. The low incline bench press not only saves your shoulder but can also serve you pretty well if you are unable to feel your chest while performing the bench press.
Maintaining an arch in the back
Many people perform the bench press with a flat back. This puts the shoulders in a dangerous internally rotated position when they are at the bottom-most part of the bench press. Here, we are not recommending you to maintain an arch like that of powerlifters. You just need to ensure that there is an arch present in your upper back.
Arching your back puts the glenohumeral joint in an externally rotated and safe position. Arching the back while stabilizing your scapula keeps the tension in your core and leg muscles. This provides you with a firm base as you start the push from your heels, and it goes through your core, into the shoulders, and finally reaches your arms. This further keeps your shoulders in a better position that avoids any kind of sharp shoulder pain when bench pressing.
Increase the volume of overhead pressing
If your shoulder joints tend to hurt while performing the bench press, it may indicate poor shoulder balance. In such a scenario, decreasing the overall volume of bench press and increasing the volume of overhead pressing allows balancing of the shoulder joint and aids in eliminating any kind of shoulder pain during the bench press.
Performing posterior shoulder soft-tissue work
Before you start performing the bench press, you must start with warming up your shoulder joints. Exercises like push-ups, external rotation work, scapular retractions are some of the great options to properly warm up the shoulder joint. In addition to these, performing soft tissue work before bench pressing can also serve you pretty well.
You can perform it by lying on your shoulders and rolling your posterior/rear shoulder on a tennis ball or a lacrosse ball for 10 slower reps. Then proceed towards performing internal and external rotation on the top of the ball. This helps in enhancing your shoulders’ range of motion which proves to be more comfortable while bench pressing.
5 Common Causes for Bench Press Shoulder Pain
There are primarily five causes that happen to hurt shoulders during or after bench press. Those are:-
AC Joint Dysfunction
AC stands for Acromioclavical. It is where the shoulder blade (acromion) meets the collarbone (clavicle). AC joint dysfunction is an injury that gets inflicted to the top of the shoulder. This kind of injury occurs due to two causes:-
- Traumatic AC joint injury
Traumatic AC joint injury is also referred to as shoulder separation. It occurs when the person falls directly on the shoulder. It also occurs when the shoulder takes a direct blow.
- Overuse AC joint injury
Overuse AC joint injury occurs when a person attempts to lift excessively heavier weights during exercises like bench press or overhead press. People whose job requires physical labor and lifting the arms overhead are also susceptible to this injury.
If you tend to hear a popping or clicking sound when you lift your arms overhead, it points towards probable chances of irritation of your labrum. It can also be a tear.
A labrum is a piece of fibrocartilage or tissue that is attached to the rim of your shoulder socket. Since your shoulders are a ball and socket joint, the labrum tends to keep the ball shoulder joint in its correct place.
If there is a labrum irritation or labrum tear in your shoulder joint, you would be feeling extreme pain in that area. Some of its symptoms are:-
- Extreme pain while performing overhead motions.
- Popping, grinding, or clicking sound in your shoulders.
- Shoulder weakness.
- Detrimental athletic performance.
- Significant pain in your shoulder area.
Rotator Cuff Dysfunction
A rotator cuff refers to a group of four muscles and a tendon that keeps your shoulder joint stabilized. It facilitates the lifting and rotating of your arms. Wear and tear of the shoulder joint over time are the prime cause of rotator cuff injury. Its symptoms are as follows:-
- Weakness in arms.
- A dull pain deep in the shoulders.
- Pain that obstructs sound sleep.
- Facing difficulty while raising arms leading to a decreased range of motion.
Touching the bar too high on the chest
This is certainly one of the most common mistakes that beginners often tend to make while bench pressing. When you touch the barbell too high on your chest, your elbows automatically tend to get flared out, which puts unnecessary strain on your shoulders. When the elbows are flared out while performing the bench press, the compressive forces at the clavicle get increased. Owing to this factor, the net torque placed on the shoulder tends to get increased. This inflicts pain on your shoulder joints when you are bench pressing.
Performing the bench press too often
Undoubtedly the more you practice a skill, the better you get at it. But there is a difference between training adequately and training excessively. If you tend to prioritize the bench press in all of your workouts, the muscles targeted by it won’t be recovering well. This would further translate into causing shoulder pain while bench pressing. In the worst-case scenario, it may also lead to muscle and ligament tear which would adversely impact your lifting. Hence, it is recommended that you bench press no more than 2-3 times a week.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do my shoulders hurt when I bench press?
There can be many reasons due to which shoulders may start hurting while executing the bench press. Some of the prime reasons behind this are:-
● Poor grip width. (Excessively narrow or excessively wide)
● Lifting extremely heavy weights without focusing on maintaining strict form.
● Flaring out the elbows.
Is bench press bad for your shoulders?
Bench Press is certainly not bad for your shoulders if you do it with strict form and technique. It is one of the best exercises to improve your upper body strength and musculature. The bench press can be bad for your shoulders if you lift heavy weights excessively beyond your capacity. It can also have adverse impacts on your shoulders if you flare out your elbows too much while performing it or lift the bar with an excessively narrow or excessively wide grip.
We expect that this post would have clarified all your doubts regarding shoulder pain caused during or after bench pressing. If you follow the guidelines given in this post, you will have a safer and effective bench press every single time.
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