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Shoulder pain in the bench press

Shoulder pain in the bench press

16 million search results in 0.23 seconds.


That’s what Google presented me with when I typed ‘Shoulder Pain Bench Press’ into the search bar.


Its seems a lot of people find their shoulders get exposed in the bench press.


Following a review of 0.00003% of the posts, which was in fact 5 articles (and that percentage is correct if you want to check it), I got a bit bored because they all said the same thing.


1.    Make your grip narrower

2.    Squeeze your shoulders back and down

3.    Don’t flare your elbows


This akin to putting a band-aid on a bullet hole.


Tweaking setup and technique might provide some temporary relief but what you’re not addressing is the fact that there is possibly a bigger issue at play which you aren’t going to resolve by benching more.


N.B: Because this is a bench press blog, I’ve sprinkled it with a little extra ‘bro’. I hope it adds some spice to the conversation.


How to Fix Bench Press Shoulder Pain

Now this might be a shock but to fix your bench press shoulder pain you’re going to have to get off the bench.


It’s quite possible that your shoulder pain is in fact related to too much time on the bench and not enough time doing other things, so we need to go and do those other things.


Here’s some hard truths and some advice on what to do:


1.   Your shoulder extension range of movement is toilet

When you lower the bar to your chest your shoulder goes into extension i.e the elbow moves behind the body.


Now if your shoulders are all jacked up and you can’t extend, your brain will find an alternative solution because it knows how much you love the pump only a monster bench session can provide.


The solution it opts for might be to let the head of your humerus glide forwards on the socket. You might see the effects of this is you if you look at the space between the back of your shoulder and the bench when the bar is touching your chest.


That anterior glide of the humeral head can start banging up some of the tissue on the front of your shoulder. Which can cause some pain.


So the first part of the solution might be to get some more shoulder extension range of motion. That will mean you can lower the bar to your chest and keep the humeral head in a good position.

Shoulder extension exercise


2.   Your posterior deltoid is a puny maggot and jealous of it’s much more swole medial and anterior neighbours

All that pressing might have created a little disparity in the force generating capacities of your anterior and posterior shoulder.


The posterior deltoid works to extend, externally rotate and horizontally abduct your shoulder.


At the top of your bench press your posterior deltoid works to stabilise the shoulder. If your training has brought you to a place where you are over-powered and under-stabilised, i.e. the weaker guys at the back could struggling to keep up with the big guns at the front.


Getting pain-free shoulders is often a question of strength balance and we sometimes need to spend some time stacking the deck a little more in favour of the muscles which have an important stabilisation function.


So, the take home…do some posterior deltoid work, it’s also an important part in reducing AC joint issues, which we will talk about next.


3.    Let’s call it ‘motor control’ because if I say rotator cuff you’re likely to roll your eyes.

Dynamic stability around the upper limb is where shoulder function begins and ends. Because the shoulder is designed for mobility, it must sacrifice stability. You can’t have a super mobile joint that is also super stable.


An important contributor to dynamic shoulder stability is the rotator cuff.


Before your brain plants pictures of tedious exercises using elastic bands in your mind’s eye and before you quickly dismiss any inclination to include them in your programme, let me share something with you.


I test rotator cuff strength in nearly all the shoulders we recondition using a dynamometer which gives me data.


I’m not a fan of made up percentages being used to make things sound statistically important but for today, let’s say 90% of all the shoulders we see will exhibit a lack of strength in either internal or external rotation.


That lack of strength is pretty much always consistent with the same shoulder that has pain or instability.


As part of the shoulder reconditioning programme we might increase rotator cuff strength. Then when we retest the data will show strength has improved and the client will report pain has decreased. 


I can’t make it much simpler than that.


The rotator cuff helps position the humeral head on the socket. The dynamic part comes in as it needs to do that during functional movements when the humerus and the scapula are moving.


If your rotator cuff is weak, either the anterior or posterior musculature, your ability to keep the humeral in a position which is favourable for good quality pain-free movement can be compromised.


Anyone on Instagram who says you don’t need to train your rotator cuff and you just need to move your scapula when you train has not reconditioned many painful shoulders. Don’t listen to these people when they speak about things they don’t know.


So in summary, the rotator cuff is important. Most people who have shoulder pain have some weakness in their rotator cuff. When their rotator cuff gets stronger, pain decreases. People who bench a lot or who are very anterior shoulder dominant (pecs, lats and anterior delts), usually benefit from some rotator cuff strength training.


I could go into the kinetics of shoulder motion in the bench press and I’ll do that another day. For now, you have some stuff to get started on.


If you try these things consistently for 6 weeks and you don’t see an outcome, do our BASE Programme or book a call.


If you're struggling with shoulder pain, instability or a lack of confidence that's keeping you from reaching your training or sporting goals. Book a FREE consultation call.

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1 comentariu

Great article, thx Tim. Short & sweet and to the point.

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