Based on the last few articles I’ve written, you bros are probably going to start thinking I hate the bench press. But that’s not true. Very few things in the gym are more awesome than throwing up a huge amount of weight on the bench.
But I also know the limitations the bench press has, and that if you want to maintain healthy shoulders, you should probably give the barbell bench press a break occasionally.
As great as the barbell bench press is for building a huge, strong chest, it also places a lot of stress on the shoulder muscles, tendons, and ligaments. This usually comes from people using poor form and trying to move too much weight repeatedly.
The most common type of shoulder injury from the barbell bench press is an impingement. This happens when the tendons of the rotator cuff start rubbing along the top of the shoulder joint. Continuing to try and barbell bench press with this issue can lead to more serious injuries.
If you find that the barbell bench press hurts your shoulders, or you have an existing shoulder injury, here are some other things and bench press variations you can do to keep your shoulders healthy.
Maintain Good Form
This is the most common reason why the barbell bench press may irritate your shoulders. And there are a few reasons.
First, for some reason people think that benching with a wide grip is the bees knees. What this does however is promote the flaring out of the elbows and puts a lot of stress on the shoulders. Taking a narrower grip – just outside of shoulder width – will help keep the elbows locked in and take the stress off your shoulders.
The second thing is to keep your shoulders locked into the bench. Think of it as you’re trying to pinch your shoulder blades together and pull them down. Not only will this increase your stability but it will help keep the shoulders in a friendly position.
Use a Neutral Grip
Using the standard pronated bench press grip for extended periods of time can lead to shoulder aggravation. Switching to a Football Bar (if your gym has one) that allows you to take a neutral grip will help take stress off the shoulder joints.
Decline Bench Press
The decline bench press is great because it reduces the degree of shoulder flexion required, compared to the flat bench press. If you suffer from an impingement this can greatly reduce the amount of pain you feel while benching.
Dumbbell Bench Press
Switching to dumbbells can also be a shoulder-saver. Not only does it naturally narrow your grip but it allows your joints to move in a more natural motion because you’re not locked-in by the bar.
The dumbbell bench press can still agitate the shoulders a bit, so if that’s the case, switch to a neutral grip.
Similar to the decline bench, floor presses also remove the bottom portion of the press, limiting shoulder flexion. Floor presses are also great because they help build your bench press by targeting the triceps.
A classic exercise that is great for shoulder health while still working the chest. Like benching however, make sure you’re not flaring your elbows.
If regular push-ups are too easy, try suspended or decline push-ups.
The bench press is fantastic strength and mass-building exercise. When not done correctly though, it can lead to a whole host of issues. If the barbell bench press causes you problems, give these tips a try. Not only will the save your shoulders, but they’ll boost your bench as well.