One of the most common complaints I receive from lifters are that they get bench press shoulder pain. It seems that once nearly any lifter starts benching over 185 pounds, his shoulders start to hurt. It only seems to get worse the stronger the lifter gets.
However, bench press shoulder pain does not have to be inevitable. In this article, I will discuss 10 tips to end bench press shoulder pain for good!
1. Start performing rear deltoid work every time you lift weights.
The rear deltoids are a neglected body part that contribute significantly to shoulder health and stability when bench pressing. Some exercises you can perform are rear delt flies. These can be done by bending forward with a pair of dumbbells and raising the arms as if you were doing the reverse of a typical dumbbell fly or by using the reverse option on any standard pec deck machine.
Face Pulls also work. This exercise involves pulling a rope (such as the one used during a triceps push-down) on a cable at face height and bringing the weight back to your ears in a rowing motion. You should feel this in the back of your shoulders and in your upper back. This exercise is performed while standing.
2. Use a narrower benching grip and bring the bar down just below the nipple line.
I discuss this aspect in great detail in the bench press grip article. Benching with a narrower grip takes a lot of stress off the shoulder and is a great way to reduce bench press shoulder pain.
3. Take a deload week.
Every eighth training week, try taking a week to recover. During your deload week, use less volume (less sets and reps) than normal and stay away from bench pressing with a barbell. If you must train chest this week, do push-ups and dumbbell bench pressing. More advanced lifters will need to take a week off every 4 weeks if they are serious benchers.
You do not have to wait until you get bench press shoulder pain to take a deload week. It is much easier to prevent bench press shoulder pain from occuring in the first place than it is to reverse it once it has started.
4. Work the external rotators.
Exercising the rotator cuff is a common recommendation for bench press shoulder pain. However, nearly every lifter with this type of pain should only workout the external rotators and ignore the internal rotators. To exercise the external rotators, rotate your upper arm away from your body with a light load.
Bench pressing works the internal rotators, and as a result, internal rotation work is not a good recommendation for those with bench press shoulder pain.
5. Train the incline bench.
Most lifters with bench press shoulder pain only get the pain when they flat bench. For many, the incline bench press is still comfortable. This movement has a lot of carryover to the regular bench press, so getting strong on the incline bench is a great way to improve your flat bench pressing strength while avoiding bench press shoulder pain.
You can use more than just the incline bench as a variation. Different variations of the bench press all shift load to different tissues. If you flat bench very frequently, a lot of times all that you need to do to reduce bench press shoulder pain is to try a different variation for a few weeks.
I find that most lifters report that their shoulder has healed up after moving to the incline bench press for a few months and then coming back to the flat bench. These lifters also are stronger than ever on the flat bench since they are actually able to press now without being in pain!