Managing Shoulder Pain In The Bench Press

As I am sure you all are well aware, the bench press is a great bang for your buck exercise for your arms and chest. It is also the measuring stick to all things man. Most people, young and old alike, seek to be able to bench large amounts of weight. Benching heavy over the course of many years will put a lot of stress on the shoulder. This is why it is imperative to take precautionary action in making sure your shoulders stay healthy. This becomes even more important for the person with already jacked up shoulders.images

The importance of a warm up has been preached to us for years, but many will still skip this step to save a few minutes. And instead they grab some 5 pound plates and do a couple of shoulder circles, some scap retractions, and to finish it off some shoulder internal external rotation. Worse yet they do nothing and just jump right under the bar.

A good warm up will prepare the muscle to do work. The warm up should be two part. The parts consist of a muscle tissue quality portion and a dynamic warm up portion. This will allow for maximal tissue recovery and preparedness to do work.

Muscle Quality

For getting after the shoulders you should have a foam roller and a lacrosse ball. The foam roller will be used to hit the over all upper back. The lacrosse ball will be used to get into the nitty gritty areas.

Foam Roller

First start off with the foam roller hitting the upper back. Do several slow rolls along the upper back. You can change your hand position each time to hit different spots. For example: hands directly in front, hands overhead, hugging self with left arm on top, and hugging self with right arm on top.

Next, roll over to your side and place the foam roller on the back part of your armpit, this will hit the insertion of your lat onto your arm.

Lacrosse Ball

You will find that the lacrosse ball will become one of your best friends, especially if you have shoulder discomfort.

The areas you want to hit with the lacrosse ball are your: pec major, pec minor, and the shoulder blade (infraspinatus and supraspinatus).

This will take any knots out of the muscles and help your tissues to repair, which will lead to better recovery, and ends with you lifting more weights.

Warm Up

While the foam roller and the lacrosse ball help with shoulder health and recovery, the warm up prepares the muscles to do work by increasing blood flow to the working muscles and preparing your neuromuscular system. This is also a great time to work on any mobility issues you may have with your shoulders.

Your warm up should be a full body warm up. It should hit all the major muscle groups. In my warm up I incorporate a good mix of both mobility work and dynamic stretching.

Here are some of the exercises I use to warm up my shoulder and help gain/maintain shoulder mobility:

Note: I will only pick one or two of these for my warm up.

Scapular Wall Slide

Yoga Push ups


No Money Drill


Pec Mobilization


Scap Push Up

Shoulder Friendly Presses


If the barbell bench press causes discomfort you should, you should not be doing it. But don’t worry, there are plenty of pressing variations that will allow you to still get your press on.

Here are four of my favorite non barbell pressing presses:

Dumbbell Bench Press:

By not having you arms fixed to a bar you are able to move your arms into a more favorable position i.e. elbows at 45 degrees.

Dumbbell Floor Press:

The floor press has all the advantages of the dumbbell bench press but also allows you to really lock you shoulder into position against the ground, creating more stability. It also decreases the range of motion preventing any anterior humeral head gliding.

Push Ups:

Push ups also will allow you to more easily keep your arms at a more shoulder friendly position. You can also elevate you feet to incorporate more of your serratus anterior, which will create more acromion space leading to a decreased chance of shoulder impingement.

Neutral Grip Bar:

The NGbar allows you to, well, keep your hands at a neutral position, decreasing elbow flare and increasing acromion space.

Working Shoulder Stability

Having an unstable shoulder can be the cause of pain. Incorporating some of these exercises my help to relieve some of your shoulder ailments.


There are many ways for you to get your perturbation on. I prefer to have someone else assist me but you can also do it by yourself with a med ball. The goal of perturbation is to stabilize the shoulder.

Farmers Walks:

A kettelebell farmers walk variations are also a great way to increase shoulder stability.

Kettelebell Arm Bar:

The kettelebell arm bar is an exercise that was brought to my attention by Mike Robertson. I have been using it in my own programs and have loved the bang for your buck you get out of it. With this exercise you get a whole lot of scapular stability and recruitment of the shoulder muscles.

Cues For Benching

Bad form can also cause your shoulder to get a little irritable. Here are three things to keep in mind while benching.

Screw Shoulder Blades Back:

Before setting up to bench have your arms out in front of you and think of screwing your shoulder blades back together. When you do this correctly you should feel your shoulder pull tight together. This will help keep your back tight and stable.

Actively pull the bar down:

Don’t just let the bar fall to your chest. Actively pull the bar to your chest. This will activate your back muscles, keeping you nice and stable.

Tear the bar apart:

When you lift the bar think of ripping it apart with your hand. This will help prevent you from flaring you arms out to the side.

Putting It All Together

There are many reasons your shoulder can be causing you pain. It could be due to instability, overuse, or a bone or ligament issue. You may find that even the shoulder friendly lifts many be painful, if this is the case you should not perform them.

What I have outlined above are ways to keep your shoulder healthy and to give you some ideas of how to work around some jacked up shoulders, not injured shoulders.


Josh Williams

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Posted on June 6, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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