Bench Press Shoulder Pain – Know When To Be Wary

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body. However, this fact also leaves it more susceptible to injuries and pain. 

Perhaps you’ve noticed recently that you’ve been experiencing minor shoulder pain during bench press movements. Surprisingly, this isn’t all that uncommon. And it is fixable. However, it may require more attention to be paid to the fundamentals behind the bench press. Below, we explore what these fundamentals are, how you can strengthen your shoulder muscles to prevent pain, and when you should seek out help for your shoulder pain.

How To Avoid Shoulder Pain From Bench Pressing

Undeniably, many things can go wrong when proper form is ignored. In fact, your technique is a key player when it comes to most injuries. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain from bench press movements, the first thing to check is your form. Here are the key pieces.

Setup Position

Most experts recommend lining up the bar or dumbbells with your eyes. At this time, you also want to pinch your shoulder blades together. This prevents your shoulders from rolling inward and forward. 

In addition, your feet should be flat on the ground, about shoulder-width apart. When grabbing the bar, you want to ensure your thumb also wraps around the bar and that you have a full grip on it. When you unrack, you should simply straighten your arms and then go straight into your bench presses.

Read Also: Best Weight Bench for your home gym

Elbow Position

Ideally, your elbows should be at about 75 degrees from the body - not 90 degrees like many individuals mistakenly think. However, the exact position may depend on your body type. Generally, your elbows should be directly under the bar or slightly in front of it throughout the entire movement.

Don’t Forget About the Shoulder Blades

During the set-up phase, you pinch your shoulder blades down and back. However, you want to maintain this throughout your entire bench press. Again, this stops the shoulders from caving in, which can lead to problems with the rotator cuff muscles such as impingement. This position also adds stability to your lift.

bench press correct form

Back Position

Most exercises require your lower back to be on the bench or ground, but not in the bench press. The bench press requires a natural arch in the low back. In fact, a friend should be able to gently slide their hand in between the bench and your low back. However, this does mean your butt stays on the bench. 

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How To Strengthen Your Shoulder Muscles

Stronger shoulder muscles will prevent any pain from happening when bench pressing. The following exercises can improve your shoulder mobility, stability, and strength, which can help you master this lift.

Read Also: 10 Exercises To Improve Your CrossFit Shoulder Mobility

Exercise #1: Shoulder Blade Retraction

This scapula retraction exercise not only helps your bench press. It also contributes to better posture overall and even might help prevent a rotator cuff tear. The shoulder blade retraction works the posterior part of the shoulder and the muscles that hold the shoulders up and back - preventing them from rolling forward. To perform this exercise:

  • Begin standing or sitting tall.
  • Gently pinch your shoulder blades down and back. Do not shrug your shoulders.
  • Hold her for 5-10 seconds.
  • Relax and repeat for 8-10 repetitions. Aim to perform 2-3 sets.
  • To make this more challenging, add a resistance band in and perform a row while pinching the shoulder blades down and back.

Exercise #2: Overhead Press

The overhead press targets the deltoids, chest, triceps, and trapezius muscles. It’s one of the best shoulder exercises since it can help prevent injury to the rotator cuff muscles - that is when it is done properly. Here’s how to do it:

  • Stand or sit up tall.
  • Hold a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Position your arms at shoulder height with your elbows bent to 90 degrees and your hands up high. Begin with your pinky fingers facing forward.
  • Slowly extend your arms straight up and over your head. At the same time, rotate your hands so that your palms face forward.
  • Pause, then gently lower your arms back to start, while bringing your pinky fingers to face forward.
  • Repeat 8-10 times for 2-3 sets.
shoulder press

Exercise #3: External Rotators

For this exercise, you will need a resistance band. This exercise also helps improve posture while also working the rear deltoid muscles. Here’s how to do it:

  • Sit up or stand up tall.
  • Hold the end of a resistance band in each hand.
  • Start with your elbows at your sides bent to 90 degrees.
  • Keeping your elbows at your sides, pull the resistance band out, bringing your hands out to your sides.
  • Gently return to the start, and repeat for 8-10 repetitions and 2-3 sets.

Read Also: Best Resistance Bands and Workouts with them

Exercise #4: Reverse Flys

This exercise is also supportive of the bench press since it works the opposing muscles as well. To perform it:

  • Stand tall with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Hinge forward slightly at the hips.
  • Let the weights hang in front.
  • In a controlled manner, bring the weights up and back, squeezing your shoulder blades and bringing both arms out to your side.
  • Gently lower and repeat 8-10 times for 2-3 sets.

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reverse exercise

Exercise #5: Chest Stretch

A tight chest can result in the shoulders rolling forward as well. This means that your bench press form may seriously suffer. To fix this, regularly perform this chest stretch press:

  • Stand in a corner or in a doorway.

  • Using the doorframe or the walls in the corner, place your forearm on them. Your elbows should be at shoulder height.

  • Gently step or lean in. You should feel a stretch through your chest.

  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds.

Read Also: Bodyweight Shoulder Exercises - Calisthenics Workouts

Exercise #6: Towel Stretch

This is a great stretch for general shoulder mobility. Some individuals can clasp their hands together for it, but most will need to use a towel. Here’s how to do it:

  • Hold a towel in one hand. 

  • Bring this same hand up and behind your upper back and neck. The towel should hang behind your back here.

  • Bring your opposite hand behind your lower back and grab the towel.

  • Gently pull with your top hand until you feel a stretch in your other shoulder.

  • Hold here for 20-30 seconds.

Read Also: High Volume Calisthenics Workouts - So you can progress without weights

Shoulder Pain During Bench Press - When to be Wary

If you experience shoulder pain during any exercise, the best thing you can do is stop. Readjust and try again. If the pain or shoulder discomfort is still there, do not continue. If the pain is there after you are no longer bench pressing, it’s likely a good idea to apply ice as soon as you can. This will help reduce pain and inflammation. Aim to apply ice for 15 minutes at a time, while ensuring there is a cloth between your skin and the ice device.

Aim to rest the shoulder for a couple of days before attempting the bench press exercise again. Instead, you can focus on more isolated shoulder exercises, such as the ones described above, as long as they don’t cause pain.

Read Also: 6 Best Self Myofascial Release Tools to loosen those muscles

shoulder pain

If the pain persists, it may be best to seek the assistance of your doctor or physical therapist. They can perform a proper assessment and determine what is really going on beneath the surface. They are also equipped with knowledge and tools to help diagnose a shoulder injury. You may also want to consult with your doctor or seek out medical assistance if there is any obvious deformity, such as swelling, or if the pain is severe. 

You can also try additional home remedies, such as floss bands, which can help with shoulder pain. These floss bands can help with quick pain relief and improve your shoulder range of motion. 

Read Also: Flossing For Mobility With VooDoo Floss Bands

It may also be a good idea to test your shoulder movements and strength before returning to your regular shoulder routine. Practice lifting your arms overhead or performing arm circles. These movements can help you determine whether heavy lifting is appropriate or not. If there are any twinges or pain sensations, it may be best to wait until these have resolved before you return to bench pressing or other shoulder weight lifting movements.

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden worked as a Rehab Exercise Expert at a physiotherapist clinic in Ottawa, Canada for 4 years. She has an Honours Bachelor Degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She uses her extensive knowledge in this area to educate others through well-researched, scientific, and informative articles. Her passions include helping others and inspiring each person she meets to get the most out of their life.

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