How to Keep Your Shoulders Healthy When Bench Pressing

Bench pressing is a staple in most fitness enthusiasts’ exercise programs. It’s likely that your first experience in the gym was a chest day, and ever since that, you’ve continually chased the feeling of your first chest pump. For that reason, along with its association with bodybuilding greats and its place in power lifting competitions, the barbell bench press will never go extinct. Nor should it; it’s a great way to put on size and gain strength in your upper body. But, before embarking on any bench pressing journey, you need to consider your risk:reward ratio and ensure that you’ve bullet proofed your shoulders to handle the demands of barbell benching. This article will go over six simple strategies you can use to keep you in the bench game longer and avoid common bench pressing injuries while continually performing it week in and week out.

1. Practice with Perfect Technique

There’s no quick fix or magic pill for helping you get what you want. The number one way to get your shoulders feeling better while benching pressing, other than to stop bench pressing, is to put your ego aside, take the weight off the bar, and practice your technique. Because the barbell places your shoulders into an abducted and externally rotation position, the bench press stresses your rotator cuff and pecs in positions that they’re weak. This can increase your chances of injury, especially when more weight is added to the bar or more volume is added to your program. Learning to position not only your shoulders, but your whole body in an advantageous position will help mitigate stress on your shoulders and allow you to continue training your bench press for years to come. Check out three quick technique tips below.

 

2. Go Above and Beyond with Your Rows

Because the bench press uses primarily muscles on the front of your shoulder, these muscles can commonly become short and tight if you don’t train their antagonists (muscles on the opposite side of your body). A great way to ensure a major imbalance doesn’t occur is to make sure your program also includes plenty of rowing variations to train your upper back and the back of your shoulders. Add in hours spent sitting at work, driving, or looking at your phone and computer screen where the muscles of the front of your shoulder are becoming shortened and you’ll see even more need for you to incorporate rowing variations into your program. I’ll often implement about a 2:1 ration of rows:pressing when someone is on a bench-focused program or spends hours each week sitting at work.

 

3. Include Exercises That Allow Your Shoulder Blades to Move Freely

With all the benefits bench pressing has for strength development and hypertrophy, you must appreciate that it doesn’t allow your shoulder complex to move optimally. Setting your shoulders blades properly prior to bench pressing locks them in place to give yours shoulders a stable platform to press off.  You need your shoulder blades to be able to move on your rib cage in most actions during your sport and lift. Check out the pressing variations below that allow your scapula to move more freely.

 

4. Train Your Rotator Cuff in Specific Positions

Much like if you’re an overhead athlete and need to train your cuff in positions similar to throwing or hitting, when bench pressing you need to train your cuff in positions that will carry over to strength and control during the bench press. When training your rotator cuff with thoughts of carryover to benching, you need to think about your cuff working as an external rotator to oppose your pecs and lats, but also as being able to maintain good ball-in-socket control of your shoulder joint. Below is an external rotation variation we’ll often start athletes with or include in bench-heavy training programs.

 

5. Train Your Shoulder Mobility

Most of us were not put on Earth for the sole purpose of bench pressing. When getting off the bench, it’s imperative that your pecs are able to lengthen and your shoulder joint is able move through all of its range of motion. If you are training to improve your bench press, consider adding some of the exercises below to your warm-up or cool-down.

 

6. Use a Partial Range of Motion Variation on Your Second Bench Day of the Week

Often, if your main goal is to increase your bench press, you’ll need to train it more frequently. Increasing the frequency of benching will likely lead to more gains, but it’ll also double the stress the lift is placing on your shoulders each week. Consider using a partial range of motion bench press variation to keep your shoulders healthier and to train parts of the lift where you are weak.

 

In Summary

The bench press is great. If you want to build upper body strength and size fast, it’s the way to go. However, if you don’t consider the risks and plan to mitigate them, the lift won’t be so great to you. Train Hard, Train Smart, Stay Focused.