Bench pressing is one of the most common exercises at most gyms. While the results tend to happen quickly, bench pressing can also cause pain, especially in the shoulders. Since the shoulder joint is complicated and connected to several muscles and joints, pain can become problematic.
Fortunately, there are ways to fix shoulder pain while exercising. But, it is important to pay attention to signs that your shoulder needs to be seen by a health care provider or get chiropractic care for shoulder pain.
When you are bench pressing, it is essential to pay attention to your form. Rotator cuffs often cause shoulder pain rolled forward. The rotator cuff is a meeting point of four muscles that provide stability in the joint. To protect the rotator cuff, pull your shoulder blades together, so the rotator cuff also rolls back. After the shoulder blades are squeezed together, push the bar up from the mid-chest, rather than from the lower or upper chest.
The position of your elbows during a bench press is also important. You should not flare out your elbows, because this also puts the shoulder joint into unnecessary stress. Your elbows should point toward the back of your body to increase your shoulder extension.
When you use proper alignment, your shoulders should not be in pain. Research shows that bad alignment can cause impingement as well as injuries in the rotator cuff. Some people turn to pressing dumbbells rather than a single-bar because they have more control over the alignment.
Research shows that some people experience shoulder pain from overuse during bench pressing. Often the problem comes from pain in the pectoral muscles, which also enters into the shoulder joint. And, the same research shows that the shoulder is the most commonly injured part of the body for weight lifters.
When to See a Health Care Provider
Shoulder pain is not a good thing, so if you feel it while bench pressing, you should stop. If you hear a pop or feel a tear, then you should see a health care provider. You should also see a health care provider if you find that you lose strength after an outward rotation. The pain could be from a torn muscle, a rotator cuff injury, impingement, or possibly an issue with the bursa. A health care provider will be able to assess the problem and give you suggestions to heal the problem.
Increasing Mobility in the Shoulder
To help take care of the shoulder during bench pressing, research shows it is essential to take care of mobility, stability, and strength. If one of those issues is unbalanced, more problems can occur. It is important not to overdo their shoulder workouts, which can result in overstretching and overworking the muscles.
If the shoulder joint is weak, mobility can become an issue. Often, weight lifters will guard the joint and lift with improper form when there isn’t stability in the joint. Weightlifters who have shoulders that roll forward when they aren’t lifting are at risk for injury because they most likely have stiffness in their shoulders. If you sit at a computer with your shoulders hunched forward, you can lose mobility in your shoulder.
To increase mobility, it is essential to stretch before lifting and to pay very close attention to form. Pulling the shoulder blades back is vital to improving and maintaining mobility in the shoulder joint. Instead of bench pressing, weight lifters should do incline curls to increase mobility.
Research shows the shoulder also needs to have the stability to avoid being injured. The shoulder moves in several directions, like the hip joint, so it needs to have muscles and ligaments to provide stability. The shoulder joint needs to keep the head of the humerus in place so it can move as it should. For many people, when they lift their arms over their heads, they lose stability. But, they have stability with their arms at their sides, simply because it is a position that is more common.
When bench pressing, the shoulder is moved into a position that is not common. Holding a heavyweight in front of your body can be problematic on the shoulder. If you notice that your shoulder joint seems unstable while bench pressing, put the weights down and move to exercises that increase stability – like kettlebell workouts, overhead presses, dumbbell rows, or overhead shoulder presses.
After mobility and stability are in place, then you can work on strength. The moves that build stability and mobility will add strength, but not to the degree of actual strength-building activities. Bench pressing will help. But if it is a problematic exercise, reevaluate your posture while lifting to protect the shoulders and really work on strengthening the pecs and shoulders.
Bench pressing is considered a pushing exercise, but to really strengthen the shoulders and pecs, pulling exercises are more beneficial. The upper back and core need to be strong to be able to bench press more weight. The body is connected, so weak body parts will cause problems elsewhere.
If you want to add strength, but avoid shoulder pain from bench pressing, look to rowing, push-ups, and overhead rowing. Rowing will help strengthen the back, and it encourages lifters to use proper form for bench pressing, too. Push-ups, with the elbows pointing back, will also promote lifters to get into proper bench-pressing form. Finally, overhead rows will strengthen the shoulder joint.
Other Tips For Reducing Pain
There are a few quick fixes for shoulder pain during bench pressing. The first is to fix your form, with the shoulders back and the elbows down. If that does not work, then the next tip is to narrow your grip, which takes the pressure off of the rotator cuff. After that, you should reduce weight, as your shoulder joint might not be strong enough. The final tip is to engage your core to remove a low-back arch that happens when there is too much weight on the bar.
About Dr. Wells
Dr. Brent Wells founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in 1998. His chiropractic clinic locations are currently leading 10,000 Alaskans to more active and pain-free lifestyles without drugs or invasive surgeries. He brings a progressive and highly innovative approach to chiropractic and massage therapy in Anchorage and Juneau. Dr. Wells continues to further his education with ongoing studies in spine conditions, neurology, physical rehabilitation, biomechanics, occupational ergonomics, whiplash, and brain injury traumatology. He is also a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians.