Bench Press and Shoulder Pain: The Easy Fix

Hunter Bennett

If you get shoulder pain when you bench press, then we have got you sorted.

The bench press is arguably the most popular lift on the planet. To be honest, between the ages of 16 and 18 it was the only exercise I did on a consistent basis. 

Well, that and bicep curls — you know, for #balance.

In fact, this was my routine three days per week, right up until my shoulders started getting a little sore. And then, because I didn’t stop, they started getting really sore.

Like “a sharp stabbing pain in the front of both shoulders every time I bench pressed” kind of sore.

Disaster.

Unfortunately, this persisted for a good couple of years until I worked out why I was getting shoulder pain.

And now you can do the same.

1.Your Technique is Average

If you get pain during any exercise, technique should always be your first point of call. 

Most exercises have been performed in the gym successfully for hundreds of years. Which means that if they cause you pain, it is probably a result of how you are performing them, rather than the exercise itself.

Now, just quickly  — I am not saying that certain people don’t have restrictions that can make an exercise painful — because they can.

But more often than not these restrictions result in poor technique, which then leads to pain. I would argue that they are rarely the cause of pain themselves.

Ok, back to the bench press. What is good bench press technique?

Well, in my mind, it should tick all these boxes:

  1. Your head, upper back, and bum are touching the bench
  2. Feet are set behind your knees, and heels are pushed towards the ground.
  3. Your upper and lower back are in a state of slight extension (read: a slight arch)
  4. Shoulders blades pulled together tight.

If you hit these, there is a good chance you are in a great state to bench press. The slight arch will ensure that your shoulders are in a neutral position. Moreover, having your shoulder blades pulled together will increase stability.

The result? 

A stronger, safer, and more stable bench press. 

2. Your Mobility Sucks

I mentioned above that some restrictions can impact negatively on your technique — and this holds true for the bench press.

If you spend a lot of time sitting, there is a good chance the muscles at the front of your chest have become tight. This can come with rounded shoulders and a curved upper back.

All of which make it damn near impossible to bench press comfortably.

How can you improve your mobility for bench pressing?

  1. Release your pecs with a lacrosse ball
  2. Foam roll your lats and thoracic spine
  3. Use some thoracic mobility drills

Perform these as part of your warmup and you will see an immediate improvement in technique. 

3. Your Upper Back is Weak

Last but not least, we have upper back strength.

While the bench press is ultimately a chest and tricep exercise (AKA the perfect exercise), the strength of your upper back has huge implications for its success. 

Remember when I said good bench press technique needs you to keep your shoulder blades back? Well that can only happen if  you have a good upper back strength.

And if you don’t, you will lose position, reducing stability.

This means you should be throwing in some direct upper back work into most of your training sessions. Some of the best include:

  1. Band pull apart 
  2. Chest supported dumbbell row
  3. Lever row

Train these movements often and watch your upper back grow.

Key Points

If bench pressing hurts your shoulders, it is likely the result of one of the factors discussed above. Which means that, by improving your technique, enhancing your mobility, and increasing your upper back strength, you can keep your shoulders healthy and your bench pain free.

Oh, and you might even make some gains in the process.

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