Shoulder pain on bench press

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enwar3

Golden Member
Jun 26, 2005
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I've been benching for about a year, but over the past couple weeks my shoulder started to act up every time I bench. It's only my left shoulder. I've studied all the videos and have great form, and I make sure my form stays excellent throughout the exercise. I'm really confused why my shoulder has started to act up only now. It's not a soreness pain but rather a wrenching limb from joint pain, but it goes away by the next day or the day after normally.

I have some ideas:
1. Although my form has not changed, maybe bad form + new heavier weight is putting strain on the joints? I moved up about 15 lbs in the space of about a week before the shoulder pain kicked in. Though I think I have good form, this is the most likely scenario I can think of.

2. Flexibility issue? More muscle = less flexibility (if you don't stretch) and I've gotten too inflexible to perform the exercise properly?

Anything I haven't thought of? I really want to keep benching but I don't want an injury to keep me out of the gym..
 

StageLeft

No Lifer
Sep 29, 2000
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What is your form? Most people's bench, mine included, has the bar go vertically up and down. This is known to be bad for the shoulder. Powerlifters have a superior form (although when I try it my bench weight drops precipitously by about 30%) which involves the bar going down toward your belly button as it comes down, so it essentially moves diagonally. I am trying to work toward the powerfliting form but for the most part have stopped doing bench. I had done it for years without issue but feel I'm flirting with disaster to keep getting stronger with the "normal" form, so I do primarily dumbbells now.

Whatever you decide, don't be under the illusion that bench is necessary for development as it surely is not. Plenty of people who are strong as hell and look the part have never touched a bench press in their life. I absolutely recommend that if you cannot solve this shoulder issue you do something that doesn't cause symptoms, because it takes only one bad workout to give you chronic pain and then you'll really regret it.
 

PingSpike

Lifer
Feb 25, 2004
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I had nagging soreness...or maybe it felt more like weakness in the joint of my left shoulder for quite awhile. It was always noticeable during bench. I aggravated it pretty badly a few months back and was pretty afraid I'd really screwed it up good.

I can't say this is for sure what solved it, but around the same time I had started doing bench over rows, focusing on pullups and actually taking my back workouts seriously. I haven't had any pain at all from that shoulder for months, even during bench. My theory is my haphazard back workouts had resulted in an imbalance. Not saying that is what happened with you, just an idea.
 

Jeffg010

Diamond Member
Feb 22, 2008
3,438
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I stop doing flat benchs it kills my right shoulder. This was an old injury I had from HS now 37. I even had a top DR look at it and basically told me to stop doing stuff that makes it hurt. Incline dumbbells is best I can do with out f'ing my shoulder up. Advise to you is stop flat benches once you have these types of injures they seem to linger for life.





 

katank

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Jul 18, 2008
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What about shoulder press and/or dips? Any pain on those? If not, work those and you can maintain and/or improve your strength without having to do flat bench if that aggravates your shoulder.
 
Mar 22, 2002
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It doesn't have to be bad form or inflexibility. If you're front-dominant, that it self can take your shoulders out of an optimal position daily. What you need to do is stop benching for a bit and rehab it some. Do very light, high rep (12-15) back exercises (internal/external rotations, seated cable rows, arm bike) and it will start to heal. Continuing to bench will just make it worse.
 

brikis98

Diamond Member
Jul 5, 2005
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The bench press should not cause any shoulder issues if (1) its part of a properly balanced routine and (2) it's performed with proper form. Unfortunately, most people screw up on both counts, which is why the bench press ends up being associated with lots of shoulder injuries. Take a closer look at these two points:

(1) The rotator cuff is supported from many different directions by many different muscles. If some of these muscles become stronger than others, the rotator cuff becomes imbalanced and an injury is usually the result. Therefore, you need an upper body routine that has equal amounts of pushing forward (bench press), pulling backwards (rows), pushing downwards (dips) and pulling upwards (pull-ups). A properly performed overhead press is also a great exercise as it uses all the shoulder muscles equally. Unfortunately, many people do 15 sets of (very heavy) bench press per week but don't balance it out with any pulling exercises, which is a very quick path to shoulder pain. If this is you, then start adding in lots of rows (inverted, pendlay, cable, whatever) into your routine. In fact, you may need to do these pulling exercises exclusively for a while to give yourself time to fix the muscle imbalances and give your shoulder time to heal.

(2) Although the bench press isn't a particularly complicated lift, there are still many ways to screw it up. Starting Strength contains a good write-up of how to bench press (as well as how to do all the other major barbell lifts). Stronglifts has a decent tutorial too. Some of the common mistakes are:

* Not maintaining a proper/tight back arch
* Letting your ass come off the bench
* Not tucking your shoulder blades under and keeping a tight upper back (don't allow your shoulders to roll forward)
* Letting your head come off the bench
* Not using full ROM - bar should go from lockout to touching the chest
* Bouncing off the chest
* Improper elbow position - they should not be too high (perpendicular to body) or too low (parallel to body), but roughly in the middle
* Too wide of a grip on the bar - the wider you go, the more stress on the shoulder joint
 

enwar3

Golden Member
Jun 26, 2005
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Note: I may have been unclear, but the shoulder pain I have only hits during the act of benching and goes away after a bit. I don't have shoulder pain normally, and I don't have it when I don't bench either. It's not a continuous pain, which is why I thought it was something to do with my form on the bench press.


Originally posted by: Skoorb
What is your form? Most people's bench, mine included, has the bar go vertically up and down. This is known to be bad for the shoulder. Powerlifters have a superior form (although when I try it my bench weight drops precipitously by about 30%) which involves the bar going down toward your belly button as it comes down, so it essentially moves diagonally. I am trying to work toward the powerfliting form but for the most part have stopped doing bench. I had done it for years without issue but feel I'm flirting with disaster to keep getting stronger with the "normal" form, so I do primarily dumbbells now.

Whatever you decide, don't be under the illusion that bench is necessary for development as it surely is not. Plenty of people who are strong as hell and look the part have never touched a bench press in their life. I absolutely recommend that if you cannot solve this shoulder issue you do something that doesn't cause symptoms, because it takes only one bad workout to give you chronic pain and then you'll really regret it.

I definitely move the bar in a diagonal direction (must keep forearms orthogonal to floor).

Originally posted by: katank
What about shoulder press and/or dips? Any pain on those? If not, work those and you can maintain and/or improve your strength without having to do flat bench if that aggravates your shoulder.

No pain on the press and dips. They're actually increasing nicely right now.

Originally posted by: brikis98
The bench press should not cause any shoulder issues if (1) its part of a properly balanced routine and (2) it's performed with proper form. Unfortunately, most people screw up on both counts, which is why the bench press ends up being associated with lots of shoulder injuries. Take a closer look at these two points:

(1) The rotator cuff is supported from many different directions by many different muscles. If some of these muscles become stronger than others, the rotator cuff becomes imbalanced and an injury is usually the result. Therefore, you need an upper body routine that has equal amounts of pushing forward (bench press), pulling backwards (rows), pushing downwards (dips) and pulling upwards (pull-ups). A properly performed overhead press is also a great exercise as it uses all the shoulder muscles equally. Unfortunately, many people do 15 sets of (very heavy) bench press per week but don't balance it out with any pulling exercises, which is a very quick path to shoulder pain. If this is you, then start adding in lots of rows (inverted, pendlay, cable, whatever) into your routine. In fact, you may need to do these pulling exercises exclusively for a while to give yourself time to fix the muscle imbalances and give your shoulder time to heal.

(2) Although the bench press isn't a particularly complicated lift, there are still many ways to screw it up. Starting Strength contains a good write-up of how to bench press (as well as how to do all the other major barbell lifts). Stronglifts has a decent tutorial too. Some of the common mistakes are:

* Not maintaining a proper/tight back arch
* Letting your ass come off the bench
* Not tucking your shoulder blades under and keeping a tight upper back (don't allow your shoulders to roll forward)
* Letting your head come off the bench
* Not using full ROM - bar should go from lockout to touching the chest
* Bouncing off the chest
* Improper elbow position - they should not be too high (perpendicular to body) or too low (parallel to body), but roughly in the middle
* Too wide of a grip on the bar - the wider you go, the more stress on the shoulder joint

1) I do the same number of sets for bench press as I do bent over rows, and I do over half as many sets for dips and pull-ups. I am and always have gone heavy on all of them so I can't imagine why an imbalance would start to occur now. I can start doing more exercises for back, though, to try and help.

2) I've also studied the SS book religiously. I do think my grip is too wide though - on most bars they have two segments of knurling on each side and I normally have my index finger where the small space in between the two segments are. I also tried benching a variety of ways last night - closer grip, higher on the chest, lower on the chest, not touching chest - and the only thing that seems to help is decreasing ROM.

It seems as if I may be unbalanced, because I can't think of anything else, so given what you guys have suggested I'll try putting more work into my back and shoulders for a couple weeks and see what happens.
 
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