There are very few exercises that give you similar benefits in terms of overall upper body size and strength. But, the bench press is probably the most common way people injure their shoulders. Unfortunately many people “can’t” bench, or have to use partial ranges to avoid pain. People that once were able to bench press carefree are left to watch with envy as others load up the plates and press away.
There’s good news though. You don’t have to be in pain when you bench press. Just follow these five tips and you should be able to press to your heart’s content.
Warming up is beneficial for every exercise but especially bench presses. Most people are tight throughout their chest, anterior delts, and components of their rotator cuff. This is the classic rolled forward shoulder position often caused by slouching when sitting. Prior to starting your workout, you should focus on stretching and rolling these areas so that they do not become overactive and force you into the unstable and dangerous position of internal rotation. When you press in a state of internal rotation, your glenohumeral joint is unstable, and this leads to rotator cuff injury once you add any appreciable amount of weight to your presses.
The first step to fixing this issue is to address wound up and tight external rotators that are overactive and preventing full range of internal rotation during the bench press. The most effective way to do loosen these areas is to use a lacrosse ball. Lay on your back or side and place the ball right where your lat inserts near the armpit. This is where you find the external rotators. Once you have found a tender area, move your hand up and down through internal and external shoulder rotation leaving the ball at the tight spot..
Another common issue is a tight thoracic spine. This makes your ribs stiff and negatively affects your ability to stabilize during presses due to faulty scapular function. To address this lay on your back and place the lacrosse ball right at the very top of your scapula next to the spine. Simply raise and lower your arm, moving it across your body at times. You will continue this pattern all the way to the bottom of the shoulder blade. Remember you’re not rolling back and forth, you are taking an area down and focusing on one spot at a time and allowing the ball to work out any kinks and tightness.
Next you need to address the tight component of your pecs and anterior delts. Once again, we turn to the lacrosse ball for the most effective mobility technique. Place your arm behind your back find pressure where your pec minor and anterior delts come together. This can be done on the floor or against a wall
After you have finished rolling, it may be necessary to stretch the pecs and shoulders if you are extremely tight.
Once you have addressed the issues with your tissues and are ready to start your workout, perform a few weighted external rotations to warm up these small muscles. You can simply grab a couple 5lbs plates and line your elbows up outside your shoulders. Then move the hands up and down rotating at the shoulder without moving the elbow.
Finally before you start your bench presses do 2-3 warm up sets with a lighter weight.
Once your tissues are mobile you can get your shoulders into the required position for bench pressing. It’s not as simple as just laying on a bench and pressing though. You must get the shoulders in a depressed and retracted position to stabilize the movement with large muscles like the lats and rhomboids. If your scapula is not in the ideal position, your rotator cuff muscles will become over-involved, risking injury or pain.
To get into this shoulder position think about “breaking the bar.” Make an external rotation force (make sure it comes from the shoulder and not just the arm) and focus on pulling the shoulders together and down at the same time. The shoulders should be at the back of the socket. This allows you to load up the weight in a stable manner, unlike a typical flat back arrangement.
So now you have the proper set-up it is vital to keep your form in check while lifting. When you start your descent continue “breaking the bar”. This external rotation force keeps your elbows and wrists lined up ensuring proper tension throughout the entire movement. This prevents your elbows from flaring out to internal rotation.
Make a conscious effort to keep your shoulders tacked down as you reach the bottom of the press. People often allow their shoulder to roll forward once they reach the bottom. That shoulder position is unstable and removes the emphasis on the pecs. If you have severe mobility issues of the shoulder girdle, it may be impossible for you to reach a full range of motion safely. In this case go as low as you can before the shoulders roll forward. Over time your range of motion should increase to normal, but don’t rush the process.
Also screw your feet into the ground and squeeze your butt tight during the movement. This generates more power and stability while keeping your hips and spine from becoming compromised. Finally don’t forget how to breathe. Inhale as you lower the weight to expand the ribs and open the chest, then exhale during the press.
Whether it’s faulty mechanics or just using too much weight, many people cheat without realizing it during the bench press. The most common mistakes are:
Cheating is going to compromise the transfer of force during the movement, and even if it doesn’t cause pain right away, it will limit your ability to effectively target your pecs. The only shortcuts are supplements such as Pre-Workout, which gives you extra energy and strength to help build the body you want.
Sometimes we have such a desire to target one muscle group that we do it at the expense of others. This is never a good idea because it creates muscular imbalances that can lead to injury. Many people perform a disproportionate amount of chest work when most would benefit from doing more pulls than presses during the week.The average person should do 1.5X the number of pulls compared to presses during the week while someone with more severe postural issues should do twice the amount of pulls.
Remember the back muscles are what stabilizes your presses so they must be functional and mobile. If these become increasingly under active while your pushing muscles are becoming increasingly overactive, you will not be able to maintain stable shoulder position. It’s easy to spot that person in the gym who focuses heavily on pushing exercises by their rolled forward posture and high shoulder posture. Not only do you risk injury when you don’t balance out your program, your aesthetics will suffer as well.
Supplements such as Creatine gives you the ability to recover faster, as well as and lift more weight in between workouts.
If you have avoided bench pressing because of pain or injury try these tips and you can reunite with your long-lost love. Now you have all mobility and knowledge to bench press with no risk of injury, load up the weight and increase the intensity. Be sure to check out Sheer Strength Labs Creatine, which is proven to have benefits such as: increased muscle growth, improved muscle strength, and reduce soreness and recovery time. Additionally, check out Sheer Strength Labs Pre-Workout, which will give you extra strength and a boost energy boost that will make your workouts that much more effective.
Jonathan Warren is a national level physique competitor and personal trainer with multiple certifications including NASM, NCCPT, and IKFF. His specializations include mobility training and corrective exercise as well as contest preparation.
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