One of the most common complaints I get from people in the gym is “my shoulders are killing me”. This complaint usually occurs right after a set of bench press or an “intense” CHEST workout. It seems that everyone who goes to the gym ends up hurting their shoulder while bench pressing. Why?
It all started when we were taught as kids in gym class to do pushups that looked something like this
The problem with this position is that the upper arm is internally rotated causing the elbows to flare out and the brunt of the force is placed on the shoulders. Furthermore, the shoulder joint is in an anatomically weak position making the joint vulnerable to injury. The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. The upper arm or humerus (ball) inserts into the glenoid fossa of the scapula (socket). If the humerus is not centered in that socket there is very little stability, which increases the risk of injury to the surrounding muscles and tendons. As we got older we took what we learned from doing pushups in gym class and applied it to the bench press. Now we are loading a shoulder position that is very weak and vulnerable with hundreds of pounds and completing a ton of repetitions. This is the perfect recipe for shoulder pain and eventually surgery.
The proper way we should have been taught to do pushups looks like this
Here we have the upper arm (ball) externally rotated which will center it inside the scapula (socket) and the elbows are tucked in. This creates an anatomically strong and stable position for the shoulder joint. This will also allow for the brunt of the force to be taken on by the pectoral and tricep muscles as it is meant to be.
If you take these principles and apply them to the bench press you will drastically reduce any shoulder pain that you may have. Here are 3 easy cues to get your body in the proper position:
- Create a good arch in your back. Retract and depress your shoulder blades. Pull them back and down. Keep them there and do not let your shoulders shrug up.
- Keep your body stiff like a board. Drive your fee into the ground and keep everything tight from head to toe. Any loss in tension will result in a loss of force and proper position.
- Try to break the bar. When you grip the bar pretend like you are trying to break it in half. This will put your shoulders in a good position and activate your triceps.
Hopefully these quick tips will help save your shoulders in the future.