The bench press is the cornerstone of any serious bodybuilding program. In fact, it has its own holiday every single week because of how important it is.
We ALL want that 3D Chest Arnold Schwarzenegger had, and even in his bodybuilding program, you do a ton of benching.
But, what happens when you get shoulder pain when bench pressing? How do we fix it?
Honestly, shoulder pain when bench pressing is the most annoying thing to ever happen. It just feels like if you get shoulder pain you’ll fail the whole rep instantly and not be able to do any more sets without messing up.
This is obviously a problem if you’re on a serious bench program like the Smolov Bench Program (that puts 100 lbs on your bench in weeks). Or really a serious problem if you like benching.
So, here’s how to fix that nasty shoulder pain when bench pressing.
Step 1: Identify The Pain and It’s Location
Unfortunately, shoulder pain when bench pressing is incredibly complicated.
It doesn’t have a standard ‘fix-all’ rule to get rid of the pain.
So, we need to first identify the pain and its’ location.
Pretend you’re a doctor or detective and take some notes here.
- Where is the pain on your body? Is it in the front of your shoulder? The side?
- How strong is the pain? (1-10?)
Does the pain change in levels?
- Does the pain get stronger or weaker as you move the bar?
- If so, where is the pain getting stronger or weaker?
- Does the pain move at all? Is it happening in multiple places?
- How long has the pain been going on?
- Does the pain change when you reduce or add weight to the bar?
- Is the pain happening when your arms are extended? Or when the bar is at your chest? Maybe in the middle?
While we want a comprehensive answer, if you can’t get every detail- that’s okay!
The main thing we are looking for is the location of the pain. This is the most important part of getting rid of your shoulder pain when bench pressing.
So try really hard to write down the location of the pain. Is it in the front part of your shoulder? Or the side of your shoulders? Is it in the back of your shoulders? Is it in multiple places?
That information is the KEY to figuring out the problem, but the other details can help if your problem isn’t solved.
Front Shoulder Pain When Bench Pressing and How To Solve It (Front Deltoids)
This is by far the most common type of shoulder pain when bench pressing. The annoying front shoulder pain.
The ‘front’ of your shoulder is basically the shoulder that is facing towards the bar when you bench, and it actually does A LOT of the lifting when you’re bench pressing. I’m telling you, this muscle actually does work overtime for you!
This muscle group is generally referred to as the front deltoids, or anterior deltoids.
But, how do we get rid of front shoulder pain when bench pressing?
There are two main ways we can solve this:
- Checking your range of motion and flexibility.
- Stabilizing your shoulders.
Your Range of Motion May Be The Problem
At first, most people brush off the ‘range of motion’ idea as nothing more than nonsense. Most people just assume they have the proper range of motion to bench press, but this can actually be very wrong.
According to Simon Byrne, a certified nutrition coach and fitness instructor, “the issue is that people do not have the mobility to safely perform a bench press in this manner and as a result, it places the shoulder joint in a compromised position.”
You Can Test This!
You can easily test your range of motion. Byrne said, “Here’s a test you can perform at home: sit upright, pretend to lower a barbell to your chest as you would in a bench press, and see how far back your elbows go.
Chances are for most people that your range of motion does not go so far back that your hands are level with your chest.
Therefore, If you can’t get into a fully lengthened/stretched position when you are not using additional weight, then you should not be training that position when placing a muscle group under extra load.”
Here’s the problem with poor Range of Motion.
Most people brush off poor range of motion as nothing to worry about. But the truth is, it is one of the most important things to bench pressing.
Simon Byrne said, “When you touch the bar to your chest during a press but don’t have the mobility to do this, smaller stabilizing muscles, ligaments, and tendons will need to take over the movement.
The issue is that the weight is likely going to be too much for these smaller muscles and you risk pulls and tears to your muscles, ligaments, and tendons.”
That’s right. The very framework holding all of your muscles together will get damaged and risk significant tears.
Your Front Shoulder Pain Can Be From Limited Range of Motion
According to Simon Byrne, “These muscles that are damaged include the rotator cuff locked around the rear delt area and also the front delt which is then placed into an extreme stretch.”
If you’re suffering from front shoulder pain, it may be due to limited range of motion.
Your Shoulders Are Likely In The WRONG Spot
The other most common reason you have front shoulder pain when bench pressing is because your shoulders are in the wrong spot.
This is a very common, and thankfully very simple fix.
Most people don’t have their shoulders in the right position. Your shoulders should ideally be rolled down and facing away from your head. You can fix this by trying to ‘bend’ the bar when you bench press. Also, fixing your shoulder position is best done by squeezing your lats together on the bench seat. This will also let you bench more.
Imagine You Are Trying to BEND or BREAK The Barbell When Benching
This sounds like a weird concept at first, but this is one of the best ways to stop front shoulder pain when bench pressing.
Here’s what Jordan Duncan, owner of Silverdale Sport & Spine, said: “A great way to stabilize your shoulders while bench pressing is to imagine trying to bend or break the barbell during the exercise.
You do this by trying to turn both hands outward, thereby creating external rotation of the shoulders.
This also has the advantage of improving scapular stability during the exercise.
By trying to break the bar, it will go a long way in putting your shoulders in a great position while bench pressing.”
Trust me, just try this and you’ll notice the difference instantly. It almost locks your shoulders in place when you’re benching which will stop most if not all of your shoulder pain when benching.
It does take some time to practice and get right, but it will be a night and day difference for you.
Your Grip Can Cause Shoulder Pain
Most people are super surprised to find out their grip can be causing a LOT of their shoulder pain.
I’ve seen it too many times, people bench FAR too wide or too narrow and that just destroys your shoulder muscles.
According to James Delacey of the Sweet Science of Fighting, “a grip that is too wide places a lot of stress on the shoulder joint putting it into a vulnerable position as the barbell is lowered. It forces the elbows out to the side which is a weaker position for the shoulder than when the elbows are closer into the body.
An easy fix is to bring the grip width to just outside shoulder width and have the elbows come closer to the body”.
Just put your grip about shoulder-width apart on the barbell. Generally, there is etching in the bar that shows you a general idea of where your grip should be.
Try to avoid wide or narrow grip bench pressing if you have shoulder pain, this can seriously aggravate the problem.
You Could Try Reverse Grip Bench Press (The best grip for shoulder pain!)
The Reverse Grip Bench Press has always been famously known as the grip you go to to avoid shoulder pain.
This is namely because when you use the reverse grip, it is nearly impossible for your shoulders to move.
While it may cause you to bench less, it does target your chest more.
If trying the reverse grip bench press is something that may interest you, I highly encourage you to check out my article about it.
- Read: The Reverse Grip Bench Press, the best bench press grip to get rid of shoulder pain instantly.
Side Shoulder Pain when Bench Pressing
Typically, side shoulder pain when bench pressing is less common. In fact, it’s probably rare you’ll ever experience it at all.
In fact, again, there aren’t any solutions online you’ll ever find about side shoulder pain when bench pressing.
Alas, somehow I managed to experience the pain in the side of my shoulders.
Here’s the two main causes of it:
Weak Side Deltoids (Easily fixed)
The biggest cause of side shoulder pain is weak side deltoids.
Thankfully, this is easily fixed. Just do some heavy side lateral raises and it will grow your side deltoids.
This issue is fixed pretty quick by doing this. I highly recommend following Rich Piana’s Feeder Workout plan to grow those side deltoids. You basically do like 100 reps at once every night and you’ll see massive growth, it’s actually pretty cool.
You may be thinking that this is wayyyy to simple of a solution. But, in reality it is that simple.
Not many programs actively have you train your side/rear deltoids which can lead to serious problems when bench pressing. Even just adding in 3 sets of 10 for side lateral raises twice a week can make this problem go away in no time.
Your Barbell is Going In an Incorrect Path
Now, this might sound confusing at first, but most people don’t actually move the barbell of the bench press in the right “path”.
Simply put, the bench press barbell is NOT supposed to move in a straight line. It actually has a very complicated diagram which I have attached below.
If you’re experiencing side deltoid pain, chances are, you may be extending the barbell too far forward.
So, at the end of the rep where your arms are nearly locked, your barbell may be ending up very far from right above your eyes.
The barbell should land at the spot where the image is above. If it’s landing anywhere else, your side delts are likely activating because you’re moving the bench press in a very irregular position.
When you move the bench press in that path, you’re almost moving it sideways and doing an upright row. This is what you want to COMPLETELY AVOID. There’s a reason the upright row isn’t seen in programs anymore, it completely destroys your shoulders.
So, I recommend recording a video of you benching and seeing the exact path that barbell is taking and comparing it to the image. You might save yourself a ton of aching in the long run.
Rear Shoulder Pain (Shoulder Blade) when Bench Pressing
Rear shoulder pain may be some of the most confusing shoulder pain when bench pressing out there. Mainly because- it doesn’t make any sense. Why would your rear shoulders be hurting after benching?
The truth is, your back and rear shoulders are used far more in the bench press than you may have ever known.
There are two main reasons you will be experiencing rear shoulder pain when bench pressing.
Your Rear Deltoids Are Weak (Yes, they are a smaller muscle that is barely worked out)
How many of you even knew the rear deltoids existed? When I first started lifting, it was one of those ‘invisible’ muscles that you never hear of.
It is apart of your shoulders technically, and you can actually work them out individually from the rest of your muscles.
Let me tell you, I was able to do 35 lb side lateral raises for 12 reps, but I could barely even do 5 lbs of rear deltoid raises.
I think part of the problem is that the bodybuilding community barely even talks about the rear deltoids- it’s like they don’t exist!
Simply put, the rear deltoids are almost like the whole foundation of your shoulder. With them being weak, the whole skyscraper (the bench press) collapses.
But you don’t need to worry. Your rear deltoids actually look incredible when you work them out, they make you have a killer physique. No joke, this small muscle can make your back look 3D in no time.
(Read: Charles Glass, the Godfather of Bodybuilding, the man behind the ‘3D’ physique)
So ultimately, there’s no need to skip working out your rear deltoids. They will make your bench press higher, reduce shoulder pain, and make you look huge.
Your Form is Incorrect (Probably not engaging your back)
Remember how we mentioned earlier that you need to be trying to squeeze your lats together? If you aren’t doing that, you’ll probably experience a lot of rear side delt pain.
This is because that muscle will be essentially unactivated and laying there in a weird position as the weight moves up and down.
It’s kind of like squatting without engaging your core, it just ruins your foundation. So make sure your lats are squeezed together.
Your Back is Weak
This is actually a really common one. A lot of people work chest but do NOT work their back muscles. This actually leads to a lot of shoulder pain as the back isn’t able to account for that weight.
So, go back to your program and do the back workouts. Typically it will be something like Barbell Rows 5×5 and some other back machines.
Once your back becomes stronger, you will notice a lot of shoulder pain going away. Plus, your bench will skyrocket in number.
When I started taking my back work out seriously (I skipped back for well…years) my bench went up 50 lbs in a matter of weeks.
Check Yourself- Is Your AC Joint Sticking Out?
This is thankfully a fix that can be identified just by looking at yourself in a mirror or feeling around your shoulder area.
Is your Acromioclavicular Joint (AC Joint) sticking out? Look at this photo, and determine if this looks like you.
You may have to feel around with your fingers to see if that bump is sticking out.
Sometimes if that bump is out too far, you’ll need surgery.
But oftentimes many bodybuilders start to show that bump and it is thankfully reversible if you catch it early on enough.
However, like I said, if it is too far you may have to get surgery. It is best to talk to a doctor or trainer to see your options.
Many Bodybuilders Can Actually Fix This!
This isn’t a joke, but this bump will start popping out if you don’t work out your back.
Yep, so all those people that told you to not skip your back- um, they actually had a good reason for it.
Again, this is NOT a joke. If you work out your chest and arms but do not work out your back, your AC joint starts to get really stressed and out of place.
So I reached out to certified exercise physiologist and strength and conditioning specialist Michael Wohltmann who explained this all for us. Here’s what he said:
“The most common problem I see in bench pressing is Acromioclavicular Joint (AC Joint) pain.
This is characterized by a localized point on the outer front of the shoulder.
It is relatively simple to figure out as the spot is often tender and can be identified by pressing the area with a finger or thumb. (As shown in the picture above)
It is normal for the pain to be in both shoulders.
The cause of the pain is interrelated with the tension of the Latissimus Dorsi muscle.(aka the lats)
The lat muscle is a back muscle responsible for the V-shape of the back when developed.
The muscle can shorten (aka get tight) when exercises such as pullups and lat pulldowns are not performed in their full range.
Specifically the arms need to be in their fully extended position to stretch the lats. The top end of the lat muscle inserts onto the upper arm bone (humerus).
When it tightens, it has an effect whereby a person’s arms rotate inward and the palms of the person face behind them when they stand.
(This is actually very noticeable and you can see this in the mirror if you stand normally)
To alleviate the pain, the lat muscles need to be stretched. This can be accomplished by:
- Hanging from a bar
- Rolling the lats with a foam roller
- Using 1 arm instead of two(with stretch) to do lat pulldowns (this provides a fuller range of motion)
Relief sometimes can be immediate after stretching. Results from stretching take time and effort in the gym as does having a good bench press.”
This is pretty easy to reverse early on. But if it’s caught later on or more severe, please contact a medical professional to get it examined further.
Make Sure Your Arms Aren’t Locked
If you’re newer to bench pressing, you might be locking your arms on accident.
Let’s be honest, working out can be downright confusing at times. And it’s not like you get taught in school how to do powerlifts.
I remember when I first went to bench press I was extremely confused too. I mean, I got the gist of it- like I knew you had to bring the bar up and down- but I didn’t know where to put my arms or how to extend them.
When I see new people in the gym, one of the most common mistakes they make is locking their elbows. You need to extend your elbows, but do NOT lock them.
If you lock your elbows, well- you might have to literally go to the hospital when your arms inevitably snap in half.
“Extend your elbows, do not lock them.” – Jeff Parke, TopFitnessMagazine
You should have a very slight bend in your elbows to support that weight, but they should NOT be at lock out!
You Might Just Need To Stretch
Look, I’ve never been one to stretch before my workouts- but when it comes to bench pressing, I learned the hard way you’re better off stretching.
Think of it this way. The shoulder is probably one of the weakest joints in your body. Do you really want to randomly load hundreds of pounds on it in a weak position over and over?
So, it’s better to get the blood flowing, get some of that synovial fluid within your joints moving around, and activate some of the muscles to not only avoid injury- but avoid shoulder pain when bench pressing.
Try a Cross Arm Stretch or Doorway Stretch
Jeff Parke, the owner of TopFitnessMag said, “The Cross arm stretch and the doorway stretch are great exercises to help loosen the muscles before benching”.
These are simple stretches that you can do without any equipment! Here’s a video of the cross arm stretch.
And here’s a video of the doorway stretch!
Try Doing Face Pulls
Face pulls are one of the best exercises to relieve shoulder pain regardless if you’re bench pressing or not.
But, using face pulls to warm up before your bench press is a great way to not only reduce injury- but reduce your overall shoulder pain when bench pressing.
Here’s what Adam Kemp, certified trainer and masters in nutrition education said, “After years of over-bench pressing I found myself struggling with numerous shoulder issues.
One of the best fixes for shoulder pain from bench pressing I found was to start doing more face pulls on days when I was going to bench press.
If I am going to have a bench press day, I always do 3-4 sets of face pulls, preferably with resistance bands.
Face pulls are the simplest and most effective exercise for strengthening your rear delts and upper back muscles.
Plus, this will help prevent a muscular imbalance between the front of your body and the back that bench pressing often causes. There are tons of face pull variations, but traditional face pulls with a resistance band is an excellent option.”
Conclusion of How To Fix Shoulder Pain When Bench Pressing
Hopefully this post helped you. A lot of it can be attributed to tiny form differences and some muscular imbalances.
Thankfully, a lot of the problems causing your shoulder pain can easily be changed, and hopefully, you can fix that shoulder pain when bench pressing.
Let me know if this helped you in the comments below. And please, if you have tried something that has helped you, tell me in the comments below and I will add it to the post!