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Bench Pressing with Shoulder Pain...

Bench Pressing and shoulder pain go hand in hand, and is one of the most common problems I see with normal gym-goers and powerlifters alike.  But-it does not have to be that way.  If you catch the problem early enough, it can usually be fixed with relative ease. But if this is something you have been dealing with for months or years, you might be in for a little more work to help it recover. There can be many causes for shoulder pain when bench pressing, and this article will cover the 3 most common culprits I see as a physical therapist, and give you simple ways to work on each!


The Set-Up

The very first thing I look at is how athletes set-up on the bench.  This can give insight as to where they might be limited in areas of flexibility, strength, and stability.  It can also show what areas that athlete might favor working more than others; maybe they're placing an unneeded amount of load on certain structures vs. others.  Everyone will have a different "ritual" they go through when setting up to bench and I'm not here to change that. My goal is to show you minor changes you can implement to get tension under the bar, while creating a stable base of support around the trunk and hips for maximum strength! This video covers the main points I address when getting under the bar.



  1. Feet firmly planted on the ground. If your feet can not touch the ground I suggest plates stacked so your feet can be flat.
  2. Squeeze butt and tighten core (but don't hold your breath)
  3. Squeeze shoulder blades into bench

Starting with these 3 points of performance will set you up for a more stable execution of your bench press. But what if your shoulder can't even get into position without pain? Or what if it's impossible for your shoulder to stay there? I'm glad you asked, just keep on reading!


Decreased Shoulder Mobility

Decreased mobility of the shoulder is another common culprit for shoulder pain when bench pressing. The shoulder needs the ability to extend and internally rotate (think reaching behind your back).  The kicker is that it should be able to do this WITHOUT your shoulder blade moving, which is where I see many people fail.  Here are 2 exercises I commonly prescribe to help mobility of these 2 areas.  Now the tricky part is that these 2 movements can easily reproduce the pain people have when bench pressing, especially if it is already irritated.  I would suggest moving slow through each of these motions to gauge your tolerance to these end range positions, but don't do them only if it hurts more. I would suggest starting with 2 sets of 10 of each movement, 3-4 days a week.


Decreased Strength and Motor Control

Of course I saved the best for last here.  As most athletes I see have good enough form and mobility to not be causing the shoulder issues they have, that leaves the ability for the shoulder to actually handle the load you're putting on it. Now don't get this mixed up and just go out and start benching heavier and more often to make your muscles stronger, that is NOT what I am saying.

Where most people fall short is having strength in the right areas. This is usually the posterior shoulder, the external rotators of the shoulder, and the scapular stabilizers; and also having the ability to control the positions you're in throughout the full range of motion. With everything working in perfect harmony, then we can confidently say you can bench without shoulder pain.  For each of these exercises, I would suggest 2 sets of 8-12 reps performed 3-4 days every week. Always start with a light resistance, because how you do them is more important than how much you do them.


Of course I have to include the disclaimer that it is hard to address such a complex movement problem with a simple internet solution. But in my experience, these 3 issues seem to be the cause for most shoulder pain while bench pressing. So if first you check your form and find everything looks good there, then your mobility or strength and motor control of the shoulder muscles may be to blame. 

If you don't notice any improvement within a couple weeks of doing these, then further assessment may be needed.  If you're in the New Albany, Ohio area and are having shoulder pain when bench pressing, I would be happy to help! Click the link below to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation where we can learn more about you and your issues to see if you would be a good fit for our practice!


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