The bench press is a principal exercise seen in most gyms, and strength and conditioning programmes the world over. It has been around for many years and is a movement that allows very heavy weights to be pushed in a way that can recruit a high percentage of muscle fibres in the chest and shoulder muscles.
Shoulder pain can sometimes result from bench pressing with incorrect technique.
I will outline one simple tip to help you avoid pain and injury in your bench press and share alternatives for whole body exercises that will not only strengthen your chest and arms, but your core and legs as well. The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint and is more unstable and shallow than the hip joint – the other ball and socket joint in the body. The shoulder joint is stabilised by the glenoid labrum and capsule, in addition to ligaments and the rotator cuff musculature.
Quite often the joint capsule is compromised during the bench press when the weight of the bar is momentarily taken by the joint as the bar is resting on the chest, which can contribute to anterior shoulder pain and laxity in the joint capsule. It is during this moment that activation of the chest and arm muscles to fully support the weight of the barbell is required to avoid placing unnecessary strain on the anterior shoulder joint.
Ensure to control the motion of the bar downward, avoid bouncing off the chest, using momentum, or resting the bar on the chest at the bottom of the movement.
Try these three functional exercises to add variety to your pushing exercises in the gym.
Standing cable press
Facing away from the cable machine, hold the handle with a straight wrist, angle your body forward and place the opposing leg to the arm you will be working in front of you, the other foot should have the heel up. Keep your shoulders down and trunk still with the core on and elbow tucked in. Keep the hips and trunk facing forward and drive the arm forward, straightening the elbow in front of the chest. Perform at a moderate weight to begin with and then progress to a heavier weight. Perform 3x sets of 8-12 repetitions.
Landmine shoulder press
Lift the barbell up safely using a dead-lift or squatting motion, then face the landmine (you can also place the barbell into the corner of the room or something it can pivot from) and grip the barbell so that there is a 90° angle between the barbell and your forearm. Stand with your knees and hips slightly bent in a mini-squat position, angle the body slightly forward and continue to ensure there is a 90° angle at the forearm and barbell junction. Press the bar up and out away from your body, as you lower the barbell keep the elbow tucked in, avoid moving the trunk and keep the lower body stable.
Pushup – variations
Varying your pushups and even advancing to a one arm pushup is a great way to mix up your upper body workouts.