Having shoulder pain during bench press?
It’s among the most common and irritating things that weightlifters face.
Benching is one of the best exercises for gaining muscle mass and overall strength. Therefore, we don't want to throw it to the side because of shoulder pain.
So, we must address the issue and nip it in the bud.
In this article, I’m going to go over a few important things that you should be doing before, during and after benching, so that you can eliminate shoulder pain for good and improve your bench press game.
I’m also going to tell you why a steel mace is an incredible tool for helping you along your bench press journey and how I’ve used it to eliminate shoulder pain during bench press and take my bench press to the next level.
First of all, you need to know if you have a shoulder injury because that will change the course of action.
If you have an injury, it will be somewhat obvious. You will likely have some of these symptoms:
If you have any of these symptoms, definitely go get it checked by a physiotherapist. Shoulder injuries are no joke and you don’t want to make it worse and end up needing surgery.
That said, for most of us, an injury isn’t the culprit (at least not yet).
So, I’m going to address all seven issues.
Note: These will not only fix your shoulder pain issues, they will also improve your lifts, allowing you to lift more than ever.
Is your form correct?
I know, we’ve all been benching for years. We know proper form.
Well, sometimes, people know the proper form, but when they lift, they don’t follow what they know. They just want to get that weight up. Maybe it’s too heavy and your form gets sloppy or maybe you've created bad benching habits.
Check your form.
If you don’t have someone experienced with you, then take a video of yourself doing bench press and watch it later to see if anything with your form looks off.
Here are 4 tips to improve your form and fix shoulder pain that arises from bad technique:
If this is confusing, watch this video to see what a proper bench press looks like…
Warming up is a fundamental part of training that is often overlooked. Many people slack when it comes to warm ups.
There are many benefits to warming up:
Moreover, it provides mental benefits that are just as essential as physical. It gets your mind in the state in needs to be in to lift heavy weights.
How to warm up
A good warm up consists of the following:
1. 5-10 minutes of low-intensity cardio (this will increase blood flow and body temperature). For this you can do a bodyweight circuit or run on the treadmill. We prefer a bodyweight circuit that targets all muscle groups.
2. Dynamic Stretches (this will increase the fluidity, mobility, and blood flow of the joints. Dynamic stretches are short stretches of around 1-5 seconds where you are actively moving in and out of the stretch. For this, I recommend focusing on the areas you will be targeting with weights, so for bench day, that would be your shoulders, chest, and back (upper back and lats).
Resistance bands are great for dynamic stretching.
3. Warm up sets. When you get to the bench to do presses, you are not just going to jump to the working weight. Everyone knows this, but many of us don’t spend enough time working up to our target weight. Something that really helped me with shoulder pain and also increased my lifts was to work up to my target weight a little slower. Instead of doing one warm up set at half your target weight, pyramid up with around 4-5 warm up sets.
Set 1 very light
Set 2 50-60%
Set 3 70-75%
Set 4 80-85%
Set 5 90-95%.
Just make sure not to tire your muscles before you get to your target weight. The reps don't need to be so high during the warm up sets. For Set 5, you could even do just a few reps.
Now, I want to discuss a dynamic warm up that combines points 1 and 2 above.
A steel mace is a great tool to warm up before benching as it offers a great way to increase joint mobility and stability while also increasing blood flow and body temperature.
Both mobility and stability are crucial components of lifting. Working on mobility will allow you to have a wider range of motion around a joint or joint system. Working on stability will allow you to maintain control of a joint when it’s in a particular position or moving through a movement.
There are 3 exercises that I do to warm up before bench press - I also do these on shoulder day and back day.
These exercises will target the following muscles:
These are the exact muscles that you want to warm up before benching.
When you are swinging the mace, you are increasing your range of motion by pulling and stretching your lats, chest and shoulders. This swinging movement will loosen up your joints and increase their flexibility.
Moreover, the steel mace has an uneven weight distribution so it works on joint stability incredibly well thanks to the nature of these offset movements. These exercises will increase your stability over time as you will need to maintain balance and proper form when swinging.
A complete warm-up before pressing could look like this if you have a steel mace.
100 pendulum swings
100 360 swings
100 10 to 2 swings
You can break each movement into sets - i.e. 4 sets of 25 swings each.
After you finish this, you will be ready to get down to benching. All you have to do now is your bench press warm up sets.
What size steel mace is good for this bench press warm up routine?
If you are new to steel maces, a 10LB mace will be ideal. If you are a bigger person, very well-conditioned, and you are experienced with kettlebells, you can get away with starting with a 15LB mace. I know these numbers sound quite light, but it is an awkward tool so it is hard to use and it feels heavier than it is. You want to be able to do the exercises properly or else you can risk injuring yourself. If you go with a light mace, you will not run any risks of that.
Note: If you are completely new to weightlifting, start with a 7LB mace.
You can read all about what size mace to start with.
Lastly, there is a learning curve with these swinging exercises. So, we’ve put together a complete guide to swinging a mace like a pro.
I do these swings as a warm-up and a few times a week at home when I am focusing on stretching, mobility and joint stability of the shoulders.
Doing these exercises is 100% the way I completely fixed the shoulder pain I was having during bench press. This was my game changer. I am now completely pain-free and lifting heavier than ever.
That said, you may have other reasons for your shoulder pain during bench press, so let’s move on…
Many people have muscle imbalances. Some worse than others. When it comes to bench press, you need to use your back, shoulders and rear delts. Often times, people have weak rear delts, front delts, and lats, which causes shoulder pain when benching. These weakness lead to compensation during presses, putting more pressure on the shoulder joints than there should be.
Therefore, I highly recommend that you train your anterior delts, rear delts and your whole posterior chain as much as you train your chest. Equalize.
If you are doing a back/chest day, change things up. Separate the two, as you are most likely working your chest harder than your back. Give your back its own day. Give your shoulders their own day.
Here are some splits you can do to make sure you are targeting all muscle groups effectively:
Day 1: Upper - Chest/Abs
Day 2: Lower - Quads/Glutes
Day 3: Upper - Back/Rear Delts/Abs
Day 4: Lower - Hamstrings/Calves
Day 5: Upper - Shoulders/Arms/Abs
Day 6: Lower - Quads/Glutes
Day 7: Rest
- Then repeat.
Day 1: Chest/Abs
Day 2: Legs
Day 3: Back/Abs
Day 4: Shoulders/Arms
Day 5: Rest
- Then repeat.
What's more, find out if one side of your body is stronger than the other. If one shoulder is stronger than the other, you may be compensating and messing up your form, which will lead to pain, and worse, injury. Use dumbbells for a while to make sure things even out. Do unilateral exercises and single arm lifts. Split squats, etc.
Related: 15 Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises
Why the steel mace is great for muscle imbalances
The steel mace is a great tool for muscle imbalances as the offset weight and unilateral type training helps you easily point out which areas are weaker. It’s like using dumbbells after using barbells for so long. You may find that one side is lacking.
You’ll be surprised how important correcting muscle imbalances can be. So pay close attention to your weak areas and work on them.
If you have a weak rotator cuff, you definitely need to work on that if you want to avoid a bench press blow out.
When you are bench pressing, you need to have stability and strength in your shoulders. There are four relatively small muscles that are mainly responsible for stabilizing the shoulder - teres minor, infraspinatous, supraspinatous and sucscapularous - these are known collectively as the 'rotator cuff'.
When the rotator cuff muscles contract they pull on the rotator cuff tendon, which causes the shoulder to rotate. During presses, you may experience some shoulder pain if your rotator cuff is weak. Weak rotator cuff muscles are often the causes of rotator cuff impingement syndrome and rotator cuff tears and strains.
So, it’s definitely advantageous to strengthen your rotator cuff.
There are many ways to strengthen your rotator cuff. One example is resistance band rotator cuff exercises. These are great.
How to strengthen the rotator cuff using a steel mace
I reached out to my friend and Chiropractor Michael Risher a while back to ask him about strengthening the rotator cuff using the mace. He was very interested in incorporating the mace into his physical therapy practice as he heard it was a great tool for shoulder therapy. I sent him a lightweight mace (7lb) as he said that would be the best for strengthening the rotator cuff specifically.
Here's what he put together: 5 Rotator Cuff Exercises to Bulletproof Your Shoulders.
Now tons of people are following his exercises to great effect thanks to that blog post.
Note: The great thing about steel maces is the swing movements I mentioned in the warm up section also work your stabilizer muscles. Many people don’t work on their stabilizer muscles, which is essential for stability and stability is essential for lifting heavy weights safely. By performing offset movements with the steel mace, you will be working on your stabilizer muscles, such as the rotator cuff and scapular.
Again, the mace offers so many benefits. That's why it's been used for training for over 2,000 years. Yes, you read that correctly - 2,000 YEARS.
While your rotator cuff is vital to performing presses, your scapular is where it all starts. Before you can stabilize your rotator cuff during bench press, you must stabilize your scapula (shoulder blades). Think of your scapular as the base of the bench press, the foundation. You must first stabilize your shoulder blades by retracting them, which will then stabilize your rotator cuff (as long as your rotator cuff muscles are in good condition).
If you’re new to exercising or just getting back into it after a long hiatus you need to proceed with a gradual increase of stress you put your muscles through. If your body isn’t ready to lift a certain amount of weight, an attempt to do so could result in a muscle tear or strain. What you’re looking to do is to achieve progressive overload in a controlled manner by adding the stress to your muscular system over time. This is how your muscles become stronger along with your cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
To avoid making the mistake of over-training you can do the following:
Soft tissue adhesion can occur if a muscle is constantly overworked. The muscle will stiffen up thus reducing the blood circulation which over time can develop into scar tissue. The negative effects of this adhesion or scar tissue are pain, decreased range of motion and slower muscle firing time.
Trigger points are those pesky knots that develop in your muscle when it is overused or injured. These knots can cause joint pain and can also send referred pain to other unaffected areas of the body.
Myofascial release for shoulder pain can alleviate these issues. You need to locate the trigger point then apply pressure to it. You can use your fingers, lacrosse ball, foam roller, massage gun or a tennis ball or any other type of hard rubber ball. You need to provide an adequate amount of pressure on the trigger point for at least 30 seconds. Continue to do this until the tenderness goes away.
Treatment for shoulder pain after bench pressing will vary depending on the injury. As a last resort surgery may be necessary but most doctors might recommend the following methods to provide some relief.
Physical Therapy: You should seek out a professional licensed physical therapist that can make a personalized exercise routine for you. Many people have had good results managing shoulder pain and preventing further injury by improving the strength, flexibility and mobility of the shoulder by following the guidance of physical therapist.
Cold Compression: Icing your shoulder can help to temporarily numb the pain and reduce inflammation.
Rest: Take a few days off of upper body exercises allowing your shoulder to recover
Stretching & Mobility Exercises: As mentioned above stretching and mobility exercises are paramount to keeping your muscles and joints healthy.
Periodization: Switch up your training methodology in various phases based on increasing/decreasing volume and amount of resistance you are training with.
Myofascial Release: Apply pressure to the trigger point for at least 30 seconds until the pain starts to dissipate.
Anti-inflammatory Supplements: We prefer to go the natural way when looking for anti-inflammatory supplements rather than medicines which can be rough on you body especially the stomach health.
To wrap this all up:
The steel mace is the ultimate tool for improving your bench press numbers, fixing shoulder pain during bench press, and preventing injury.
Get yourself a steel mace and learn how to use it properly. You won’t regret it.
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