How To Deal With Shoulder Pain From Benching Or Push Ups
How many times have you gotten done benching or doing push ups, and felt that nasty ache right in the front of your shoulder?
If you feel like your only option is to ditch these exercises all together, stick with me because I’m going to show you why it’s happening and how you can get it to go away…for good so you can go back to hitting that big weight.
WHY BENCH PRESSING OR PUSH UPS CAUSE SHOULDER PAIN
That nasty pinch or ache right in the front of your shoulder is the result of you asking your shoulder to do something it doesn’t have the prerequisite for.
The motion of a bench press, push up or anything that falls into the horizontal pressing category, requires a substantial amount of both internal and external rotation.
When you’re holding that bar over your chest with your arms locked out, the shoulder begins in external rotation.
As you descend, the shoulder starts to rotate internally. The deeper you go, the more internal rotation that is required.
If you lack either of these rotational ranges of motion, the body will still figure out a way to accomplish the task, but there will be consequences. If you’re reading this blog, then you’ve already started to feel those consequences.
HOW MOST TRY TO AVOID SHOULDER PAIN WHILE BENCHING OR DOING PUSH UPS
We’ve all done it. It’s bench day, and your shoulder feels a little funky bringing the bar all the way down to your chest or as you're doing a push up, when you get down to the floor. You’re not going to stop benching or doing push ups, so what do you do?
You stop about 1-2 inches above your chest or halfway down in the push up because your shoulder feels fine there. The reason this doesn’t hurt is because as I mentioned above, the deeper you go the more internal rotation required.
So if you’re limited in your shoulder range, this seems like a brilliant idea like “I can still get all the benefits of benching or push ups without my shoulder hurting…yeah!”
Not so fast my friends…
WHY ADJUSTING YOUR TECHNIQUE WON’T HELP
I know you think you’ve solved all of your problems by adjusting the exercise ever so slightly. However, if you’re not working on increasing your rotational ranges of motion, this new adjustment will eventually stop working.
I’ve seen it a million times, and it happened to me as well. You first start out by limiting your depth. Then eventually, no matter how little you go down the shoulder starts to ache again. And then you switch to only dumbbell pressing. Once again, you start to limit your depth as this starts to piss your shoulder off as well.
Now all versions of the dumbbell press start to hurt so you switch to a multi-grip bar where your palms face inward towards each other. This works for a little while until the same story happens.
You see where I’m going with this, right?
One day you run out of modifications that don’t hurt your shoulder and now it hurts no matter what you’re doing.
THE BEST EXERCISE TO DO IN BETWEEN SETS
In the coaching video above, I'll show you how to do Shoulder Extension and Internal Rotation Isometrics.
The benefit of this exercise is that you’re training the your internal rotators and pectoral muscles, which are the shoulder tissue that is the most compromised when doing any form of bench press, push up, or dip. If either of these tissues are weak, tight, etc when your elbows and shoulders are traveling behind you during these movements, problems are quickly going to arise. However, if you train these tissues in the range of motion where they’re most vulnerable, the likelihood of pain and injury will decrease.
You’re going to need a small towel or rope to perform this exercise. Basically, something sturdy enough to not break when tugging on it.
How to Perform This Exercise
Follow along with the video above where I'll walk you through these step:
Grab the rope or towel behind your back and place your hands somewhere on your backside to where you feel a pain-free, comfortable stretch. The higher you go the more aggressive the stretch will be, and vice versa.
Sit in stretch for 15-30 seconds and try to relax.
Gently start to pull your hands apart (nothing will move), while simultaneously rotating the back of your wrists into your lower back so you feel the pecs and the outside part of your shoulder contracting for 10 seconds.
Gently drive the knuckles together and attempt to rotate your wrists off of your lower back so you feel your lats and the tissue in between your shoulder blades contracting.
Relax back into the original stretch and then slowly come out of it.
Repeat this sequence 3-4 times in between sets of your pressing movement.
Common Compensations to Avoid
The biggest compensation people will do with this exercise, is trying to shrug their shoulders up and even forward a little bit to make it seem like their range of motion is bigger than it actually is. Resist this as much as possible and focus on keeping you shoulders away from your ears and back a little bit.
Next, when attempting to rotate your wrists either into your lower back or away from it, the typical compensation would be to simply drive forward or back with no rotational intent. Visualize your elbow staying completely still and focus on imagining your shoulder bone (humerus) attempting to rotate.
HOW TO RELIEVE SHOULDER PAIN FROM BENCHING OR PUSH UPS
Before you get to this point of no return, you must increase your shoulder rotation ranges of motion.
I’m not saying you have to give up your presses, quite the contrary. The key is to find an exercise and appropriate depth that doesn’t cause discomfort all while working on your shoulder mobility in the background. That’s the key.
This is what I teach you how to do in the Healthy Shoulders 10 Day Challenge. You’ll get my sticky shoulders solution to relieve pain so you can save your shoulders and continue to crush bench or push ups.
And, you can find two great alternatives for the bench press while you work on that shoulder mobility HERE.
ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN
Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change. CLICK HERE to learn more.
NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist
Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach
Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)
Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor
Weck Method Qualified