How to: Bench Press with Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain can stop any bench press session dead in it’s tracks.
It can reach a point where the discomfort is so bad that an individual no longer enjoys the movement and instead actively avoids it. Maybe you’ve even settled for the fact that you have a “bum shoulder” and bench just isn’t in the cards for you.
I’m not settling for that..
Being a crowd favorite movement in the gym, I want to share some exercise variations that tend to be successful in alleviating shoulder discomfort in the bench press. Understand that while these variations may help, load management may also be needed to reach truly pain free bench sessions. Don’t be afraid to drop some weight off the bar for the time being. These variations are in no particular order, and individual preference will always decide which variation is the best variation for you.
SLINGSHOT BENCH PRESS:
Turns out the slingshot was not solely designed to allow gym bros everywhere to throw 3 plates up on bench press. Who knew? The original intention of the slingshot was helping relieve some pressure on the shoulders, and it genuinely does a good job.
With a slingshot, you are receiving more and more assistance the lower you go in the movement. As it would happen, most individuals experience pain exactly in the range of motion that the slingshot is assisting them on. This can take just enough pressure off your shoulder to make benching comfortable again.
That being said, this isn’t going to magically take all load off of your shoulder. You’ll very commonly see the slingshot initially help someone with shoulder pain. Then, they get excited, start loading up more weight than they need to, and boom, shoulder pain is back.
Set your ego aside and practice proper load management on top of using the slingshot to ensure pain free sessions. You’re looking for the slingshot to act as slight assistance to your shoulder, not as a crutch for poor training decisions.
Don’t have a slingshot? This same assistance can be achieved through a reverse band setup or even crafting a mini-band trampoline for yourself. Might be frustrating at first, and take some ingenuity to setup depending on your current equipment situation, but a good band set-up could help you just as much as a slingshot.
MULTI-GRIP BENCH PRESS:
A lot of dealing with shoulder pain is simply figuring out what specific type of movement will and will not cause a pain response.
For many individuals, something as simple as switching to a neutral grip instead of the normal overhand position fixes everything immediately.
Enter multi-grip bars. (Swiss bars, football bars, whatever your preferred name for them is)
There’s honestly not much to talk about here. Neutral grip tends to be a more comfortable bench position for those with shoulder pain, and multi grip bars allow you to take a neutral grip. That’s it.
While it may not always be an “insta-fix”, for general shoulder pain, this is almost always preferred by clients over normal bench.
The only downside is this would be considered a “specialty bar” so those of you lifting in typical commercial gyms might not see this bar out “in the wild” so to speak. Thankfully, you can pick up cheaper versions of these bars for a bit over $100.
REVERSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS:
If you see someone using an underhand grip for bench press one of two things is going on.
A. They are a lifter who has shoulder pain or possibly elbow pain
B. They are a lifter who has been training for too many years and are bored of lifting like a normal human
Jokes aside, this is another great option that can sometimes alleviate a persons shoulder pain on bench almost immediately. This is certainly more awkward than picking up neutral grip, and can take some time to get used to but the benefits are all the same.
Bonus is that you don’t need a fancy new barbell to try this one out. Just flip your hands around and you are good to go. Just like a normal bench press you can also close grip reverse bench, as well as wide grip reverse bench so don’t be afraid to play around with positioning to see what feels best.
If you lift in a commercial gym, fair warning. Be prepared for someone to come up and tell you that you’re benching “wrong”, or at the very least, ask why you are benching “backwards”. Kindly, feel free to ignore this.
Both neutral grip and underhand grip are just great examples of trying new positions until something works. Often times a very slight modification to a movement pattern can make all the difference.
PIN BENCH AND FLOOR PRESS:
Reduced ROM movements almost always show up whenever I talk about alleviating pain for certain exercises.
It works on the basic idea that, if a certain portion of the lift hurts for you, just skip that part of the lift altogether.
For many they will push back against reduced ROM movements because it’s “cheating” you’re “not actually doing the lift”…whatever…again, kindly ignore them.
The whole point of exercise variations for pain is to keep you physically active and to keep you in a movement pattern that is as close to the original as possible. If pain free for you means half rep pin bench for awhile that’s completely fine.
Pin bench also provides you with an opportunity to progress yourself to a full ROM bench press again. You’ll set the pins up to an initial range of motion that causes you no pain, and over weeks and months you can slowly lower the pins. This is a great progressive way to get your shoulder used to the full range feeling again, without ever putting too much pressure on it at once.