Do you experience pain at the front of your shoulder when doing a bench press at the gym? Pain in the front of the shoulder, also called anterior shoulder pain, is a common complaint by many gym goers who lift weights regularly. Unless there has been an acute traumatic injury to the shoulder, the cause of this pain is usually the result of overload of one of the structures in the shoulder. This could be the result of too much load too quickly (ie increasing weight too fast), incorrect or poor form, weakness or tightness of the muscles in and around the shoulder, or poor muscle activation patterns.
This blog will discuss some tips and tricks to prevent and manage anterior shoulder pain in the bench press position.
Your posture and the position of your shoulders can cause discomfort in the bench press position. If your shoulders are rolled forwards, in what we call a protracted or internally rotated position, it can cause impingement or excessive stress on structures in the shoulders, which can subsequently lead to pain. When lying down, think about rolling your shoulders back and down. You should feel your shoulder blades squeeze together and chest open.
Differences in muscle group strength
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that attach into the shoulder to stabilise the head of the humerus, ie the head of your arm bone, into the socket. Building a strong rotator cuff will help the head of the humerus sit in an optimal position throughout the bench press movement. A common mistake we see in patients is that training programs are often biased toward large muscle groups or ‘beach body’ muscles, such as the pectorals and deltoids. However, smaller muscles that are responsible for stabilisation, such as the rotator cuff muscles and lower trapezius, are often neglected. This can lead to instability in the shoulder and can increase the risk of injury and pain. Aim to design a strength program that is well rounded and addresses all muscles group equally to ensure one group is not significantly stronger than the opposing group.
Limited shoulder range of motion
Stiffness and reduced movement of the shoulder joint can also lead to discomfort in the bench press position. For example, if you struggle to pull your elbows back behind your body, this may be limiting your ability to bench press. Releasing through the muscles at the front of your shoulder and chest, such as the pectoralis major and biceps muscles, may help with your shoulder extension range. Alternatively, you can modify the bench press to limit how much shoulder extension you work into. Complete the movement on the floor or opt for a bar over dumbbells to limit your shoulder extension.
Making small modifications to the bench press exercise can allow someone to continue doing the exercise while their pain settles and they rehab the shoulder. Modifications include:
- Changing the hand grip width. A narrow hand grip can reduce the stress through the shoulder joint and is often more comfortable for people who have front shoulder pain during a bench press.
- Keeping elbows tucked into the side of the body can reduce stress through the shoulder joint.
- Placing a towel on the chest to limit the depth of the bench press.
- Changing hand grip to a reverse hand grip changes the biomechanics of the shoulder.
- Reduce the weight.
If you’re having pain or issues with your shoulders in the gym, get in touch with a Physiotherapist at Bend + Mend in Sydney’s CBD for an assessment.