Have you noticed that when you bench press that your shoulder mysteriously begins hurting?

Perhaps the bench press is the ONLY exercise that aggravates your shoulder?

Shoulder pain or hurt when bench pressing isn’t that uncommon. I’m a former certified personal trainer and realize that flat bench pressing puts a lot of stress on the deltoids joint, even though bench pressing is chiefly a chest exercise.

However, bench pressing is actually a compound exercise, targeting multiple muscle groups simultaneously, including shoulder muscles, and also including more than one type of joint, all at the same time.

Recognizing that flat bench pressing can cause shoulder pain or make them hurt (not necessarily both at once; sometimes bench pressing causes only one shoulder to hurt), I rarely had my personal-training clients perform barbell chest presses or dumbbell presses on flat equipment. The flat equipment puts more strain on this joint region.

The pain or hurt in your shoulder that you feel, while bench pressing (and I bet it hurts more when using flat equipment as opposed to inclined), is very most likely due to a strain to the rotator cuff region.

The “rotator cuff” is actually four muscles, and they connect to the shoulder joint via tendons. 

Jmarchin, CC

What typically happens is that either a tendon gets overloaded with more force than it can handle, even though nearby chest or shoulder muscles can handle the poundage; or, one of the tendons becomes frayed by making contact with the humerus bone of the upper arm.

There are other mechanisms of injury in this region, but the two mentioned here stand out in my mind, when it comes to pain or hurt in the shoulder while bench pressing.

It is said that Arnold Schwarzenegger never did pressing using flat equipment for the very reason that it’s potentially injurious to the shoulder joint.

So why does the rotator cuff act up and cause shoulder pain in the first place from bench pressing?

Several factors can be at play, one of which is inadequate warm-up of this sensitive joint.

Many eager beavers jump right into heavy chest workouts without adequate warm-up.

However, warming up prior to this exercise will not really heal an already-injured rotator cuff.

My best advice, to eliminate and prevent recurrence of shoulder pain while bench pressing, is to avoid the flat equipment at all costs.

Use an incline instead. For dumbbell chest workouts, use an incline as well, or use a stability ball.

You can reduce the chances of your shoulder hurting from bench presses by stretching your working muscles between sets; and at the conclusion of the workout, stretch the muscles again for a full five minutes.

Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


Top image: Shutterstock/cristovao