Causes and solutions for shoulder popping when you bring the bar down when bench pressing.


Bringing the bar down in the bench press can put more stress on the shoulder than the act of pushing up the bar.

For some people, lowering the bar when bench pressing makes their shoulder pop.

“The shoulder popping could be the result of muscle or tendon imbalance and tightness, or poor form,” says Dr. Tom Carpenter, corrective exercise specialist, certified personal trainer and chiropractor, inventor of Stand Corrected™, a portable harness-like stretching tool that helps alleviate back, neck and shoulder pain.

Dr. Carpenter continues, “It’s important to mention that bench pressing is not a simple exercise. Proper form is essential for maintaining healthy shoulder joint mechanics as well as avoiding inflammation and injury.

“Also, a pre-workout warmup including full range of motion stretching and functional exercises is very important.

“Some examples of functional exercises could be pushups and external rotation rotator cuff exercises, either with cables or dumbbells.

“This helps to prevent the head of the humerus [bone in upper arm] from impinging on the glenoid fossa [located in the shoulder joint] when lifting by strengthening the rotator cuff.

“There are things that can be done to reduce or avoid shoulder ‘popping’ when performing a bench press.

“Only let the bar come within 2-3 inches of your chest, not all the way to the chest. Widen the grip on the bar, but not too far, and try to avoid flaring the elbows.”

There will always be those who’ll feel that stopping the bar at the two or three inch position from their chest is cheating or incomplete range of motion.

But if you bring the bar down to within two to three inches of your chest, are your arms still pretty bent, as in, there’s less than a 90 degree angle formed by your upper and lower arm at the elbow?

If your arm span is a lot longer than your height, and you have a trim torso, your arms will be VERY bent by the time the bar touches your chest. This puts a lot of stress on the shoulder joint.

If you stop the bar at three inches above your chest, your arms may very well be just as bent as the next guy who brings the bar in contact with his chest – because HIS arm span is equal to his height rather than exceeds it!

Or maybe his arms aren’t as bent because he has a thick barrel shaped chest, which naturally cuts short the range of motion.

So don’t feel that you’re cheating or missing something by bringing the bar two or three inches short of chest contact.

Another Cause of a Popping Shoulder During the Bench Press

“Many times, the popping can be the result of an over-tight pectoralis minor muscle or tendon,” says Dr. Carpenter.

“You can help it relax by tightening the muscles between the shoulder blades (rhomboids) as you lower the bar.

“This engages something call reciprocal inhibition. By contracting a prime mover, it causes the antagonist muscle, in this case the pec minor, to neurologically relax. This reduces the pull on the shoulder.

“If the popping begins to become painful, either stop bench pressing for a few weeks or reduce the load by 40-60 percent.

“If the pain continues, have your shoulder checked by your health care professional.”

dr. carpenter

Photo credit: Aleesia Forni

Based upon 30+ years of experience, Dr. Carpenter’s practice approach reflects his belief that restoring optimum health and function will enable his patients to enjoy a much greater amount of vitality and wellness. Chiropractic care is true health care, not sick care!
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.