Bench press and shoulder pain – What you should know!

The following is a email which I received from Paul Wright at Get Achieve Physiotherapy about bench press and shoulder pain/issues. So the following is not my information or article however I believe that it is important for all gym goers to read and I believe it sums everything up in the article. For more information go to

HI Paul,
Im interested in your thoughts on bench pressing and shoulder health? Should we be sticking to single arm standing cable pressing for maximum scapula movement to keep our shoulders ‘safe’ or do we just continue on with the big bench presses that are common in todays gyms?
James (Personal Trainer – Sydney)
HI James,
This question has been answered by Physiotherapist and the manager of our St leonards clinics – Brendan Wright – and YES – he is related.
Bench has long been a favourite exercise of body builders, sports people and gym goers for development of hypertrophy and strength in the pecs, triceps and anterior deltoid. This is because bench press tends to get
great results due to the ability to maximally load the muscles ie weight lifted/intensity.
In short I agree with what you have been taught regarding the lack of scapula retraction caused by the bench resulting in increased movement at the GHJ. The anterior shear of the humeral head will stress the anterior GH joint and potentially add to joint laxity.
It is my opinion that this stress on the anterior capsule only becomes problematic in cases where significant laxity is already present, for example in people with previous capsular injury such as dislocation and subluxation
As well as people with multi-dirctional instability.
This excessive glenohumeral movement caused by lack of scapula retraction in bench pressing more commonly causes excessive eccentric loading in the subscapularis tendon and subsequent tendinopathy rather than anterior
capsular stress and subsequent laxity. So if you bench press heavy enough and frequently enough – areas will be overloaded and then injured.
Ensuring correct technique will help to minimise the inevitable overload.
Tips for avoiding bench press related injuries.
1) Periodisation: schedule breaks from bench pressing every 6 weeks or so and substitute exercises that allow more scapula movement such as cable press and push ups. Even BB or DB pressing on a swiss ball allows
more scapula movement than a bench does. Also be careful to make gradual increases in intensity and volume only.
2) Roller/Towel: place a rolled up towel or 1/2 foam roller longways along the bench. This may also allow more scapula retraction.
3) Technique: always be careful of technique ie controlled eccentric movement without any bouncing.
4) Range: Reduce the range so that the bar is only lowered to 10cm above the chest.
5) Grip Width: vary your grip width regularly. Generally a narrower grip width reduces loading on the above mentioned structures.
I hope this helped James. For further information regarding shoulder health and gym exercises try Pauls DVDs, “Shoulder Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation for Health and Fitness Professionals” and “Potentially
Dangerous and Ineffective Exercises”.
Brendan Wright – St Leonards Clinic Manager
B.App.Sc (Physio).

I know this has a lot of more in depth than most people require. However consider the technique guidelines as explained in the article and lift safe.


About nafctrainerjamie

I am a personal trainer at North Adelaide Fitness Centre in Adelaide South Australia. We have been awarded the Australian 2009 & 2010 best medium size gym.
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2 Responses to Bench press and shoulder pain – What you should know!

  1. Thanks to your write-up I definitely learned one thing from it. Very good articles on this internet site Always looking forward to new post.

  2. It is really important to pay attention to the exercises we’re doing for our shoulders. Like me, I had previous shoulder injury so I need to carefully pick specific shoulder exercises that will complement my needs. Good stuff here.

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