Walk into any gym and you will probably see people doing a bench press by lowering the barbell all the way to their chest. But little to they know this motion is wrong. Even though the bench press is an exercise used to gage their strength—to build bigger chest, arm and shoulder muscles—people don't realize the bench press can cause a shoulder injury or strain because they don't have a lot of shoulder flexibility to lower the bar all the way to the chest.
What restricts movement of the shoulder while you lay flat on a bench and press upward is the joint capsule of the shoulder. When you load the shoulder in this way, it forces the joint capsule of the shoulder beyond the functional range of motion limit thereby, stretching it.
Also, by lying on a flat bench normal movement of the shoulder blades is disturbed so that more movement must occur from the gleno-humeral joint rather than being shared equally by the scapula-thoracic and gleno-humeral joints. The more weights that are added to the barbell, is more weight added to the shoulder blades. The shoulder blades are being pressed even harder into the bench further disrupting the mechanics of the shoulder girdle joints and overloading the shoulder, thereby eventually causing massive shoulder pain or injury.
Many people think their shoulder injury is due to other shoulder exercises. However, the injury may have come from doing the bench press wrong. Before you try the bench press, first check to see the range of motion in your shoulders.
How to Set Up the Bench Press
- Lie down on the bench.
- Hold your arms out with either an unloaded barbell or you can use a dowel rod.
- Have a friend or trainer press on your arm lightly until they are met with resistance from the shoulder.
- Notice how high the rod or barbell is above the chest. This is the point where the bar should be lowered and then pressed back up.
- You can mark it by having your friend or trainer take a picture with your smart device so you can view it later. Or, roll up a towel to place it on your chest so that you know when to press it back up.
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