Bench pressing is gotta be the most popular exercise among male lifters in any gym and weight room in North America. It’s probably one of man’s best friend. Personally, I think it’s overrated, both from a athletic development stand point and a muscle building standpoint. But I will admit that I, like most lifting male out there, enjoy it and I would have a hard time taking it out of my program altogether. Let’s face it, chicks dig guys with a big bench. Right? Huuuhh well, maybe not, but we all like to think they do! Plus that’s not going to make us stop benching anyway.
But sometimes, when you have a bum shoulder the bench press might not be the wisest option. Most guys will suck it up (which is probably the stupidest thing to do) and keep benching until they can no longer move their arm, because they don’t want to lose their strength on the king of all exercises, right? When somebody ask you: “how much ya’ bench?” you obviously want to tell them: “I bench freakin’ 315, dude” and not: “Well, my shoulder kinda hurt so I can’t really push it; I have to stay light”. But what are the alternatives when your shoulders hurt too much to bench press painless? Well, there are many things you need to do in order to fix the problem, and the first one would be to get your shoulder assessed by a qualified professional. According to the assessment, there will be many strategies you will need to use to get your shoulder back on track including soft-tissue work, mobility and flexibility work, and targeted corrective work. The first goal is obviously to stay completely pain-free with any movement/exercise you’re doing.
But what are the options to maintain a training effect on your bench, while getting your shoulder back on track? Here are a couple options you can try depending on your pain/injury status and what you can do without irritating it.
- Push up variations. Push up is probably the safest pushing exercise you can use that’s going to spare your shoulder the most. Most guys with shoulder pain can get away with doing push ups without any pain. But aren’t push ups too easy and not challenging enough to get a training effect? I beg to differ. There are many push up variations you can use that’s going to make them A LOT more challenging, and there are many ways to load them as well. So before you say push ups are too easy, give one of these a try:
1-Leg Feet Elevated Push Ups (Band Resisted)
Suspended Push Ups
Bodysaw Push Ups (these are actually REALLY hard)
- DB Floor Press. It is a great alternative to barbell bench press and one that you can load significantly too. Using the dumbbells (assuming you’re using a neutral grip) will put a lot less stress on your shoulders because you’re not stuck in internal rotation. The limited range of motion that the floor provides you with also helps spare your shoulders.
- Board Press. Once your shoulders feel better and your ready to go back to straight bar benching, you should start with some board press, as it will keep your shoulders away from that end-range of motion that puts more stress on the shoulder. Start with 3 or 4 boards and slowly work down to 2 and 1, before going back to full range of motion benching.
As you can see, even if you can’t bench for a little while, there are ways to maintain a training effect and preventing any strength loss from not benching for a while. Remember that you first you need to get assessed to know what’s really going on with your shoulder and to clear out more serious issues before going any further. Also make sure that your shoulder is totally pain-free when performing any pressing work. Pain means irritation and that means something is still wrong with your shoulder, so don’t push it too fast.