Do you get a clicking shoulder pain when you use the bench press? Do you find it difficult to increase weight when benching no matter what you try?
The bench press is one of the most common exercises. It seems to always have a waiting list at the gym and for good reason. It is probably the best chest building exercise in bodybuilding. I talked about how adjustments to squat form can enable you to lift more weight and avoid injury, well the same is true for the bench.
Here are some of the benefits of the bench press;
- Maximum chest overload (the bench press allows you to load the chest with the most weight possible).
- Increases your pushing strength
- Works shoulders and triceps effectively.
My Struggle With the Bench Press
If done incorrectly, the bench press can damage the shoulder, especially the rotator cuff. Everytime I benched, my shoulder would click and cause an irritation. If you’ve experienced this clicking pain before you know how annoying and irritating it can be.
Everytime I used the bench press it felt like my shoulders were weakening with each session. I used to have the daft mentality of ‘pushing through the pain.’ Now looking back at it I can see how stupid this kind of mentality was, for any type of training.
If you have this problem I would advise for you to first get it looked at by a physiotherapist. However, I know that for some people this will not be an option, as I never went to see a physiotherapist either. In that case here’s what I did to sort it out.
- I stopped using the barbell all together and used dumbbells. The barbell can limit the range of motion in the shoulders and keep your shoulders pushing in an awkward position.
Dumbbells will give you more range of motion whilst enabling you to still build your chest, increase strength and give your shoulder time to heal and strengthen.
- I used ice after my workout sessions. This helped bring down any inflammation caused during the workout. Using an ice pack for 5-10 mins can work wonders.
After 1-2 months my shoulders felt a lot better and stronger. I knew I would be able to start using the bench press again. However, I didn’t want the problem to come back. When I benched pressed previously, I got stuck on a weight that I could not get past for a very long time.
I would see people in the gym lifting more weight than me on the bench press, even though I could lift more weight in other exercises. I couldn’t understand it because I’ve always had decent pushing strength. This was a sign to me that I was doing something wrong.
I would watch people bench press in the gym and try to see what they did to adjust my own form. However, with the bench press, the adjustments that are to be made, to be able to bench ‘properly’ are hard to see unless you know what you are looking for.
So I took a while to research proper form. After sieving through all the contradicting information online, I made the well-needed adjustments to my form. I then smashed through the weight I was stuck on for months (I think even years), in one session with a correction to my form!
How to Perform the Bench Press PROPERLY and Avoid the Clicking Shoulder Pain
If you use the steps below when performing the bench press you will be able to get through plateaus and avoid any injuries.
First, it’s imperative to warm up the muscles and joints before lifting weights. Below are a few stretches you can perform before using the bench press.
Firstly begin by warming up. You can go for a walk, jog, jump rope, go a few rounds on a heavy bag whatever you want to do. Just make sure your body is warm and you have worked up a light sweat.
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
- Raise your arms out to the sides so they are parallel to the floor.
- Now move your hands together with arms stretched out so they meet in the centre of your body.
- Quickly move them as far back as they will go.
- Move them backwards and forwards in this motion for 10-15 reps.
- Stand in a doorway or next to a wall.
- Bend the arm being stretched and place the forearm flat against the wall or door frame.
- Step forwards and rotate your body away from your outstretched arm.
- Hold for between 10 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
When you bench-press, do a few sets with the bar then increase the weight in small increments to get the chest, shoulders and arms ready for the bigger weights.
How it’s done;
1) Lay back on the bench, the bar should be about eye level. Feet should be placed firmly on the floor as far back towards your butt as much as they will go whilst still staying flat on the ground.
Notes: This is your base and where your power will come from. The back and shoulders should be relaxed. Don’t overly curve your lower back or try to flatten it to the bench. Keep it natural with a natural back arch.
Generally, there will be about one hand space between your lower back and the bench. Drive your upper shoulders into the bench via your feet.
2) Grip the bar just outside shoulder width and squeeze it TIGHT.
Notes: One big mistake I made for many years is holding the bar mid palm. The weight was sitting on my thumb in the middle of my palm and only my grip held it. This decreases the strength of your bench-press.
The bar should be sitting on the palm close to the wrist (LOW PALM) directly over the forearm for maximum power transfer. Once I made this tiny adjustment I was able to lift a lot more weight.
3) Next, pinch your shoulder blades together as if you’re trying to squeeze a grape between them, and puff your chest out.
4) Take a deep breath and un-rack the bar. Lock your arms out straight in front of you.
5) Let out your breath and take another deep breath into the abdomen and brace your core by tensing your abs.
6) Lower the bar with your elbows tucked in a 45° angle.
Notes: Keeping the elbows tucked at a 45° engages the lat muscles and protects the shoulders. They should NOT be flared out in a 90° position. This is what leads to shoulder pain and can cause a pectoral tear.
The farther your arms are away from your body the more stress you put on the shoulders. This is the most common cause of rotator cuff injury. So keep them tucked at a 45°! (This is key). Try to imagine bending the bar in a U shape. This will help keep the elbows tucked.
Depending on how far your hands are spread will determine where the bar will touch your chest. The bar will generally be touching in the area from your top abs to the nipples.
Wherever the position is at the bottom of the rep, your forearm should be in a 90° straight vertical line with the ground. The bar should be lowered all the way down with control. Do not bounce the bar off of your chest.
7) Now push from your feet driving your shoulders into the bench. At the same time breathe out sharply pushing the bar explosively in a straight backwards arch.
Notes: Think of an upside down J shape, the bench-press is not performed in a straight up and down pattern. Never lift your shoulders off the bench even at the top position, always keep them pressed into the bench firmly.
Lifting shoulders off the bench (especially when the bar is in the top position) is another common cause of a shoulder injury.
8) Power the bar back to the lockout position.
These are the steps I use now and I am able to lift more weight than I previously could. I now have no shoulder issues when I bench press whatsoever. If you are experiencing the clicking shoulder syndrome from bench pressing I would advise you to stop and look at your form. This is the reason for your shoulder pain.
If you need any further advice feel free to email me or leave a comment below. If you got any use out of this post please don’t forget to share it using the share buttons with anyone who might benefit from it. Thanks 🙂