Like to Bench? Do These Exercises to Prevent Shoulder Injuries

February 26, 2013 | Joe Giandonato

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Venture over to your local gym on Monday evening and you might tap into the festivities surrounding what many coaches and trainers affectionately call "International Chest Day." Rows of flat benches will be occupied by gym-goers straining to prove that they can bench more than the guy next to them. However, unbeknownst to them, their dedication to the Bench Press may be setting them up for injury.

The love affair with training the chest usually begins the day an athlete starts lifting weights. Lifters quickly become obsessed with the Bench Press, frequently performing it several times per week in hopes of achieving Herculean feats of strength—that is, if they're able to stay healthy long enough.

The obsession with the Bench can eventually lead to shoulder injuries as your chest muscles begin to overpower the muscles of the back, leading to impingement and joint dysfunction. To keep your shoulders healthy, you must employ preventative strategies, which in turn will help you resume your journey to a big Bench Press.

Regain Thoracic Mobility

Many lifters and athletes are locked into a hunched posture during the day, eroding mid-back (thoracic) mobility and causing their pec minor muscles to tighten. To restore mobility, perform these exercises between pressing exercise sets.

Foam Roll Thoracic Extension

  • Lie on ground and place foam roller beneath shoulder blades
  • Keep knees bent and feet flat on ground
  • Place arms across chest, relax neck and tilt head back as far as possible
  • Inhale and extend arms overhead
  • Exhale and bring arms back to chest
  • Repeat arm movements for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2x10-15

Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

  • Assume all-fours position
  • Place hand behind head, keeping elbow in line with hand
  • Rotate shoulders to touch elbow to opposite forearm
  • Keep hips and core stable
  • Rotate in opposite direction so elbow is pointed toward ceiling
  • Repeat pattern for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2×10-15 each side

Quadruped Reach-Through Hand Slide

  • Assume all-fours position
  • Place back of left hand on ground, rotate shoulders and reach to right as far as possible
  • Rotate shoulders and slide hand to left to return to start position
  • Perform in opposite direction
  • Repeat in alternating fashion for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 2×10-15 each side

Row Yourself to a Bigger Bench

Frequently, lifters with shoulder issues and a stagnant Bench aren't working their upper back and lats. Developing these muscles will counter a strong chest to prevent impingement and increase stability during the press. Perform two sets of a horizontal row exercise for every set of a horizontal press.

Barbell Bent-Over Row from Floor

  • Assume athletic stance and grasp barbell with shoulder-width overhand grip
  • Push hips back and bend over so torso is parallel to floor
  • Tuck chin down
  • Pull shoulders back and drive elbows back to row bar to chest
  • Squeeze briefly at top

Sets/Reps: 3×8-12 (use weight roughly half of Bench max)

Watch the Indiana swimming team perform the Barbell Bent-Over Row.

Plate-Loaded Horizontal Row With Descending Isometric

  • Assume position on horizontal rowing machine and grasp handles
  • Pull shoulders back and drive elbows back to row to chest
  • Hold for prescribed time, squeezing the handles of the machine as hard as you can
  • Hold for 5 seconds on first rep, 4 seconds on second rep, and so on
  • Adjust time based on fatigue and reps accordingly
  • Lower and repeat

Sets/Reps: 3×4-6

Photo: Bodybuilding.com

Joe Giandonato
- Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, is the head strength and conditioning coach at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa. He has authored numerous articles on a...
Joe Giandonato
- Joe Giandonato, MS, CSCS, is the head strength and conditioning coach at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, Pa. He has authored numerous articles on a...
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