How to Modify the Bench Press for Shoulder Pain

By djpope

October 14, 2017

AC joint, Bench Press, distal clavicle osteolysis, injury, pain, pressing, Shoulder, sprain
The bench press is easily one of the most popular exercises in the gym. I know I've been performing some sort of bench press variation at least once per week for the last 15 years or so. It's a great exercise. Trouble is, people often complain of shoulder pain in the bench press.

Bench pressing is a unique exercise given the way it stresses the AC joint of the shoulder. In the bottom position of the bench press (as the bar touches the chest) the stress on the AC joint increases. This bottom position creates distraction forces which pulls the joint apart slightly. I've seen this joint get sprained during heavy bench press and well as weighted dips.

What generally happens from years of bench pressing is wear and tear of the AC joint. This is known as distal clavicle osteolysis. People end up with pain in the front of the shoulder (right over the AC joint) during deep dips, bench press and flyes. People also will generally complain of pain when they reach across their body and with end range overhead motion (flexion).

Besides treating the joint directly with physical therapy techniques we can also modify the movement to create less stress on the joint. I've created a video below to help you understand what elements of the bench press we can change to reduce stress on the AC joint and some exercise modifications we can choose for individuals with AC joint pain.

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Just a few things covered in the course...

  • Functional Shoulder Anatomy: What parts of the shoulder are most relevant to your understanding of injury and performance?
  • The Most Common Shoulder Injuries Seen in the Gym: Shoulder impingement, rotator cuff tears, biceps tendonitis, AC joint injuries, bursitis and labral tears
  • Technical Errors: Advice on where injuries occur in the major lifts and how to fix this
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  • Progressive Return to Exercise Programs - Specific exercise protocols to help you return back to pull-ups, bench press, muscle-ups, snatching, jerks and overhead pressing
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​Here's to happy shoulders,

Dan Pope DPT, OCS, CSCS, CF L1​