Strengthen your upper back with isometric exercises to eliminate shoulder pain from bench presses. That’s it.
The barbell bench press is the universal standard of upper-body strength, but it’s also one of the most injury-prone exercises.
So, what is most likely to be injured on the bench press? Generally speaking, Front part shoulders. Pain in this area can have several causes, but one of the most common culprits is a lack of upper back muscular endurance and stability.
Common exercise recommendations (such as rowing, rear delt flyes, and noodles) with less success. Why? They ignore two major strength factors needed for a powerful and painless bench press: positional endurance and stability of the trapezius, rear deltoid, and rotator cuff muscles.
This is where isometric training comes in. In the bottom position of the bench press, the upper back should act as a “catcher” for the barbell. If done correctly, you should almost feel the barbell sinking into your chest as you lower it.
Once you “grab” the bar with your upper back at the bottom of the move, you should be able to start the concentric or weightlifting portion without losing tightness in your upper back or allowing your shoulder blades to come forward under stress.
Loss of stability and allows the scapula to protrude, especially at the top of the bench press, which is where many shoulder injuries occur because the humeral head is no longer centered in the glenoid socket (ball out of socket). All the weight stress is placed on the shoulder joints and connective tissue, not the pecs. This can lead to impingement, strain, or tearing of the rotator cuff muscles and anterior deltoid.
Here are five exercises that can dramatically improve your upper back position endurance and stability, and make bench press injuries a thing of the past:
This exercise builds isometric strength in the trapezius, rhomboids, and lats — the muscles responsible for contracting the scapula.
- Choose a Smith machine height that allows your body angle to be at least 60 degrees.
- Step into your position for deadweight rowing. Engage your core, drive your heels into the ground, and keep your head neutral.
- Keep your elbows locked out and turned in (think of breaking the barbell in half).
- Once the arms are straight and the shoulders are fully extended and in place, pull the shoulder blades back as far as possible.
- Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and repeat 2-5 times per set.
This move takes the first exercise one step further.
- Complete all instructions for an isometric hold, then pull your chest toward the bar and hold for 10 seconds.
- Visualize this position as a replica of the arm and shoulder position at the bottom of the bench press.
- Make sure the barbell touches your chest in the same spot that the barbell touches on the bench press. Try to pull your chest over the bar.
- Keep your traps away from your ears. Keep your elbows in.
- Do three repetitions per set.
This rowing variation targets many of the same upper back muscles as the Smith Machine row, but focuses more on the rear deltoids.
- Row the dumbbells up at a 45-degree angle to your torso as shown in the video. This pull angle is where the rear delts have the most leverage.
- Lift the dumbbell with the aim of “pinching a pencil” in the middle of the trapezius.
- Hold for 5-10 seconds, then lower the dumbbells back to the starting position as slowly as possible.
This 45-degree isometric exercise works the posterior deltoids and upper, middle, and lower trapezius muscles.
- Attach the two straps to the apparatus at approximately mid-calf height.
- Wrap the strap around your wrist and back away until you have enough tension.
- Hinge at the point where your hand is just above the kneecap.
- With your elbows locked, spread your arms back at a 45-degree angle.
- If you look in a mirror, your arms should form an “A” shape relative to your torso.
- Actively squeeze your upper back muscles and hold this position for 5-10 seconds.
This exercise helps you understand your intention when lowering the barbell to your chest on the bench press. intention? Yes. A good press doesn’t let the bar drop to your chest, but instead sweeps the bar down into the pressing position.
- Attach two medium resistance bands to the top of the power rack directly above the barbell set.
- Loop the straps inside the weight sleeves so they don’t slip off.
- Once you’re in the bench position, notice the tension in the elastic band. This is what forces you to actively pull the barbell into your chest.
- Hold the bottom position for 5-10 seconds, then push the barbell away without losing tension in your upper back.