Shoulder discomfort when bench pressing is common among experienced bodybuilders and strength athletes. Most just fight through the pain because they're afraid they'll lose size and strength if they give it up.
While benching isn't the only way to grow your chest and triceps, it's certainly a core upper-body exercise. Fortunately, there are ways you can bench press that help alleviate stress from the shoulder joint. Before we get into those, let's quickly review why your shoulders might be aching:
Benching is an internal rotator-dominant exercise.
Many lifters are already very internally rotated since they sit for work at a computer and have weak upper-back muscles. Coupling those issues with the bench press further adds to the shoulder stress.
Inefficient warm-up and poor mobility.
You have to warm up if you're going to bench, especially if you don't want your shoulders to suffer from it. Before you even touch the bar, do some mobility drills to help open up your range of motion, and maybe perform some activation exercises with light bands for the shoulders, triceps, and upper back.
You can tweak the bench press to greatly reduce the stress on the shoulders and keep the tension on the muscles you're trying to train the first place. If you're consistent with your warm-up and mobility drills, but still feel some unwanted tension in the shoulders when you bench, try these variations:
1. Dumbbell Press with External Rotation
This puts less stress on the shoulders as opposed to excessive internal rotation. At the top of the motion, your hands will be facing in toward each other with your shoulders externally rotated. You can turn the palms forward at the bottom or keep them neutral during the entire range of motion.
2. Slight Decline Bench
Slap a plate or two under one end of the bench. This will put you on a slight decline angle, allowing you to use the pecs more effectively while taking any unwanted stress off the shoulders.
3. Floor Press
When people are experiencing shoulder pain during the bench press, it's usually because their mobility is limited and they're trying to perform the press through a greater range of motion than their shoulders are ready for by bringing the dumbbells down too far.
You can eliminate this completely by doing floor presses either with dumbbells or a bar. Pressing from the floor reduces the range of motion your shoulders have to go through and maintains tension on the triceps.