The bench press puts your shoulders under serious strain when it's done incorrectly. Heck, even lots of seasoned bench pressers have joint issues from their favorite lift.
Even when executed properly, it's not the best exercise for chest gains. Try these two lifts instead:
1. Floor Press
It's fantastic for a few reasons. First, it places more emphasis on the upper body since you can't use any leg drive or contortionist back arch.
It's also much safer for the shoulders since the floor will stop your arms from hyperextending. This mitigates any anterior shearing force on the shoulders. In laymen's terms, anterior shearing force happens when the upper bone is poking/pushing into the front of your shoulder.
You should still try to "spread the floor" with your feet to engage the glutes, keeping the pelvis and low back neutral.
The cues are nearly the same as they are for the bench: Start with your eyes directly under the bar. Keep your wrists straight and joints stacked. Row the bar down, engaging the lats. Push the bar up and back to the starting position over your shoulders.
2. Cable Flye
The pectoralis major's primary actions are arm flexion, adduction, and internal rotation. The cable flye allows you to move the arms through all of these actions, making this move super effective as a chest-dominant exercise.
Make sure you stop the elbows at the back of your ribs. Don't bring them too far back to limit shearing force on the front of the shoulder. Pull your arms back to the midline of the body and lead with the elbows. Do it like this and you'll be using your chest instead of your biceps.
The cable flye is most effective when using a slow tempo, keeping time under tension constant.
How to Bench Press (If You Must)
Okay, fine. Here's what to keep in mind.
The Right Way
- Set yourself up so your eyes are directly under the bar.
- Use a bulldog grip (keeping the bar closer to the base of your palm) and wrap your fingers around the bar.
- Keep your wrists straight for optimal joint stacking.
- Think of pressing yourself into the bench instead of pressing the bar away from you when you unrack it.
- Imagine doing an inverted row, leading with the elbows to engage the lats and pull the bar around your sternum or a little lower.
- Press the bar up and back in a J-shape, finishing back over the shoulders.
Leading with the elbows and engaging the lats in an inverted row during the eccentric portion will bring the bar to the perfect position and get your shoulders at the perfect angle.
The Wrong Way
The most common mistake I see is pulling the bar down with your shoulders at 90 degrees, creating the potential for shoulder impingement and mitigating the effects of the movement.
Other mistakes? Extended wrists, not using the lats, no leg drive, and strain on the low back.