The bench press is a popular exercise performed in gyms all around the world. Performing the bench press will develop your pectoralis major, deltoids and triceps brachii muscles -- your chest, shoulders, and back of arms respectively. Although relatively simple to perform, incorrect exercise technique may result in injury to your muscles, joints, ligaments or tendons. Tendons are the connective tissue that connects your muscles to your bones. White and non-elastic, tendons have a poor blood supply and take a long time to heal when injured.
Safety When Bench Pressing
To minimize your risk of suffering a tendon injury while bench pressing, you should take a number of precautions before and during your workout. Always warm up thoroughly before bench pressing. Perform some light cardio, dynamic stretching and push-ups before lifting heavier weights. Use a spotter to safeguard your safety, especially when lifting near-maximal weights. If you fail to complete a lift, you may get pinned by the bar. Only perform heavy benches after a period of acclimation -- make haste slowly so that your body gradually gets used to progressively heavier workouts over the coming weeks and months.
The Tendons of the Wrist
Bench pressing places a large amount of strain on your wrist joints and therefore your wrist tendons. To minimize your risk of suffering a wrist-tendon injury, you should endeavor to keep your wrists as straight as possible. Your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor at all times, and your hands should be positioned directly over your forearms. Many lifters use tight, rigid wrist wraps to help them support heavy weights but this is only necessary if you are lifting close to your maximum for low repetitions. Over-reliance on wrist supports may make your wrists weaker and even more prone to injury.
Tendons of the Elbow
Bench pressing requires a powerful extension of your elbow joints as you push the bar up to arms' length. This is the job of your triceps brachii muscles, which are located on the rear of your upper arm. The triceps tendon inserts into a bony prominence just below your elbow and comes under heavy stress when bench pressing. Minimize the stress on your triceps tendon by ensuring that your forearms remain perpendicular to the floor and your elbows are not flexed much more than 90 degrees. Avoid over-extending your elbows as you press your arms to full extension because this places an inordinate load on your elbow joints.
Tendons of the Shoulder
Your shoulder joints are strongly involved in bench pressing. Muscles affecting the shoulder joint include your pectoralis major, deltoids and latissimus dorsi. Each of these muscles has tendons that cross your shoulder joint and insert into the upper region of your humerus. Your shoulder tendons are especially at risk of injury when you bench press using very heavy weights, lower the bar too quickly towards your chest or place your hands too far apart.
According to "Sports Injuries: Their Prevention and Treatment" by Per Renstrom, you can minimize your risk of shoulder joint tendon injury by only lifting heavy weights if you are suitably experienced, placing your hands only slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and always lowering the weight under control and not bouncing the bar off of your chest.
According to "The Anatomy of Sports Injuries" by Brad Walker, tendinitis is the medical term used to describe inflammation in your tendons. Tendinitis usually results in stiffness and pain in the tissue surrounding your joints, and it is often caused by repeated localized trauma and overuse. For example, if you bench press too much weight and too often, you may develop pain in the tendons in your wrist, elbows or shoulder.
If you develop tendinitis, you should seek medical advice and also consider self-treatment using the RICE guidelines: rest, ice, compression and elevation. The RICE method is designed to reduce inflammation, reduce pain and promote rapid healing.