Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles that work together to move your shoulder joint through its range of motion. When you bench press a barbell, you use your rotator cuff muscles. Strengthening these muscles may help improve your bench pressing technique and increase your maximum weight. But improper technique and too much weight can injure your rotator cuff, potentially tearing one or more of the muscles.
Rotator Cuff Muscles
The supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis are the core muscles of your rotator cuff. The supraspinatus sits above the shoulder blade and holds the top of your upper arm bone, the humerus, in place. Your infraspinatus comprises the area below the ridge of your scapula, or shoulder blade, and is the main muscle to rotate your arm outward. The teres minor muscle also helps to rotate your arm outward, while the subscapularis holds the top of your humerus in place and prevents it from moving forward.
Acute and chronic tears are common rotator cuff injuries and can occur during a power move, like bench pressing a high weight. You may experience a sudden tearing feeling in your shoulder as well as severe pain through your arm. Your range of motion will also be affected. Chronic tears happen over longer periods of time. Often located near the end of one of the tendons, they can occur due to friction of the bone rubbing on the tendon. This type of injury occurs more in people over age 40 and will eventually limit the arm's mobility.
Bench Press Motion
The major muscles involved in the bench press are your pectoralis major, triceps and anterior deltoid. By changing your elbow's position, you can focus more on one muscle group. The farther out you place your elbows, the greater the stress on your shoulder capsule. If you have a rotator cuff injury, try placing your elbows 45 degrees from your body, which will decrease the pressure placed on your shoulder capsule and its surrounding muscles.
Strengthening and increasing the flexibility of your shoulder muscles is important in preventing rotator cuff injuries. Aim for a balanced workout program; the front chest muscles are typically emphasized, but it is just as important to strengthen the muscles in the back of the shoulder and around your shoulder blade. Regular exercise and stretching, as well as adequate rest in between workouts, is important for maintaining the health of your muscles. Talk to your doctor if an injury occurs.