Chest Workouts and Sore Shoulder Joints

Chest workouts build your pecs, but overtraining and/or improper form and technique can lead to sore shoulder joints. Identifying problematic positions, changing your technique and strengthening weaker muscle groups can reduce shoulder joint pain from lifting weights.

A woman with sore shoulders is getting them worked on. (Image: pxhidalgo/iStock/Getty Images)

Bench Press Hurts Shoulder

The flat bench press exercise is one of the most common exercises that is performed in the gym to strengthen chest muscles. If the bench press hurts your shoulder, you don't necessarily have to abandon the exercise. However, this exercise places a significant amount of strain on the shoulders, especially as the load increases.

According to a December 2016 study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, modifications to your bench press technique can reduce strain on your shoulders — including keeping your elbows closer to your sides and your grip no wider than 1.5 times your shoulder-width.

The article also recommends placing a towel or pad 4 to 6 inches thick on your chest to limit how far down the bar moves during the lowering phase of this exercise.

Strengthen the Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff consists of four small muscles in the shoulder joint: teres minor, infraspinatus, supraspinatus and subscapularus. The rotator cuff muscles work together to stabilize the shoulder joint during bench press and other chest exercise movements. Shoulder pain while bench pressing is likely due to weakness in the rotator cuff muscles.

Weak muscles are often, but not always, the cause of rotator cuff impingement syndrome and associated rotator cuff tears. Using a very light dumbbell or cable pulley resistance, perform rotator cuff exercises one to two times each week using isolation exercises for internal rotation, external rotation and abduction to target these muscles.

Do It on an Incline

An incline bench press is an alternative to the flat bench press to reduce the stress on your shoulder joint. The angle provided by the incline reduces the amount of work done by the rotator cuff muscles and the torque on your shoulder joint while still working your chest. Like the flat bench press, an incline press targets your pecs and can be done with either dumbbells or a barbell.

Build Your Back

Focusing more of your training on strengthening your back not only targets these muscles, but also improves your posture, helping to prevent shoulder pain after working out your chest. Balance your chest workouts with back workouts by doing two to three back exercises for every one chest exercise.

This can be accomplished in the same workout by performing two back exercises for every one chest exercise, or by performing your back training on a separate day. Effective back exercises to complement your chest training include pull-ups, deadlifts, bent-over rows, lat pull-downs and seated cable rows.

Proceed With Caution

If you experience shoulder pain after doing a chest workout, stop the exercise immediately and allow it to rest. Consult a personal trainer for advice on form during chest-strengthening exercises. See a doctor or physical therapist if your shoulder pain persists or interferes with your ability to do daily tasks.

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