The shoulder joint is essentially a shallow ball and socket joint which highly reliant on the ligaments, rotator cuff (supinator, infraspinatus, teres minor and major and subscapularis) and larger muscle groups (Serratus, Pec Major, Deltoid, Biceps, Traps) around it to stabilise the shoulder joint and scapular throughout its movement.
Knowing this and considering its use, its not surprising how vulnerable to injury it is. Not to mention if just one of these muscle is effected it can have an effect on the rest of the joint. This is why it not easy for anyone to quickly assess shoulder problems/injuries.
Usually the most common gym exercise that causes shoulder pain is either the bench press or the dumbbell shoulder press and it is usually down to either poor technique or repetitive strain injury.
These are particularly difficult injuries to treat once you find the source of the problem as they are usually injuries that the individual have had for a while, people typically stop the exercise all together (As a result the individuals pain resolves but then they return to normal 3-6 weeks later and the pain returns.), try to push through the pain, get the typical gym arrogance that most gym goers get and think that their technique is the best technique despite encouragement, and mostly are multifactoral and take time to rehabilitate.
So when it comes to exercises there are a number of ways in which you can improve your shoulder stability overall and particularly with the popular gym exercise the bench press.
The first exercise is proper technique for the bench press.
- Get yourself set up so your eyes are directly under the bar
- Keep your shoulders fixed
- Arch your back by trying to bum up the bed
- Fix your feet in position and bring them far enough back so when you drive through your heels your bum doesn't lift off the bench.
- Fix your core and lift the bar of the hooks
- Imagine your trying to bend the bar. In doing this you should medial rotate and adduct at the shoulders. So your shoulders should be about 45 degrees abducted throughout the movement.
- Maintaining the arch lower the bar down to lower third of your sternum maintaining your shoulder position
- Drive the bar back up squeezing through your lats, triceps, pecs and anterior deltoid
- Drive the bar in a line don't arch the bar back towards the hook as that will take the tension out of back which is a big driver in the concentric movement.
There are many ways in which you can hit certain muscle groups when benching. But like any exercise make sure your safe. So below I have demonstrated the bench press with increasesd activation in first the lateral rotator cuff and second the medial rotator cuff muscles.
Bench press with resisted lateral rotators:
Bench Press with resisted medial rotators:
The best way with all exercise is start light and build up and remember you need heavy resistance with the bands so theres not much need to go much bigger than mini band size.
There are many ways in which you can use the bench press for general stabilisation techniques that are not specific but are great exercises to build strength specific to the bench press.
Below is showing bench press with chains which is good for general stability as well as increasing your strength through range and really working on your triceps/lock out section. If you set the chains so they come off the floor towards the end of the movement you will work your stabilisers a bit harder.
Bench Press with chains:
Another exercise which is new to the scene and probably challenges your bench press the most due to its multi-directional pull on the bar. This exercise will also challenge your core stability so a good alrounder and good to slot in at the end of a session.
Axel Bench with band and weights:
You can use any weight as long as the link between the bar and the weight is a resistance band. The heavier the weight and the smaller the resistance band the more wobble the bar will have, forcing co-contraction and exhausting you quicker. I use an axel bar purely to work my grip as well and also cause i like to test myself.
If you try this exercise always make sure you have an experienced spotter and start light. I would say always utilise this exercise by using high reps ( sets of 10) and boosting your accessory muscular endurance , and usually about half way through your session so your not too fatigued. This will also make your Pec major work the entire time so also a good exercise for boosting your repetitions/cardiovascular in your larger muscle groups.
I usually work my accessories separately but get minimal carry over into the exercises im trying to do it for.
Other ways in which you can improve stability is:
- Unilateral exercises, one arm db press
- Speed exercises so looking at 50-70% of your 1 Rep max tops
- Unsteady base, for instance i use soft soled trainers sometimes instead of my weightlifting shoes to make me work my core harder. Be careful when you make deviations in your normal workout and always start light and build up.
- Incline or flat bench (as shown below)
- Change your hand position on the bar
- Paused Bench, both at inner and outer ranges.
- Bench boards or Floor Pressing.
- Lastly the Arnold press (as shown below).
Incline log handle Press:
As shown in the incline press this is log handle bar which puts more emphasis on your triceps than your chest. The wider your grip as shown here the more you will incorporate your chest and the closer together there is more emphasis on your triceps.
Hope this helps