The barbell bench press is arguably one of the most effective movements in developing strength and power in the upper body. It’s a great way to train the primary pushers of the upper body, including the pectoralis group, the deltoids, and the triceps. Despite the bench press being such a vital movement to help with horizontal pushing, it is one of those movements that every now and then will be limited secondary to shoulder pain, frequently in the front part of the shoulder. If bench pressing creates irritation in your shoulder, the answer is not to avoid bench pressing for 6 weeks and hope that you will magically be capable of bench-pressing pain-free again. The worst thing to do is nothing, which would lead to weakness and potentially create more of an issue. This article will take you through 3 steps to allow you to bench press without shoulder pain.


3 Steps To Bench Press Without Shoulder Pain

Whether it’s biceps tendinopathy, subacromial impingement, rotator cuff pathologies, labral pathologies, sternoclavicular or acromioclavicular joints issues, it doesn’t matter. These steps don’t change much with different pathologies. Although this article is largely discussing how you can train around pain, it is important to note that these steps are also from a [P]rehab lens in effort to minimize the risk of future injury. Follow along in the video to learn the 3 steps! More importantly, consider our fully comprehensive shoulder program to get your shoulder right for bench pressing!


Shoulder [P]Rehab To Bench Press Pain-Free

shoulder prehab program bench press pain free the prehab guys

Is shoulder pain limiting you from pressing motions, such as the bench press exercise? If so, we have the solution for you! The Shoulder [P]Rehab Program is a physical therapist-developed, step-by-step program that teaches you how to optimize your shoulder health. This program will expose you to various scapula and shoulder strengthening and stabilization exercises supported by science. Click here to learn more


Step 1- Improve your form

The way you choose to position yourself with the bench press can influence the amount of stress placed on various joints. Improving your form can help you with building strength, holding the bar correctly, lifting heavier weight, and ultimately bench press without shoulder pain! We will separate your form into the setup and the movement.

Set up

  • Have your points of contact: These include the head, shoulders, glutes, and feet.


  • Feet position: Tuck your feet in. This will allow a slight arch of your lower and mid-back which will keep tension in the base of the movement. This will additionally allow better use of the leg drive when bench pressing.


  • Eyes: Should be just underneath the barbell.


  • Hand position: Place your hands directly in front of you when your arms are brought out to 90 degrees and your elbows are bent to 90 degrees. The width should be NO WIDER than 1.5 X your shoulder width. If unsure, it is likely safer to bias your hands more narrow than wide.


Performing The Movement

  • ‘Bend the bar’ and pull your shoulder blades back: This will ensure scapula engagement. When ‘bending the bar’ think about twisting your arms externally, to where the thumbs would face your head and pinkies are coming in together.
    • Pulling the shoulder blades back is a crucial piece here, the pecs move the shoulders, and what do the shoulders sit on? The shoulder blades. This will also feed into some more of the mid-back arching which initially was created by tucking your feet in.


  • Where should the barbell end up?
    • Males: just below nipple height
    • Females: around the bra line


  • Eccentric Control: On the way down control the movement, don’t drop the weight. Keep your shoulder blades squeezed for the entirety of the movement. When lifting the weight, think about pushing yourself away from the bar.


bench press push ups without shoulder pain the prehab guys audio experience


Step 2- Modify the movement

Another way to bench press without shoulder pain is to modify the movement. Modifying the movement can be achieved by changing moment arms or by decreasing the range of motion one goes through when performing the bench press.

Adjusting the moment arm to the shoulder

Bench Press Without Shoulder Pain the prehab guys

This subtle change has helped so many of my patients and clients perform weight training optimally, and ultimately bench press again pain-free.

Let’s use physics to our advantage. The moment arm is what dictates how much stress is placed on each joint, if we bench press with our elbows flared out and our grip wide, we will INCREASE stress on the shoulders. If we press with a narrow grip, the natural path of benching will force the elbow to hug in towards the body which will bias stress to the elbows. The change in grip narrowing doesn’t have to be drastic, it can be very minimal with a subtle decrease of 1/2 inch in grip width at a time. It is important to have an adequate pronation range of motion of the forearm for the proper execution of the narrow grip variation. A narrow grip leads to decreased stress on the shoulders and increases stress on the elbows. Narrow grip bench pressing has also been shown to increase activation of the clavicular head of the pec and the triceps brachii compared to a wider grip. Another reason why a narrow grip will challenge the triceps more is for the reason you have more range of motion coming from your elbows and less range of motion is needed from the shoulders to perform the movement.

Bench Press Without Shoulder Pain the prehab guys

If it still doesn’t make sense take a look at this image above. Although the weight is exactly the same, the longer the moment arm the more effort is required to keep the external load from hitting the floor.


Under Grip Bench Press

Another variation I like to use is the under grip or reverse grip barbell bench press. Although you will be holding the bar in a different way, it can help with shoulder position, which is explained further below the video. An under grip position is achieved by rotating up your palms (supination) which will open up your shoulders (externally rotate) theoretically allowing for more space under the acromion process, which can help with shoulder impingement symptoms. This variation will also bias a tricep dominant press. Start light, at first this movement may feel awkward and you likely won’t be able to push as much weight as you would in a typical bench press. Make sure to keep your thumbs wrapped around the barbell to provide stability with this grip.


progressive overload bench press without shoulder pain the prehab guys



Go through a partial range of motion

Another option is bench pressing through less range of motion. This can be done by making your grip extremely wide, which will decrease the motion at the shoulder  (We don’t recommend this strategy). A better alternative is to keep your comfortable hand width and place an object on your chest to minimize the depth of the bench press. Many recommend that the descending phase of the movement should end 4-6 cm above the chest. This is basically ONLY applicable to the recreational lifter, as competitive powerlifters must lower the bar and touch the chest. It is nice to have an object to reach when minimizing your range of motion, versus assuming you are going through the same range of motion each repetition. The larger the object, the less range of motion your shoulder will go through.

If you find it difficult to challenge yourself with this variation, try adding resistance bands to challenge yourself! By attaching anchored elastic resistance bands to the barbell, we can manipulate external load throughout the range of motion. With this option, the bands are slacked at the bottom of the lift, thereby reducing stress on a potentially painful shoulder and tensioned at the top of the lift where the shoulder can more efficiently handle the load. This is a great way to modify barbell exercises in the later stages of rehab programs! It is important to note that as your shoulders start feeling better you should slowly challenge your shoulders by widening your grip and slowly increasing the range of motion that you take your shoulder through!


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Step 3- Warm-Up

ALWAYS prepare your body for the activity in which you are about to participate. Bench pressing light as a warm-up just doesn’t cut it sometimes. Here are a couple of exercises that are GREAT in preparing your upper body for bench pressing. Follow the instructions in the videos below for details on how to perform these movements.

Banded T’s 3×10 reps

Sample Shoulder [P]rehab Program Exercise Video

  • HOW: Get set-up holding the ends of a band out in front of you. Begin the exercise by squeezing your shoulder blades back and together while pulling the band apart. In the finished position, your arms should at least be in-line with your shoulder, palms facing forward, and thumbs facing up. Return to starting position and repeat.


  • FEEL: You should feel your shoulder blades and the back of your shoulder muscles working.


  • COMPENSATION: Do not excessively shrug, do not forget to squeeze your shoulder blades back


Shoulder Tap’s 3×10 reps

Sample Shoulder [P]rehab Program Exercise

Being able to resist rotation and stabilize your upper body with one arm shows your shoulder and shoulder blade have the adequate stability it takes to bench press well. Our shoulder program features a ton of unilateral-focused exercises to complement bilateral movements like the bench press in an effort to minimize significant asymmetries and ensure both shoulders have what it takes to perform!

Prone I – Off Table 3×10 reps

Lay on your stomach on a bench or table with an arm hanging down at your side. Keep your elbow straight and use your shoulder blade muscles to bring your arm up and back staying at your side with your palm facing in. Once your arm is at your side, return to the starting position and repeat.


Closing Thoughts

There you have it! 3 easy steps to get you back to bench pressing without shoulder pain. For those of you curious about performing push-ups pain-free, the first step doesn’t directly apply, focus on steps 2 and 3 and these should help you perform push-ups without shoulder pain.


Take Control of Your Shoulder Health

shoulder prehab program bench press pain free the prehab guys

To win an NBA championship in this current era it seems at least 3 superstars are needed on the team. Behind these 3 superstars includes the entire support staff that takes care of the day-to-day operations allowing the stars to perform. Sounds like they are using the model of the shoulder! You will learn how to create balance among the support staff which will allow the 3 joints of the shoulder to perform to their superstar abilities!



  1. Glass & Armstrong (1997). Electromyographical activity of the pectoralis muscle during incline and decline bench presses, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 11(3), 163-167.
  2. Barnett et al. (1995). Effects of variations of the bench press exercise on the EMG activity of five shoulder muscles, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 9(4), 222-227.
  3. G. J. Lehman. The Influence Of Grip Width And Forearm Pronation/Supination On Upper-Body Myoelectric Activity During The Flat Bench Press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2005; 19(3): 587-591.


About The Author

Arash Maghsoodi, PT, DPT, CSCS

[P]rehab Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer

Arash Maghsoodi received his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California. For his undergraduate studies, he attended San Diego State University and studied Kinesiology. After sustaining a career-ending ankle sprain while playing collegiate soccer, he realized how disabling and life-altering injuries can be. Arash currently resides in beautiful Santa Monica, California. His clinical experience is primarily in the orthopedic and sports setting. He has treated a wide variety of conditions ranging from the post-operative individual to the professional athlete. Arash is keeping the family legacy of becoming a physical therapist, as his mother is a practicing clinician of 30 years in the Orange County area.







Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Arash Maghsoodi PT, DPT, CSCS


  1. Roger July 5, 2022 at 8:15 pm

    Thanks for the video, I have had pain in my right shoulder for about 6 months now benching and any flat bench fly’s. I have tried may different ways to work past this but the only way I can flat bench is to rub the side of my rib cage with my elbow’s while benching if my elbows are out from my body in any way the pain is way too much to continue. No matter the weight I usually try empty handed prior to using 5 pounds just as a tester. I would greatly appreciate any advise on how I can get my benching back.
    I do go to the Gym 4 days a week. I’m 59 years old. I have never had a shoulder injury prior to this. I work out with high reps and moderate weight amounts. Just lifting my arm sometimes in pain enough Hurts in the front of my shoulder.

    • Team [P]rehab July 18, 2022 at 5:35 pm

      Hi Roger!

      Thank you for your comment and sharing your personal experiences. We will be reaching out to you via email shortly to further discuss this.


      Team [P]rehab

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