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I've been struggling with bench recently and have discovered that if my spotter supports the right side of the bar, I'm able to complete the set with considerably greater ease than if I did it on my own.

This leads me to believe that my bench progress is being hampered by a difference in strength or muscle development between my left and right sides, possibly caused by an old injury.

I am not exactly sure which muscle is the weaker. I've noticed mild pain in my right shoulder but it doesn't seem to be enough to hamper my bench.

What sorts of exercises can I do to better equalize the strength between my left and right sides?

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3 Answers 3

Unilateral Weakness

  • When you find a left/right discrepancy in muscle strength, the weaker side will strengthen better if you exercise that side independently of the stronger side. Doing bilateral exercises allows the stronger side to take over. So @ shadesco's suggestion to use dumbbells instead of a barbell so that you can strengthen the right side with the right amount of weight is a good idea.

Pain

  • Pain not only means that something is wrong, but pain also inhibits the muscles from working correctly. This is important because the shoulder complex needs to function together with the scapula (shoulder blade) stabilizing so that the shoulder and rotator cuff muscles have a secure base to function correctly to aviod impingement and pain.

Corrective Measures

The most direct way to get an appropriate exercise program for your weak, painfull shoulder is to see a physical therapist. Their evaluation checks for the stabilization and positioning of the scapula and shoulder joint. Muscle imbalances are addressed with stretching and strengthening of the involved muscles. Very often the painful shoulder rolls forward, placing more strain on the rotator cuff, tightening the pecs, and weakening the upper back and scapular muscles. Below are some suggested exercises, but a personlized program is best.

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Spotters shouldn't be used to help you complete sets or fix form. They should be used to help you rack the bar once you can't push it up anymore.

No matter the cause of the apparent strength difference (previous injury, increasing weight too eagerly, too much help from spotters), the solution is probably the same... a small deload to fix your strength imbalance/form and then move back up as your strength gains allow.

Find the highest weight at which you can do the bench press with proper form (ie. full range of motion down to the chest, even bar, no spotter support) for 3 sets of 5. Start at that weight for one workout. Increase by 5lbs for the next workout. If you can't maintain form, stay at that weight until you sort things out. Move up only when you can push 3 sets of 5 reps with good form. You've probably just jumped ahead a bit too quickly, thus highlighting strength differences that would have gotten sorted out if you had moved up more slowly.

If you do that and still find that you're stalling, assistance exercises that can improve shoulder strength and the bench press are the overhead press, chin-ups, pull-ups.

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+1 spotters should never help you do anything (as Rippetoe wrote somewhere, it's not a bench-deadlift team-lift). Deload and concentrate on pushing equally with both sides; many people have this sooner or later. –  VPeric Apr 11 '12 at 9:44
  • Instead of a bar, use dumbbells which will enforce each side of your body to push on its own (using a bar, the stronger muscles will be helping you and will be pushing more) and helps in isolating muscles

  • Introduce body weight exercises to your routine, like burpees, pullups,pushups . These exercises develop overall muscle fibers and strength and will add more strength to your body than regular weight lifting

  • For your shoulder pain, always warm up : personally i do 3-4 minutes of jump rope since not only its warms the body, it exercise all body muscles and specially the shoulders if done right ( it will warmup the shoulder and minimize the pain)

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