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Further to the question Bench press grip width, i have noticed that if the width is closer, muscles on my right hand close to my shoulders (sorry as i am unsure what they are called however someone suggested it may have to do with my rotator cuffs) hurt and i am unable to lift as heavily.

If the width is sufficiently far apart, the pain isn't as acute and i am able to lift heavier.

It is my understanding that a closer width bench press targets the chest more effectively however how do i avoid further aggravating the pain, increase strength and build muscle?

  • One thing to notice is that when performing close grip bench press, your shoulder blades get together "automatically". When performing normal/wide grip bench press, you need to contract the blades during the set for more stimulus. – Neria Nachum Dec 23 '15 at 18:16
  • This is making me sad. Wide grip bench press damages your shoulders and close grip wrecks your wrists. Honestly, check with your doctor, and never do close or wide grip stuff, usually. – Rob Sterach Dec 23 '15 at 22:09
  • @Rob Sterach - So if neither are ideal, what would you recommend? – Motivated Dec 24 '15 at 6:21
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    @RobSterach: close and wide grip are relatively subjective and should be determined on an individual basis that does not cause pain. Grip width and muscle activation exist on a continuum (it's impossible to do a bench press without using the pecs or triceps to some degree). It's still possible to tuck the elbows at the bottom in a wide grip bench press which protects the shoulders and it's still possible to maintain straight wrists in a close grip bench press which protects the wrists. – Alex L Dec 24 '15 at 7:57
  • @Motivated, Personally I believe that the regular medium grip flat bench is the safest, and I find it more effective and fun to perform anyway. – Rob Sterach Dec 24 '15 at 20:32
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Based on you not knowing what your shoulder muscles are called, I'm going to take a guess that you're not really doing any shoulder exercises to speak of, or at least over-emphasizing your bench press.

A good rule of thumb for shoulder health is to overhead press at least as often, and more like twice as often, as you bench press. Additionally, you'll want to be exercising the back of your shoulder (posterior deltoid) via things like the rear delt raise and bent over row.

Most of the shoulder pain I've seen in the gym traces back to poor shoulder development. EXRX has a good page on common muscular weaknesses, roughly half of which are related to shoulders.

In short, to fix your bench press, you should look towards your shoulder strength.

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  • I am aware of the pectorals however wasn't sure if the name of the muscle closer to the shoulder is called something different. I'll give the exercises you suggested. I don't quite follow what you meant by at least over-emphasizing your bench press. – Motivated Dec 24 '15 at 6:22
  • By shoulders I mean the anterior, lateral, and posterior deltoid along with the smaller rotator muscles inside the joint. By over-emphasizing I mean that you may have more volume there than you should. – Eric Dec 24 '15 at 6:36
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If you have trouble with the close-grip bench press, but you want to target the pectoralis muscles more intensively, I'd suggest you implement some flies into your program instead, while working on your possible injury.

The chest fly can be done with dumbells or cables, and can be done standing up, or lying down on a bench. Alternatively there are machines for this as well, and they're found at pretty much any gym.

The pain is likely to stem from poor flexibility in the shoulders. This can be worked on by getting into the habit of properly warming up, and doing some light dynamic stretching before your workouts. Personally, I warm up shoulders and chest by doing shoulder dislocators (which isn't as bad as it sounds), and some arm rotations.

The dislocators look like this. They can alternatively be done with a stick. With a sufficiently wide grip, you won't have any problems with this.

enter image description here

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One thing that can happen as you bring your hands in is the tendency to shift your shoulders forward to compensate for being in an unnatural position. That tendency is something that you much not fall in to.

Keep in mind:

  • You have a hand placement that allows you to lift the most weight
  • Every inch closer or farther apart will diminish your ability somewhat
  • At the extremes, your ability to move the bar diminishes quickly

That said, you know when a hand placement is not good when:

  • Your shoulders come off the bench (this is how most bench related shoulder injuries happen)
  • Your forearms can no longer be perpendicular to the ground
  • You experience pain with no prior injury

You can get the effects of varying your bench grip without the pain. As you change the hand position you'll notice that the bar will hit a different area on your chest. The following guidelines will be good for someone without the experience to know when to go beyond them:

  • You will be strongest when the bar is in contact with your body somewhere between your solar plexus and your nipple line at the bottom position.
  • Narrower grips move the bar down your chest.
  • Wider grips move the bar up your chest.
  • If you want to use a grip that is either narrower or wider than that range, do not force yourself to use full range of motion
    • Keep your shoulders back and in contact with the bench at all time
    • Reduce the weight on the bar and go for more reps
    • If you feel pain in a position, you've gone too far.

Bench Press Instructions

Probably the best explanation I've run across is Paul Carter's "Developing Your Raw Bench" series. He explains body position, bar position, arm position, etc. in greater detail than space provides here.

Just a little caveat here: I don't support all of Paul Carter's positions, particularly for people relatively new to lifting. However, his treatment of the bench press as a lift is really spot on and he stays out of dogmatism with this series. You'll get the most mileage out of the first two articles in the series. I believe there are videos as well as still pictures.

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  • Thanks. Do you have a video link that shows the correct form and one that is done well? – Motivated Dec 24 '15 at 17:30
  • @Motivated, I added links to the best resource I've found over the years for the bench press. – Berin Loritsch Dec 24 '15 at 17:46
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As you asked how to avoid, remove the pain and increasing strength, for the causes I cant really say anything without seeing what you do. The usual suspects are already covered in the answers by Eric and Alec ... flexibility and or weak shoulders and I agree on the recommendations (i personally dont like flys as I dont see much benefits from them). I would like to give you some ideas on additional exercises that may help in your situation.

  • One arm bench press (heavy) with max ROM
  • Dips with weight (close and elbows wide)
  • weighted push ups
  • Bent over rows with the same grip with as your bench (try to keep the torso as close to 90° as you can without loosing form)
  • strict Military presses (elbows in front and false grip - makes it more wrist friendly)
  • band pull aparts (plenty of them after wprkout)
  • face pulls (plenty of them after workout not heavy!)

I hope that helps in getting some ideas.

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  • Thanks Mitro. Do you have accompanying videos that show the correct forms for these? – Motivated Dec 24 '15 at 7:56
  • Sure I'll add them a little later when I have some little more time.. – mitro Dec 24 '15 at 7:58
  • I wouldn't necessarily say that a false grip is more wrist friendly, at least not for everyone. For some it might make it more likely to end up pressing with bent wrists (so the palms face upward) which is certainly not wrist friendly. – Alex L Dec 24 '15 at 8:03
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    Depends on the wheight lifted right? And of course everything should be done with head too - if it hurts, dont do it. The main point stays the same strict military press. – mitro Dec 24 '15 at 8:08

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