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I injured my shoulder rock climbing and I cannot bench press anymore as I get pain in that range of motion. Dumbbells are painful too. I can still overheard press fine, and I can do straight bar dips, ring dips, but not parallel bar dips. Weighted push ups are doable for me at the moment but still hurt a bit but not in a way that agitates the injury. What combination of these exercises can make up for the lack of bench press for a few weeks? My physiotherapist said I'm fine to do those exercises while I heal but did not tell me what to do do replace the bench.

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(Obviously, if your physio has told you anything that contradicts what I say here, go with their advice).

Two questions to start:

  1. Are you dumbbell benching with the same grip you would barbell bench with?
  2. Do you NEED to bench press?

If the answer to 1 is yes, then try with a parallel grip, reducing the angle of your arms in relation to your torso, this should put the shoulders in a more favourable position to press from and might allow you to bench without pain.

More importantly, do you actually need to bench press?

What a lot of climbers don't realise is that the lats act as internal shoulder rotators, pulling the shoulders forward and potentially increasing the risk of shoulder injury. When you combine this with chest work like bench pressing, which can also act to internally rotate the shoulders by tightening the chest muscles, you can actually increase your risk of shoulder injury.

Instead of worrying about replacing the bench press with more horizontal pushing movements, I would instead use the next few weeks to really work on horizontal pulling and shoulder stability and mobility, which should help your shoulder and act to mitigate more issues in the future.

Exercises like face pulls, band pull aparts and a wide variety of rows (inverted, cable, barbell, dumbbell, etc, etc) are great, as are things like waiter walks, Turkish get-ups (I'm a big fan of those), kettlebell arm bars, the skin the cat exercise on rings and if you're strong enough, chest flyes on rings. Combine these with chest and lat stretches, and hopefully you'll find your shoulders feeling better.

If you do feel the need to work your chest, try push ups on rings for some additional shoulder stability work, and throw in some ring dips as well. A few weeks likely isn't going to impact your bench press numbers that much, and if you improve your shoulder health, you might even find they go up.

  • Thanks for the wonderful response! I'm already doing horizontal pulling just as often as I used to bench but I'll try some of those exercises you mentioned since some are new to me. The reason I wanted to continue training my chest is because I didn't want to lose strength or size in that area during the recovery period as prior to that I was making a lot of progress in my chest. Ring push ups are actually a great idea and I'll be doing those weighted along with ring dips while I heal. Thanks! – Siphonophorae Sep 4 at 18:54
  • And just for reference, my shoulder was hurt when my footing and left arm slipped off the wall and all my weight swung on my right shoulder in an awkward angle. If you're familiar with this type of injury do you have any advice? – Siphonophorae Sep 4 at 18:55
  • @Siphonophorae Sounds like exactly what I did several years back, foot slipped and instead of doing the sensible thing and letting go (I was bouldering at the time), I grabbed tighter with my right hand and my entire bodyweight wrenched on my right shoulder just as I was twisting under it. After a fair amount of physio and an appointment with a specialist, I managed to fix it by doing daily Turkish get-ups with a 16kg kettlebell for a month or so. I say fix it, it took me 18 months to get back to climbing properly, and it still does give me issues on occasion, so hopefully yours isn't as bad – Dark Hippo Sep 5 at 7:48

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