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Bench Press Technique

I’m not over 35 yet (I’m 32), but this forum seems to know the most about working out in a way that limits the chance for injury.

A couple months ago, I noticed that my shoulders (particularly my right shoulder) were hurting a little after my workouts. When I put them in certain positions, I would feel a slight burning sensation. It wasn’t too painful, but I didn’t want it to get worse. It felt like it was the beginning of an injury.

I stopped doing behind the neck presses completely. I also stopped bench pressing with heavy weight for a while.

I read through Eric Creassey’s Shoulder Savers articles. One of his recommendations was to change the way you bench press. He recommended an elbows-in position (at 45 degrees). I’ve been doing that for the past month. I started slowly, with very little weight. My shoulders feel much better. This position doesn’t seem to aggrivate them (though they do creak a little, sometimes). They definitely don’t hurt afterwards.

This new position is very awkward, though, and I don’t seem to be getting used to is…particularly as I increase in weight. My grip is weird, and i can’t seem to get the bar to travel in its proper arc (pressing this way makes the bar want to travel in an arc). The position I use is: back arched, butt on bench, shoulder blades squeezed together. I’ve been bench pressing with my elbows out at 90 degrees for 15-20 years.

Any recommendations on proper form for this version of the bench press?


It is easy to get sore and tight muscles in the shoulder and lifting is not required to get that. If you can find some tight and painful muscles in the shoulder, try to rub them out. If your neck is bothering you as well, the two may be links. A good massage therapist can do wonders with deep tissue work.

Fish oils and other anti-inflammatories may be useful but not sufficient.

Give it time, I guess. You can’t expect to fix 15 years of bad habits in a short amount of time. If you’re really concerned, get a good power lifting coach to look at your form.

I’ll tell you the best things I’ve done for my shoulders:
Rotator cuff work
Broom stick “dislocates”
Don’t use the bench press exclusively. Rotate it into your chest routines along with other more shoulder-friendly movements.
Try various angles of dumbell work. (Personal favorite). Avoid really steep angles.
Consider the overlap of doing too much chest AND shoulder work, decrease one or the other.
IF you must bench, forget that 90 degree arm crap. Pinch the shoulder blades together and toward the feet, get your feet “dug in” to establish a good base, avoid excessive arching of the back and flex your lats at the bottom for what I call the “coiled spring” effect.
Press in either a vertical or “J” pattern where the bar ends up slightly rearward from where it started.
Good Luck!

Don’t forget about your triceps and lats, very important for a big bench, especially if you’re using the elbows in. I do a lot of rotator cuff work when my shoulders start hurting, usually with immediate results.

I’ve done what you are doing already. I found this place while looking for shoulder info after my cuff problems.

First, consider bringing your grip about an inch inside the rings for a while. Second, bring the bar down to the bottom of the chest. It is a more natural position when keeping the elbows in.

Do all the rc work you can handle.

If your shoulders hurt when you squat, use a wider grip. It reduces the pressure on the shoulders and will help.

Good luck!


The exercises at this site fixed my shoulder problem. I had to stop lifting for awhile last fall 05. Then I found this site. (see link below) These exercises fixed my left shoulder problem. I had some clicking in my left shoulder when the pain went away. But that’s now gone too. I’m 48.

No doctors! They would have probably had me under the knife.

I think these exercises are a good preventative before things get out of hand …


Try using dumb bells instead of barbell for a while.

My shoulder is destroyed from football, so I adapted the powerlifter style of benching…

Miraculously, it rarely, if ever, hurts anymore.

It takes a while to get used to the form, and I had to drop a whole lot of weight until I got it down.

What helped me was doing high rep sets of pushups with my elbows tucked, just to get used to doing the movement. It made it a little easier when I got on the bench.

thanks guys for your advice…all really good stuff

[quote]weightliftr wrote:
I’ve been bench pressing with my elbows out at 90 degrees for 15-20 years.

Any recommendations on proper form for this version of the bench press?

If you’ve been benching “wrong” for 15-20 years it might take your body several weeks perhaps even months to re-learn a new bar pathway and technique.

Keep them elbows tucked continue with the weights light if you must until to get comfortable with the technique

Make sure that you work on a good arch in you lower back, and keep your shoulder blades pulled in together and keep your back tight. Then lower the bar with your lats, not your elbows. If you allow the weight to move forward until it feels like it will fall out of your hands, then bend the elbows and lower the bar, you’ll be on the first or second row of abs and that is perfect.

Keep the elbows in as tight as possible and drive the weight straight up, not back towards your face. I would strongly suggest watching Ryan Kennelly and Andy Fielder bench. You can watch them on irongame.com. I have been powerlifting for over 20 years and I am still learning to bench. My buddy Chad Aichs also has a great bench and you can view his videos on chadaichs.com.


Welcome to the club. Discovering the proper way to bench press was the best thing that ever happened to me.

5 surgeries later (2 on the left, 3 on the right), I can now press 135 with no pain. I always had to stop because of pain, never failure.

Just keep the elbows at 45, lower to around the lower pecks and enjoy the pain free ride. Took me about a month to get used to the technic.

I agree with the suggestion to use dumbells. You might even want to use dumbells for bench exclusively for a few weeks/months, as they will strengthen your shoulder structure in a way that a barbell doesn’t (forces you to stablize the weight).

Also, I’m starting to think that any exercise can lead to minor pains or even injury, if you do ONLY that movement for decades at a time (for example, only squats with no variation, and never leg presses or lunges instead). It’s good to vary your movements for long-term injury-free success. Even if it means using machines, it’s good to rotate your exercises (over the long term). Otherwise you may be susceptible to repetitive stress and potential injury (just my opinion though).

The bar is supposed to move in a slight arc. I Iearned this reading T Mag and it made a big improvement in my technique. If you are watching someone bench from the side, the bar should travel in an ever-so-slight S shape. At the very bottom of the lift, the bar travel just slightly towards your head (key words being ‘very bottom’ and ‘slightly’)

At the very top of the movement, the bar travels up and ever so slightly towards your feet (I’m talking about subtle elongated S shape). You don’t want to let the bar drift forward much, obviously, because you can lose control. It’s a matter of (inches? half-inches?) in difference and may actually even be more of a psychological trick or “feel” thing than a noticeable S shape. It’s very subtle.

Also, clenching your shoulder blades together (if that’s what you do) is not exactly correct. Let your shoulder blades/shoulders naturally drop back via relaxation/gravity, before you unrack the weight… that’s where they should stay. I find it helpful to ‘point my chest up’ which seems to seat my shoulders correctly.

Think ‘big ribcage’ and let your shoulders relax/pull back before you even unrack the weight, and then maintain that shoulder posture.

Also look at what else you may be doing that aggravates your shoulders in the gym… dips, for example. There are many articles on T Mag that discuss shoulders and how to maintain them, check the archive.

Last suggestion, think about getting ART on your shoulders if you can afford it (Active Release Technique). Do a search on that (as a topic) and check it out.

All these things helped me avoid an injury, whenever I’ve had occasional nagging shoulder joint pain’.

(If you’ve been training for 15 years and this is your biggest injury/ailment, you are doing great, BTW!!!)

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, therefore there is no arch or S in benching. Also if your going to really learn the best way to bench you MUST KEEP your shoulder blades slammed together. I currently train with the world record holder in three lift meets, Chad Aichs who has benched 821 in competition. If you have any doubts ask Dave Tate or go to the Elite fitness (eliteFTS.com) site and read the many articles from some of the greatest benchers in the world.


One more thing I would like to add is the arch is created from weak triceps. When the tri’s are weak the bar will arch back towards your face to engage the deltoids to finish the lift. But when the tri’s are strong the bar goes straight up. Watch Ryan Kennelly bench, the bar goes straight up. My good friend Jesse Kellum has benched over 800lbs @220, and he is amazing, his stroke is short sweet and straight. So work you tri’s, and when you think you have done alot of work, work them some more.



Live and learn! I guess that S shape thing has been debunked. I thought I read about that here on T-mag, a few years ago. I tried to backtrack and find the article where I read about it, and I couldn’t find it without going through hundreds of articles. Letting the bar travel in an ever-so-slight S has felt natural to me, who knows maybe I was psyching myself out, but anyway, I’m here to learn too…

By the way to the original poster, I did see an interesting article called Shoulder Savers, looked like it had some good info.

Guess I need to do some homework…