T Nation

Building Chest with Bad Shoulders


Overall I'm enough with the symmetry of my physique apart from chest. Its been a real struggle. Nearly every exercise I have attempted seems to hit my front delts, also finding it very difficult to add thickness to upper chest. My chest strength is relatively good I can decline 55kg dbells 12r @ 90kg which I think is alright. Anyone in the same boat found solutions?

So far what has worked is
1. no benching only dumbells
2. Decline dumbell press ,dumbells facing slightly inwards, takes pressure off shoulders
3. Chest press machine only last 2/3 of motion and sit high in seat so pressing low . 1/3 of motion is mainly shoulders, sitting high in seat engages less shoulders
4.unilateral floor press, quite good for balance and puts no pressure on shoulder. Done in a hammer grip
5. Adjusted low cable fly. less focus on the lower stage and flaring out, keeping more emphasis on the final 2/3s and keeping the range tighter to body which seems to engage chest better.

Hope this helps anyone in similar position, I only found the last exercise while experimenting last week. I try low incline dbell press with hammer grip, but even that engages my delts which is really frustrating. Any input appreciated.


I don’t see any incline work at all. Is this because of your shoulders?

Your upper chest won’t grow if you don’t train it directly.


I have similar problems ~~~~ have you tried any shoulder rehab protocols?

Rather than trying to “live” with the bum shoulder, actively rehabilitating it has really helped me.


[quote]iplan wrote:
I have similar problems ~~~~ have you tried any shoulder rehab protocols?

Rather than trying to “live” with the bum shoulder, actively rehabilitating it has really helped me.[/quote]

I’d be interested in ‘shoulder rehab protocools’ you would recommend


I am assuming a Rotator Cuff injury ~ consult your Doctor.

There are many other examples of exercises that also work ~ which you turn up on any search engine search under “shoulder rehabilitation exercises.”

This one is also good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9bvVGFYl-8


It sounds like you either have a Rotator cuff issue OR you just have overpowering delts that make it very hard for you to isolate your chest.
Im pushing more towards you have a weak chest though, I was in the same boat for a long time.
Try a few of these BUT I recomend all of them to really put some meat on your chest!
1: Pre-exhuast on a cable crossover or pec dec, Keep the weight VERY low and focus on moving the weight with your chest.
2: I should have put this first but fuck it, Keep your shoulders pinned back and below your chest, If it helps actually look at your chest and front delts and make sure that your chest is higher, It will take out alot of the front delt.
3: DOOO decline BB to really build a good strength foundation that way your delts arent always overpowering your chest.
4: when you do start doing incline I advise using a machine and going light that way you can focus on the pump vs. the weight. I like the incline hammer strength machine, then I move on too incline BB.

Now the overall message here is to get your chest higher than your delts and too get the most massive pump possible before you do any kind of compound movement.

Be prepared for your lifts to drop a bit since your more focused on flexing the chest vs putting up the weight.


Have you tried using bands? I attach them to one side of my rack while i stand on the other with my back against a safety to avoid getting pulled over backwards.


I have really bad shoulders.

having said that, I do have a ART/Chiro working on them. It’s a long process though, due to the gravity. At one point, it was so bad, I could not even squat due to pressure. I can now OHP, but I still have to be careful. Too much volume will stop me for 7-10 days.

As stated above, you need to get them better.

Now, you need to work around the injury. I started with a lot of band work. Finding out what angle I could use. One or two arms, doesn’t matter. Just start and get some blood in there.

My exercise of choice (that means no pain) are ring press (different leg angles) and scrape presses (I found an angle that has no pain).

Worrying about your upper chest not growing is pretty much the last thing on your mind.

Just get healthy and find what you can do with no pain.



lol I dont think he ever said anything about having an injured shoulder.
I really believe its just overpowering front delts and its just a matter of isolating the chest and learning how to contract it through a full range of motion.

With that being said he could also do 5-6 partials that keep constant tension on his chest then push out another 5-6 full range that way it engages fully throughout the exercise.


Some excellent opinions/advice here much appreciated. I dont think I have a weak chest, my lifts are well above avg for my weight but my chest isn’t aesthetic and I find it so difficult to get a pump in it. It seems my front delts are the only thing I feel on nearly all chest exercises. I tore my rotator cuff a couple of years ago but have done extensive rehab on that, and think for the most part its fixed.

My front delts are huge and make my already underdeveloped upper chest look even worse than it is. I’m doing Layne Nortons PHAT training at moment and follow it except for chest/arms day when I have to alter certain exercises for my shoulders. I use neutral grip on upper chest but even then still feel it more on shoulders. So f****** frustrating


I’d consider some rear delt work- improving your posture has a big effect on good you look- it wont add mass but it will open your chest out which makes you look more balanced.



I’ve been reading up on it lately, and it seems its actually quit a common problem. I done chest yesterday, been trying to exhaust my chest on the cables but still feel little doms today which is frustrating. It seems a lot of people struggle with front delts overpowering their chest, is there any ways I can correct it? My technique is pretty good, I was thinking of maybe going to a physio?


[quote]JACKEDjames123 wrote:
lol I dont think he ever said anything about having an injured shoulder. [/quote]

Then that thread title should throw them off your scent.


anyone? also should have mentioned that I tore my rotator cuff playing sport a couple of years ago but it doesn’t bother me any more…


Play around with the your training. When benching both db and barbell different muscles come into play and different points. Slowly lift and lower the weights, wherever you feel your chest do a half step or 2 or even more in that range. You can also pre-exhaust with fly’s for a month until you get the feeling.

Overall the best thing you can do is play around with the rep ranges, and understand you may never be happy with your chest, some people develop more or less shape based on genetics. Just because you feel your shoulder doesn’t necessarily mean your chest isn’t the prime mover you may just be sensitive to any movement from your shoulders.

I used to always have proportionately big shoulders with little to no training. They weren’t strong just gained size easily, so I decided not to train them at all. Skip ahead a few years, they eventually got proportionately smaller and much weaker. I have bad shoulders and everything else just average for a gym rat, now I wish I would’ve continued to work on them and had something to pride myself about. Flaunt and improve what your blessed with, work hard for everything else. Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.


[quote]JohnMcG wrote:
anyone? also should have mentioned that I tore my rotator cuff playing sport a couple of years ago but it doesn’t bother me any more…

I’ve had a few shoulder surgerys Id say get a MRI… Or a X at the least. Sometimes bone spurs develop and grind on your rotator cuff. Shredding it slowley over time. Not everyone has the genetics to support more mass on the shoulders… You may need the doc to do whats called a “debriment or acromeoplasty” If so dont stress you will feel much better afterward and can move forward in about 90 days pain free… If rehab is what you need try building up your rear delts it helps… High rep 2 sec holds on face pulls helped allot with my shoulder pain and helped take out some of the imbalance from years of bench & OHP…

Do more back work