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Cannot Do Any Bench-Based Pressing. Alternatives for Horizontal Pushing?

Hi guys, for about 6 years I’ve not been able to do any bench-based pressing movement. That includes bench press, dumbbell bench press, kettlebell bench press - it doesn’t matter the implement, since as long as it uses a bench, I can’t do it.

I can’t do these exercises because when you use a bench in a pressing movement you’re instructed to pin your shoulder blades back (retract them) at the same time as extending your arm. That’s ‘proper form’ for these exercises. My shoulder joint cannot take that movement - I got severe subscapularis impingement that took a year of intensive rehab to get over. Even doing that movement unweighted causes pain to this day.

To compensate, I’ve been doing a LOT of lower body work and pulling movements (weighted chin ups, rows…etc…), but have not been able to do horizontal pushing for 6 years. Strangely (for someone with cranky shoulders), I AM able to do overhead presses. I think that this is because I’m ‘allowed’ to move my scapula freely with my arm when doing overhead presses instead of being instructed to pin them in one position as my arm moves.

I think that as long as my scapula is able to move with my arm, my shoulders feel healthy doing that movement. Are there any horizontal pushing movements that allow free scapula movement and you can actually progressively overload over time that are worth doing as substitutes for bench-based pressing?


i had shoulder surgery both sides my bench press form is my own
arthritis in both knees,right knee tends to fill with fluid my squat form is my own

have you ever taken the bar get on bench find what works?
ever grab set dumbells get on bench find what works?

I can’t do these exercises because when you use a bench in a pressing movement you’re instructed to pin your shoulder blades back (retract them) at the same time as extending your arm. That’s ‘proper form’ for these exercises.
that form decreases the distance of your bar path if your not competeing, just get stable
any how their are moves you can do, you do not really need bench

It hasn’t really taken you six years to consider dips and push-up variations, right? They’re the most obvious alternatives and, programmed properly, still offer plenty of progressive overload (with load, volume, and/or exercise variation). Why can’t you work on those?

1 or 2-arm standing cable presses (discussed by Chad Waterbury here) would be my next suggestion, which could be easily superset with crossovers if you wanted to.

I have fairly severe impingement on one side, and as in your case, it completely precludes barbell and dumbbell horizontal pressing movements. However, an effective pressing movement I can do is one-armed machine incline press lockouts (eg, anything similar to the Hammer Strength Incline set-up). However, in order to do the movement pain-free, my set-up and execution have to be carried off in a particular manner.

I set the seat-height fairly low (my hand is at or just below shoulder-height at the start of the movement). Even more important is the orientation of my torso–I sit somewhat ‘side saddle’ on the seat. That is, when I’m working my left pec, I face ~45o to the left, and when working the right pec, I face ~45o to the right. (Note that by using this position, the handle’s path travels somewhat across the body, rather than straight away from it.) I use my free hand to assist the working hand in getting the handle out of the bottom position on the first rep. The pain-free, working ROM is from about the halfway point on out. (Note that the natural end-position of the movement occurs before the elbow locks out, so there is constant tension on the pec.) When the set is completed, I again bring my free hand to the handle, this time to assist in easing the handle back into the rest position.

Give it a try; I hope it works as well for you as it does for me.

This sounds similar to a chest isolation movement Thibaudeau has used in the past, shown as the first exercise in this vid:

I’m totally stealing that

Landmine presses (the bar stuck to a corner like t-bar rows) works well.

Maybe Push Ups will work?

I did ring presses. Started with high angle, worked on mobility and actually saw someone about it. Weird, right?

Is there a particular reason you want to horizontal press? Just get a huge overhead press and do dips and you’ll be fine.

I’d be inclined to go down this route.

My answer depends on which of the following two things is bothering you:

  1. If it’s lack of scapular mobility (caused by being on a flat bench), then push-up variations would be needed to allow your scaps to retract and protract while you push with your arms. I stopped benching and have used ring push-ups with heavy chains, and have had to impingement problems since.

  2. It may be that you are simply benching too deep. If you look at top benchers, they arch their backs so much, that they don’t really need to go very deep to touch their chest. If you bench with a flat back, and try to touch the bar to your chest, then depth may be the issue. In that case, you can try floor presses.

I think the answer would depend on why you want to do horizontal pressing. First of all: If you don’t want to compete in powerlifting there is no need to do bench pressing! If you just want to do horizontal work for pec development there are various options like flys, machines, dips,cable cross overs and stuff. If you just care about strength and functionality: Just focus on OHP. I like vertical pressing by far better than horizontal pressing anyway.

Tried that superset tonight. Loved it.

Hey, the impingement for me always occurs near lockout - not at the bottom, so it’s not from going too deep.

I may try the ring push ups with chains but it’s a bit tricky to implement (don’t you need a partner to help set-up)? Also, can you progressively overload this movement for a long time?

For people suggesting I stick to overhead pressing - would this help build a big chest, or only shoulders?

Sounds like rings may help, especially if you have no pain when doing push-ups.

I don’t need a partner for set-up, and adding weight isn’t very hard. I bought two 23 lbs chains that I wrap in an X formation (over and under my arms, if that makes sense), which allows for full scapular mobility. They have large carabiners, so I can attach extra plates on them (as long as the plates are the kind that you can stick your fingers into, as opposed to the ones that only have a hole in the middle). If you have the latter, you can add a smaller chain to the larger chain, and simply slide it through the middle of the plate. The chains will hang low, so it’s best to have your feet elevated on a bench to avoid them touching the ground (unless you want to train the upper portion of the lift). I go down until my arms are at a 90 degree angle (just like a floor press).

As a side note, you may want to purchase rings anyways. They will also help tremendously with dips. I found bar dips easy, then tried ring dips, and at first, I could only do 3 or 4 (and that was without added weight). You catch up quickly though, but again, my shoulders love them (especially since I read Dr. Joel Seedman’s article in December “Dips: You’re doing them wrong”…he advocates the hollow style, which will further protect your shoulders).

So, my advice to you: buy the rings, and at least try hollow dips (which will work your chest and triceps). For shoulders, you can rely on overhead pressing since it doesn’t hurt. I’m not an expert on overhead pressing, but I don’t think they will work your sternal head (lower chest) very much, but the dips will in the hollow position. Then there’s ring pull-ups and ring inverted rows, both of which provide an extra challenge compared to traditional versions (note: because of the angle, inverted rows work better for me with a backpack - chains slide down and choke me).

Hope this helps