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Shoulder/Chest Routine Causing Shoulder Pain

What’s up everyone. I’ve had a nagging left shoulder pain for years, but it has really began to really bother me. I have noticed that it particularly mainly happens with bench press, and it happens even when I don’t lift too heavy of a weight. I had to cut my workout short today to only 2 sets of Arnold press, 2 sets alternating shoulder press with a pause on top, 2 sets flat bench, and 2 sets of laying on ground bench with sets of 15 decline pushups in between. I’m wondering if my workout is too heavy of a load or if there are any tips I can use. Below is my workout

2 sets of Arnold press
2 sets alternating shoulder press with pause
2 sets flat bench
2 sets bench on ground
2 sets chest dumbbell pullover
2 sets tricep extensions with dumbbell
2 sets face pulls with dumbbells
2 sets lateral raises
2 sets tricep kickbacks
2 sets laying crossbody tricep extensions
2 sets of I don’t know what they’re called but I grab a 80lb dumbbell and hold it with 2 hands and lift it side to side over my head in front of me. (Trying to hit shoulders)
15 pushups steep decline in between sets

I can only go 77.5lbs for bench so the weight isn’t heavy at all, but I still get bad shoulder pain on my left shoulder when benching. For Arnold’s, I’ve been doing 75lbs for 6-8 reps and same weight for alternating shoulder presses.

That’s a pretty extensive training session you have there.
I couldn’t help but notice you don’t do anything for rear delts (unless you aim to target these on pull days some people do that) :slightly_smiling_face:

Are you doing anything to stretch or warm up your shoulders first?

Have you been diagnosed by an orthopedist?

No, I actually haven’t. That probably sounds like a good idea

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I focus on rear delta during the pull day because my push workout is already long as it is. Usually what I do for a warm up is 20 push ups or so and I’ll do a warm up shoulder press with 40 lb dumbbells. I do push my shoulders with what is pretty heavy weight for me which is 75lb dumbbells for Arnold’s. I only have enough weights to load 77.5lbs on 2 dumbbells so I do Arnold’s because 77.5 lbs isn’t that challenging for regular shoulder press. I’m wondering if it would be beneficial to start my workouts with bench press instead of the Arnold’s and alternating shoulder press. Also, I’m wondering if the decline push ups are putting more pressure on my shoulder. I’ve had this since high school though, so I’m not sure. I’m not far from my goals which is 19 inch arms and 58" shoulder circumference, so maybe I can slow down a bit.

maybe i’m not understanding… your arms are nearly 19" and you bench 77.5lbs? :face_with_monocle:

All that aside, you need to be actually warming up/stretching your shoulders before and while you are hitting them. Bands play a huge role in injury prevention for shoulders, whether to prevent impingement or just strengthening your rotator cuff. I recommend doing a search on T-Nation archives under “shoulder” and just read up on the different shoulder routines out there… there are hundreds so just find one you like.

Your volume is probably pretty rough on your shoulders too. i’m not saying do less necessarily, just do it smart. I found that doing DB bench, then DB shoulder press effectively made my shoulders feel like shit the rest of the workout. But if i did BB bench, then DB shoulder press, i was fine. still, you need to be taking care of your shoulders

My arms were 18.5 inches pumped in my last pull workout. I only have enough weights to be able to load 77.5lbs on my dumbbells right now, but that weight is very light for bench so I do 5 seconds up and 5 seconds down with a pause to make it somewhat challenging. I guess my point is, even if I were to just bench 50lb dumbbells, I get that bad pain. I’m thinking probably less volume will be good now that you’ve pointed that out.

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For how long have you been doing this program? When did you first experience problems (how did you train then?)?

To me, it seems you should do a different routine for shoulders and chest for a 3 month period. Shift to machine presses for a different leverage? Do light 30 rep presses for pump? Do slow cadence 30-30-30 reps during this period (look up Ellington Darden)? Statics/isometrics?

In short, do things differently for 3 months and see where it takes you. You need to prehab yourself before it gets worse. If I were to guess, you are suffering from a muscle attachment issue. What does @j4gga2 say?

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Cheers for the tag @pettersson

First, just to get a better idea of the actual pain itself:

  • when did the pain first start coming on? Has been getting better, worse or has it been stable since?
  • when aggravated, how long does the soreness linger?
  • would you describe the pain as dull or sharp?
  • is it localised or diffuse/spread out?
  • does the pain have a noticeable pattern (e.g. worse in the morning and with use, otherwise okay)?

Second, we’re going to need more info about training:

  • rep ranges and approx RPEs per exercise
  • progression model
  • split
  • training plan for all the other sessions in the week (full training plans please)
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(third, are you pinning your shoulders back or down for any of your pressing?)

I love asking that question too much, haha.

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It’s a good question :joy:

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Thanks for the insight man. I’ve had this issue since I was like 15 in high school. To be honest, the only things I would do on my own time were biceps and some bench press. We did have a very serious and quality PE protein school though. Unfortunately, I am stuck with what I have until next year when I build our house. I’m super busy and can’t really have a time to go to a gym. My wife has given me the green light to have a large budget for a badass home gym in which I will have about 1,000 SW ft to work with

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I’m not really sure what way I’m pinching my shoulders. I always try to do all lifts with strict form to my knowledge except for cheat lifts. I want to say that I pinch them back but I’ll pay extra attention to that on Wednesday

This has bothered me since high school. The pain itself seems to me to be pretty sharp and usually gets better with 5 minutes or so of rest in between. The problem is that this makes my sessions very, very long. Currently my splits are as followed

Monday: push day. 2 sets Arnold press 75lb dumbbells 6-8 resp.
2 sets alternating dumbbell press with a pause 75 lb dumbbells 6-8 reps.
2 sets flat bench, I do them very slowly to make more challenging as I only have enough weights for 77.5lb dumbbells 10 reps
2 sets laying on ground bench 10 reps 77.5lbs
2 sets laying high chest dumbbell pullover 90-100lb dumbbell 10 reps
2 sets tricep extensions with dumbbell 90-100 lbs 10 reps
2 sets dumbbell face pulls 50lb dumbbells 8-10 reps
2 sets overhead front dumbbell shoulder side to side drop sets first 6 reps 80 lb dumbbells then 6-8 reps 55lb dumbbell
2 sets dumbbell lateral raises 25lbs 8-10 reps
2 sets tricep kickbacks 25lbs 10 reps
2 sets tricep cross body extensions 25 lb dumbbell 10 reps or failure
15 decline pushups in between all sets
Tuesday: pull day. 1 set cheat curls 77.5lb dumbbells 6-8 reps focus on negatives
1 set cheat hammer curls 77.5lbs 6-8 reps focus on negatives
1 set standing curls good form 65 lb dumbbells 6-8 reps
1 set standing hammer curls good form 65lbs 6-8 reps
2 sets seated curls shoulder blades tucked back 55lbs 8-10 reps
2 sets seated hammer curls shoulder blades tucked 55 lbs 8-10 reps
2 sets cross body curls regular grip 55lbs 8-10 reps
2 sets cross body hammers 55lbs 8-10 reps
1 set with 40 lb dumbbell where I do 6 reps regular curls, 6 reps hammers, 6 reps cross body regular grip, and 6 reps cross body hammer grip.
I do rows in between all bicep sets. I do variation of traditional bent over rows and wide rows with the same weight as the bicep curls (mainly a time savings reason)
3 sets of laying dumbbell pullover focus on lats 90-100 lbs 10 reps
I currently don’t have time to do much legs but that will change next year and will have a squat rack, deadlift area, and also cleans.
I run 3x a week a 5k in about 20 minutes
In my last push workout, (yesterday) I did bench first and tricep exercises first and did shoulders last. I hardly had any pain, but my shoulders were much more gassed and only did 60lbs for Arnold presses and alternating shoulder press.

Pinching your shoulderblades back is a really popular cue to tell people to do during pressing. It’s also caused more shoulder pain, labral tears, impingement, etc. than anything else I can think of. I fucked myself for years doing it.

Scapulohumeral Rhythm

That space you see above the top of the upper arm when it’s in the down position is the subacromial space (below the acromion, or top right pointy part of the shoulderblade). If the scapula elevates, like in the gif, the space is maintained. If you pin your shoulders down, the humeral head mashes into it.

That’s with pressing vertically. As for pressing horizontally, you’re putting a lot of stress on the shoulder because you can’t properly engage your chest with your shoulderblades pinned back. The pecs function to move the shoulders and the shoulderblades - so if you’re not powerlifting, it’s even more useless to be pinning them back.

Everything should move in a rhythm. As your arms come forward, your shoulderblades spread apart. Don’t exaggerate it, just let them come forward as your pecs pull your scaps around the ribcage. Same thing with vertical pressing.

Long story short - many lifting cues you hear are either bad, or were generated from people who want to use mechanical advantages to lift the most weight possible.

This is a great explanation. Since I’ve learned my way in the gym 1991, I was taught to pinch back the scapulae.

Now, I have a hard time relearning the more relaxed procedure. There seems to be some tension in the area during presses, no matter what I do.

@flappinit or @j4gga2: Do you have any tips on how to resolve this? Presses on the floor?

Thanks for the info. This is very informative and I’m sure will be super helpful. I was taught to pin them back and I used to powerlift 10 years ago. I will make the change as I think that the pain is severely limiting me.

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Presses on the floor make it VERY hard to move your scaps, so I’d say definitely not. I bet @j4gga2 has some neat stuff to share - I think for me, it was really focusing on the mind-muscle connection. If you’re using your pecs, and not just your shoulders and triceps, to press (horizontally), then they will naturally rotate your scaps around your ribcage as your arms extend.

Basically, my trick was to have a MORE exaggerated range of motion.

Now, keep in mind, I don’t flat bench press, so if that’s what you’re after, Kabuki strength has a great video on it with a super jacked dude who obviously has no problem building muscles.

This video also makes a great distinction between scapular retraction and scapular depression.

This other video talks about the scaps functioning in the overhead plane and the distinction between elevation, and upward rotation of the scaps.

I think, especially for you as a physician, maybe seeing some of these things and hearing more of the jargon might actually help you to visualize what’s going on (as opposed to some rank beginners who would be paralyzed by this and just need to lift in a natural manner first) especially since they talk about thoracic extension and what needs to be happening in all aspects of the press.

Finally, here’s a great video that includes rowing - and yes, you need to let your scaps move during rowing too.

There’s also other resources - N1 Education really harps on this stuff too, you can look them up.


Thanks @flappinit for taking the time with such a detailed response! Scapular gold! :+1:

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Although I agree with @flappinit that free scap motion is important, I’m yet to find a good strategy to teach it and learn it for horizontal pressing. I don’t have any cues for it, I just make sure that I “stop pinning my shoulders back”. I also should add that if I’m doing heavy pressing (5 or fewer reps), I will keep my shoulders back because that way there are less joints for me to control and I can focus more effort on getting the weight up.

I get most of my free scapula pressing from vertical /near vertical presses. I generally rotate between neutral-grip shoulder press, arnold press, z-press and landmine press in my programming

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