T Nation

Shoulder Cramp During Benching

TLDR: After following the standard treatments for shoulder pain when benching I’ve ended up with little improvement and additional shoulder issues effecting my bench

A few months ago I finished up with a pretty bench intensive plan that resulted in good gains in strength but left me with typical anterior shoulder pain that you would associate with overtraining bench. Assuming that my shoulder pain was caused by either biceps tendonitis or shoulder impingement I dropped the volume and weight of my benching.

At the time this suited my goals quite well as it freed up more time in the week to focus on my squat and deadlift. In addition to lowering my volume and weight for my bench I also included a range of typical shoulder and rotator cuff exercises and stretches with the aim of strengthening my shoulders so that I could return to benching in a few weeks time. ( rough programme at the bottom)

After 6 weeks Im looking to add a bit more benching volume back into my programme. However I have developed pretty strange issue. When I am setting up for my bench I get a very uncomfortable cramp/pain in my right shoulder as I start to lift off, while it doesn’t hurt much it really feels like it could tear if I stress it too much. The cramp feels like its under my shoulder blade which makes me think it’s likely an issue with one of my rotator cuffs, though it could also be rhomboid or lower tap. It’s difficult to say how deep the cramp is.

Interestingly the pain is more severe when I set up in the typical powerlifting style ( arched back, shoulders blades and glutes making solid contact with the bench) and is less severe when I bench with a flat back, though the pain is not completely gone. Also I still have some anterior shoulder pain when benching but its not as bad as it was.

So after 6 weeks of trying to strengthen my shoulders I saw little improvement In the shoulder pain I started with and I may have developed a more severe issue. I think its fair to say that short of visiting a physiotherapist for treatment I have followed the standard advice for fixing shoulder pain during the bench, working on antagonistic muscle groups in the same plane and strengthening my rotator cuffs. As well as stretching my pecs and shoulders, which I do on my rest days

As it stands I’m a little lost as to how to proceed so any help or advice that you folks could give me would be much appreciated.



A few Notes: This is the programme I just finished. Its based loosely on the basic Stronglifts 5x5 programme that I have modified to suite my goals and the time I have available to me (so I know it has its flaws). I had two aims strengthen my shoulders and my glutes for the up coming rugby season as well as generally increasing my overall strength.

Monday : Squat(5x5), Overhead press (5x5), Ytwl (3x6,6,6,6), Farmers walk (3 Lat Pull Down (3x12)
Tuesday: Squat (6x3), Bentover Row (5x5), Incline Bench (3x12), Eccentric Nordics (3x8)

Thursday: Deadlift (5x5), Bench(3x12), Lat Pull down (3x12), Glute-Ham Raises (3x8) Face pullers (3x12). Biceps Curls super-setted with shrugs (3x12)

Saturday : Deadlift (6x3), Dumbbell Row (3x12), Banded side steps ( 3x10 each side), Dumbbell shoulder press (3x12)

This can be a large part of it, weak external rotators/rotator cuff and tight pecs. Rather than doing tons of rows, chin-ups, and pulldowns, you would be better off with light, high rep stuff like band pull aparts, face pulls (I see you have those already), bent over flys, and that kind of thing. They will allow you to get a lot of volume in without adding significant fatigue. Do sets of 15-30, and don’t drop rows/chins/pulldowns but don’t increase volume or frequency unless you want to burn yourself out.

I have something similar to your issue in my left shoulder, at one point I thought it was something to do with the AC joint but eventually I figured out that it is because of a tight serratus anterior. You should be able to dig into this muscle with your thumb on the same side, if you have a theracane or something similar it will make this much easier. Look for tender spots and apply pressure until the pain subsides and/or you feel the muscle release. Another muscle that might contribute is the scalenes. Same thing here. In my case, my shoulder bothers me from time to time but loosening up my serratus anterior usually provides instant relief.

Hi Chris thanks for the response.

Band pull are something I do quite often, I don’t normally get much of a pump out of rows so I super set them with band work.

I think your point on about serratus anterior is a good one. Its a muscle I don’t stretch often and it also might explain why im still having anterior shoulder pain, I should probably roll out my lats more aswell, especially since ive been doing more back exercises recently than I normally do.