When you enjoy lifting (and lifting heavy!), being injured sucks.
We’ve all been there – hours wasted pining the gym, furiously Googling symptoms and stalking physios for answers on how we can work around injuries.
It goes without saying that if something hurts, don’t do it! But when it comes to bench pressing and shoulder injuries, just making a couple of simple tweaks to your grip and hand spacing can help you to find a more comfortable pressing technique which will hopefully allow you to continue pressing during recovery, pain free!
Ready to make friends with your bench press again?
1. GET TO GRIPS WITH YOUR GRIP
Studies1 have shown that in the usual overhand grip, the supraspinatus (one of the four muscles that make up the rotator cuff) is placed directly underneath the acromion (the bony point of the shoulder blade) when bench pressing. Continuous repetition of the movement can place a lot of stress on the poor old supraspinatus, eventually leading to rotator cuff injuries.
Switching to an underhand grip, although it might feel a little alien at first, will instead place the long head of the bicep beneath the acromion, giving the supraspinatus a well-deserved break.
Alternatively, switch up your strength equipment and use a speciality bar like the angled X bar or neutral X bar will allow you to adopt a neutral hand grip position. These types of bars are designed specifically to allow those with cranky shoulders to bench press again without pain.
The altered grip positioning changes how the shoulder joint functions during your bench press – a more neutral grip helps to reduce pressure on the shoulders and also concentrates tension through the chest.
2. IT’S ALL IN THE HANDS
An overly wide grip increases instability in the shoulders.
For those with rotator cuff issues or impingement, it is generally recommended2 that hand spacing for bench press is no wider than 1.5 x shoulder width (the magic “bi-acromial width”).
Beyond this, the angle between the points where the humorous and scapula meet is much greater, which places additional strain on the rotator cuff and biceps tendon as they work overtime to try to stabilise the humeral head.
To measure your perfect grip width for bench press, just measure the distance between the outside edge of both acromion processes. Then multiply this number by 1.5. When using a straight bar, this is the distance you want between the inside edge of your index fingers.
1. Fees et al. (1998) Upper Extremity Weight-Training Modification for the Injured Athlete: A Clinical Perspective. American Journal of Sports Medicine. 26 (5), 732-742
2. Green, C.M. and P. Comfort, The Affect of Grip Width on Bench Press Performance and Risk of Injury. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 2007. 29(5): p. 10-14