How To Prevent Shoulder Pain When Pressing

As a physiotherapist, shoulder pain when pressing is one of the most common complaints I hear from regular gym-goers and athletes alike. More often than not their pain isn’t caused by a true rotator cuff injury, such as a rotator cuff tear or tendinopathy, but is in fact quite easy to change with some simple technique corrections or other exercises.

Below there are some simple and easy technique changes and exercises that will help you with your shoulder pain. Most of these exercises and tweaks will help you if you have a rotator cuff tear or just general shoulder pain.

Elbow Position

One common mistake is pressing with our elbows too flared out. This can place a lot of stress and load on the rotator cuff. This is not inherently a bad issue: if you have a nice strong rotator cuff to be able to handle it. Therefore we want to change this position to having our elbows closer to our body to reduce this risk on our shoulders. Check out the cues below that I use with patients during barbell and/or dumbbell pressing to make these positional changes and help prevent rotator cuff pain.

Barbell Shoulder Press – Grip 

Try adjusting your grip to just slightly outside your shoulders. This will allow you to keep your shoulder blades in the most comfortable position to keep your elbows in close to your body.

Shoulder Press Elbow Position With Barbell

Barbell Bench Press – Bend the Bar in Half

Keeping your elbows in while slowly lowering the bar to your chest when bench pressing can be quite hard to teach. As you slowly lower the bar down to your chest, try to bend the bar in half by retracting and squeezing your shoulder blades together. That will facilitate optimal elbow positioning and get your rotator cuff working hard.

Barbell Bench Press Elbow Position

Dumbbell Shoulder Press and Bench Press – Wrists at 45 degrees (pinky finger facing in front)

As seen in the second photo, the wrists are turned in at a 45-degree angle. This makes it easier to keep your elbows closer to your side.

Seated Shoulder Press Dumbell Press Movement
Elbow Position For Dumbell Bench Press

Shoulder Positioning

Keep your shoulder blades back and down. Almost imagine that you are trying to tuck your shoulder blades into the opposite back pocket of a pair of pants. It is so common to see people at the end of their barbell bench press or dumbbell bench press roll their shoulders forwards. Keeping your shoulder blades back and down is going to result in your shoulder joint remaining in a more stable position, and in the long term is going to translate to you lifting weights without pain. What’s not to love?

Keeping Shoulders “Back and Down” on the Bench:

Barbell Bench Press

Bench Press Barbell Shoulder Position

Dumbbell Chest Press 

Dumbbell Bench Press Shoulder Positioning

Making these simple adjustments to your pressing technique is not only going to allow you to lift heavier in a more stable position, it’s going to place less stress on the muscles around your rotator cuff and allow you to lift rotator cuff pain-free for longer!  

Can I continue to press?

Let’s assume any modifications necessary to your bench press have been made, but you are still getting a niggle in your shoulder joint; especially at the bottom of the movement as you try to press up. Never fear, we can still work with this! There are some variations we can use to help you keep pressing whilst we work on the underlying issues.

More often than not we find that it is the bottom part of the movement that causes the most shoulder aches and pain, so there is a simple solution. For a couple of weeks, we get rid of the bottom part of the movement, and implement a floor press instead.

As you can see below, I find it particularly easy to set it up on the squat rack. Although it limits shoulder joint range of motion, you can usually go quite heavy with this movement and it is particularly effective in working on your lockout while you are helping to calm your shoulder pain down.

Give it a go!

Barbell Press From Floor In Gym

For overhead press (arms overhead), this can be achieved by a pin press or a landmine press. Set the safety pins up in a squat rack so the bar rests at a height that stops short of the range you get shoulder pain during a pin press.

Pre-Activation/ Warm Up

If you have read our previous blog on tips for keeping your shoulders healthy, you would have seen that we recommend warming your shoulder joint up properly before you lift. Before performing the overhead press, try some activation work of your rotator cuff muscles and shoulder blade stabilisers. Having a strong, active base to press from can help keep your shoulder muscles in a good position and stop certain structures from getting overloaded and sore.

1. Band pull-apart 3 x 15

Band Pull Apart Shoulder Exercise Start
Band Pull Apart Shoulder Exercise Finish

2. Band shoulder external rotation 3 x 15

Band Shoulder External Rotation Exercise Start
Band Shoulder External Rotation Exercise Finish

We hope this article has given you some insight into your shoulder pain, as well as some tangible action points that you can begin implementing from today to relieve pain or become pain-free whilst staying active & doing the things that you love!

Physio Fit Adelaide Google Reviews

Physio Fit Adelaide
Based on 211 reviews
powered by Google
Mana NankivellMana Nankivell
00:38 18 Apr 23
I highly recommend Trent and the Physio Fit team.I sustained a knee injury (fat pad impingement) in a half-marathon around 18 months ago, and after 12 months of seeing a (different) physio and sports doctors without any improvement, I was told by the doctor that I would "probably just have to put up with the pain".I booked in with the team at Physio Fit for another opinion, and it was the best decision I ever made. Trent put together a very manageable rehab plan for me and was quick to respond and adapt when something didn't work out. In the past 6 months, I've gone from not being able to walk without pain or even think about hiking, running or cycling without my knee flaring up, to running my first post-injury 5.5km trail run and hiking 10km with a 10kg pack!
Laura O'ConnorLaura O'Connor
08:47 05 Feb 23
This clinic is the pinnacle of physiotherapy in Adelaide. Ive seen a couple of different physios at physiofit over the years for different injuries and the experience has been absolutely amazing each time! Highly recommend seeing the team here for all your physio needs!
Ryen ArcherRyen Archer
02:50 03 Feb 23
Corey is absolutely fantastic, worked out my issues and we have been working to improve them for a few months now and all I can say is I am feeling a million times better! thanks physio fit! Keep up the great work!
Amy SzyndlerAmy Szyndler
02:44 03 Feb 23
I attended Physio Fit to get my tennis elbow treated. Always a friendly greeting from the lovely reception staff, and my physio, Corey, was fantastic; very friendly, knowledgeable and provided treatment that was personalised and holistic. Following Corey's advice and exercise regime helped me get back to the activities I enjoy, pain-free. Highly recommended.
Debbie MossDebbie Moss
07:21 02 Feb 23
Have been taking my daughter here for quite a few months now for ongoing back issues. The care that she has been given through her Physiotherapist Corey, has been fantastic. Everything has been explained and if exercises have needed to be modified he has. Would thoroughly recommend this place for any Physio needs. All staff that we have dealt with have been friendly and professional. A great team and environment.
Are you in pain and needing a solution?

The professional, friendly team at Adelaide Physio Fit is here to help you! Booking online is the most convenient way to lock in the location, practitioner & time you want.