The push-up gets bastardized pretty often, leaving us clueless on how to actually do it.
If you have a set-up that looks anything like the picture below, then you are setting yourself up for disaster.
If the back starts in an arched position, with the shoulder blades already coming closer together, you are squeezing your whole back side, preventing movement of the shoulder blade to occur.
As you descend, the shoulder blades will squeeze together more, but this is not what we want.
They should be like weird neighbors. They can see each other and wave, but never shake hands.
If they did, then you are creating a maximum compression in the shoulder joint, which can lead to those pains even on the front side of the shoulder.
You want to be able to reach long into the ground at the start with the nose over the finger tips (prevents shrugging) so you have space between the shoulder blades at the start, and have enough room for a smooth up/down motion. (see below)
The bench press is a little trickier.
Since you are lying flat on a bench, the back is already under some compression, and if you are trying to lift a heavier weight, the first thing you are coached is to "squeeze the shoulder blades"
The weight of the bar pressing down squeezes the front side and the bench pushes the backside, almost flattening your skeleton like a pancake.
This is fine for creating maximal power, but comes at a cost of loss in range of motion.
It becomes a problem if you are already too compressed in the shoulder joint from front to back, before you start your lift. This will leave you to use a compensatory strategy to lower the bar, leading to impingements and shoulder discomfort.
The best way to deal with this is by reducing the compression in the shoulder, allowing you to have more space at the start, before you start to compress the space with increasing loads.
It will give you a chance to have just enough room to complete the range of motion, without sacrificing force output.
Below is a pec fly variation you can use to bias airflow to expand the areas in your shoulder on opposite sides so you can lower the bar with more ease and reduce the shoulder discomfort on lifting.
These are a good starting point to help with shoulder discomfort on these particular lifts, but may not be specific to your problem.
If you are still feeling stuck (no pun intended), feel free to reach out to us below by scheduling a free chat.
We can guide you through your problem with a realistic solution so you can get back to the bench pain free.
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Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has worked with many high-level athletes and military personnel, but his true passion is to help active adults maintain their lifestyle by providing information and potential solutions to their aches and pains so they can continue with the activities they love.