Unlike some sports injuries, you don’t need to suffer one big blow to do serious damage to your shoulders. Stressing this part of the body every time you hit the gym is enough to break down soft tissue over time, and cause the type of intense pain that keeps you off the bench for weeks. But don’t get scared and stop lifting, just lift smarter. We asked CJ Murphy, trainer and owner of Total Performance Sports, for his advice on avoiding this all too common injury.
1. Vary Your Upper-Back Work
Don’t focus entirely on boosting your bench press; leave room for rows as well. Murphy suggests performring half of your upper-back work as pull-down/pull-up movements and half as rows.
2. Work Around Your Rotator Cuff
Contrary to popular opinion, Murphy says direct rotator cuff work is unnecessary and may be detrimental to your development. He adds, “The cuff is a stabilizer, and direct work is not necessary to maintain shoulder health.”
3. Tighten Your Form
Many benchers are guilty of one fatal flaw when it comes to staying injury-free: failing to pinch their shoulder blades. “It keeps the shoulders stable” says Murphy, and thus helps prevent injury.
4. Grip It to Not Rip It
In order to prevent rotator cuff tears, Murphy gives us one last bit of advice: “Squeeze the bar as tight as possible on all lifts to engage the rotator cuff.” This forces the shoulder to stabilize itself, and is the most effective and healthy way to make the rotator cuff better at its job.