I Got 99 Problems but the Bench Ain't One, Hit Me!

For those of you that are unaware, bench press Monday is practically a national holiday. Go to any major gym and at some point you're going to see a guy doing some form of bench press that day. For some reason people just like to start their week off with the bench.

To quote leading spinal researcher Stuart McGill "I love the bench, and... I hate the bench".

For some people the bench press is actually a great core exercise. Helping to activate the core through the movement of the upper body. For others it's a shoulder destroyer. 

Rather than discuss the bench press, what I want to do is discuss shoulder health, and how to help maintain healthy shoulders. Several tips already coming to mind specifically for benching such as: dumbbell bench with your palms facing each other, don't let your elbows flare out when benching, and it helps to offset chest exercises with twice as much back exercises.

However, in my mind there are three key areas to focus on that will go a long way in helping your shoulders stay healthy.

  1. Core
    • Often when the core is not working right the rest of our body has to compensate. Take an overhead press for example, if our core is not engaged as we push a weight overhead the low back arches, we lose stability and we begin to push almost solely through our shoulders in a compromising position. For a lot of people this will lead to some serious shoulder pain later on. Rather if we're able to keep our core engaged we actually can push not just through our shoulders, but our scapula muscles will be able to get more involved as well as our core. This is just a small example of why a strong core is important for healthy shoulders, especially in the execution of upper body exercises.
  2. Thoracic Spine
    • Along with our core, our Thoracic Spine needs to be another solid foundation in which our shoulders can rest. With a healthy and mobile thoracic spine it's a lot easier for our core to activate without losing a good posture. This means that our scapula muscles will be working properly, allowing the scapula to move into good positions and once again helping alleviate any extra stress that is put on our shoulders. Without a healthy and mobile t-spine a lot of lifting will happen in the shoulders and the low back. 
  3. Posture
    • Consider posture to be the synergy of the t-spine and core working together. The core creates the foundation for the t-spine to move freely, and as I said earlier, when the t-spine is moving freely its easier for the core to be solid. Our postural muscles need to be trained just like any other muscle. A solid posture means our shoulders will be helped by so many more muscles and as a result alleviate a lot of the strain that would be put on them. Not to mention good posture helps create stability for our shoulders as well as allows them freedom to move. 


All told, these are the three areas that must be trained on a regular basis to keep our shoulders healthy. Not to mention these are three areas that just help the rest of our body, and our overall health. Thus, they should not be ignored in your training.

Now I'll admit that the bench press itself doesn't allow for a lot of freedom in the movement of the scapula; but that's ok, because when our postural muscles including the core are solid I would argue that the bench press becomes more of a total body movement and even a core movement anyways. Alleviating excess strain on the shoulders.

A great resource for learning more about these three areas, and to even pick up some good exercises is the Postural Restoration Institute (click here). As the name implies they make their living off of helping people restore their posture. I highly recommend checking them out.


Did what I say just blow your mind? Wreck your world?... In a good way. If you have any questions or like what you see drop a comment below or share with your friends.