After you bench press (or do any exercise, for that matter), I really believe in stretching the muscles you have used. When you are lifting weights, you are contracting muscles, which causes them to shorten. Over time, if you do not stretch them out again, it can lead to pains and poor posture. The muscles of the chest also have a function at the shoulder joint. Therefore, it's important to make sure that you are stretching out your chest and shoulders after the exercise. I also include some foam rolling/soft tissue work. All of these exercises should be done, but the order can vary.
Check Your Shoulder Mobility
Now that you have completed your bench press workout, it's important to look at the mobility of your shoulders. Our joints are supposed to move pain free in all different types of planes. The Glenohumeral joint is what most people refer to as the shoulder. It is the most mobile joint in the human body. Therefore, if you want to bench press correctly and safely, it is ideal to have a full or near full range of motion at this joint.
Now, I am not saying that you cannot bench press if you have some limitations. What I am saying, however, is that if you continue to lift with limitations, over time you may need to work to increase your mobility to stay pain free. There are tests that I do in the clinic to determine this that few people will know outside of the clinical setting. Therefore, I will outline some mobility tests that I use so that you can determine if you have any of these limitations.
The first test I want you to try is to take your right hand and raise it overhead. While in this position, let your arm bend so that your palm is now touching the back of your neck. This is testing two motions, known as shoulder abduction and shoulder external rotation, which are both essential movements.
Now I want you to do this with the opposite hand.
Did you feel one side that was more difficult than the other? Do you feel pain or discomfort? If you did, this might mean one side is more limited than the other. I will go over some stretches and things later on to try and fix it. I suggest at the very least doing this in front of a mirror so you can visualize specifically where each hand touches.
The next test is performed by starting with your right hand down at your side. You will then reach behind your back and allow the back of your hand to rest on your spine. This might be more difficult to do because it is not a common motion to some people. This it testing your shoulder adduction and shoulder internal rotation. In my experience, it is more common to be limited in this position compared to the prior one. Personally, I know that I am more limited in this motion in my right shoulder because i was an overhead throwing athlete for many years. If you were an overhead throwing athlete, then you may notice this as well.
I just went over two tests for shoulder mobility that you can use to evaluate yourself depending on how it feels. Now I want to go over a test that will give you some objective data so you can measure it. As I mentioned above, you want your right arm raised overhead and you want your arm to bend so that your palm is touching the back of your neck.
Now, reach behind your back and up your spine with your LEFT arm with the back of your hand resting on your spine. Now without moving excessively, slide your hands as close together as possible. When you have reached a position where you cannot slide any further, measure the distance between your middle fingers. If you can touch your fingers, then this is the ideal position. If you cannot touch your fingers behind your back, you have some restriction in your joint and I suggest doing some shoulder mobility exercises that I will now outline.
Note: If I was stranded on a desert island and could only remember one thing I learned from Oly lifting stuff, it'd be this. Dislocates changed my lifting life and dat's no lie.
The first exercise is for overall shoulder mobility and is a favorite among a lot of powerlifters, bodybuilders, etc. [Etc. being Oly lifters I guess]. Don't worry, you are not actually dislocating your shoulders when you perform it, but it is a great exercise for overall shoulder mobility. I have found success with it after the workout when my shoulders and body are warmed up, but some people prefer to use it as a warmup. Whether you do it before, after, during your workout [or all three], this is a great exercise for overall shoulder mobility.
Didn't I tell ya those growth drugs would
have unexpected consequences!
To perform this exercise you will need some type of stick. People commonly use a broom stick, but it can also be done with a stretch band or a towel [see photo at top].
Now, you will grab it with both hands in a wide grip with the palms facing downwards. You will hold the stick out in front of you, which is the starting position. The goal of this exercise is to maintain the same hand spacing on the stick throughout the entire motion [and progressively narrow that grip width over time].
1) Lift your arms above your head and raise the bar toward the ceiling. During this motion, you rotate your shoulder blades upward as the bar moves past your face.
2) Once the stick is overhead, you pinch your shoulder blades and externally rotate your shoulders to pull the stick down and behind your back, until the stick touches the back of your body.
3) Now that the stick is behind your body, you reverse the process from before. You will start by pinching your shoulder blades and raise your arms to raise the bar from behind your body, toward the ceiling.
4) Rotate the shoulder blades upward as the stick moves up past your neck to overhead.
5) Lower the stick out front to the starting position.
During this exercise, you want to make sure you maintain a straight spine and be careful not to arch your back excessively. Another common error is to bend your elbows; you want to make sure that your elbows are locked straight the entire time. If you notice that you cannot perform the entire range of motion, try using a wider grip with your hands at first. Finally, be sure not to go too fast with this exercise. You want a nice steady motion. If you want to make this exercise more difficult, gradually narrow your grip on the stick.
Shoulder Internal Rotation With a Towel
You may have identified some motions that are deficit on one side compared to the other, which is completely normal. Many people have imbalances . The important thing is to do some exercises in order to attempt to correct them. A great shoulder stretch that I recommend is the towel stretch:
1) To set up this stretch, you want to hold the towel in one hand and allow it to drape over your shoulder down your back. For example, if you are stretching your right shoulder, the towel should be placed over your left shoulder and be held in your left hand.
It's much easier here to just grab a towel and follow the instructions, instead of picturing the deal in your head.
2) Reach behind your back with your right hand and grip the towel.
3) Gently pull the towel up and allow your right hand to move across and up your back towards your right shoulder. A gentle stretch should be felt in the front or side of your shoulder.
4) Once you feel a stretch in your shoulder, hold the position for 10 seconds, and then slowly release the stretch. This stretch should be performed 10 times. Do not push past sharp pains.
5) After this, perform in on the left side with a left handed towel.
Upper Trapezius Stretch
The main muscle involved in shrugging your shoulders upward is the upper trapezius muscle. If this muscle is tight, it will not only make it difficult to keep your shoulder blades in the optimal position during the bench press, but it can also lead to pain over time. Since a lot of people have tightness here, I want to include a stretch for this to help keep the muscle flexible.
1) Begin by facing forward and keeping your head straight.
2) To stretch your right upper trapezius muscle, allow your head to tile to the left without rotating it.
3) This stretch can be progressed by using your left hand to pull your head further, but it is important that you DO NOT OVERSTRETCH.
4) Once you feel a stretch, hold this position for 30 seconds and do it four times.
5) After this, perform it on the left side.
This stretch can be further intensified if the inactive arm is holding on to something to make sure the shoulder stays down. For example, if you are stretching the right upper trapezius, grab onto a weight or something to keep the shoulder straight down and complete the stretch. You will feel more of a stretch in the area, but as I mentioned before, be sure not to overstretch this muscle.
Doorway Chest Stretch
The main chest stretch that I suggest afterwards is the Door Stretch. I really do like this stretch. You perform it with a doorway because a hallway is to heavy for most lifters to begin with. And, it really allows you to stretch the chest muscles well. Since you have worked them after bench pressing, it is important to stretch them back out once again once you are finished. If a doorway is unavailable, you can still perform this stretch with the corner of a room, but know that if you do this, you may not be able to stretch as far.
1) In a doorway, place your hands at the bottom of the doorway and lean forward keeping your head in line with your body.
2) Now place one foot forward and bend your front knee until BLM is long forgotten and a stretch is felt.
3) If you do not feel a stretch here, try to step further through the door.
4) During this stretch, people will commonly make the mistake of letting their head fall forward. This is bad posture. It is important to keep your head in line with the rest of your body.
5) To make this stretch more intense, you can raise your arms up on the door frame like you are signaling a field goal and repeat the steps above.
You should feel the muscles stretch in the front of your shoulders and chest area as you perform this. I usually suggest holding this stretch for 20-30 seconds and performing it four times.
Posterior Shoulder Stretch
I also want to include a stretch for the back of the shoulders. During training, this area can become tight and lead to pain. Tightness in this area can also contribute to pain in the front of the shoulder.
1) To stretch your, reach your right arm across your body keeping it parallel with the floor.
2) Using your left arm, place your left hand on your right elbow.
3) Gently pull your elbow to your chest. You should feel a stretch in the back of your right shoulder.
4) Hold for 30 seconds, them perform on the other side.
The final exercise that I encourage people to incorporate after bench pressing is known as a dead hang. Like the name suggests, you literally hand from a bar and let gravity do the work. There are a surprising number of benefits to doing the dead hang exercise, including:
- Increasing grip strength
- Forearm muscle growth
- Increasing shoulder range of motion
- Increasing rotator cuff strength
- Spine decompression
Due to all of these benefits, it is important to incorporate them at the end of your workout.
1) Find a pullup bar and grip it about shoulder width with your palms facing away from your body. Make sure your thumbs are wrapped around the bar.
2) Gripping the bar, slowly allow yourself to hang with your elbows completely straight. Bending your elbows engages muscles and defeats the purpose of the exercise.
3) Make sure your upper body muscles are no longer engaged. Everything should be relaxed but your grip.
4) Keep your body in line without swinging and hold for as long as you can.
During this exercise you want to have your feet off the floor so that you are at a full hang. If this is too intense initially, you can do this exercise partially by allowing your feet to touch the floor and unweighting them slightly so that your body is still getting the benefits. I suggest seeing how long you can maintain this position initially and do 3-4 sets of it each time. For example, if you can hold for a maximum of one minute, do sets of 30-40 seconds. After a while you will get stronger and you should reevaluate yourself to determine if you can hold for longer.
Enjoy Your Lifting!