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Bench Press

May 12, 2010

By Gerard Bochese

Most people think that when performing the bench press you must lower the bar until it touches your chest. Unfortunately, most people (particularly male athletes) are not anatomically designed to perform the exercise this way because they do not possess enough range of motion in their shoulder joints.

The movement-restricting factor during a bench press is not the muscles of the shoulder but rather the special connective tissue casing around the shoulder joint called the “joint capsule”.  The joint capsule is designed to allow just the right amount of motion to prevent joint damage and also contains specialized nerve endings that communicate with the brain to inform it of joint position and speed of movement as well as pressure, tension, and pain in and around the joint.  Therefore, it is important that one does not stretch the joint capsule by forcing the shoulder beyond its normal range of motion during the bench press.

To protect the shoulder joint capsule from being stretched out or injured, the exerciser must determine how far to safely lower the bar. Try following the Bench Press Range of Motion Test – Place your arm in the bench press position (with no bar or weights) and allow your arm to lower to its passive-end range of motion.  This is the position where the arm naturally stops without being forced and is the point where the shoulder joint capsule becomes the primary restraint to shoulder range of motion.  Once the arm is in this position, lift the arm 2– 3 cm to find your optimal bottom position for the bench press exercise.  This creates a small buffer zone for when the weights get heavy and you get tired. This buffer zone is fine for strength gains as well because it has been proven that there is approximately a 15 degree carry over of strength developed at any specific joint angle with strength training – this means that if you train your shoulders from 15 degrees – 75 degrees the strength gained will carry over from 0 degrees to 90 degrees.

So if you like to bench, take the Bench Press Range of Motion Test and learn how to protect your shoulders so that you can continue to perform the exercise safely and effectively for years to come.

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