The Dark Side of Bench Press: 7 Hidden Risks You Need to Know

When it comes to chest workouts, the bench press is the holy grail. It’s the first exercise that pops into your mind when you think of building a Herculean chest. But what if I told you that this all-time favorite workout staple has a dark side? In this article, we’ll uncover seven hidden risks associated with the bench press, and provide you with the tools and knowledge to prevent injuries and master this exercise. Are you ready to turn the forbidden fruit into a fruitful endeavor? Let’s dive in!

Risk 1: Shoulder Impingement

Imagine feeling a sharp, pinching pain in your shoulder every time you lift your arm or try to push something away from you. That’s what shoulder impingement can feel like. It can be incredibly frustrating and limiting, impacting not only your workouts but also your day-to-day activities. Nobody wants to wince in pain each time they reach for a cup of coffee or pick up their child. Let’s make sure you never have to face that discomfort!

Biomechanical Explanation: Shoulder impingement occurs when the rotator cuff tendons and subacromial bursa get pinched between the humeral head and the acromion process. During the bench press, this risk increases due to excessive elbow flaring and improper hand placement, which can lead to inflammation, pain, and decreased range of motion.

Counter It: Focus on proper form to minimize the risk of shoulder impingement. Keep your elbows tucked in at a 45-degree angle to your body, and ensure your grip width is slightly wider than shoulder-width. Additionally, you can perform rotator cuff strengthening exercises, such as external rotations and face pulls, to keep the shoulder joint stable and healthy.

Risk 2: Wrist Strain

Picture this: You’re lifting a heavy box, and suddenly, you feel a sharp pain in your wrist that lingers even after you put the box down. Wrist strain can sneak up on you and make everyday tasks like typing, cooking, or even shaking hands an agonizing experience. Trust me; you don’t want to find yourself trying to explain your bench press-induced wrist pain to your friends or colleagues. Let’s help you avoid that awkward conversation!

Biomechanical Explanation: Wrist strain is a common issue during the bench press. It occurs when the wrists are bent backward under the weight, causing excessive strain on the wrist joint and surrounding ligaments. This improper alignment can lead to pain, inflammation, and even long-term damage.

Counter It: To prevent wrist strain, make sure to maintain a neutral wrist position throughout the movement. Keep your wrists straight and aligned with your forearms, and grip the bar firmly to distribute the weight evenly. Wrist wraps can also provide additional support and stability, especially during heavier lifts.

Risk 3: Pectoral Tears

Envision the shock and intense pain of feeling your chest muscle suddenly give way during a heavy bench press. A pectoral tear can be an excruciating experience, not to mention the long road to recovery and the potential impact on your fitness goals. Just think about having to put your chest workouts on hold for months or even longer. We’re here to make sure you don’t have to face that setback!

Biomechanical Explanation: Pectoral tears, although rare, are a serious risk associated with the bench press. They occur when the pectoralis major muscle experiences excessive stress, causing the muscle fibers to rupture. This can happen due to overloading, inadequate warm-up, or improper form, such as allowing the elbows to flare excessively.

Counter It: To reduce the risk of pectoral tears, start by warming up properly and gradually increasing the weight. Focus on maintaining proper form, keeping your elbows tucked in, and controlling the movement throughout the entire range of motion. Strengthening the surrounding muscles, such as the triceps and deltoids, can also help prevent pectoral tears.

Risk 4: Lower Back Strain

Imagine bending over to tie your shoes and feeling a stabbing pain in your lower back. That’s what lower back strain can do to you. It’s a nagging, persistent discomfort that can make even the most mundane tasks feel like a challenge. The last thing you want is to be sidelined by lower back pain when you’re trying to crush your fitness goals. Let’s work together to keep your back happy and healthy!

Biomechanical Explanation: The bench press, when performed with an excessive arch in the lower back, can place unnecessary strain on the lumbar spine. This exaggerated arch compresses the discs and vertebrae, leading to lower back pain and discomfort.

Counter It: Focus on maintaining a natural arch in your lower back by engaging your core and glute muscles throughout the lift. Avoid hyperextending your lower back and consider using a slightly wider foot stance to improve stability. Additionally, incorporate core-strengthening exercises, such as planks and dead bugs, to support your spine during heavy lifts.

Risk 5: Uneven Muscle Development

Picture looking in the mirror and noticing that one side of your chest is noticeably larger or more defined than the other. Uneven muscle development can be discouraging and make you feel self-conscious about your appearance. Plus, it can lead to other issues like muscle imbalances and increased risk of injury. You deserve to feel confident and balanced, so let’s tackle this issue head-on!

Biomechanical Explanation: When one side of your body is stronger or more dominant, it can lead to uneven muscle development during the bench press. This imbalance not only reduces overall strength but can also increase the risk of injury due to improper muscle activation and compensation.

Counter It: To address uneven muscle development, focus on unilateral exercises like single-arm dumbbell bench press and single-arm cable chest press. These exercises help to isolate and strengthen the weaker side, promoting balanced muscle development. Additionally, during the bench press, concentrate on engaging both sides of your chest evenly and maintaining proper form.

Risk 6: Elbow Hyperextension

Visualize the jolt of pain you feel when your elbow suddenly extends too far during a bench press. That’s elbow hyperextension, and it can leave you with a sore, tender joint that aches long after you’ve finished your workout. You don’t want to be the person wincing every time you reach for a door handle or struggle to carry a bag of groceries. Let’s work on keeping those elbows safe and pain-free.

Biomechanical Explanation: Elbow hyperextension occurs when the elbow joint extends beyond its normal range of motion. During the bench press, this can happen if you fully lock out your elbows at the top of the movement, placing excessive stress on the joint and surrounding connective tissues.

Counter It: To prevent elbow hyperextension, focus on maintaining a slight bend in your elbows at the top of the lift. This will keep tension on the chest muscles and minimize stress on the elbow joint. Strengthening the surrounding muscles, like the triceps and forearms, can also help to protect the joint and maintain stability during the lift.

Risk 7: Inadequate Range of Motion

Imagine struggling to reach for something on a high shelf or feeling restricted when trying to give someone a hug. An inadequate range of motion can make you feel stiff and limited in your daily life. It can also hold you back from achieving your full potential in the gym. Life is too short to feel held back by your own body, so let’s help you unlock your full range of motion and live life to the fullest!

Biomechanical Explanation: Using an inadequate range of motion during the bench press can lead to underdeveloped chest muscles and limited functional strength. Partial reps, or not lowering the bar to touch your chest, can cause muscle imbalances and increase the risk of injury during other activities.

Counter It: Aim for a full range of motion by lowering the bar to touch your chest and then pressing it up until your arms are fully extended. If mobility is a concern, work on improving your shoulder flexibility with stretching exercises and mobility drills. You can also incorporate variations like dumbbell bench press or push-ups to help improve your range of motion.

Conclusion: Embrace the Light Side of the Bench Press

The bench press is undoubtedly a powerful exercise for building a strong, sculpted chest. However, it’s crucial to be aware of the hidden risks and take the necessary precautions to avoid injury. By focusing on proper form, incorporating accessory exercises, and addressing imbalances, you can conquer the dark side of the bench press and embrace its full potential.

Remember, knowledge is power, and now that you know the seven hidden risks of the bench press, you can continue your fitness journey with confidence. Stay safe, stay strong, and let the gains begin!

2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Bench Press: 7 Hidden Risks You Need to Know”

    • Thanks John… great question!! I must update the article to include some recommended alternatives. But I would play it safe with (i) dumbbell bench press, with elbows close to the body and palms facing each other; and, (ii) press ups using push up stands for a deeper range of movement.


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