If you’re feeling bench press in your shoulders, then you’re probably not doing the exercise properly.
Let’s look at the reasons why you may feel bench press in your shoulders as well as ways to fix it.
Feeling Bench Press In Shoulders?
In my 10+ years’ experience of training, I’ve found the following reasons explain why you feel your shoulders work in bench press:
- Weak Chest Muscles
- Errors In Technique
- Poor Mind-To-Muscle Connection
- Too Wide Grip
- Poor Posture
- Weak Shoulder Muscles
- Shoulder Injury
- Lifting Too Heavy
- Doing Shoulder Exercises Before Bench Press
Let’s explore these in more detail.
1. Weak Chest Muscles
The bench press is a compound exercise. This means it works multiple muscle groups at the same time, including your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
So, if any one of these muscle groups are particularly weak, the others have to compensate so that you can actually lift the weight.
If you have weak chest muscles, your shoulders and triceps must do extra work. As a result, you’re more likely to feel bench press in your shoulders and triceps rather than your chest.
Solution: Strengthen Your Chest Muscles
By strengthening your chest muscles, they’ll be able to push more weight during bench press which will take some of the load off your shoulders and triceps.
Less load on shoulders means that you’ll feel the exercise in your chest rather than your shoulders.
To strengthen your chest muscles, you can either do compound movements like bench press and push-ups or isolation exercises like flyes and pec dec.
Isolation exercises solely work the chest, so these are great if you want focus specifically on strengthening your chest.
2. Errors In Technique
Another common reason why you feel bench press in your shoulders is errors in your lifting technique.
Common technique errors that I see include:
- Flared-out elbows
- Not retracting your shoulder blades
- Not completing the full range of motion
Solution: Use The Correct Technique
Rather than flaring out your elbows, the elbows should be approximately 45 degrees away from your body. This helps keep the focus on your chest and will reduce the risk of injury.
Also, on the eccentric (negative) part of the movement, you should be squeezing your shoulder blades together to create a stable foundation. This helps take the weight off your shoulders.
Completing the full range of motion by ensuring the bar touches your chest with each rep is vital too if you want to maximize pectoral activation.
3. Poor Mind-To-Muscle Connection
One of the most ignored and underappreciated aspects of training is the mind-to-muscle connection.
This phenomenon describes the deliberate effort of contracting a specific muscle.
If your mind-to-muscle connection is subpar, there’s a good chance that you won’t feel the exercise in your chest and will feel it more in your shoulders instead.
Solution: Dial In Your Mind-To-Muscle Connection
To improve your mind-to-muscle connection during bench press, rather than thinking of pushing the bar vertically, imagine that you’re driving the weight up with your chest.
This will do a great job of engaging your chest and taking some of the focus off your shoulders.
While this may seem a bit woowoo, research shows that it actually works.
In one study, 30 subjects were split into 2 groups. One group were to told to simply move the weight, and the other group was instructed to focus on contracting the muscle.
The results showed that after 8 weeks, those who were instructed to focus on muscle contraction experienced significantly more bicep growth than the other group.
4. Too Wide A Grip
When benching, the wider your grip, the smaller the range of motion is for your pectorals.
This is because you can’t lift the weight as high as your arms are pushing more to the side rather than vertical.
Now, the smaller the range of motion for your chest, the less work it’s able to do when moving the weight.
To compensate, your shoulders and triceps have to work harder, causing you to feel the exercise more in your shoulders and triceps rather than your chest.
Solution: Narrow Your Grip
By using a grip slightly bigger than shoulder width, your chest will be more involved in the exercise resulting in less shoulder activation.
5. Poor Posture
If you’re feeling your shoulders when benching, there’s a good chance that your posture is wrong.
I see many people bench press with their shoulders rounded and their back flat on the bench.
This posture ultimately leads to your shoulders getting more involved than they should.
Solution: Fix Your Posture
When benching, your chest should be high with your shoulders back.
Only your glutes and shoulder blades should be touching the bench, and your spine should be approximately one fist away from the bench.
Doing this will make a big difference when it comes to feeling the exercise in your pecs.
6. Weak Shoulder Muscles
As covered earlier, the bench press works your chest, shoulders, and triceps.
If you have weak shoulder muscles, then these may fatigue before your chest and triceps.
When your shoulders start to fatigue, you’ll feel a burning sensation in the muscle.
Solution: Strengthen Your Shoulders
By getting stronger shoulders, they’ll be able to keep up with your chest and triceps during bench press and they won’t fatigue so soon.
The deltoid muscles have 3 heads:
- Anterior Deltoids (Front Delts)
- Lateral Deltoids (Side Delts)
- Posterior Deltoids (Rear Delts)
It’s important to work on them all, so doing a range of shoulder exercises like shoulder press, lateral raises, and face pulls will go a long way in improving your bench press.
7. Shoulder Injury
If you feel a sharp pain in your shoulders when benching, there’s a possibility that you’re carrying a shoulder injury.
If this is the case, you should stop doing any form of pressing until your shoulder has fully healed.
Solution: Rule Out Any Injuries And Rest If You Are Injured
Any pain felt in your shoulders during bench press should be mild and familiar.
Anything sharp and sudden could indicate an injury. If this is the case, you should seek the advice of your medical professional as soon as possible to rule out any injuries.
If they determine that you’re carrying a shoulder injury, then you should rest until it heals before doing any pressing exercises.
8. Lifting Too Heavy
The bench press is definitely an ego exercise, and I see too many people trying to lift a weight beyond their capability.
When you bench a weight that’s too heavy for your current strength levels, your secondary muscles become more involved in the exercise and you’re more likely to screw up the technique.
Both of these factors can result in you feeling the exercise in your shoulders more than your chest.
Solution: Lift A Sensible Weight
If you’re wanting to feel your chest work more in bench press, you should be lifting a weight that you can comfortably do at least 8 reps with.
9. Doing Shoulder Exercises Before Bench Press
Some people like to train chest and shoulders on the same day.
If you do this and you train your shoulders first, then your shoulders will likely be fatigued when it comes round to doing your chest exercises, like bench press.
Doing bench press with fatigued shoulders will often result in your shoulders tiring out before your chest muscles. Therefore, you’ll feel the exercise in your shoulders rather than chest.
Solution: Train Your Chest First
If you’re training multiple muscle groups on the same day, it’s usually a good idea to train the biggest muscle group first.
So, if you train your chest and shoulders together, you should do bench press before starting any shoulder-specific exercises.
Should You Feel It In Your Shoulders When Benching?
Since your shoulders work as secondary muscles during bench press, it’s normal to feel them work during the exercise.
That being said, your chest is the main muscle involved in the exercise, so if you feel it in your shoulders but not your chest, there’s a good chance that you’re doing something wrong.
It can be annoying when you feel bench press in your shoulders rather than chest. Luckily, there are several ways to fix this:
- Strengthen Your Chest Muscles
- Use The Correct Technique
- Dial In Your Mind-To-Muscle Connection
- Narrow Your Grip
- Fix Your Posture
- Strengthen Your Shoulders
- Rule Out Any Injuries And Rest If You’re Injured
- Lift A Sensible Weight
- Train Your Chest First
Hope this helped!
I’ve been in the fitness and strength training industry for nearly a decade. In that time, I’ve gained 30 pounds of muscle, written hundreds of articles, and reviewed dozens of fitness supplements. As for my educational background, I’m a currently studying for my Active IQ Level 3 Diploma in Personal Training.