You love to bench-press, but your shoulders refuse to cooperate. In fact, shoulder pain has become such a limiting factor that you’ve switched your bench training completely over to dumbbells.

This seemed like a solid plan at first, but now you’re in full panic mode because—even with this supposedly lightened load—your joints are still screaming. The average gym guy’s bench press is typically a comedy of technical errors. For most trainees, the problem with benching has nothing to do with their shoulders and everything to do with the fact that they’ve never been coached properly and have no idea how to perform the movement without hurting themselves. Before you scrap benching altogether, first consider these three technique fixes that can make a big difference instantly.


Consider the angle at which you press the dumbbells. If benching with a barbell causes you pain, why would you want to hold dumbbells the same way? Pressing with a palms-facing grip is perfectly acceptable—and even preferable—because it’s the first step in alleviating pressure on your shoulder joints.


Tuck your elbows on the eccentric portion of the lift. Flaring them way out to your sides is not the proper way to bench. You’re depriving yourself of a lot of power from the bottom of the lift, while forcing your shoulders to rotate through far too large a range of motion. Tucking your elbows to your sides on the downstroke of the lift requires less rotation, puts considerably less stress on your joints, and helps you generate much more force—allowing you to handle more weight.


Finally, pay attention to the position of your hands in relation to your elbows. When you start to drive the dumbbells upward, your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor, with the dumbbells directly over your shoulders. This is your force vector—a straight line that begins at your elbows and extends through your hands and into the ceiling.