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I feel your pain. The incline dumbbell bench press can leave your shoulders sore for days. That’s because most lifters flare their elbows out during the press and this can cause a lot of stress on the front of the shoulder. Also, most lifters can’t get the dumbbells all the way down until they touch the chest, because they don’t have the shoulder mobility or stability. So they end up cutting the reps high.
My suggestion is to try to experiment with the angle of the bench. This can be a HUGE shoulder-saver for guys who have beat up shoulders. Lower the angle from 70 degrees to 45 degrees and the whole exercise will change. It can become much more effective, because you’ll be able to use heavier weights, move through a great range of motion, and not have sore shoulders for days afterwards.
On the other hand, if you want to find a replacement for the incline press, because you don’t have an incline bench, feet-elevated push-ups is a great substitute. You can overload the movement by raising the feet to a higher bench or put on a weight vest.
The best way to protect your lower back is to always be thinking about staying in a good position. Whenever you lift a weight – either with a bar on your back or holding a bar in your hands – a good position means a straight or neutral back.
To further simplify this, imagine someone is holding a broomstick along your back. Your head, mid-back and tailbone should all be in contact with the broomstick. This is the safest position your torso can be in when you are performing compound strength training movements.
The problem occurs when we get out of this neutral position, either because we are lifting too much weight that we can’t handle or we just don’t know the proper technique. This can be seen when we squat and we fall forward at the bottom and our back rounds over. Or, when deadlifting, we jerk the weight off the floor and our back rounds and our hips shoot up.
Focus on performing squats and deadlifts only through a range of motion where you can ALWAYS keep a straight back. Instead of full squats, you can perform box squats to a high box or goblet squats to dial your technique in and work on any weaknesses you have before progressing to a parallel or below squat movement. Deadlifts can be replaced and progressed with rack pulls from mid-quad, below the knee, mid-shin and finally back to full deadlifts off the floor.
Meet the Lift Doctor
Jim Smith is a highly respected, world-renowned strength and conditioning coach. A member of the LIVESTRONG.com Fitness Advisory Board, Jim has been called one of the most “innovative strength coaches” in the fitness industry. Training athletes, fitness enthusiasts and weekend warriors, Jim has dedicated himself to helping them reach “beyond their potential.” He is also the owner of Diesel Strength & Conditioning in Elmira, NY.