Mobile Shoulders Push Big Benches

If you're reading this, you probably bench press. You also probably want to bench press more than you currently do right now. I'll also assume that you do some sort of soft tissue work with a foam roller, rumble roller, or a lacrosse ball if you really hate yourself. At the very least, you stretch out every once in a while. These are all very good things to do and will most certainly help keep all the sliding surfaces of your muscles untangled and feeling good. While these methods will help with the superficial aspects of mobility, deeper structural problems may be holding you back from pushing the kind of weight you're capable of. If not addressed, shoulder capsule problems can pull you into a constant internally rotated position and completely ruin your ability to press.

The shoulder capsule holds the humerus in the scapula and creates the glenohumeral joint or the “shoulder joint.” When lifters talk about having a “frozen shoulder,” they're referring to this area being very inflamed after some sort of significant trauma. If this area becomes tight and the humerus is pulled out of position, all the stretching and soft tissue work is just going to improve superficial muscle tone that rests on top of a deeper structural problem.

Anyone who has trained for a strength sport, or any sport really, knows that positioning and technique are key to success. Tight, bound-up shoulder capsules will pull your arms into the complete opposite of good bench press positioning.

Here are three easy mobility exercises that will loosen up the shoulder capsule, reset the humerus, and get you ready to smash some PRs:

1. Shoulder capsule PNF

Choke an average or a strong band around something that isn’t going to flip over and kill you. Slide one shoulder through the loop, place your hand palm out and flat against your lower back, and walk out until there is significant tension in the band. If your capsule is bound up, you will feel this almost immediately. Once you have some tension in the band, flex into the band as hard as you can for 5–10 seconds. Relax for 10–20 seconds and then repeat. Keep doing this until you feel a change in the area. A change could be a decrease in pressure or the feeling of the capsule loosening up. I suggest doing this for at least two minutes per shoulder.

2. Humeral resetting

Choke an average or a light band around something sturdy and set it up close to the floor. You are also going to need a heavy dumbbell for this one (I'm using a 60-lb one in the video below). Lie on the floor and loop the band around your upper arm so that your body is perpendicular to the direction the band is pulling. Place the heavy dumbbell into the hand of the arm in traction, get some tension on the band, and brace your elbow with the opposite hand. Once in this position, imagine trying to screw your arm into the floor. The band will pull your arm into traction, the weight will push your humerus into the back of the capsule, and you will slowly feel the capsule loosen against the floor. Use the same duration suggestions as with the shoulder capsule PNF.

3. Bench set-up mobility

Get set up the same way you did for the shoulder capsule PNF, except now you'll need a mini band in your hands. Walk out until there is significant tension on the band and perform 10 pull-aparts, 10 dislocations, and 10 overhead pull-aparts. Briefly hold the contraction at the end of each movement. Now that your capsule is loosened up and your humerus is set, these exercises will get your scapulae ready to be set up under the bar.

Here's a video showing all of these exercises. Heavy metal and checkered board shorts aren't required, but they help. Now go bench a lot.