If you have ever had a shoulder injury, you do not need me to tell you how much it stinks. You just never realize how vital those deltoids are, until some part of them (often the ligaments keeping them in place) are damaged in some way. Suddenly, actions as mundane as washing your body or brushing your teeth become uncomfortable, and sometimes downright painful, to perform.
And going to the gym can feel like an outright torture session. With weight room culture being what it is, and stressing the two main exercises you should be doing as “the bench press, and every other lift,” it can be pretty discouraging to not be able to do the first part without mind numbing pain. In fact, you may just feel like chucking all of your muscle gains, eating lots of pasta and turning into a jogger. But all hope is not lost.
You can still work your chest, without putting undue strain on your shoulders. And the gains you make will actually strengthen your shoulder, because you will be easing your way back into its full range of use. No matter how you may be feeling at this moment, your body wants to heal itself. And it is doing its best. You just have to give it a chance, and take on a new regimen in the interim. Staying out of the gym completely is the surest route to long term pain, as your muscles will not heal properly (or stay strong and flexible) without continuing to work them.
The real keys to working your chest while your shoulder recuperates are:
1. Use low weight
Obviously, when you use a smaller amount of weight, you are not going to be straining your muscles or your joints to the same extent you would if you were jacking heavier weights. But you are doing the most important parts of weight lifting: increasing your mind to muscle link, keeping your flexibility through a full range of motion, and keeping in the positive habit of working out.
2. Bend differently
To figure out what I mean, extend one of your arms out in front of you regularly, and try to move it either way while your other arm holds onto it. Do you feel that your shoulder is doing most of the work? You most likely do.
Now try bending your arm at the elbow (kind of like you’re half way down in a pushup, with your elbow in close), and try to move it toward your chest then outward. Do you notice that a lot more of your work is being done by your chest and back?
You can use this new found bit of kinesthetic awareness to make your bench pressing (or rowing, or cable flying) a lot more comfortable on your shoulders. Just don’t get too comfortable, or you’ll turn into a wimp.