This press works the pectorals well while reducing stress on the supraspinatus tendon, a frequent source of chronic shoulder pain.
In this exercise analysis (Quicktime ipod compatible, 11MB; Google streaming flash video), Nancy Arnold coaches me (Bud) as I demonstrate the Hammerstrength Iso-lateral decline chest press. I recently switched to the decline chest press to minimize chronic shoulder pain I had been experiencing at various times over the years from the traditional bench press. The good news is that this press seems to consistently be doing the trick.
Readers of this site will remark that we have spent a considerable amount of time on the topics of recovery from training and minor injuries. One result of this focus has been that we switched over to a periodized training program. This program has demonstrated to us that better training results can come from varying training intensity to allow our bodies adequate time to recover from heavy loads. We've also explored massage and other techniques that seem to accelerate the recovery process by breaking up muscle adhesions.
I had hoped that all of these approaches would lead to the disappearance of the shoulder pain I had been experiencing from time to time in the bench press. Julie Kouyate's deep tissue massage certainly helped the shoulder, periodically "curing" it, but the pain would return. Periodized training helped keep the problem from resurfacing too frequently until I began to significantly increase the weights I was bench pressing.
A discussion with my doctor during my annual physical revealed that I might be irritating the supraspinatus tendon (see third photo on the left). This tendon passes from the supraspinatus muscle, involved in rotating the shoulder outward, underneath the clavicle to attach to the upper arm. The tendon can become inflamed when the shoulder is rotated too far outward under load. For some people like myself, the bench press just naturally achieves this effect.
The decline press takes pressure off the shoulder to rotate outward while still working the pectorals. The Hammerstrength machine provides a particularly easy way to do the press. As illustrated in the first photo on the left one begins the press seated in the machine. The handles should come to just below chest level. To achieve the perfect handle height, I usually set the chair to just above the level that requires me to significantly move my shoulders during the lift. Then, as illustrated in the second photo on the left, I push my arms straight out and return under control to complete one rep.
One feature of the Hammerstrength machine is that, even though each hand moves independently, the machine locks in an arc of motion. This feature is advantageous if the arc suits your body's natural arc. It minimizes the potential for you to go off track and hurt yourself. If the machine's arc runs counter to your body's arc, you should find another solution.
I have also found the rotated dumbbell press and the decline dumbbell press to be effective exercises that minimize involvement of the supraspinatus tendon. My experience with the decline dumbbell press is that I have to be careful to keep the weight in a range that I can control. A danger with all decline exercises using free weights is that is easy for the shoulder to get out of line leading to an arc of movement that over stresses the shoulder tendons.
- This article gives a good description of what can go wrong with the supraspinatus tendon. However, contrary to the article's assertion, inflammation of the supraspinatus tendon can frequently be reduced by changing exercises without additional intervention. For any chronic pain, you should always consult your doctor to make sure you are addressing the proper cause.