The Shoulder Friendly Chest Workout
Last Update  On December 11, 2011
There are far too many people that will complain from shoulder pain during chest work. There are two main reasons for that - too much volume and using the wrong exercises for your body type.  The following workout is based on my experience with chest training and shoulder pain occurring from it. While my chest is not my strongest bodypart partly due to shoulder problems I had to come up with alternative solutions to the classic chest movements such as the barbell bench press.
Beginner's Workout:

Rest between sets: 1 min
Rest between exercises: No rest just go to the next station and prepare the needed equipment.


Wide grip push-ups on rings - Full Chest Emphasis

Start with 3 sets to failure. When you can perform more than 8 reps per set add weight by using chains around your neck or a weight vest and switch to 2 warm-up sets for 10-12 reps and 1 (one) working set for 6-8 reps with added weight. After the work set perform one back-off set without weight and go to form failure. Aim for at lest 6 reps.

Important tips for proper execution of the movement:

Use a wide grip in order to activate the chest and also bring the handles of the rings or the suspension training system you are using together at the top of the movement. This will add an element of a fly into the movement and will further increase the chest involvement. You will find that as you get tired it will become harder and harder to bring the handles together but you still have to do it. Otherwise you are not getting full benefit from the exercise.

Why is this exercise shoulder friendly?

The rings allow your shoulders to find a position where they feel less pain and unlike the barbell bench press you are not forced to follow a certain pattern. Make sure you use a wide grip but don't go any wider than you shoulder allows you to. I for example can go super wide grip on these push-ups but the bench press kills my shoulder if I go wider than medium.

Note: Some people may find ring push-ups hard at the beginning. In order to decrease the difficulty of the exercise just set the handles of the rings higher. This will make the exercise much easier. After time lower them down as you get stronger.
This is one of the ways to add weight to your ring-push-up.
Use wide grip like this girls for chest activation.
Incline Dumbbell Press - Upper chest Emphasis

2 warm-up sets between 10-12 reps;
1 working set to failure between 6-10 reps;

Note: If you perform only 6 reps for your working set add a back-off set using a lighter weight and aim for 8-10 reps.

Important tips for proper execution of the movement:

Use a medium to wide grip, arch your back and focus on squeezing the chest and actively thinking about it.
Why is this exercise shoulder friendly: In general the incline is more shoulder friendly that the flat bench due to the position of the upper arm and the smaller shoulder strain at the bottom of the movement. Also doing it with dumbbells will make it even kinder to the shoulders because the joint will be able to find a soft spot where there is no pain at all.

This is the beginning version of the program. Do it a for a few weeks once every 5-7 days in order to get used to the exercises and than switch to the more advanced version.

Advanced Version:

Wide grip ring push-ups:

2 warm-ups sets - 10-12 reps;
1 working sets with added weight - 6-8 reps
1 working set to failure without weight;
1 working set to failure with the handles of the rings set a little higher in order to make the exercise easier;

1 working set to failure with the rings a little higher (you may skip this if you find it too much);

Rest 1 min to 90 sec between the warm-up sets and the weighted working set.

Rest 30 seconds between the other sets.

Over time reduce those 30 seconds to 20 than 15...

Add weight (around 2.5 kg / 5 pounds) to your weighted working set once you can perform 8 reps or more with the current weight.

Incline Dumbbell Press

2 warm-ups sets - 10-12 reps;
1 working sets - 6-8 reps;

After your main working set perform 3 drops sets to form failure with lighter dumbbells. Rest 1 min to 90 sec between the warm-up sets and the working set but don't rest more than 20 seconds between the drop sets. Use the pink weights if you must but keep the form strict each set.

This is it. Any questions?

"Bro...why only two exercises?"

First, too many people do a lot of volume and a lot of exercises on their chest day without realizing that the shoulder is also taking a beating during each of the exercises. This program is aimed towards people with nagging and chronic shoulder pain from too much pressing work. Therefor the exercise are reduced to the most effective movements I've done for my chest muscles. Keep in mind that this is my view. You may have to change something according to your body signals. Listen your body. This will be your main guide. Not me.

"Ok. Why only one working set?"

For the very same reason - too much work is a problem with chest and complaining shoulders. Also I found that if you do too many sets people are getting sloppy with their form. On top of that the warm-ups sets and the drop sets will add to the volume. At the end of your last drop set to failure you will know why there are only two exercises and one working set.

"Hmmm....ok but when should I train my shoulders if I decide to train my chest that way?"

Well, depending on how your shoulder feels you may add a shoulder workout later during the week but keep in mind that the front deltoids are worked super hard during your chest workout so be very very kind to them. On the other hand the rear deltoids and the middle deltoids do close to nothing during those exercises and you can punish them harder.

Conclusion: In order to effectively work your chest when your shoulders complain stay away form barbells and machines and stick to dumbbells or anything that allows your joints to move freely such as the gymnastic rings. Also don't over-train your chest.
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