You just hurt your shoulder benching so you book in with the nearest “sports physio” and you are excited to get going on your rehab. In the appointment they are going over all of these “special” exercises that have you lifting the little rubber dumbbells and playing around with some tiny “floss bands” - but they rip apart every time you try to pull them with any real force. You aren’t feeling any kind of challenge from these exercises and you can’t see how they are going to help you bench hundreds of pounds - you are beginning to feel that you will never get back to where you were.
If this has happened to you then I am sorry to inform you that you were scammed by bad rehab. As a result you can book a discovery call with me and I would be more than happy to show you what good rehab looks like.
Ok enough self-promotion.
What this kind of rehab misses out on is that the goal activity can be the rehab! You can change up certain parts of it in order to keep you working toward your goal while getting better. Not only will this help you get stronger while rehabbing, but it will help you mentally, since you will be able to see yourself progressing back to doing bench.
For the bench press some of the factors that you can change are:
- Grip width
The list goes on
Your left shoulder hurts whenever you are at the bottom of your bench so you get pissed off and skip bench for another day.
You have now missed benching for 2 weeks and the band exercises, e-stim, and Y T I exercises with 2.5lbs pound plates don’t seem to be helping. In fact, you are getting weaker and now 85% feels like a 1 rep max. There’s one simple trick that you can do for this! Just don’t touch your chest! Yes, cutting depth and still doing bench in the form of block press or larsen press can be your rehab. There is nothing magical about rehab exercises and in fact the more similar they are to your goal activity the better.
This will help you to keep heavy weight in your hands but you still need to work into the full range of motion
This one is nice and simple - just lower the weight so that you can still do the activity without aggravating your injury.
The hardest part about this step is keeping your ego in check. A helpful way to do that is to change the mindset around the movement - the focus should be on tolerance not getting stronger/fitter/etc. You are lowering the weight so that you can still do the goal activity without aggravating your pain/injury. The method that I like to teach for this is the 3 light system which you can watch here. This helps to make the progress seem tangible since you can track the comfort level with a certain weight over time.
Sometimes lowering the weight just doesn’t keep you interested though, how do we fix that?
Changing how fast you do the rep can be a great way to artificially add difficulty to a lower weight.
By slowing the reps down - on the eccentric, concentric, or both - you can increase the difficulty of a lighter weight. This can lower the weight to a comfortable level while also keeping the challenge high enough so that you are not getting bored with it. As a bonus, this can also help you to get close enough to failure to drive some meaningful hypertrophy gains.
All of this will allow you to keep doing your usual goal activity, but an injury can also have a silver lining.
Sometimes injuries can give us time to experiment with new techniques.
Experimenting with a new technique can have multiple benefits. Sometimes you discover that you are more comfortable with a different grip width that you may not have tried before - since experimenting could have resulted in a short term decrease to your numbers. Finding a more comfortable technique can increase your consistency and extend your lifting career. Another reason is that experimentation is fun! This can give you time to get out of your head with training and realize that there is more to life than lifting weights and more to lifting weights than doing squat, bench, and deadlift.
Sometimes it is easy to get caught up doing the same thing with lifting and get too hyper-focused on it. Experimenting with your technique can let you take a deep breath and widen your focus.
Don’t get bogged down with fancy exercises
At the end of the day all exercises are created equal and there is nothing magical about rehab exercises.
Just because you are using bands or tiny dumbbells, it doesn’t mean that those exercises are now somehow doing something else. All the exercise does is build strength, build tissue capacity, and change how your mind interacts with the stimulus. This means that any exercise can be a rehab exercise and more importantly your goal activity should be your rehab exercise. You don’t have to completely abandon benching just because of an injury, you can continue to do it, experiment with it, and have some fun all while getting better.
Don’t let people convince you that your body is broken, your goal activity is a bad exercise, and that you are so fragile that you need to do some shoulder movements with 2 pounds - how will those help you bench 3 plates?
*This is an informational resource and not medical advice, please consult your healthcare practitioner for diagnosis, treatment, and guidance.