How To Fix Your Uneven Bench Press (5 Solutions)

If you perform the bench press uneven, then your technique is being compromised and you need to implement some key fixes to regain stability and strength. While the bench press is a complex movement, the fixes for an uneven bench are quite simple.

Here are the 5 ways to fix an uneven bench press:

  • Properly position your torso on the bench
  • Ensure you have chosen the right grip
  • Retract and depress your scapula
  • Identify and correct any mobility issues
  • Identify and correct any muscular imbalances

A lot of people will assume that an uneven bench press is simply caused by muscular imbalances. However, that is only one of the potential reasons, and in this article, we’ll take a holistic approach to fix your bench press technique. Let’s get started!

Do You Have An Uneven Bench Press?

An uneven bench press is when you either bring the weight down or press the weight up with one side higher than the other.

Example of an uneven bench press. Image courtesy of IF World Design Guide.

Mechanically, the loading is being distributed more on one side of the body than the other. This should be one of the first aspects of your movement pattern that is corrected (mostly since it’s an easy fix!).

The consequence of bench pressing unevenly is that it will increase stress at the level of the shoulder. While this isn’t necessarily bad in the short term, repeated unwarranted stress on a single joint over time can lead to subtle pain, and under the worst case, a full-blown injury.

The benefit of fixing your uneven bench press is that you’ll be rewarded with a more mechanically efficient range of motion, and thus, a stronger lift.

Should You Be Worried If You Have An Uneven Bench press?

You obviously don’t want to be benching unevenly forever.

As I said, an uneven bench press can lead to injury if not corrected over time. So you’ll definitely want to identify the root cause of the problem and implement solutions to fix it.

Whether or not you should worry about an uneven bench press is determined by:

  • How small or big is the movement deficiency
  • How heavy you’re benching

If the uneven movement pattern is only minor, then this is not a sign for alarm. The body is fairly resilient at handling uneven forces on the body. So while you’ll still want to implement solutions to correct it, don’t freak out in the short-term thinking you’re going to wake up injured the next day.

Also, if you notice that you only bench uneven as the load gets heavier, then simply reduce the load to maintain balance in the movement. Any technical inefficiencies under maximal load though should be cause for concern.

5 Reasons Why Your Bench Press Is Uneven + How To Fix

Let’s now talk about the 5 reasons why you bench press uneven and what the solutions are to the problem. The first couple of reasons are fairly straight forward and quick to fix, but the others in this list will require a bit more effort.

1. Haven’t positioned your torso properly on the bench

Problem: You haven’t set up your torso on the bench press properly.

If you simply lay down on the bench, take the weight off the rack, and start pressing, you’re most certainly missing key elements of your technique that will allow you to bench press more evenly.

Solution: Ensure that you’re being intentional with where your body is positioned on the bench

Your torso should naturally be centered on the bench press so that one side or the other isn’t further to the right or left.

While this might seem like a simple piece of advice, many lifters haven’t spent any time thinking about their body position previously, so drawing your attention to it can make you aware of any minor differences or imbalances.

Fixing an uneven bench:  Position torso evenly on the bench press
Position your torso evenly on the bench press to avoid any imbalances

Note: Ensuring you’re not ‘falling’ to one side or the other is particularly difficult for bigger individuals who have a wide back. This is because they are going to have a portion of their lats hanging off the side of the bench, and therefore, their torso won’t be supported by the entire surface. Even small differences in being off centre for these individuals can create a big problem.

2. Haven’t chosen the right grip

Problem: your grip is uneven on the barbell

If you grip the bar further to one side or the other, then when you start pressing the load will be displaced more over your right or left shoulder accordingly.

Solution: be intentional with where your hands are on the barbell

If you haven’t thought about your grip previously, this is definitely an easy solution to implement.

As a general rule of thumb, you want to use the same grip on the barbell every time you set up the bench press (unless you’re purposely doing a specific variation that changes your grip). To determine whether your grip is the same, use the hash-marks, the rings on the barbell, to line up your hand width.

Most powerlifters like to put either their index or middle finger directly on the hash-mark. This ensures an even grip every time you bench press.

3. The scapula is “winging”

Problem: The scapula is slides off the rib cage while benching (i.e. ‘winging’).

The scapula refers to your shoulder blades.

Your shoulder blades are supposed to be pulled ‘back and down’ on the rib cage to stabilize the shoulder joint while benching. In the case of an uneven bench press, it’s due to one (not both) of the scapula moving off the rib cage.

When the scapula moves off the rib cage, it will either slide out to the side or upward.

Uneven bench press fix:  set your scapula position.
Left: Scapula retraction. Centre: Scapula pronation. Right: Scapula elevation.

If you’re experiencing scapula winging, it’s due to three reasons:

Solution: learn the proper scapular position, how to set it up on the bench press, and strengthen weak muscles.

My favorite exercise for teaching proper scapular control is a “scapular push up”.

Use the scapular push up to fix an uneven bench press
Scapular push-up on the knees

This will force lifters to both pronate and retract the shoulder blade, which teaches each position accordingly. Once lifters know what a ‘pronated’ shoulder position feels like, they will be much better at identifying a ‘retracted’ shoulder position.

When you’re positioning your body underneath of the barbell in your set-up, ensure that you’re pulling your shoulder blades ‘down’ and ‘back’ prior to lifting the weight off the rack. This might feel a bit strange at first, but let’s look at an example.

Notice how Amanda Lawrence, 84k Junior World Powerlifting Champion, lifts her upper body off the bench press to pull the shoulders back before taking the bar out.

It’s much harder to gain an effective shoulder position once you have the load in your hand. So be intentional with your scapular position before taking the barbell off the rack.

Next, you might understand the proper scapular position and can set it up effectively while benching, but as the weight gets heavier or you get closer to fatigue, you lose it. If this is the case, then you have weak low/mid traps and rhomboids.

Your low/mid traps and rhomboids are muscles in your upper back that are responsible for scapular retraction and depression.

Muscles used in scapular control
Left: Rhomboids. Right: Low/Mid Traps.

If these muscles are weak, there are some key exercises that you should implement into your routine. You often don’t need a lot of weight to target these muscles, and in fact, if you are using a lot of weight then you’re likely compensating with bigger muscles in your back, such as the lats.

Here are three exercises to increase low/mid trap and rhomboid strength:

Prone Trap 3 Raise

Seated Low-Trap Scapular Row

Band Pull-Apart

4. There is some sort of mobility issue

Problem: you lack the shoulder mobility required to perform the bench press movement evenly

In the bench press, the shoulder is responsible for several actions:

  • Shoulder flexion: like a front delt raise
  • Shoulder horizontal flexion: like a pec fly
  • Shoulder external rotation: like pulling your arm back to throw a ball

If one of these movements is ‘tighter’ on one side than the other then it could contribute to an uneven bench press.

Solution: test to see if you’re lacking shoulder mobility and implement exercises and drills to correct.

Let’s address each of the actions of the shoulder separately and discuss the exercises that you should implement to increase mobility.

Shoulder Flexion

To test, take your arms straight and lift them in front of you so that you’re trying to reach overhead.

Fix uneven bench press: understand your mobility
Test your shoulder flexion mobility to diagnose your uneven bench press

If you feel like you can get one arm over your head with more range of motion than the other, then you likely have some mobility issues with shoulder flexion.

If this is the case, then implement the following exercise into your routine:

Shoulder Horizontal Flexion

To test, lie on a foam roller and extend your arms out to the side.

Test your shoulder flexion mobility to diagnose your uneven bench press
Test your horizontal flexion mobility to diagnose your uneven bench press

Make any observations about one arm being ‘closer to the ground’ than the other. If you notice any asymmetries, then you likely have some mobility issues with shoulder horizontal flexion.

If this is the case, then implement the following exercise into your routine:

Shoulder External Rotation

To test, lie on your side with one arm bent at 90-degrees.

Test your external shoulder rotation mobility to diagnose your uneven bench press
Test your external shoulder rotation mobility to diagnose your uneven bench press

Make any observations about how close your one wrist is to the floor compared with the other. If you notice that one shoulder has more range of motion, then you likely have some mobility issues with shoulder external rotation.

If this is the case, then implement the following exercise into your routine:

5. There is some sort of muscular imbalance

The problem: Muscles responsible for bench press, either the pecs, shoulders, or triceps, are weaker on one side.

Muscular imbalances are common, and most people will have some sort of ‘dominant’ side. The issue becomes when we try and exert force under a heavy load with one side being dominant than the other. The limiting factor becomes how much force can the ‘weaker’ side handle before giving up.

You’ll know you have this problem if the other reasons for having an uneven bench press don’t apply. In addition, you might also notice that certain muscles fatigue more quickly on one side, not just in the bench press, but in other movements too (overhead pressing, tricep extensions, shoulder raises, etc.).

The solution: Implement specific exercises to bring up the strength of the ‘weaker’ side.

When you have muscular imbalances, it will take a few months of targetted effort to correct. Out of the entire list already discussed, this is the one that has the longest timeframe to fix.

For the most part, you’ll want to implement single arm work to bring up the strength on the ‘weaker’ side. While you’re working on improving the strength on the ‘weaker side’ the goal for the ‘dominant side’ is simply to maintain strength.

Here’s the protocol you should follow:

  • Start with your weaker side first
  • Use weights that feel right for your weak side (not your strong side)
  • Keep the number of reps the same on both sides (even though you could probably do more on your dominant side)

The following are some of my favorite exercises for improving muscular imbalances:

Weak Chest Muscles

The video below shows an ‘isometric bench press’ where the goal is to set up the pins at your sticking point and drive into the pins as hard as possible. What you want to avoid is having one side losing contact with the pins. Once it does, stop, because your dominant side is starting to take over.

This video shows an alternating DB bench press. Start with both dumbbells on your chest, and perform one complete rep with your right arm before using your left arm. The dumbbell that is not ‘pressing’ should be hovering just over the chest so that it remains ‘active’ throughout the entire set.

Weak Tricep Muscles

This video shows a single rope overhead tricep extension. What you want to implement is a slow eccentric (4-5 seconds) for both sides.

Weak Shoulder Muscles

This video shows a single-arm lateral raise.

Final Thoughts

Fixing your uneven bench press starts with identifying some of the potential causes.

Once you’ve honed in on why you think it’s happening in the first place, then you can begin to implement corrections to fix it. Most of the fixes discussed can be solved within a matter of days and weeks, at most, a couple of months.