It’s about time we tackled this one. Although typical readers of a post like this will be guys, I’ll do my best to not exclude the ladies out there interest in some good chest workout tips. Despite all the jokes and cliches there’s just something special about the bench press. You can see it in peoples eyes when they walk into the gym and see that we have a bench press workout on the board. Where as squats and deadlifts are like vegetables, the bench press is desert. Globo gyms know this and is why you’ll see a seemingly endless row of benches upon entry, each designed to target a specific angle as to leave no stone unturned in pursuit of the perfect chest. However, to find out where they keep the squat racks in this 20,000 square foot facility you’ll need to ask a trainer who will most likely point you to a quite corner of the mega gym where you can squat alone in peace.
Lets be honest, despite all the evidence pointing to its relatively low functional applicability nothing makes us feel more like a beast than getting our party pump on. When we think of the physical specimens of our time rarely are we commenting on their huge quads or glutes. It’s always chest and shoulders. For this reason, there will always be a huge number of people (mostly guys) looking for “the secrete” to a great chest and shoulders.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to bench press as much as anyone and since it’s obviously not going anywhere we might as well learn how to do it right and in the proper proportions. The trap many fall into is prioritizing chest workouts over the rest of the body. If you want bigger pecs fine, just make sure you’re not doing it despite the health of your shoulders.
Arnold Schwarzenegger often wrote about his 2:1 back to chest training ratio. He, who had a monster chest, understood that in order to keep those shoulder in the right place he had to do extra work on his back. The problem is as your chest muscles build they shorten and combined with poor posture roll your shoulder forward limiting your range of motion and causing your body to over compensate for all other movements. This can lead to neck, shoulder and back pain if proportional back training and mobility are overlooked.
Key points to the perfect bench press:
- Lie on the bench so that the barbell is about an inch behind your eye line. There’s nothing worse than grinding through a tough rep and smacking the rack on your way up because you’re too close.
- Once you unrack the barbell lock your arms out in the “set” position directly above your nipple line (no giggling).
- Before you begin to descend the barbell pull your shoulder blades back and down activating your lats. This serves to stabilize your shoulders as your pecs perform the action of the lift.
- Once your lats are engaged act as if you’re bending the bar into a horseshoe. In other words, rotate your elbow pits out. This completes the “bracing sequence” and ensures that we’re keeping our pecs the primary movers. If our elbow pits rotate inwards on the other hand then you’re inhibiting your chest causing your shoulders to grind through the movement.
If you find that you are having a difficult time keeping your elbow pits out and lats engaged then it could be that you’re trying to lift too much weight. In that case, drop down in weight and hold yourself to the standards mentioned above. Allow your strength to build proportionally and check your ego at the door. You will not only achieve the great aesthetics for which we all strive, but also the postural and shoulder health that will continue to serve you in your athletic pursuits.