The Do’s & Don’ts of The Bench Press

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One of the most common exercises in weight training, the Bench Press could be key in developing a strong chest, beneficial to any athlete. Whether you’re trying to max out, gain mass or maintain and develop powerful muscle, 3in1 has got you covered.

Barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, the chest press machine and the smith machine. Variations and varieties as far as the eye can see, but which one is best?

If you’re looking to get BIG…

In regards to adding strength AND size, the barbell bench press could be the way to go. However, everyone is different. See how you respond to different training regimens.

A barbell bench press is ideal for (most) gym goers who typically perform 3 upper body splits in a week. Why you ask? The barbell bench press is the godfather of all chest exercise developing the anterior and middle deltoids WHILE developing the pec major and tricep brachii meaning bigger all over.

If you’re on a 5 day upper split, it’s ok to try the machine press or pec deck IF you isolate arms on a separate day. The pec deck is similar to the barbell bench press for developing the anterior deltoids and pectoralis major but is not effective for the triceps brachii. Allow the separation of chest and arms days within a body part split routine if you’re just trying to get stacked. And finally, if you’re really trying to swell up the chest narrow-grip is NOT the way to go as the tricep carries more of the load than a wide or neutral grip would otherwise.

If you’re looking to improve your game…

The barbell bench press could be highly effective. Both the flat bench and incline bench varieties, depending on the sport. Flat bench press can be used for specifically targeting the lower part of the pectoralis major (i.e. the sternocostal head) and if you’re sport involves pushing horizontally. The lower part of the pectoralis major (i.e. the sternocostal head) and triceps can be further targeted by selecting a narrow rather than a wide grip.

Then move onto the incline barbell press….with the wide grip as displayed in the picture above. The goal in athletic performance training is to think of what’s most practical while reducing injury. The incline barbell’s plane of motion is more similar to an athlete on the run, or in a power movement resembling an upward force. This still tremendously develops pectoral muscles. The wide grip, here in particular, reduces the involvement of the triceps brachii placing more load on the pectorals themselves. Strong pecs = fast steps.

And if you’re just trying to get it right…
FIrst and foremost, if you experience pain when performing a bench press, STOP. The bench press qualifies as a bilateral movement (both sides move simultaneously), and many people experience pain with bilateral movement. Start with unilateral chest exercises first, with dumbbells, resistance bands, cables, etc. Click the chest variation below for sports, if you’re new to the exercise, or, if you experience pain in the shoulders or chest when moving the bar.

Once you’ve progressed to the chest press, there is still more to keep in mind to keep you injury free and pushing serious weight. Be sure to push the weight EVENLY from both sides, SIMULTANEOUSLY. Be sure you’re pushing through the correct plane of motion, hint, tune into the primary muscles you’re firing and push along the plane where you feel it the most.

Doesn’t matter what your goal is, or where your starting point may be. There are just some absolute DON’TS when training the chest:

Don’t use unstable surfaces. Unstable surfaces such as balance cushions or Swiss balls, are not recommended for bench press variations. The instability reduced the potential for developing the pectoralis major and triceps brachii which can lead to injury

Don’t reverse grip if biceps are weak. Reverse grip relies on the biceps for stability, but does not decrease the activity of the prime movers. Therefore, so long as the biceps brachii are not a weak link for a lifter, the reverse grip bench press could be used to train for the bench press effectively.

Don’t Use Full ROM – use YOUR ROM. If you want to increase pectoral strength and decrease injury susceptibility, find the proper range of motion for you. Full range of motion usually activates stabilizer muscles such as deltoids, triceps and even biceps. Whereas, partial or 90 degrees will not need the assistance, relying solely on the pectorals. Everyone’s depth is different, find your sweet spot where your pec is still contracting through each range.

Don’t ARCH YOUR BACK – arching your back will recruit less of the muscles you are actually trying to work, the pecs and triceps, and could result in injury. Keeping your back flat will ensure you are using the intended, primary muscles to execute the lift. Exceptions to the rule are if you are a power lifter, where the goal is to lift as much weight as possible, in this case, you’ll need other muscles to assist you in getting the weight up. If you are in a combine prep, it may be a good idea to arch the back as a variation to produce more reps when fatigued. However, be weary it may overexert back muscles causing injury.

Don’t do the decline press – too much emphasis on the anterior deltoids and may leave you susceptible to injury. But.. The decline bench press can be used for specifically working the very lowest portion of the pectoralis major, the lower sternocostal portion, although it does not appear to be equally effective for the upper part of the sternocostal portion.

Don’t EXTEND your wrist like the picture on the left – Grip makes a huge difference and can drastically improve your strength as you will recruit more of the muscles you are trying to work. You’re probably extending wrist because you have a lack of wrist stability and grip strength.

Correct this and I promise you will see gains quick, you may have to go down in weight from what you normally do, but trust me, you’ll thank me later as you will begin to correct and strengthen muscles you need to execute the lift.

With these helpful tips in mind, work variations in reps and sets into your workout routines involving the Bench Press to maximize your results. There are some serious gains to be made that a quality bench press will help you achieve. Period.