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The Bench Press

Jun 20, 2012


Arguably, the bench press is an exercise that is performed a lot in the gym and deserves a lot of merit. This exercise engages your pectoralis major, triceps brachaii, anterior deltoid and serratus anterior. Before we dive into the bench press 101, I'm going to teach you about the anatomy; aka the fun stuff!! Chest anatomy 101: The chest is comprised of two muscles, the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major is comprised of two regions: sternal coastal (as seen in white to the right) and the clavicular (as seen in red to the right). The majority of the chest exercises that we implement engage the sterno-clavicular region (bench press included).

Exercises like the incline and inverted push-ups (feet on a bench) utilize the clavicular portion. I'm guessing you may have not heard of the aforementioned muscles; the serratus anterior and anterior deltoid. The bench press employs the chest and triceps, but also the anterior deltoid plays a role with humeral horizontal adduction (chest fly movement for all you non-nerds). This over worked muscle (anterior deltoid) is one reason why guys have that shoulders flexed, “I'm a tough guy look!” This anterior tilt is caused from working our mirror muscles too much and not balancing out the muscles on the backside; the rear deltoid or correctly referred to as the posterior deltoid. The anterior deltoid becomes very strong as it pulls on the humerus- this is called medial rotation. This happens because we typically do not engage the posterior deltoid as often as the anterior deltoid. Chest and shoulder exercises usually enlist the anterior deltoid, while exercises such as a lat-pulldown and cable row do not make use of the posterior deltoid to the same degree. To fix this, we need to implement a 3-1 ratio for posterior deltoids exercises to anterior deltoids. For example, if you bench press for 5 sets, in the same week you need to do wide grip lat pulls for 15 sets.

Bench Press 101 (click here for video): The proper form for a bench press includes the following: both feet on the ground, your low back, butt, upper back and head on the bench. The only reasons someone should put their feet on the bench is if they are not tall enough and they are arching their back and/or they have a lower back problem. One WILL compromise force production by putting your feet on the bench; open vs closed kinetic. We can produce maximal strength when at least our hands or feet are in a fixed position. Closed is seen with a squat, pull-up or bench press with feet on the ground. Open is seen in a knee-extension, knee curl or bench press with feet on bench. Choose a hand grip that is just outside of shoulder width apart. If you want to engage your triceps more, choose a grip much closer. Control the bar when lowering it down to your chest and try not to bounce it; this will make some regions of your chest vulnerable to injury. IF and only IF you have a shoulder injury (impingement, frozen shoulder or torn rotator cuff) do not go all the way until the bar touches your chest, stop at 90 degrees. Otherwise, bringing the bar to the chest is the proper way and actually more beneficial because you will be strengthening the tendons and ligaments. How do you properly perform a push-up? All the way down to the ground! This is what we need to do with the bench press. If you have been performing the bench press improperly and not going down all the way to your chest, lighten the weight and begin to expose your weaker areas. This will take time and may be ego deflating, but as I always stress, never compromise form for weight. Put your ego aside and begin performing one of the best chest exercises properly; all the way to your chest.

The Chest Workout:
Exercise group 1: Bench Press compound set into plyo push-ups 4 sets of 6-12 reps rest 2-3 minutes*
Exercise group 2: Incline Dumbbells compound set into incline fly's 4 sets of 8 rest 2-3 minutes*
Exercise group 3: Decline barbell presses 5-1-1 compound set into max push-ups (5 seconds down, 1 second pause, 1 second up; use 40-60% of 1rm) 4 sets of 10 rest 2-3 minutes* During resting periods feel free to implement $accessory muscles, core, cardio or stretching between sets ($ is a symbol I dubbed for muscles that do not require as much attention as your legs, chest, back and shoulders; these are calves, traps and forearms)

Now don't you dare start freaking out like the stage five clinger did on Wedding Crashers. Remember, knowledge is power and its my job to spread it effectively! Try doing this chest program 2 times a week. Incorporate your legs just as much because they are your building blocks for success. Hopefully ya'all are enjoying summer (officially starts today), smiling as much as possible, rocking your cowboy boots and most importantly Keep Showing Up. Shake and Bake!

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