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Get More Out Of Your Bench Press

Posted by: Ron

The bench press is an extremely intricate exercise. Tiny tweaks can make tremendous differences both positive and negative, if done incorrectly.

Do the bench press correctly and get the most out of it

I've had a lot of bodybuilders tell me they had a hard time feeling their pecs work.  They'd get a great pump in their triceps and delts after bench pressing but very little in their pecs.

Doing the traditional bench press is disadvantageous to some people's physiology.  Vince Gironda knew this which is why he added a lot of modifications to his bench presses and preferred wide grip dips to work the chest.

The biggest drawback to the bench press is how the bench locks your shoulder blades and puts sheer force on the anterior capsule of the shoulders if you allow your elbows to go below the bench.  Mohamed Makkawy was a big advocate of floor presses, which made a brief comeback a few years ago.  That ensured, you put no unnecessary stress on the shoulder capsule, which is one of the most mobile joints in the body to begin with.

A large percentage of shoulder injuries in bodybuilding happen due to bench pressing incorrectly.  When your scapulae (shoulder blades) get locked into the bench and yet you still have 200-300+ lbs pressing it lower, the only option your shoulder capsule has is to stretch the ligaments to give you the needed range of motion.  Think of it like digging into the soil with a shovel.  The neck of the shovel is fixed, as you press down on the handle to get the soil pressed upwards on the locked axis.  A similar thing happens with the humerus when the scapulae get fixed by the bench.

The problem is, ligaments and tendons hate being stretched and they're a lot less elastic than muscles.  Once you stretch them, it's nearly impossible to get them back to their original shape.  This causes the shoulder capsule to be lax and unstable which, literally is an injury waiting to happen.

Now onto the good news.  There are many ways you can work around this limitation of the traditional bench press and improve the results you get from it.  Here are 6 of them:

1) To save your shoulders, go only as low as to have your upper arm come parallel to the ground and no more (elbow at the same level as the bench)

2) Perform floor presses instead (lie on the floor and do presses that way, the floor will stop your elbow from going below parallel)

3) Find a bench that has the shoulder area cut out on both sides leaving a narrow beam in the middle (you might have to get one custom made, like Vince used to do)

4) Roll up a towel or two and place it lengthwise along and under your spine before you lie on the bench, elevating your spine along with your sternum and giving more range of motion to your shoulder blades, allowing your elbows to go lower without affixing the shoulder blades

If you're adventurous and open minded enough and are ready for some incredible pumps, try the following:

5) Place a Bosu ball on the floor and do your presses on it (be prepared to reduce your regular weight)

6) Do your presses (and flyes) on a Swiss ball (reduce your regular weight until you master this one)

Because of the pliable material and air, both of the last two options allow your scapulae to freely move through their full range of motion, giving you the ability to work your pecs through their full range without the possibility of over stretching the joint or putting the emphasis on the delts and tris.  They also naturally raise your sternum which automatically puts more emphasis on the pecs.  They definitely take some getting used to as they will recruit all your stabilizers as well.

I have a feeling Vince would have embraced these new tools if he were around for them.

Give the above a try, especially if you have a hard time feeling your pecs working and let me know your experience.

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