Chest training: it should be simple, right? However, people have written so much about it that it’s to find reliable information. It can be confusing for a beginner or someone just wanting a refresher. Here, we’ve put together some of the top things to remember when starting a chest workout.
When working the chest, we’re mainly talking about the pectoralis major muscle — the two fan-shaped muscles on either side of the chest. These muscles are involved in bringing your arms across your body (adduction) and also turning in or internally rotating your arms. This is the natural movement pattern of your chest muscle. And it just so happens that this is how you should think about your bench press and other chest exercises
The chest muscles are mostly fast-twitch muscle fibres (type II), which respond to moderate to heavy loads. This gives us a clue about the kind of training we should undertake first: heavier loads with free weights before lighter loads with machines or cables.
Now, people have written books on the subject of bench press and chest training technique but here are six important points to think about each and every time you work your chest. The following relate primarily to the flat barbell bench press but many are also applicable to other chest movements, such as the cable crossovers and incline or dumbbell bench press.
6 top tips for chest training
1. Always use controlled movement
Whether you’re doing a barbell bench press, a dumbbell press or a cable crossover, you should always move with control. Each of these exercises has a different technique, which means you need to adjust your positioning and technique, but the principle of using control is key. This way you will be sure you are using the correct technique for the exercise and, importantly, making sure you are targeting the right muscles.
2. Feel the target muscle
This goes hand in hand with the first point. You’d be surprised how easily a chest exercise can become a back or arm exercise with poor technique. Think about what you are trying to achieve with the movement. Bench press should, of course, be working your chest, not your shoulders or your arms, so if you feel the movement more in your front delts than your chest, adjust your position or the weight until your technique is doing what it’s meant to.
3. Only use a weight you can handle
Building on the first two points, choosing the right weight and building from there is very important. Don’t let your ego lift for you. You have to train smart before you can train hard. Yes, it’s true that your pec muscles respond better to heavier loads but if you get injured, you risk setting back all your progress.
4. Fix your wrist position
When it comes to the bench press, you are strongest when your wrists are supported — wrists are a usually weak point in the body after all. So while it might ‘feel’ more natural to have your wrists bent back while benching, you are stronger and safer having your forearms directly under your wrists with no bend. Once you get used to this position, you’ll find you can lift more weight with confidence.
5. Position your shoulders correctly
It’s all about scapular retraction. That means pulling your shoulders down into the bench to create tension across your whole torso.
In addition, your shoulders should be in line with your elbows. This is how the pec muscles will best activate. Stay aware of what your collarbone is doing as well, making sure it is moving naturally. You can even use back arch — a powerlifting technique — as long as your shoulder blades are making contact with and therefore supported by the bench. If you can get this right, you’ll feel a difference in how your chest is activating.
6. Use your legs
Wait, isn’t this an article about the chest? Yes, but you’d be surprised how much the legs are involved in almost every exercise. At the most basic level they are supporting the rest of your body as you work your target muscles, so it’s a good idea to have some idea of what they should be doing during your workout.
During the bench press, push your feet into the floor as you drive the bar up. This creates tension in your hamstrings and glutes, helping to stabilise your body. This is called leg drive. Be careful not to lift your butt as you attempt this though.
By the same token you should use legs are to stabilise your whole body during cable crossovers or when using a Pectoral Fly machine.
For more training tips, make sure you check out our other workout blogs.