In the next instalment, we’re going to go through some quick and dirty tricks to immediately improve your chest training.
My chest has never been a lagging body part like my legs, nor a great body part like my back. But it has been a real challenge to consistently train it hard over a number of years.
Years of constant shoulder issues (AC issues, rotator cuff strains, slight biceps tears etc.) has meant my own chest training has required a lot of creativity and trial and error to find what works best for me. And more importantly, how to best serve you in building your chest, while keeping you healthy.
Unless you’re blessed with the genetics for a big chest or have joints of steel, chances are the workouts you’ve tried from the magazines will only lead you down the road of a pancake chest and constant injuries.
Which is why you need to implement these two tricks when you next train chest…
1) Fix Your Technique
This is the number one problem I come across and where the majority of you are probably going wrong.
The two most common technical mistakes are:
Shoulders rounding at the bottom
Shoulders protruding off the bench at the top of the rep
As soon as you do this, you reduce chest recruitment and increase the stress on the shoulders.
If you’re someone who complains of pain in the front of your shoulders, and getting more of a shoulder pump than a chest pump when bench pressing, you’re making one of these mistakes.
Instead, what you need to do is:
Keep your shoulders back AND down at the bottom
Keep your chest up throughout the rep
To help maintain this position, keep a natural arch in your back when pressing, instead of keeping a flat back position.
2) Use The Right Warm Up
The reason many of you will struggle to maintain perfect technique when pressing is a lack of stability and/or mobility in the shoulders.
More specifically, it’s almost always the lower traps that are weak. If you’ve never heard of them, I’m not surprised. They’re not sexy and most people can’t even see them (unless you’re very lean).
If you look at the diagram below, you can see the entire trap region highlighted in red; the lower traps are the muscles at the bottom of the red zone. Their primary role is to bring the shoulder blades down, which makes them critical for healthy and strong pressing.Given the deskbound culture we now live in, the upper traps tend to become dominant, which will create a lot of instability in the shoulder region.
To strengthen and activate the lower traps, rotator cuff and all the small muscles in your upper back, while also improving your mobility for pressing, add this warm up before you next train chest:
1. Over and Backs
Start off with these, and perform 20-50 reps. You should feel better and better with each rep as you dynamically stretch out the biceps, anterior delts and pecs while building stability and strength in the rotator cuff.
2. YTWs or Handcuffs
This combination will fire up all the muscles in your upper back and rotator cuff, with the Y portion specifically working your lower traps. Before raising your arms, bring your shoulders down and then lift and pause at the top.
5-10 reps in each direction with a 2-3 second pause at each ‘letter’ works well.
If you’ve mastered YTWs, and have the mobility for an advanced version, try these ‘handcuffs’, which is my personal favourite warm up exercise.
3. Band Pull-Apart Variations
These are great in teaching you proper shoulder position when pressing.
To make sure all your bases are covered, try mixing up the way you do them. You can try overhand or underhand, or you can vary where you pull to: forehead, neck, pec line. 10 in each position works well.
When using this warm up sequence, I’d perform the exercises in a circuit of 2-3 rounds with minimal rest. The key point to remember is alwaysthink quality not quantity.
Bonus Tip – Squeeze!
A quick trick I like to use to establish a strong mind-muscle connection to the chest when pressing is to flex and squeeze your chest as hard as possible for 6-10 seconds before every warm up set.
To do so, bring your arms out in front of you and focus on trying to bring your elbows as close as possible while flexing.
Pecs That Pop
Many of you will be leaving a lot of chest growth on the table because of poor technique and a lack of stability when pressing.
By optimising your technique and adding a comprehensive warm up, you’ll increase chest recruitment, lift heavier loads and ultimately, build a bigger chest!