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Pec-centric Benching

Walk into almost any gym on a Monday night, and you’ll see at least 80 percent of the guys training chest, with most of them blasting out set after set of barbell bench presses. Without a doubt most warriors of the iron desire to create a prodigious pair of pecs, as they carry with them a look of raw power and the true mark of a bodybuilder.

While the bench press can certainly be your ticket to a Schwarzenegger-like chest, many trainees fail to realize that it’s not as simple as lying on a bench, unracking the bar and pushing it from point A to point B. In order to engage the pec fibers properly, forcefully and maximally, you must adhere meticulously to precise body positioning, range of motion and technique. The bench press was largely responsible for the size and thickness I achieved in my own chest (which has many times been compared to Arnold’s). The way I approached it was never haphazard and always carefully calculated. With that in mind, here are some of the biggest and most common mistakes I see in the gym when lifters are benching for peak-pec pump.

Too much weight. Too many people are concerned with how much weight they can bench-press for a single rep rather than for sets of seven to 12, which is where muscle growth tends to be best stimulated. Unless you are a powerlifter, stop maxing out every time you bench; instead, focus on exhausting the muscle.

Feet set in the wrong place. For some reason some lifters think that putting their feet up on the bench is more effective for building the chest than placing them flat on the floor. While the technique does have its uses, it is best to keep a solid base when pressing so that you can center the majority of “neural drive” on pec-fiber recruitment.

Improper torso positioning. One of the most vital aspects of bench pressing to increase pec mass is proper positioning of the torso from the beginning to the end of a set. In order to force the chest to do the majority of the work on every rep, you must a) keep your rib cage high, b) keep a slight arch in your lower back, c) keep the scapulae squeezed together, d) keep the shoulders shrugged down and into the bench.

Less-than-optimal grip. For maximum engagement of the chest during the bench press, it’s best to space your hands about a shoulder width, or just slightly wider, apart.

Bouncing the bar. Why anyone thinks it’s smart to bounce the bar off of the rib cage is beyond me. Even if it enables you to put more weight on the bar, it is obvious to everyone that you’re using momentum, not muscle strength, to complete the lift. In addition, bouncing is robbing you of the potential benefits of the bench press while greatly increasing your chance of serious injury.

Poor rep tempo. If you want to get the most profound pec pump from the bench press, you must control the bar at all times. I recommend that you lower the weight in three to four seconds, hold the stretch position for one second, and then explosively press to the top.

Incomplete range of motion. Almost as bad as bouncing the bar off the chest is the inane practice of performing half reps on the bench press. You want massive pecs to be proud of? Lower the bar to full stretch (which for most people will mean lightly touching the bar to the chest or to a point just slightly above) to excite every fiber, and then press the bar straight up to lockout while consciously squeezing the pecs into a tight contraction.

—Eric Broser


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