It is Monday Morning, the alarm sets in. You make your weekly weight in. You have breakfast (or coffee/tea if you fast lol) and then you go to the gym at some point in the day to discover that it is international chest day. You see a lot of gym goers and bros hitting the bench press. But, is the bench press the absolute best way to build a great chest? If you emphasize chest development, is the bench press what you should be doing?
The bench press is a compound movement that trains your chest efficiently and it also trains your front deltoids and triceps. The back and leg musculature act as stabilizers (when performed correctly) so bench pressing is really a very complete exercise. Besides gym bros and recreational lifters, the bench press is a very popular lift since it is part of the power-lifting sport. Bench Pressing has been shown to activate the pectoral muscles in a very high degree and the best part is that the bench press is very conductive to progressive overload. This means that unlike other chest exercises like a cable fly or a
pec deck machine the bench press is your best option to overload the pectoral muscles and gain strength. Given all of this, is the bench press the best way to build your chest?
FACTORS THAT WILL CONTRIBUTE
You’ll see a lot of stories in the internet, some will swear that the bench press will give you massive pecs and some will say that it won’t. If you are a torso dominant person (you recruit more of your chest and back in pushing and pulling movements) you will likely benefit a lot from bench pressing, if you have good chest genetics, you will likely be benefited by the bench press. As with everything, it will depend, maybe you
will need to get a little stronger that someone else to build a big chest due to your genetics, just as that person will have a lagging muscle group too.
I AM ALREADY STRONG AT THE BENCH PRESS AND MY CHEST IS LAGGING
If you already rep out about 1.3 times your body weight and your chest is really really not responding, chances are that you will have to try different things. The good news here is that thanks to your bench press strength you will also have good strength in exercises that will aid to your chest development.
The first recommendation here is to change to dumbbell presses, if you can rep out the 100’s in more of a higher rep range (8-12 Reps) for 3-6 sets per week chances are that your chest will improve, this works since dumbbells allow for a more natural range of motion and it allows you to perform horizontal abduction (one of the functions of the chest) when compared to the barbell bench press. You can also include an additional 2-3 sets of isolation work like cable crossovers or cable presses with lighter weight and feeling the muscle while you progressively overload those movements too.
The #1 tip for pecs development in the bench press
Sometimes changing your technique on the bench can aid with chest recruitment and chest activation. In the bench press and in this case the tweak is to Bench with a pause. Benching with a pause is well known in the power-lifting community and this will build strength from the bottom of the exercise, this will also prevent cheating since a lot of people bounce the weight off their chest, it doesn’t have to be a really long pause, a 1-2(or even three) second pause will give you a better chest activation and prevent cheating, thus giving you a better chest workout.
You may need to increase the TUT (Time under tension)
Coaches nowadays are reallyyyyy focused on strength training. Of course strength training and progressive overload in the way of increasing weight should be a part of your routine but this is not the only focus you should have in your training. One of the aspects of training that is highly underrated is time under tension, which means the total amount of time your muscle is under tension in a set. If you want to grow a lagging muscle group, you better train with a lighter load and increase the time under tension. You can still apply progressive overload but this will be in a higher rep range. I recommend 12-15 reps with a moderate tempo.
Are genetics a factor to build a big chest?
You may think that your chest is just a non responder and that you are meant to have a small chest. But this cannot be further from the truth. It is true that some people just have an easier time building a body part, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying different techniques and keeping an open mind when it comes to growing a stubborn bodypart. I really encourage you to give it time and provide a different stimulus and do not compare yourself with others that have been doing this for waaay to long or obviously use steroids. You can get where you want but it will take time.
Other great exercises to build a great chest
A dumbbell bench press, incline dumbbell press, decline press are great exercises to build a big chest and they can definitely help. The main benefit of using dumbbells is the increased range of motion that will help to activate more the chest in comparison to a barbell, so you will also want to use dumbbells. Last but not least, Dumbbell flies and crossovers are great (just have really good form on the flies) since they will activate the pectoral muscles with a longer range of motion, specially crossovers. So go ahead and add the icing on the cake and do your isolation work too, this will also contribute to your gains!
So in conclusion here, the bench press is a great exercise to build strength and muscle but if you are stuck with it, try this different approaches and see how you start to make gains on your chest, as always make sure that you recover and that you don’t give up. Always keep an open mind when it comes to building muscle.
Let me know if you will try these tips and how it goes!