Just think, how many times have you gone head to head with a comrade lifter to see who can move the most weight on the bench press?
While competition is the true spirit of all endeavors both inside and outside of the gym, no other exercise has been the determination of superior strength like the barbell bench press.
But, is it the only exercise method worthwhile for building chest muscle?
Here we are going to cover the most effective chest exercises.
These exercises include the three major barbell presses (flat, incline, decline), as well as all the secondary chest exercises out there including the dumbbell press (flat, incline, decline), machines, cable exercises and calisthenics. Everything chest-related.
Ultimately, we’re going to determine which exercise hails as the king of chest hypertrophy. And how you can best leverage all of your options in the pursuit of the perfect strong and sculpted chest.
The barbell bench press is the standard bench press upon which many proud pectorals have been crafted. When you simplify bodybuilding into the big-3 exercises for building massive strength, the flat barbell bench press is one of them, right beside squats and deadlifts.
The Big 3 are the three powerlifting compound exercises for building strength and stimulating hypertrophy. In combination, these three exercises stimulate the majority of your body’s musculature system. These are the three exercises which every bodybuilding program should be based around.
There are several methods for carrying out the flat barbell bench press. Each style boasts slightly different benefits that we will explore.
Flat Barbell Bench Press: The flat barbell bench press is a powerful tool for activating the entire pectoral region.
While this exercise is a powerful tool for building your chest, it is also one of the most challenging exercises to do properly (aka fully activate your chest). The most common indication that you are performing the chest press wrong is: “If you find that while performing the bench press your arms are tiring out before your chest is.” Or, you don’t even feel your chest being worn out; take a look at this.
To properly perform the bench press:
These guidelines are some of the best for ‘finding your chest’ when you do flat barbell bench press. It’s important that you use a lighter than normal weight while you learn your chest, as you will need to keep your overbearing shoulders and triceps at bay.
Value of the Flat Barbell Bench Press
As you expected, the flat barbell chest press is the superior chest exercise for building both mass and strength. Think of the flat barbell bench press as the cornerstone of your chest development, whereas the Big-3 is the cornerstone of the entire body. For growth and strength, this exercise is the primary lift that will never lose its use.
Injury Management: While performing the flat barbell bench press, a bodybuilder tends to lift with the bar slightly closer to their head than a powerlifter (nipple line versus slightly lower), to stimulate more muscle growth (whereas as a powerlifter lifts to move more weight via form). Doing so, under heavy weight is a risk to your shoulders and elbows, especially if you are not training all the muscle groups that make up your shoulders.
Other Muscles Worked: The flat barbell bench press also utilizes the deltoids and triceps heavily. When performed correctly to lift heavier weight, the lats, lower back and glutes are firmly tensed as well. This exercise is meant to be extremely controlled throughout your whole body to reduce the risk of injury.
Incline Barbell Bench Press is performed like the flat barbell bench press, just with an angle. For beginners, incline bench press is an easier adoption form-wise as long as your grip is wide enough.
There is a common misconception that incline bench press is more effective at building the upper chest than flat bench press.
The flat barbell bench press activates just as much upper chest muscle than the incline barbell bench press. The only difference is, incline barbell bench press activates less of the middle and lower chest, which, allows you to feel your upper chest more while performing the exercise.
Despite this, the Incline barbell bench press still has tremendous importance in your exercise routine.
The incline barbell bench press allows you to isolate the top of your chest for extra reps to either grow a larger upper chest without affecting the mid and lower, or, to train the upper chest past lower chest fatigue.
However, the idea that all of the strain of a standard chest press is focused upon the upper chest while in the incline position isn’t telling the whole story. Rather, when lifting in the incline position, a great deal of weight is being managed by your shoulders and not your chest. That bit of weight that is managed by the chest, is mostly done so at the top clavicular head (upper chest).
To Properly Perform the Incline Barbell Bench Press:
Value of the Incline Barbell Bench Press
The incline barbell bench press is best used to increase hypertrophy in the upper pectoral major (the part that connects to your collar bone). Though, this will take practice and focus on isolating it to its full potential. The outer pectoralis major also gets a great workout in synchrony with the front deltoids.
Injury Management: Like the flat barbell bench press, the incline version puts a strain on the shoulders and elbows. Heavy weights exacerbate this, and it isn’t recommended to proceed to shoulder exercises after chest day with incline bench presses if your shoulders are sensitive or have imbalanced deltoids.
Other Muscles Worked: The incline barbell bench press also engages the shoulders to a large degree. Aside from this, triceps, and core stabilizing muscles support the motion.
Decline bench press is by far the least utilized press in the gym, but it has some noteworthy benefits.
While the standard flat bench press is the overall winner for maximum chest hypertrophy stimulation and strength gains, the decline bench press is very effective at activating the lower pectoral muscles (and pectoralis major) while placing less strain on your shoulders than both the flat and incline bench press.
To properly perform the decline barbell bench press:
Value of the decline barbell bench press
The decline barbell bench press offers the same basic benefits as the flat bench press, with additional emphasis on the lower pectoralis muscles. While there is still triceps activation, shoulder stress is reduced greatly with proper form. Due to this, decline barbell bench press is a great way to add variation and extra volume to a standard chest routine without compromising the shoulders.
Injury Management: For the decline barbell bench press, proper form is very important. It’s important to begin learning the decline bench press with light weights to feel out the motion. Once you are comfortable, larger weights can be accomplished similarly to the flat barbell bench press with great chest isolation.
Other Muscles Worked: In addition to the pectoralis major and minor, the decline bench press unavoidably works the triceps, serratus anterior, and lats to a small degree. Luckily, very little emphasis is put on the shoulders when performed right alongside a spotter to help with racking.
Use the bench press enough, and you will quickly notice many different grip variations being used. As a rule of thumb, here are the typical reasons.
Wide grip: targets the outer chest and provides a greater stretch. Though, an also over-emphasize shoulders.
Close grip: Targets the inner chest but mostly shifts accessory muscle usage from the shoulders to the triceps.
Reverse grip: Targets the upper chest aka the smaller part of the pectoralis major that connects to your collar bone.
Why do some guys bench press with their Legs Up?
People bench press with their legs off of the ground for one of three reasons:
Reason 1 may be acceptable for some people while using light weights. But, as a rule of thumb, your feet should always be firmly planted on the ground for stabilities sake. Otherwise, you lose both safety and power that can end up resulting in injury.
For every barbell bench press variation, there is a dumbbell press to match it as you noticed in each secondary exercise set. What exactly is the overall difference and benefits of utilizing dumbbell chest presses in your strength and mass routine?
Range of Motion: The most obvious benefit to dumbbells is the added range of motion. While using dumbbells, there is extra mobility at both the top and the bottom of each press, leading to greater, more complete muscle activation.
Stability: Training with dumbbell requires greater stability, which is accomplished by the recruitment of accessory muscles. As these accessory muscles grow, you become stronger and overall more stable and less injury prone.
Muscle Symmetry: During barbell exercises, it is possible for your dominant side to train harder than your less dominant side. Free weights, on the other hand, do not share the load between both arms. Due to this, the body grows more symmetrically since you will notice any imbalances in ability during your lift.
When it comes to training chest, you have endless options. In our opinion, the best way to grow serious chest mass and strength is to base your entire chest workout around the 3 main barbell chest presses.
From there, you can diversify your workout with a collection of accessory lifts that activate the entire chest.
Depending on the day, it’s totally acceptable to lead your workouts with dumbbell presses for variation. Likewise, it isn’t exactly sensible to do flat barbell press, incline press, and decline press in the same day, every day. So, as you put together your workout routine, realize which exercises bring forth the biggest bang for your buck, and then organize them in a way that will allow you to stimulate those muscles appropriately while not overloading your shoulders day in and day out.
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