One of the biggest mistakes I made into my early forays of building chest mass was not paying close attention to my form. I was lucky enough to avoid injury, but my results weren’t what I wanted: Instead of getting a beefy, built up chest, I ended up with the same scrawny bird chest I started with, alongside bigger triceps that awkwardly didn’t match.
After being frustrated with the lack of gains and trying virtually everything else, I finally managed to get it right. Here are tips on avoiding common myths, avoiding injury, and building your pecs out into dueling mountains of rock hard beef:
Don’t flare out your elbows
Keeping your elbows tucked in at roughly a 45 degree angle (or whatever feels comfortable) is the way to go. Flaring your elbows out to make your upper arm parallel to the bar puts a huge amount of strain on your shoulder joints. Even if your shoulders don’t hurt, you’re setting yourself up for a huge injury, an overuse injury, or problems later down the line when you’re older and feeling a little less invincible. Here’s the kicker: tucking your elbows in is not only more natural, but it results in virtually the exact same muscle recruitment and gains. Your range of motion will be more robust, natural, and recruit just as many (if not more) muscle fibers from your chest and its stabilizers.
In the same vein as flaring your elbows out too much, you don’t need a hilariously wide grip in order to get a good chest workout. Keeping your pinkies inside the rings (or your middle fingers, if you’re lanky like me) makes for a more full and natural range of motion. That stretch you feel with a super wide grip isn’t actually doing you any good – it’s just setting you up for a history of shoulder problems. Switching up the grip width set to set or between weeks is also a good way to keep your body guessing. Going too narrow will activate a little more triceps and less chest, but it’s still a good way to recruit muscles in a dynamic way. When your body gets too used to what you’re doing, growth is stunted.
Bring the bar down to your upper abdomen
Making sure the bar comes down to your upper abdomen is the most effective way to bench press. If you’re having trouble doing that, you’re probably flaring your elbows too much. It may be more difficult at first, but that’s a good thing – You’re lifting in a smarter, more controlled way, with a better range of motion. If the bar or center line of the dumbbells crosses at your nipples or higher, you need to reel it in.
Make sure the bar touches
A lot of newbies will stop an inch or two (or more) above their body before reversing the movement. In order to have the most effective bench, you need to touch. This ensures a full range of motion for maximum results. With elbows tucked and the bar brought to your abdomen, this shouldn’t be uncomfortable to do. Cheating by hovering the bar is just cheating you out of workout that will result in mass. On the other hand, don’t bounce the bar off your chest! Not only is this dangerous, but it also cheats you out of an effective workout.
Keep your feet on the floor
A lot of people make the mistake of raising one (or both) feet off the ground on the last rep or two, when they’re really struggling. This throws your whole body off balance and creates asymmetry. As with other points of proper technique and form, and soon as you start squirming and compromise your form, it’s time to either focus hard or make a conscious effort to cut the baloney, or rack the weight.
Bringing the bar or dumbbells down in a slow, controlled manner not only prevents injuries, but is amazing for results. The negative motion associated with reps uses heaps of muscle, including a lot of core muscles and stabilizers. This gives you a better frame to build muscle upon and recruits more muscle overall, which helps pump up the hormones associated with lifting that help you build muscle where you want it
Maintain good posture on the bench
Shoulders back and chest out, with the rest of your body flat is the way to go. Prior to lifting I was lanky and had bad posture, and this translated into having bad benching posture. Guess what happened? With my chest sunken in and my poorly-postured shoulders lurking forward, my chest muscles were contracted, and did only a small % of the lifting. This is one of the many reasons why my triceps blew up and my chest barely improved.
The form is everything. You can bust you ass in the gym 5 days a week and not get results if you’re using poor form. Safety aside, bad form is bad for gaining mass, especially in a form-sensitive area like the chest. It’s way more effective to do less reps at a lower weight with good form than to shove up and drop more weight with poor form. See more