Are your arms and shoulders taking over your chest training? Here is how to fix that!
Bench Pressing Cues for Shoulder / Arm Dominant Trainees
Shoulder / arm dominance is an umbrella term for a number of causes resulting in one’s chest being underdeveloped compared to his shoulders and/or triceps. These issues might have to do with genetics, like having an unusually wide wingspan compared to height, a flat torso, or simply a predisposition to building less muscle in the chest compared to other pressing muscles. More commonly, however, it is a result of insensible, imbalanced training coupled with bad training technique.
With barbell exercises, the most important thing is to lower the bar lower on the chest than it’s normally advised. Usually, you’ll hear something like “lower the bar to the nipple level”, or “between nipple and clavicle”. If you have trouble recruiting your chest during a bench press, try lowering the bar below nipple level, or even to the bottom of the sternum. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should touch your lower chest with the bar: the important thing is to keep the bar away from your upper chest during the entire movement, otherwise, the stronger link (shoulders) will kick in and take over the movement.
Vanilla Form Is Ok!
Note that isn’t actually a form issue, and shouldn’t be addressed as such. There is nothing wrong with pressing using vanilla form, it’s just that it might not be optimal for your goals. Because of this, I don’t think that you necessarily have to follow the usual protocol for correcting form glitches, which involves lowering the weight used by a fair amount and then building up to your old working weight again. Sure, your working weight will fall down, but not by a lot, maybe 10% or even less. You’ll still have to pause your progress for a few sessions, though, to make this new pattern sink in. I’m stressing this because it’s actually the heavy weight that makes this issue come up, with the trainee seeking help from his stronger groups to finish the movement, similarly to people with strong quads “muscling out” a deadlift by putting their hips lower than normal.
Another good cue for barbell bench pressing is to try and expand your chest as you approach the bottom of the negative phase. Think of your torso as a spring that is stretched by the incoming weight. This chest expansion should be quite subtle, without raising your back arch or pushing your sternum to the bar, as the purpose of this movement is just to feel the extra stretch in the chest. As the movement begins to take a turn towards the concentric phase, compress this spring again and let it push the bar back up. A small pec bounce usually helps to initiate the movement.
In my opinion, the “pec bounce” should also be practiced. Most of the time, you’ll get the “get up while you’re pumped and strike a pose to get a long, deep contraction in your chest”. The thing is that shoulder dominant trainees don’t really have a problem getting a peak contraction: it’s the bottom phase that gives them pause. Try practicing pec bouncing between sets. Sit on the bench, and place your hands in front of you, between your legs. Now, begin a series of pec bounces. Being pumped and having your chest contracted due to arm position should make the bouncing easy with strong contractions. Next, put your hands at your sides, and do some bouncing. Finally, spread your arms out and try to get a few more bounces. Unless you’re Terry Crews, these will be extremely subtle, but just thinking about the movement will help you with activation of the pecs at the bottom position of a bench press.
The last tip I’d like to share is to give constant-speed-constant-tension reps a try. What you’re trying to do is perform your reps as smooth as possible. Both the positive and the negative phase should last equally as long, with no visible transition between the two (i.e, no obvious slowing the bar at the top and resting at either the top or bottom of a rep).
I like doing this on a 1010 tempo, in the last set of a reverse pyramid, because this approach works best if more reps are performed (so you can feel the groove). Generally, this requires you to partialize your reps a bit by cutting out the end of the top half of the movement, as well as to eliminate the pause at the bottom. Of course, you can take this a step further and completely cut out the top half in order to focus on the bottom of the movement – just remember to do your reps in the rhythmic, constant tension fashion here as well.
Up next: Intra-workout rest!