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Bench Press or not? Chest science

By November 24, 2015December 2nd, 2023No Comments

Let’s talk about the exercise that everyone does first with themselves as well as their clients “the chest press”. The chest has clavicular fibers, sterna fibers, and costal fibers. The chest is a horizontal shoulder adductor, which simply means to get the most, and safest stimulus we must bring our arms to midline. So, if the goal is to build a little muscle in the chest region, then a straight bar would be the worst choice for hypertrophy.

Also we must understand when you anchor the shoulder blades against the bench we become a fixator. A fixator is a position where joints can only move via the foundation they are in. The risk of injury increases when our scapula is fixed to a flat surface, it cannot move freely and maintain congruency. For the trainer here’s the uplifting education. The chest works most efficiently between 15-30 degrees. (No incline no decline) Think about this intuitively, what the heck are we doing in an incline with a straight bar or dumbbell, if the goal is hypertrophy of the pectorals region? Answer? Not as much if we stayed in an optimal range … oh, so simple. We now know that anything below 15 degrees or above the 30-degree mark is emphasizing the anterior deltoid. So, remember the all-or-none principle is not all or none pectorals major. If that were true then when you brushed your teeth you would go right through the side of your face. Or when you picked up an egg – yolk everywhere! Think of it this way, if I was to throw a glass of water on you, you would get hit, but not all the water would land on you. Think of stimulus in a region as a volume knob. Depending on the anatomical position of the body, the environment, the path of motion – all these factors will determine the volume to which the muscles are accepting load. Whenever you change the position of the body, the role of the muscle changes. This fact is very important, because if your goal in fact is to put emphasis in the chest region, then the 15-30 degree plane is the most optimal position. This statement goes hand and hand with any goal. If you’re on a flat bench with dumbbells, your shoulder blades are fixed to a bench. The force enters your arms, trickles down to the shoulder blades that are fixed to that bench. The bench pushes back to the shoulder girdle; this causes the shoulder blades not to mobilize properly. This puts a tremendous amount of stress on the shoulders because of the absence of scapula humeral rhythm. The humeral joint can no longer maintain congruency with the scapula. Ouch! There are risks for major hypertrophy depending on someone’s anatomy. The type of anatomy will dictate the level of risk.

bench_dumbells says -This is the best bench press on the planet!


Let’s talk more chest… Hey! Dude how much weight can you bench? I was giving a talk to prove a point. I asked, “How many people think that you must perform a barbell chest press to have a huge strong chest”? Most of the room raised their hands. There was one student who had a massive chest (thanks to his parents, and something in the mix of his exercises). I asked him how much he could bench. His reply was 480! “Holy pec-major who is your trainer?” Let me ask you a question, can you take two 240 pound dumbbells and bench them on a flat bench”? He smirked and of course he said no. What does that tell you? You go into a straight bar, and there is a predictable outcome. Moreover, the straight bar is a closed chain dictated movement and your hands are fixed to a bar. The prime movers are the triceps, because your hands are connected to the bar. In addition, there are more joint forces with the straight bar, more stress on the hands, and more force generated through the bar.

The stimulus is half that of a dumbbell, which is not fixed, they have a different force analysis. During the bench press, the shoulder joint is taking all the force loads, which are invisible. Remember forces are below the skin where the bones and tendons experience internal stress. Moreover, this is the reason why people eventually have pain in the AC joint, where the acromium meets the clavicle. If I had a client who wanted maximal muscle in the pectorals region, I would use dumbbells as opposed to a straight bar to get more fiber recruitment. When you have dumbbells in your hands your chest has no choice but to fire maximally. The greatest benefit you get to adduct the shoulders. The way the chest was designed move with the arms and shoulders.






Now go grab your dumbbells and really work those pecs!