A good bench session is like going out with your boys on Friday night.
You claim you’re only going out for the “company”, but then all of a sudden you find yourself 12 beers deep, singing karaoke, and fumbling with your Uber app while trying to stay vertical.
Stay classy my friends.
Similarly, you’ll likely find yourself at the gym on Monday night with good intentions to hit 3 sets of flat bench, some cables flies, and a little tricep work before calling it a day.
Well, next thing you know, you’re snorting a line of pre-workout before you end up 15 sets deep while dropping DMX lines between reps.
So much for good intentions…
Now, before you launch your “hour of power” pec session, you might be interested in a few of these tweaks.
As your man DMX would say, “If I gotsta bring it to you cowards then it's gonna be quick.”
1. “I can’t feel my pecs when I bench?”
PSA: Most people struggle to really feel their chest working during flat barbell bench work.
Why? Well, it could be a cueing or positioning issue. Heck, maybe it’s just the fact that compound movements can be loaded more effectively so your body is more focused on not crushing your sternum with a couple hundred pounds and you forget about the ever magical MMC (mind muscle connection).
Whatever the case, sometimes it can be more beneficial to resort to dumbbell work, as this can be easier on the shoulders. Never the less, some folks still struggle with positioning during the movement, which can hamper their ability to fully stretch the pecs. Here are a few ideas that might help:
2. Well This is Awkward…
Some folks thrive in awkward situations. They enjoy the silence resulting from uncomfortable circumstances and revel in the satisfaction they garner from watching others squirm.
However, squirming under heavy weight is not only awkward, it can be quite dangerous, especially in the case of dumbbell work where each hand functions independently of the other.
There are multiple ways to approach the setup - kicking the dumbbells up off your knees, starting with the arms locked out and laying back, or just having blatant disregard for everyone’s safety around you (including your own) and relying upon your spotter to get the weight up once you lie back.
Note to self: Don’t be that guy, especially if you don’t know your spotter.
Work smarter, not harder. Save your energy for your sets and let physics guide your setup as I explain here:
3. Personalized Pressing From The Floor
Floor pressing is your one stop shop for pressing improvement. Weak at lockout? Floor press. Shoulder issues at end range? Floor press. Trying to impress your gym crush who doesn’t even know you exist? Floor press.
Floor pressing is somewhat of the physiological upper body equivalent to box squatting. Similar to the box, the ground provides immediate kinesthetic feedback and many find that it helps to improve their bench mechanics, at least for the top half of the lift.
Barbell floor pressing is somewhat of a tame animal - lie down, unrack the bar, and press. However, dumbbells are an entirely different breed. If you don’t have access to a spotter, it can be quite challenging to figure out how to get into position without splintering your radius and ulna in the process.
I can’t guarantee this tweak will yield any new Instagram worthy PRs but you can bet it’ll make your life a little easier with the setup:
4. “Eat Your Veggies”
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: mobility work is like eating green vegetables; everybody wants to tout their benefits but in the end, most never consume large quantities of them. Why? If we’re going to be honest, eating veggies sucks sometimes. They can be bland, chewy, and boring if you don’t know how to prep them.
Mobility work is somewhat similar - everyone knows it can be beneficial, yet most avoid it like the plague.
Why? Well, Facebook most likely won’t shower your video of shoulder dislocates and ankle mobilizations with likes or comments. So, considering most feel the need for social media validation on any and all fitness related endeavors, it seems rather pointless in their mind to attempt any warm up aside from 10 reps with an empty bar.
But, what happens when Monday rolls around and your shoulder hurts or your T-spine feels like it’s covered in saran wrap after sitting at a desk all day? Well, that’s where this article comes in.
However, rather than breaking down the topic in depth (which I’ve already done over here: Warming Up For Dummies: A Lifter’s Guide to Injury Prevention), I’ll leave you with a quick example of a dynamic warm-up which you could hit before your next bench session:
5. Perfect Your Pulls to Press More
Make no mistake, benching can take a toll on your shoulder girdle if you’re not careful. If you’re the type of bro who has never met a push exercise he doesn’t like and forgot what the word “pull” means then you’ve got some work to do.
You can hammer away at your T-spine all day with a foam roller to generate more extension, but unless you layer strength upon that newfound range of motion, you’ll just end up spinning your wheels.
If you fit the description above and your posture subtlety resembles Quasimodo then you might want to give this a shot:
Looks like a lazy man’s facepull right? Wrong.
This variation is of particular importance, as the end range of the contracted position will resemble the bottom of a pressing position (minus the wrists which will be in neutral instead of pronation). Due to the angle of pull from the cable, you are now forced to depress and retract the shoulder blades as you extend the shoulder and thoracic spine.
Look familiar? It should. Think about what your upper body would look like if you were lying horizontal on your back. Hopefully you should conjure up something similar to a floor press in your mind.
Bench Today While You May
The all American trifecta of barbells, bald eagles, and Bud Light must never be separated.
When an injury rolls around or the movement starts feel funny, it’s time to investigate. Don’t wait around and hope it goes away by “sleeping on it” (side note: shoulders usually get worse, not better when you lay on them for 8 hours uninterrupted), be proactive and get back in the game as soon as you can.
Tweak your technique, enhance your warm-up, or just turn up DMX a little louder - whatever you choose, keep the trifecta alive; bros everywhere are depending on you.