T Nation

Chest flatter than Kate Moss's

When I do bench presses I only feel it in my anterior deltoids and triceps and subsequently my chest is poorly developed. I take the bar on a wide grip as I am very ectomorphic and have long arms. Anyone here have suggestions on what type of exercises and variations of I can use to get some form in my chest? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Sounds more like a form problem than choice of exercise. Are you keeping the shoulder blades flat against the bench throughout the lift? Once the shoulders round up off the bench, you place more emphasis on the delts. Are you keeping your elbows in towards your torso? This keeps the load on the pecs and trisceps. Narrow your grip up a little, or switch to dumbells for a while as well.

Do more flyes…

I have been training for 12+ years and am generally ectomorphic also. Years ago, as a newbie in college, I too pumped out set after set of bench press, week after week and wondered why my chest did not grow. AND no I was not born with good pec development. I have been a fan of T-mag from the start and a long-time reader of the T-mag forum, but this is my first response. Here is my advice. First off, if you read the forum or even just the online mag, you will notice that not only does everyone respond differently to food, supplements, and exercise differently, but lo and behold we are all built differently. Bench Press may not be your best pursuit of a well developed chest. Let me share what worked for me and then you need to experiment with yourself. I no longer lower the bar all the way to my chest. I found it transfered the load more to my anterior delts and they gave out before my pecs and then my shoulders felt over-stretched after the set. This may be a problem for you with long arms. I have found good success with dumbbell presses and flyes. Old news right? Well the basics work and barbell bench is not the only tried and true basic. I also suggest that most people do not realize how important form is. Even more important is the mind muscle connection. Learn to use light weight, perfect form and feel the pecs working, CONTRACTING, squeeze the sh*t out of those pecs at the top of the movement. Then increase the weight and make that chest grow. Others suggest you take a narrower grip and keep elbows in. For me that is a great tricep exercise and does not work my chest at all. I suggest elbows out and a medium to wide grip on Barbell bench. To wrap up. Find a movement that you feel 80-100% in your pecs, i.e. cable flyes, DB flyes, DB press, machine flyes and develop your mind muscle connection and the form that makes those pec fibers burn. Try high reps, low reps whatever it takes. The good news: once you develop the mind muscle connection you can then carry it over into other movements i.e. barbell bench (if you wish to return to that movement). I generally do dumbbell bench press over barbell because I can not only press up but bring the DB’s together in a natural arc that pushes my pecs together and up towards the ceiling, resulting in a better contraction of the pecs than I get from using barbells. If you are doing stuff right you should get a great pump in your chest. Three years ago I started working out at a gym that had benches you could set at a very low incline, so I incorporated low incline dumbbell presses into my chest day and have had great results. Good luck. Sorry for the length, but I am passionate about the iron game, especially balanced body development. I wanted to give you a full answer as I have been working around the same problem for years.

Try a lil bit of a wider grip and thimnk about using your chest.

I recommend switching to dumbbell bench press for a while.

I have/had the exact opposite problem, my chest would grow but my triceps would not. i was still able to lift large weights even with less than great triceps but their size held me back. I finally figured out the reason was that i had overdeveloped my chest with other exercises so my chest did all the work when i benched. i cut out my chest exercises and started to do my tricep stuff inside. this really helped my get a more even feel when i benched. you may have the opposite problem (over developed triceps), if thats the case lay off the triceps and work your chest in other ways.

I am naturally in the same boat as you as well. As an ectomorph you probably also have naturally long thin arms as well. There are many problems with the bench press as a mass exercise with someone of this bodytype. Here are just a few i’ve come to realize:

  1. Because of the leverage disadvantages your triceps and shoulders end up carrying way more of the workload but of course you already knew this.
  2. Having a flat chest typically goes hand in hand with having lots of slow twitch muscle fiber in that particular muscle group. Since most people train the bench press for power (heavy weight and higher reps) you probably won’t ever get significant stimulation out of the exercise unless you concentrate on higher reps with longer Time under tensions or even better incorporate the bench press as part of a superset and/or do a pre-exhaustion exercise first (flyes, x-overs etc.) This means for maximum stimulation from the exercise for muscle growth you probably won’t ever want to show off or impress anyone with the weights you’re lifting. That doesn’t mean you can’t get strong on the bench press but it does mean that if you were to increase your strength considerably on the movement that won’t necessarily translate into bigger pecs for you like it often does for others.
  3. As noted in the some of the above posts the way you perform the movement must be taken into consideration. If you concentrate on pushing your shoulder blades down into the bench and back towards your feet this will elevate your chest which will put more stress there (some companies used to sell arched back bench presses which would accomplish this). you can further intensify the pec contraction by keeping your elbows wide. The drawback to this is you’ll be putting much more stress on your shoulder capsule which over time will easily lead to shoulder problems if you’re not careful.

Read Dave Tate’s article here at T-mag, Bench 600 lbs. You’ll feel it in your chest if you bench with proper form.

If you do decide to stick with flat benching you may want to try bringing the bar or dumbbells lower on your chest.

Someone has mentioned switching from a bar bench press to using dumbbells. I second (or third) that. So try a different exercise. Maybe even incline DB presses. But also, keep in mind that form is key to benching - be it with dumbbells or a bar. Have someone who is experienced in benching examine your form.

Flat barbell bench press is not always the best mass builder for your chest. Try incline dumbell presses for your first chest exersize, this focuses on the upper and middle chest, providing thickness. Incline flys also are another exersize that works to thicken the chest. Make sure that the bench that you are on is at a 30-35 degree incline, as to place focus on the chest and not the delts.

Pre-fatigue your pecs before doing the bench. Based on experience, bench pressing weakens your anterior delts before most of your pec fibers can be targeted. And if your delts go, so do your sets. Can’t finish sets, you won’t get that big chest. So before the bench, I do five sets of cable crosses or flyes or hammer press, movements which don’t wipe out my shoulders. Here my pecs get only an average workout but a starting point to fully wipe 'em out. Then I do four or five hard sets of bench (flat/incline/decline). My chest development significantly improved when I adopted this method.

Get your elbows out. When pushing, imagine the sensation straightening your arms by pulling your elbows straight into your pecs rather than thinking about pushing the weight up. Make sense%,/ This will fix everything.

I too have this problem. I would do my chest workout but after my chest workout I would never get that pumped feeling in my chest like I do with other muscle groups until I incorporated dips along with my bench press sets.

Here’s a slightly different suggestion:


Get a good workout partner. On either a flat or incline bench, pick up a pair of dumbells that are relatively light for you (maybe 50%-60% of your max) and get set to do a movement that’s halfway between a press and a flye. Have your partner stand/squat in back of the bench and place his/her hands on your biceps and provide additional resistance while you do the exercise.


Now, the key to this is: your partner MUST provide resistance in the opposite direction of how your upper arms are travelling thoughout the movement. This means that s/he’s going to be creating a sort of “arcing” resistance. DON’T get someone who only provides downward resistance at the bottom of the movement and nothing at the top. At the top of the movement, s/he should still be trying to push your arms outward, thus forcing you to maintain a peak contraction at the top, and thereby contributing to constant tension throughout the movement.


When your chest explodes and everyone in your gym starts asking you for training advice, just remember that you heard it here from ol’ char-dawg first…

Performing your bench presses with elbows flared out sets the chest in position to contract more efficiently, but it also causes the humerus to over-rotate, putting far “too” much stress on the AC joint. I learned this the HARD WAY, incurring many a shoulder injury over the years while performing heavy pressing movements (not just bench) with elbows flared out. Most were followed up with long bouts of - the dreaded “bicep tendonitis!”

Dave Tate's 600-lb bench article helped me to understand where my shoulder problems were coming from. I discovered that I was violating rule # 5 which says to "...keep the elbows tucked and the bar directly over the wrists and elbows."

I have carried over this lesson on elbow positioning to all my pressing exercises, and my shoulders are doing much better as a result of it! - Joey Z.

If you aren’t getting the results you want from an exercise, PISSBOWL IT! That includes the bench press. The other posters’ are correct about reading Dave Tate’s articles - read bench articles by Louie Simmons also and you will find that they both say that benching is much more a matter of triceps and delts than pecs. Look at the WSB bench workouts and you will find much more tricep assistance work than direct chest work.
My advice is use dips instead of the bench to build your chest.
Check out the proportional chest development of many elite male gymnasts and judge for yourself. These guys don’t bench, but they do do a massive amount of dipping in various forms.

OJ, I found myself in the same situation a while back. But after a good shoulder injury as the result, and paying attention to some larger and more experienced lifters; I found that my form was the issue. I pulled my hands in a little. Specifically, my ring fingers end up on the smooth lines of the bar. So when I bring the bar down, my arms are tucked in close to my body and the exercise completely hits my pecs. You may have to swallow some pride and lower the poundage in order to do this, but it is worth it.