T Nation

Focusing on Pecs, Not Shoulders

Hi All,

Long time reader, not very often do I post though. As you can see I have been a member for quite some time now.

So, my question comes here: I have been lifting for roughly 5 years now. It seems I have never really been able to gain a whole lot on either my overall bench number (mainly flat bench because both my incline and decline numbers improved regularly).

My flat bench number is somewhat pathetic at 245. After I am finished working out and am sore, I hardly ever feel it in my pecs but almost always feel it in my front delts. Not only is the soreness in my delts, the overall mass is stupidly out of proportion.

My front delts almost dwarf my pecs. I do a small arch (larger arch with incline and decline mostly due to positioning on bench which comes naturally to me), I pinch my shoulder blades, I grip the bar like I am trying to bend it, but nothing seems to make a difference.

Anyone else have this problem? How did you fix it? I’ve always been vexed with this question and decided to finally ask the question.

Thanks guys,

Ian

It could be where you are gripping the bar. The closer the grip the more emphasis on the triceps and front delts, the wider the grip the more emphasis on the pecs. If you want you can add some dumbbell flys with your benching as they hit my chest very well.

I had the same problem a few years ago. What I did was widen my grip, pull shoulders back and down and have a slight arch. Did the trick for me

I had the same problem. Concentrating on the “mind muscle connection” will work but you wont be able to use as much weight. My advice is to forget about using bench press as an exercise for the chest. I train primarily for strength so, I just bench as heavy as possible with good form & then just do sets of sissy isolation exercises (pec deck, cable crossover) to develop my pecs.

I have found that benching with dumbells tends to work my pecs a lot more than doing it with a barbell. Don’t know how the strength gains translate as I haven’t maxed out in a long time, but it seems to work.

Just to echo what other said:

Pull the shoulders back

focus on contracting the pecs (even if you need to use lighter weight)

keep the shoulders relatively stable on the bench

I had a problem for a while with isolating the chest, my arms would be sore and grow and i’d get shoulder pain after benching for a couple months

recently I learned to do these couple things and it’s really helped me out

Try flaring your elbows more, up to the point where it’s still comfortable for your shoulders (I know personally I don’t like to go past 45 degrees).

Today I worked with my trainer buddy, and we did band bench press with a pause on the chest. This was immediately followed by feet-elevated push-ups. My chest was absolutely destroyed.

I had this problem. I switched to dumbell presses and incline barbell, and my chest no longer sucks that much.

you could try a pre-exhaust method. do a set of dumbbell flies before you bench, and really focus on contracting the muscle (I think CT even talked about this in one of his many articles). I tried it for quads (leg extensions and squats) and it made a big difference (actually gaining muscle in my quads instead of my hams and glutes).

Do you want to be stronger or get a bigger chest?

Using MORE chest with bench press is not a great way to get your numbers up.

If you want to get a bigger chest, I’d suggest less bench press and other movements such as db press, x-overs and push ups, where you can really feel the chest working.

I rarely use BP when working my chest I usually stick to Dips, and Dumbells. When I do Benchpress I find that doing a few sets of dips or cable fly’s then hitting the Bench really lets me burn the hell out of my chest.

use slight decline and flat close grip presses to increase bench strength. i say stick your chest out while shoulders back, imagine your shoulders being above shoulder level. tht littel detail can change alot. lower to about an inch above your pecs.

spotters should also never ever in any way ever even lay a freakin finger (not even to lift off) on that bar unless it’s not going up. and don’t train to absolute failure on benches anyway. and forget how much weight your doing and focus on form.

[quote]bigpapapump wrote:
use slight decline and flat close grip presses to increase bench strength. i say stick your chest out while shoulders back, imagine your shoulders being above shoulder level. tht littel detail can change alot. lower to about an inch above your pecs.
[/quote]

I know what you’re trying to say, but you might want to re-word this statement, as it doesn’t really make too much sense when you read it.

[quote]
spotters should also never ever in any way ever even lay a freakin finger (not even to lift off) on that bar unless it’s not going up. and don’t train to absolute failure on benches anyway. and forget how much weight your doing and focus on form. [/quote]

I agree with spotters not touching the bar unless you’re absolutely not getting the weight up (unless you’re doing forced reps), but I’d disagree about them not giving you a lift off. Lift offs are a good way to spare your shoulders. Or, you could always just do slight incline benches in the Smith, then you don’t need to worry about a lift off.

To the OP, I’d second the suggestions to:

  1. work on the mind muscle connection (this may mean going back and relearning how to bench using your pecs, which will require you to use less weight)

  2. Switch to DB variations, as this allows for a more pronounced horizontal shoulder adduction movement, and a larger and more natural ROM.

  3. Really work on the details that have been mentioned about any correctly performed chest exercise (shoulder blades back, don’t lock out, keep elbows at a 45 degree angle to torso, etc…)

Good luck.

I appreciate the posts.

I am looking for more overall mass and not necessarily the numbers. That was just a point of reference. I have always had a better feeling with decline bench and incline bench. The overall press numbers are larger for decline (significantly) and just a little smaller for incline.

I do perform x-overs and dips. One question. When you say focus on the elbow flare, I assume you mean bring the elbows flared toward the body more. This is the same idea as grip to bend the bar, making the elbows come in closer to the body? Oddly, dumbell presses are usually worse for me. I have this mental block where I have to get the dumbells locked, and in doing so roll my shoulders forward. That obviously would work the shoulders, unpinch my shoulder blades and cause havoc.

One question. When you saw roll the shoulders back, I was having a hard time envisioning that. What was meant by that? I dabbled in power lifting but really lost my drive and now am back to focusing more on overall body composition. My ego is pretty low so relearning the press with correct form is not a problem. Just want to make sure I relearn correctly.

I remember reading something about how Kenny Waller always used the decline bench press , because his shoulders were overpowering . can’t say much else than that because I don’t have overpowering shoulders.

[quote]austin_bicep wrote:
It could be where you are gripping the bar. The closer the grip the more emphasis on the triceps and front delts, the wider the grip the more emphasis on the pecs. If you want you can add some dumbbell flys with your benching as they hit my chest very well.[/quote]

Agreed. A lot of guys won’t do this because their bench numbers will go down. But, if you really want to take the delts out of it go wide grip on the bar concentrate on form keep your back and butt flat on the bench and work those pecs. Mixing in dumbbells and incline decline are of course desired, but too many times I hear stop flat benching and do dumbbells only as the cure. I don’t agree with that. Keep flat benching but again wider grip and strict form will help strengthen those pecs.

You need to be able to hit the bar for heavy weight to increase strength overall. You can build nice looking pecs with dumbbells only, but won’t be able to build substantially bigger pecs that max weight that only a bar can give you. As always a good mix of both should be utilized.

D

You should try to feel your pecs working and choose your exercises accordingly. dumbell flies that go low will give the chest a good stretch/burn. So will to-the-neck bench press with wide grip. Use a lot less weight than your normal bench and make sure you have a spotter. If you’re doing it right you should feel the pecs working. maybe even skip flat bench press for a while if you think your chest really needs to just catch up?

It was sugested in some article that to really hit your chest you do 1.5 reps per rep. In other words go down to your chest, go halfway up, drop down to your chest and lock out out and that counts as one rep.

This combined with a wide grip and concentrating on contracting your pecs should get them to fire.

Useually i just bench as heavy as possible, but on repition days I have started doing this and have noticed less soreness in my delts and more in my chest, so i guess it works.

hey i got the same problem and have been working to eliminate it. I have been seeing really good results so far. What I did to improve the problem:
First few weeks prefatigue the chest then give it the normal workout i would have done ie: Really high reps of dumbell flyes (like 50 reps) so that chest kinda hurts. Focus on the contraction and feel it burn. Now, when you continue with you chest workout you will feel it in ur chest, allowing your brain to establish a clear connection with you muscle. It take a couple of weeks of this. You probably won’t see too many physical gains here because 60 reps is defintely not ideal for hypertrophy :stuck_out_tongue: but its a necessary step in teaching ureself how to contract ur chest Also, just while walking around at home or whatever, I would contract chest and flex pecs etc etc just to further establish mind-muscle connection.
Next few weeks, i did only dumbell pressing work. Since you have a detoid dominance, do your flat and decline work first then move onto incline. Again, dumbells only. Stick to a high rep range for this and the previous set of weeks- you are not trying to see gains, but trying to learn to contract- 10-12 reps is good.
Then, you will likely be able to get back to barbell work. MY problem was that i used to protract the scapula (look it up if you don’t know what it means there’s no substitute for an anatomical defintion)i used to cave in chest essentially. You need to stick chest out, lock it in that position, then press and FEEL it in you chest. Again stick to high rep work for a while
Last thing- do chest on its own day so your body doesn’t learn that shoulders tie in with your chest or triceps with your chest. Teach it taht chest is its own muscle. Do taht by training it by itself. Once a week is enough

Im just starting to get back to barbell work and im finally seeing pec gains for the first time ever.

HS Chest Press, if your gym has one. Give it a try, I got on very well with it.