T Nation

Minimize Shoulders/Tris When Bench Pressing


#1

Ok so here is my problem. I have been making good gains in most areas (physcially and on the bar) but I can't seem to add to my chest. When I bench I feel my shoulders and triceps doing most of the work no matter what I do. I've experimented with grip changes, incline/ decline, and I've tried to pre-exhaust my shoulders and triceps before I bench as well.

No matter what I've done so far nothing has changed. I do flyes and cables but have had minimal success. I don't do steroids or take any kind of muscle building supplements. I've been lifting about a year now, I'm a 38 year old male, and everything else is progressing nicely. I don't know if I'm geniticly screwed or if it's something else.

Also, I've done 5x5, declining reps while adding weight, and a few other mass building programs for my chest. With all that being said, I know I'm way less experienced then a lot of people here so any advice would be great. Is there any other way to minimize shoulder and tricep involvement while pressing or a way to maximize chest involvement? Thanks in advance!


#2

You could try pre-exausting your chest. Flare your elbows more. Or you could use a different exercise. You don’t have to bench for your chest.


#3

I found I was able to better recruit my pecs when I stopped lockout out the bench. You could also combine that with a Spoto press, and basically pause the bar slightly off your chest and then not lockout at the top, constantly keeping tension on your pecs.

Can you do a push-ups where you feel your pecs contracting? It may be a mind/muscle issue.


#4

def can feel it when i do push ups. ill try to not lock out or let the bar touch. ill also try doing it while flaring out my elbows and see if it works. thanks


#5

I have made the most size gains in my chest recently through benching by doing two things:

  1. Using a false grip

  2. Making sure I try to bring my hands together while they are on the bar during both concentric and eccentric phases. This helps me “activate” my pecs better and feel them working more…if that makes sense.


#6

Maybe try some squeeze pressing to activate your chest. Or you could add them at the end of your training and see how that works.

[quote]Christian Thibaudeau wrote:

[quote]Powerpuff wrote:

Thank you!

The DB squeeze presses have been an great alternative to flat benching for me. I really like being able to work my chest without having my shoulder in a stretched position, and I’ve made better progress with hypertrophy since I started doing them. That pic is from an article by Christian Thibaudeau by the way, which is where I got the idea.

I have to be a bit careful handling heavy DBs because I don’t want to tweak a wrist picking them up. I’m prone to that, but the neutral grip on the squeeze presses is fairly protective of both wrists and shoulders.
[/quote]

For the squeeze press you don’t have to go too heavy, the key really is on squeezing-in hard and going up slowly to get a great peak contraction. Going too heavy can reduce the effectiveness of the movement.

Here’s one of my clients doing them. This is just a demo video of a triple set, normally we do 8-10 reps on squeeze presses. With someone with shoulders issue I don’t recommend this superset, it’s just to illustrate the squeeze press.

Oddly enough we seem to get a better contraction if we DON’T squeeze in hard during the lowering part.

The same movement CAN be done with heavier weights and WITHOUT a hard squeeze. It becomes a “neutral press with contact” as I call it and you are right, you can go fairly heavy without shoulder stress.

Both exercise have their place in a program.[/quote]

Christian talks about using heavier DBs - Neutral Press with Contact. I stopped flat BB benching for a while due to shoulder issues, and so these became a favorite move. LOVE THEM.

Anyway, I rarely see other people in the gym doing them, but I like them a lot for really feeling the mind muscle connection.


#7

As mentioned, you certainly don’t need to flat bench, but I found this really helpful.

I usually bench in more of the J pattern he describes for body building and I’m tweaking my form to more of a PLing movement now. Anyway, sometimes little changes in positioning will help me feel the muscle I’m trying to work a lot more, putting more of the load on my chest instead of my front delts and tris. I hope this helps.


#8

I’m a meadows fan boy but the man knows what he’s doing when it comes to mind/muscle connection so you could give this a try


#9

You can always live on the edge and try the guillotine bench press (yikes). I have struggled for quite some time with my pecs and lately have been using only dumbbells and the guillotine press for all my chest press exercises and I am liking the result.


#10

I like incline presses with the shoulders slightly shrugged, and trying to compress the bar like Dragon_horse posted.

I figured out that keeping my shoulder blades forcefully pressed down was taking my upper pecs out of the lift, and of course trying to pull the bar apart puts more triceps into it. I also don’t lock out at the top, and pause just a little at the bottom.


#11

[quote]T3hPwnisher wrote:
I found I was able to better recruit my pecs when I stopped lockout out the bench.[/quote]

This is what I found as well. I’m a very very shoulder dominant bencher, but my program these days has some no lockout slow descent flat benching, and my pecs truly quiver at the end of every set.

I also found doing slight incline (like a plate under the upper portion of the bench) seemed to help with pec recruitment somehow. It basically still felt like a flat bench, but somehow ended up recruiting my pecs alot more. Maybe my shoulders had to act as stabilizers more than usual, so my chest had to kick in, I’m really not sure.


#12

I would agree with not locking out the bench press and so some Squeeze Presses that Powerpuff recommended. Those really help you feel the chest.


#13

Wow thanks for all the advice! I would have never thought of even half of these. Im gonna spend some time writing thus stuff down then experimenting to see what works. Thank you everyone for your advice and time! Much obliged


#14

I believe there are 2 kind of people when it comes to chest development.

  1. These ones have a decent chest development right from the beginning. They do the basics ( flat bench, incline bench, fly and dips ) and grow. They dont need to reinvent the wheel, all they have to do is keep training.

  2. These ones have shitty chest development from the beginning and they also usually have shitty chest genetics. They do the basics as Arnold and all other greats advised but nothing changes. Then they start spending their entire time looking for the best chest workout or the best chest exercises and after trying everything possible, they end up with a chest that is maybe a little less shitty. Thats all. Im sad to say that im in the 2nd group.


#15

Fatigue your triceps before, but DON’T just flare out your elbows!! This just puts your shoulders in a bad/dangerous position.

…You won’t even be able to train your chest at all if you mess up your shoulders bad.


#16

[quote]PlayinatTLP wrote:
When I bench I feel my shoulders and triceps doing most of the work no matter what I do. I’ve experimented with grip changes, incline/ decline, and I’ve tried to pre-exhaust my shoulders and triceps before I bench as well.

Is there any other way to minimize shoulder and tricep involvement while pressing or a way to maximize chest involvement? Thanks in advance![/quote]

This needs to be emphasised as it appears there are still lifters out there that just don’t quite get it:

Pre exausting shoulders or triceps before benching will take the chest out of the lift even further especially if you are shoulder and tricep dominant. It is the exact opposite of what you should do if you want to target the chest.

Pre exhausting is about working the target muscle not the synergist muscle. An example of this would be to do cable crossovers as a first exercise before doing bench press. This way the target muscle being the pectorals is already stimulated and will be felt more during the bench press.

You would only pre exhaust triceps before a bench press if you were doing a close grip bench press as an actual tricep exercise. If however like in your case you want to target the pectorals then you would not pre exhaust triceps at all. You would pre exhaust the pectorals.


#17

[quote]Angus1 wrote:

[quote]PlayinatTLP wrote:
When I bench I feel my shoulders and triceps doing most of the work no matter what I do. I’ve experimented with grip changes, incline/ decline, and I’ve tried to pre-exhaust my shoulders and triceps before I bench as well.

Is there any other way to minimize shoulder and tricep involvement while pressing or a way to maximize chest involvement? Thanks in advance![/quote]

This needs to be emphasised as it appears there are still lifters out there that just don’t quite get it:

Pre exausting shoulders or triceps before benching will take the chest out of the lift even further especially if you are shoulder and tricep dominant. It is the exact opposite of what you should do if you want to target the chest.

Pre exhausting is about working the target muscle not the synergist muscle. An example of this would be to do cable crossovers as a first exercise before doing bench press. This way the target muscle being the pectorals is already stimulated and will be felt more during the bench press.

You would only pre exhaust triceps before a bench press if you were doing a close grip bench press as an actual tricep exercise. If however like in your case you want to target the pectorals then you would not pre exhaust triceps at all. You would pre exhaust the pectorals.

[/quote]

I would also include/prioritise dumbbells. The bench press is great, but if your primary goal isn’t to bench more, look at other exercises that target the chest better.


#18

To echo, preexhausting the shoulders and triceps is the worst possible thing you could do if you’re looking to increase pec involvement in the bench. Those are the weak links in the first place due to the shear mass and mechanical advantage the pecs possess within the movement, so all that does is weaken the weak link further and cause failure at a point where the pecs are getting even less out of the lift.

IME, poor setup is the likely culprit. The pecs will be inhibited by a weak upper back/lats, so first get them tight in your setup, and drill those groups with accessory work. Maximal pec activation occurs in a slight decline, which you just so happen to achieve when in a slight arch with tight traps and lats, and the shoulderblades anchored together and down.

As for the movement itself, try to meet the bar with your chest as you descend. This will cue your upper back to stay tight and put your elbows where they need to be naturally…tucking the elbows aggressively will hurt your bench and is a lazy cue that doesn’t address the real issue of upper back tightness. Pause the bar on your chest. Dive bombing is ego BS and will reinforce a loose back. Lastly, squeeze the damn bar and get your knuckles pointed up. Most everyone has wrist drop, which makes for inefficient force transfer through the bar and overloads the triceps, which will cause failure there long before the pecs are properly fatigued. This is why you see people go to false grip benching because it’s one less thing to think about. But ultimately you’ll be better off learning how to bench without limp wrists :wink:

Also, use a moderate to narrow grip…maybe a thumb out from the smooth part of the bar to start out. This increases range of motion and allows for greater contraction at lockout. It does work the triceps more, but it also has been shown over and over again to elicit greater pec activation as well.

The bench press has the best potential for pec development. It’s s compound exercise that allows for huge loads and thus maximal muscle activation, while also having great potential for ROM and thus work and muscle tension. Assume your setup is wrong, fix it, and then give bench an honest chance. And db press, do push-ups, and do dips controlled and through a long ROM. If that doesn’t get you good chest development then you’re screwed anyway.

Signed,
A 198er with a huge chest who benches 450


#19

OP, do you have relatively long arms?


#20

HeavyTriple’s comment made me wonder. Can everyone bench significantly more on a decline?

I’d assume so. I can feel my chest a lot more that way. I don’t press a BB on an incline or BB OHP because I’m protective of my shoulder, but decline bench doesn’t aggravate it at all.

Signed,
A 113 pounder who benches about what some of you guys were benching when you were 12. :wink: