The ever popular bench press is the go to piece of apparatus on chest day, if there’s gonna be a queue in the gym, it’ll be for the bench! Granted this is for good reason, after all a well structured and executed chest regime is likely to bare the fruits of a full looking, defined chest. If this isn’t the case for you though, then here are 5 key reasons why that might be…
1.) Your grip needs changing.
OK, this one amendment in isolation may not be the trigger for you to start growing, but in the case of your chest, many small amendments will soon add up! If you’re currently gripping the bar just outside shoulder width, then try taking your hands out a hands width again (wide grip) enabling you to recruit your outer pecs. The range of motion will be smaller but the weight is likely to feel heavier, so exercise caution. Once you have done this, the next session alternate your grip between shoulder width, then wide grip the next session, and then try bringing the grip in at least a hands width from shoulder width (close grip) in order to recruit the inner pecs and triceps.
2.) The weight isn’t right.
Too many people will try to lift a heavy weight in order to promote muscle growth. A weight that restricts you to a rep range of 5-8 is great for strength, and may well enable you to lift heavier in the coming weeks/months. The problem with a rep range of 5-8 is that localised blood perfusion is often inadequate to invoke growth. There is a fine line between reducing the weight you lift between growth and definition, a rep range of 12-15 for example is better suited to a toning and definition goal, but there may be instances where this can be applied to growth too. Ideally though, aim for a weight that enables you to fail at or around 8-10 reps, this will promote blood flow and the appropriate hormone release, as well as stimulating some improvements in strength….win win!
3.) You don’t have a spotter.
Many people train without a spotter, some of the greatest names in bodybuilding prefer to train alone. This said, if they want to try for a 1RM or maximal lift/ press, then rest assured they will acquire a spotter somehow. Many people at the gym will be happy to assist with spotting so long as you are considerate when asking. Do not approach them right before they appear to be prepping for a lift, rather wait for them to finish their set before asking if you could trouble them…gym etiquette is always well received. If you are unable to get a spotter, then shift over to a Smith Machine, ignore those people who say ‘you shouldn’t bench on a Smith Machine’, that philosophy is utter tosh! The Smith Machine gives you that security should you fail, so try inserting the security clips on the runners to catch you should you fail.
4.) Lack of mobility.
Reduced range of motion can be significantly hinder your bench. You are unlikely to be hitting every muscle fibre if you are unable to lower the bar to your chest. Some people find this full range of motion can impinge their anterior deltoids (front shoulders), but rest assured that with some shoulder and chest mobility moves you’ll be increasing the weight you lift, AND your potential for growth. Allocate 10-15 mins to some static and dynamic stretching in the chest and shoulder region before your session. Jay Cutler famously said that a stretched muscle is a compliant muscle (or something along those lines), so get mobile!
5.) Failing to ‘lock it up’.
Any powerlifter worth their salt will tell you the key to getting a maximal lift out stems from ‘locking it up’. In other words, a bench press is far from just contracting your chest! The best bench pressers will lock their glutes by clenching them tight, and pinching their scapulas together i.e. tensing your back by pushing the chest forward and squeezing your back muscles. Maintaining torsion on the bar is also important, when gripping the bar imagine you are trying to bend the bar in half (bending it to make an ‘n’ shape), this naturally loads torsion in the forearms and wrists and should enable you to get the most from your bench.