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Safe(r) Pec Training

Safe(r) Pec Training

The muscles associated with the ‘Chest’…

…are often the first that come to mind when we think of weightlifting, and every person who lifts weights even for hobby’s heard the question ‘what’s your bench?’ As bodybuilders, however, it’s important not to get caught up in the numbers game, keeping in mind were not powerlifters but trying to build the most optimal physique for the stage possible. While presses and movements of its ilk serve a fundamental role in quality chest development, because of their surface-level simplicity can be ‘disrespected’ both by novice and veteran lifters alike, often causing injury that would be preventable with a little more precautions/awareness and a little less ego.

The biggest culprit, bench press and many of its variations. There are many factors making bench the root of a lot of injuries, ranging from the way the movement distributes weight to the variety of types of injuries it causes. Flat bench is particularly guilty of causing injury for a couple of reasons. First, it over isolates to the pec minor; in doing so, the pec minor’s strength is developed to supersede that of the upper chest. This overdevelopment can get to the point the chest will naturally start to activate improperly, creating and compensating for imbalances that are then developed further with training that doesn’t take them into account. Second, there’s no ‘give’ or safety net. Even with a good spotter, there’s a delay, and while it sounds dramatic, the reality is even milliseconds can make the difference between making gains or causing long-term injury.


The bench press can cause issues at both the shoulder (referred to as Bencher’s shoulder in medical text) as well as the muscle itself at either of its attachments. Anytime you see a person stand up after benching, grab their shoulder, and dynamically stretch it, you’re more than likely witnessing someone suffer from a case of overuse insertional tendinopathy of the pectoralis minor, essentially a shoulder injury that causes inflammation/tenderness but can develop into long-term cumulative use injuries.

Now that a base has been established as to the root causes of these issues, how do we avoid pec injury while building the best chest possible? By manipulating the ranges of motion. Yes, it’s a simple solution, but could prevent the vast number of chest/shoulder injuries that are common amongst athletes, let alone bodybuilders. In fact, many strength programs geared towards athletes already incorporate ROM manipulation as to prevent injury already, specifically for chest, and also explains some of the low numbers we see for athletes at the combine for example, as they don’t train for performance under those circumstances.

The manipulation of the range of motion is a practice already adopted by many forward thinking college strength programs. While the results from these adjustments don’t always show on tests such as those of the combine, which leave room for subjective interpretation; more importantly, they do translate to performance when it matters on the field, or in a bodybuilder’s case, at the gym. Here are some basic adjustments you can make to help prevent injury.

Close(r) Grip Press: While standard grip bench is what most have a natural affinity for, a close(r) grip can often provide a much better and more productive alternative. The (r) is there because this isn’t an actual close grip bench; rather in between a standard and close grip. This alternate grip limits the movement’s range of motion to ~80%. While the chest doesn’t open up as widely at the bottom of the movement, this limitation prevents a ton of possible damage, while still activating the muscle enough to trigger development. Some weight shifts to the triceps but not excessively so, as the case with a close grip, so they too get quality activation but less damage to the smaller muscles of the elbows, etc.

Slight Incline: Even the most minor adjustment can dramatically alter the efficacy and safety of a movement, the slope of a bench is one of these adjustments. Not a full incline, the slight incline is a replacement for flat. Slightly raising the incline will dramatically shift the movement, better activating the often overlooked upper chest, easing some of the excessive strain off the pec minor and front deltoids. These benefits can be achieved even on the lowest of inclines

Smith Machine: As previously mentioned, even the best of spotters have a delay, opening a window for injury. The Smith eliminates this issue, handing full control to the user and can be easily adjusted to limit the range of motion/provide a safety net in a worst case scenario. It provides a similar movement to the flat bench but can better isolate to ‘chest’ for bodybuilding purposes.

Simple as they seem, these tricks are some of the most overlooked tools in preventing injury while training chest. Just remember, you are bodybuilding, we’re trying to lift the most weight needed to develop a quality physique, not set records moving the most weight as powerlifters, so adjust your training accordingly. There’s still a place for the flat bench in a bodybuilder’s regimen, however, respect the movement and be aware of the risks. Hope these tips help you start off the new year with some gainz.


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