Don’t get it confused, we’re not going to be expecting you to be pulling out your belt, screwdrivers and hammers. But we will be expecting you to get yourself dirty!
Here at Power Moves Fitness we’re talking about building a big ol’ chest with a shelf. Of all the chest exercises out there, the bench press tends to be the ‘go to’ exercise in order to build yourself like a beast and look like an extra from Game Of Thrones (Khal Drogo and his crew, of course) or (insert other desirable character). As with any other muscle group, the chest is about not only training hard, but training smart!
Before we get into the nitty gritty of this, that and the other, let’s begin with the age old debate of barbell vs dumbbells! Generally, the feel is that barbells are favoured over dumbbells as we can ‘go harder’ and lift heavier weights (ego, ego, ego). Why? Because two heads are better than one. Or, two arms in this case. HOWEVER, the pectoral muscles cannot move through a full range of motion with the barbell. Even with the use of a wide grip (said to enhance the engagement of the pecs), you’re more likely to increase shoulder joint stress and risk of injury than you are size. With dumbbells, you do have to ‘sacrifice’ some energy to allow for the stabilisation of your arms and shoulders but you will get a greater range of motion, utilising more of those beautiful muscle of yours!
Whilst we’re on the topic of stabilisation, what do we love? STABLE BENCHES! If the aim of the game in a big ol’ chest with a shelf (as stated in the title, otherwise, why are you reading this?), stability is the way forward. The use of a swiss ball can actually reduce muscle activity in your pecs and triceps by 69-80% than that experienced when lifting on a bench. If growing a strong dense muscular chest is not the name of your game, be my guest, use your swiss ball. Otherwise, make the smart choice and find a steady bench.
Strength leads to mass, so it’s time to strength up (is that English?). The fastest way to gain strength is to lift fast! Studies have shown that benching at a faster tempo will help to produce more force and will demand more from your muscles, leading to a greater activation of your chest muscles (notable; type 2 fast twitch fibres). It showed that working at a faster tempo for just six sessions in a three week period can help your bench press strength increase by 10%. That’s a little number but big gains. Not feeling the fast tempo? Smash your sets! Instead of working 4 sets, how about 8? Yes, yes, I hear you crying ‘8 sets? Why on earth? That will take forever’. Because working a higher number of sets for 10 weeks (that’s 8 sets, instead of the traditional 4) can increase your 1RM by just under 50%. Need I say much more? The possibilities are endless. **cheesy grin
Although a fast tempo is a fast way to make gains, it’s important to vary your works to ensure your body doesn’t become comfortable and your training becomes ineffective (well, maybe not ineffective, but not AS effective). VARIATION IS KEY! Make sure you consider your fast tempo, max strength (what ‘we’ class as a PB), hypertrophy with a 2111 tempo and finally muscular endurance with a 4111 tempo.
NOTE TO SELF (and all of you guys, too) – STRUCTURAL BALANCE
Balance is important, if your chest or back muscles are over powering one or the other, it’s going to lead to injuries on the bench. Structural imbalances can lead to weakness in muscles that help to stabilise your scapula. How do you know if you have an imbalance? Stand up straight with your arms relaxed by your side. An imbalance will generally present with the back of your hands facing forward. Maybe it’s time to incorporate some face pulls into your workout!
HOW CAN I PUSH MSELF TO THE NEXT LEVEL (and look nifty doing it)?
CHAINS & BANDS!
Chains will help you to build that explosive strength, alongside the swinging backwards and forwards that will help to increase the use of your stabiliser muscles. As you lift the bar and the chains rise from the dead (or the floor, whatever sounds more dramatic for you), the greater the resistance becomes and matches the resistance curve of the exercises throughout. After this, try lifting a matching weight (that replaces the chains) and you’ll find that superhero buzz beaming on the inside as you smash through your hulk-like press.
Bands are effect as they increase the eccentric load during the initial movement of your bench press. With that extra pull, remember that you’re not going to be able to load the bar with as much weight as you do without the bands. As with chains, they can be extremely demanding on your body. Don’t use them too often and make sure you get more than enough rest in-between usage. However, they can be super effective for increasing explosive power (which of course leads to greater strength when benching without your nifty bands).
GYM HACK: working with chains and bands causes a stupendous amount of fatigue to your neuromuscular system and should be best worked within the low rep phase of your training programme. Also, if you’re going to use chains or bands, you should aim to start pressing 40-50% of your 1RM on the bench. Again, it’s best coupled with the 8 set portion of your training programme in order to get the most out of it!
THINGS TO AVOID – THE SMITH MACHINE!
Yes, yes. You want to conserve your energy and not waste it on the swiss ball holding your core and legs tight, I hear ya, BUT… the use of the smith machine will eliminate ANY use of your stabilisation skills (e.g. controlling the path of the bar) and decrease the muscle activity in your pecs, delts and biceps due to an unnatural path. This unnatural path will place unnecessary stress on your joints and increase risk of injury.
FINALLY… DON’T FORGET YOUR SHOULDER PRESSES!
Why? The standing overhead shoulder press helps increase strength and gains by developing your delts, trapezius and triceps, in turn working as a preventative measure against shoulder injuries. By focusing purely on the bench press and neglecting the shoulder press, you shorten your subscapularis muscles which increases the risk of injury.
GYM HACK: you should be able to dumbbell overhead press a third of what you can on the close grip barbell press (that’s 29%, for you number geeks – 50kg close grip press = roughly 16kg dumbbell press) for 8 reps.
So, if you’re thinking about building yourself a chest with a shelf, think about the bigger picture. Don’t just think of your chest, consider your shoulders too. Think big, think smart!
Nippard, J. (2016). The Most Scientific Way to Train CHEST for Growth (9 studies). Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/HtV1FIPyTEw
Poliquin Group. (2014). Ten Tips To Master The Bench Press. Retrieved from: http://main.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/1135/Ten_Tips_To_Master_The_Bench_Press.aspx
Poliquin Group. (2015). Eight Practical Tips for a Stronger Bench Press. Retrieved from: http://main.poliquingroup.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/1332/Eight_Practical_Tips_for_a_Stronger_Bench_Press.aspx
Smith, C. (2017). Strong Chest, Big Chest: Build Mass That’ll Work For You! Retrieved from: https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/strong-chest-big-chest-build-mass-thatll-work-for-you.html