How many times have you heard, “Want a bigger chest? Then you have to bench."
Well, this is actually a pretty good answer to how to build a bigger chest. Because we know that the bench press is highly effective at growing the chest. Recent papers (this, and this) that track an individual’s bench press strength and chest growth over time show a strong positive correlation between them. And that means that a bigger bench does seem to lead to a bigger chest.
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But here’s the catch. Take a look at the numbers more closely. And we'll see a few instances where despite some subjects being able to bench significantly more weight than another subject, they didn’t have any extra chest growth to show for it:
There are also other instances. For example, despite having the same bench press strength, two individuals experienced a whopping 30% difference in the resulting growth of their chest:
Meaning that some individuals just don’t seem to respond as well as others do when it comes to growing their chest with the bench press. And believe me, I used to be one of these individuals. Everywhere else would grow except for my chest.
Yes, genetics can play a role in determining this.
But research clearly indicates that you can quickly improve the resulting chest growth you experience from the bench press by applying a few simple bench press tips. Trust me. It wasn’t until I finally applied the following two steps that I finally started to see my chest responding to the bench press. And growing very quickly as a result. Read on to find out how to build chest muscles with the bench press.
When it comes to how to build a bigger chest with the bench press, the first tip is the opening up your chest. Doing this allows you to use it more effectively when you perform the bench. Why? Well, because to place most of the tension onto the chest when benching, you need to be able to do two things:
Once you've accomplished those two, you'll naturally create a slight arch in your upper back with space between your back and the bench. And this is the position you need to maintain as you’re pressing. This position has two advantages. First, it's safer on your shoulder and contributes to a stronger press. And second, based on biomechanical analyses of the bench press, we know that it also increases the involvement of the chest in the movement. That's because it prevents the front delts from rounding forward and taking over.
When it comes to how to build a bigger chest, you need to avoid letting your front delts from rounding forward during the bench press at all costs. The more you let your shoulders round forward and chest cave in as you press, the more tension is going to be shifted away from the chest. And onto the front delts instead. And that results in less chest growth, with more front delts growth (exactly what happened to me back in the day). Not to mention, shoulder pain during the bench press.
So, the better you can keep that chest up and shoulder blades pinned back throughout the press, the better you’ll be able to actually use your chest when you bench. And you know what that means: better growth!
But the problem nowadays is that most of you are stuck in a forward rounded posture...
...which makes applying what I previously mentioned a lot more challenging.
Because as soon as you hop on the bench press, you’ll be naturally inclined and essentially designed to round your shoulders forward. Due to your posture and various mobility restrictions, you'd shift more tension to the front delts when pressing:
So, by improving these mobility restrictions, you’ll then be able to maintain proper bench press form. And hence indirectly boost the chest growth you experience from the bench press.
Now, I do have a recent article on fixing rounded shoulders. You should definitely give that, and this article on fixing hunchback posture a read. But basically the two things you need to focus on are:
This is so that you can keep that chest up and out and that upper back arched back as you press. And that is the correct bench press form.
One great dynamic stretch to help you achieve this is snow angels on a foam roller.
Lay on a foam roller with your head and butt supported and your shoulder blades pulled back and together.
Then you simply perform snow angels with your arms. Slowly rotate up as far as you can while keeping your hands touching the ground. Perform around 20-30 reps.
As your mobility improves from this, you can start adding weight to your hands with your arms held at 90 degrees. Doing so allows for an even deeper stretch.
By regularly doing exercises like this to open up your chest and loosen the upper back, you’re going to then be able to get into a much more efficient benching position. This position then allows you to use and place tension on your chest. Instead of the front delts.
Now, although you could be executing the bench press properly with the form I previously went through, chances are you still aren’t using your chest as much as you could be. And that's where getting better at actually activating your chest becomes important.
In one study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, even well-trained athletes were able to boost the activation of their chest by 22%! How? By simply using a few chest activation cues during the bench press.
And given that a recent 2018 study by Schoenfeld has indicated that boosting the neuromuscular activation and mind-muscle connection with your muscles as you train them leads to significantly greater growth, it’s clear to see how improving the activation of your chest as you bench can lead to greater growth as a result.
But, if you’re someone like me, and have always had a very difficult time activating your chest, there are a few things you’ll want to do. These have personally worked wonders for me. Once I applied them, they allowed me to finally feel my chest working.
When it comes to learning how to build a bigger chest, you first need to understand what the chest does in the first place. Its function is something called horizontal adduction. Which is simply the act of pulling your arm towards the midline of your body. So, whenever we perform the bench press, it’s the horizontal adduction and movement of our arms together that are activating our chest.
...and, as a result, this horizontal adduction presses the weight up when you bench:
So to properly activate your chest while you bench, you need to learn how to pull your arms together by using your chest muscles, as opposed to other muscles.
And to do this, you'll want to use the following chest activation exercise:
After you do these steps on both sides and feel a strong chest activation, it’s time to apply what you learned to the bench press.
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Start with just the bar. Before lowering it, pre-activate your chest. You can do so by thinking about bringing your hands inwards and pulling your biceps in towards each other. Obviously your hands won’t move but this will just help you engage your chest.
After this, start slowly performing reps with the bar. But you should no longer be thinking about just pressing the weight up. Instead, on the way up of every single rep, I want you to just think about pulling your biceps together. So focus on points A and points B that we previously went through. Just think about bringing those two points together every single rep.
This, when done in combination with the form I went through in step 1, should enable you to now feel a much stronger contraction in your chest.
And then from here, you can slowly add weight to the bar. Just keep in mind that the weight you’ll now be lifting will likely be considerably lighter than what you may have previously been lifting. But this is exactly what we want.
You’ve effectively minimized the involvement of your front delts and incorporated more of your chest instead. And that is undoubtedly going to lead to much better chest growth in the long run. Even if you’re using a lighter weight.
Alright, that's all I have for how to build a bigger chest with the bench press. Guys, I hope you were able to see that if you want to see the best results and build muscle in the right areas, then you need to be activating the right muscles during all of your exercises and executing these movements optimally.
Which doesn’t just apply to the chest, but to all your other muscle groups as well.
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