When I was a kid of 16 and just getting into training, like everyone else I wanted to be big! In fact, I didn’t just want to be big…I wanted to be ARNOLD!
And at the time I had this huge poster on my wall. A classic, iconic photo where he was flexing his calf, but I just could not look past his tiny waist and a massive chest! Though unfortunately, I am not a distant relative of the Austrian Oaks!
We may be around the same height, but I grew up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney and I was not blessed with outstanding pec development.
In fact, over the years I have had to work my mental muscle just as much as my brawn, in bringing up my chest to where I now consider it to be one of my better body parts.
I attribute this to my “3 P’s” checklist.
The “3 P’s” is my preparation and performance checklist I created to ensure that I get the most potential for growth from every single repetition I perform!
To give you a run through, this is how I apply the “3 P’s” to the most common chest exercise of them all… the bench press!
Before even worrying about pressing the bar, you need to be able to get yourself into the right position on the bench.
Ask yourself, “am I in the right biomechanical position to place the most amount of force directly into my chest?”
As you lay on the bench, position yourself so your eyes are directly under the bar. This will allow you to press freely with no fear of hitting the uprights once you commence.
Before taking the bar, pull your shoulder blades together (retraction) and roll them under (depression), whilst maintaining the slight arch in your lower back.
This position will ensure correct scapular positioning and shoulder stability.
How you hold the bar is incredibly important and something I really insist you emphasise, because you WILL notice an immediate difference!
In terms of hand width, it will vary slightly from person to person. What I aim for is for my forearms to remain perpendicular to the ground in the ‘lowered’ position. This way, as I exert force through the contraction I am pressing directly upwards.
But I want to talk a little more about your “grip”. Don’t just grip the bar, I believe there is more to it!
Have you noticed, if your grip starts to ‘slip outwards’, you will lose power through your chest and will start to feel the exercise in your triceps.
How I rectify this, is when I take my grip on the bar I start with my thumb and index finger. I wrap these around the bar, with my thumb overlapping my index finger and locking in tight. Then, I will wrap the rest of my fingers along the bar, from my middle finger out.
I also ensure that my forearms stay directly under the bar, meaning I will keep my wrists in a ‘neutral’ position and not allowing them to ‘extend’ or bend back.
The resulting position is much like if I was extending to punch forward.
These are all steps taken to ensure I remain strong through the entire rep and the entire set.
How do you do your rep? Remember that in the bench press, your pecs are the prime mover (the big daddy powerhouse muscle) and all of your concentration should remain with the chest, and not just pushing the weight up by any means possible!
Now before you start your rep and lower the bar to the chest, take a big breath in.
As you lower, keep lifting your chest as high as possible. Almost like you are trying to touch your chest to the bar, not just lowering the bar to your chest.
When you hit the bottom position and you start to power back up, ensure that you are keeping your chest up high.
How many times have you noticed in the gym, when a lifter struggles their form starts to ‘collapse’ under the accumulated fatigue? Their chest drops, the shoulders protract forward and the elbows will abduct (much as a “call to arms” to the surrounding muscle groups to provide greater assistance).
And by the end of the set, they will remark that they felt the movement mostly in their delts and triceps.
When you are failing, every other thought (mostly panic) will come to mind instead of “keeping my form tight and squeezing”. This though is when you need the greatest concentration of all, to push through the failing feeling and keeping the stress directly on the targeted muscle.
To maintain my posture and to keep squeezing through the muscle, I will also remind myself to “drive through the bench”!
I will envision that the bar is immovable, and I need to push myself down and through the bench. This ensures I keep my chest up and don’t worry… the bar will move!
And at the end of the set, you will be wincing in pain as you rub your pecs, not wanting to do set 2 but that is all in a day’s work.
I honestly believe that by concentrating on the “purpose of the movement” and not solely on the movement itself, will really assist in your overall growth and development.