Posting up on the bench press seems like the perfect way to start off your workout week, but if you really want to maximize International Chest Monday, you may need to fix a few key points for your upper-body training. While you might have heard that a big bench is the path to a big, strong chest, there’s quite a bit more to it if you want a balanced, healthy body.
To get the most out of your chest workouts, Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., points out three common mistakes that beginners (and everyone else) should be aware of so that you can work on eliminating bad habits. These tips will help prevent any muscle imbalances and possible injuries that could put a quick close to your chest day routine.
Don’t Flare the Elbows When You Bench Press
It’s probably the biggest rookie mistake when it comes to dumbbell presses, Samuel says, but one that can be easily fixed. When trainees begin bench pressing, some people first try to lift the weight with a straight out, 90-degree upper arm to torso angle. This causes our elbows to flare out wide. Although you’ll feel tension in your pecs with this angle, you’ll eventually feel more uncomfortable shoulder stress—then even pain—in your shoulder joints.
The solution: Shoot for maintaining a nice 45-degree upper arm angle relative to your torso. This will not only be a safer angle for your shoulders, it’s also going to turn on your lats throughout the movement, allowing you to knock out more reps and increase your chest size — without nagging pain or discomfort.
You Incline Press With Poor Form
The incline press is a must when it comes to hitting your upper chest. However, another form flaw among inexperienced lifters is the angle in which they press from the incline position. Since you’re positioned at nearly a 90-degree angle, people will often press at the same angle. This extension is not only going to put extreme stress on your shoulders, it’s not even going to hit your upper chest.
The solution: The rule for incline presses—and most presses in general—is that your forearms should be perpendicular with the ground, no matter the angle of the press. Keep them perpendicular, and you’ll be hitting a whole bunch of different fibers, from a whole variety of incline angles.
You Ignore Your Back
This might be hard to fathom, but training your chest shouldn’t be solely focused on exercises that target the chest. If your only training attention goes to what’s in front of you, your whole physique will be thrown out of whack.
The solution: You should also be training your back muscles as well, particularly using rows. When you’re training your chest, your shoulders are constantly being pulled forward. Adding back-focused movements such as barbell rows will not only keep your shoulders healthy, but by pulling our chests open, it’s going to help improve your posture. That will allow you to show off all the hard work you’ve been doing on chest day.
Jeff Tomko is a freelance fitness writer who has written for Muscle and Fitness, Men’s Fitness, and Men’s Health.
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