6 Ways to Increase Chest Muscle Growth And Prevent Injury
Over my 50-years in the Bodybuilding and fitness game, there has been one question that stands out from all the other questions I’m asked almost every day, it stands head and shoulders above all the others, and that’s… “How much weight can you bench press”. As a bodybuilder you shouldn’t get involved in this debate, because we are trying to build muscle mass and NOT strength.
But there is a debate to be had over using the correct technique and, which method, bar, dumbbells, wide grip, for example, one should or shouldn’t use. More important than that, there is a far wider debate to be had around ‘Why’ the bench press may possibly be one of the most prolific exercises to cause…INJURY?
‘Why‘ ham I writing about this, simple, I have had a tendon injury that was caused by the ‘Bench press’!
There’s no doubt about it, bad technique has a lot to do with injuries, but it goes way beyond just bad technique, it’s more to do with… PUSHING FAR TOO MUCH WEIGHT!
There are many different courses and types of injuries, far too many to give them any justice hear, so I will attempt to give you an overview, in the hope you will take this information aboard and decrease any possibility of you becoming injured yourself.
First off and unfortunately, the one method that’s causes the most injuries, is the one we all tend to do when starting at the gym, and that’s the flat bench press. This is, because the flat bench over isolates the Pectoral Minor and becomes ‘Overdeveloped’.
This over-development, can course an imbalance, which becomes more acute the longer you train without correcting the problem. This imbalance puts stress on muscles, tendons, and joints. These soft tissues where never meant to operate under these conditions and eventually may fail!
It’s further compounded when people insist on either lifting to heavier a weight, or become frustrated with their lack of progress and start to train their chest more than once a week.
Secondly, people rely on their training partners far too much? They also engage in the game of ‘You can lift it, I’ll lift more’. A partner is there for encouragement and safety. Competition is a good thing, but NOT inside the gym, it can lead to someone getting injured… Ego should always be left at the gym door before entering!
I’ve seen this happening a thousand times in the gym, I have even had training partners that go way beyond encouragement, almost demanding you do more weight than you can handle. Also, even the best spotter in the world can’t grab the weight off you, until it’s too late. You fail to control your lift and in that millisecond, before your spotter can help, you have incurred an injury.
Ask yourself this one question, how often in the gym have you witnessed someone who has just finished their bench press, get up off the bench pulling their shoulders back, giving them a good stretch, well the chances are, they have incurred a ‘Micro-tear’, probably through pressing to heavy weight.
If you continue to incur micro-tears, they will become chronic in time, stopping your training for weeks, months, or may be for good. Types of injuries can range from, shoulder, small bicep tendon tears, to upper and lower Pectoral muscle separation.
So ‘How’ can we avoid these injuries
- Warm-up. To most this would seem to be a no-brainier, but you would be surprised just how many people don’t, and go straight into their bench press routine. I believe this as something to do with the idea that, because you start off with a low weight, then it’s OK to dive straight in. But this is unfortunately, untrue, especially on a cold winter’s day. You should always warm-up your Pecs, because this helps to flood the area with blood and pre-stress the soft tissue such as the tendons and ligaments. I prefer to use dumbbells for this process. Also, in order to get the range of movement we have in our shoulder, nature had to give-up some stability, which leaves our shoulder join open to damage.
- Proper Technique. Technique not only helps to prevent injuries, but it helps to increase strength and muscle mass. It’s important never to catch your muscles out with jerky or, stop and go movements, try the keep your movement as smooth as possible. Your movement should also be delivered in a slow, controlled manner. When lowering the bar down, make the movement positive and slow, pursing at the bottom, just touching your chest, NOT bouncing off, and then accelerate the bar back to the top, try not to lock out your arms, this will keep the stress on the Pecs, helping to penetrate deeper into the muscle fibres.
- Use a Slightly Closer Grip. Something in-between a standard and close grip, this stops the chest from opening so wide, preventing possible damage, but still activating the muscle enough to trigger development.
- Try Lowering to The Clavicle. Most people will lower the bar down to their Solar-plexus before returning it back to the top of the movement. This puts a lot of stress on your shoulder muscles, apart from the joint; it affects the Deltoid muscles and the tendons that run from the centre of the Clavicle to the head of the small bicep muscle. So instead, try lowering the bar to the centre of the Clavicle where it joins the Sternum, you won’t be able to lift as much weight, but boy-oh-boy will it work your Pecs.
- And ‘Why’ Not Try Giving The Dumbbells a Go. They are much easier on the shoulder muscles, tendons, ligaments, and the joint. This is, because unlike the bar that restricts side lateral motion, the dumbbells don’t. This is a more natural movement, giving your Pec muscles more stretch, helping to breakdown more fibres, leading to more muscle growth and less injuries. Also, when using the dumbbells, the weaker-side has to work harder and can’t rely on the stronger muscle to compensate, helping to increase muscle growth and strength.
- What Is a Maximum Weight to Bench Press. A good question, people really don’t know ‘How’ to work out their heaviest weight to press. Put simply, your heaviest weight would be the weight that makes you work to failure on your 6th rep. Do 5 reps and it’s too heavy, do 7 reps and it’s to light. But remember it has to be to failure on your 6th rep, if you feel that you could have done another rep, then you didn’t work to failure and you won’t get the full benefit of growth and strength.
After damaging my tendon doing bench press, not even pressing my maximum weight on the bar, I realized that there was the potential for others to do the same, In fact, over the 50-years I’ve been involved with bodybuilding, running my own gym, I have seen many injuries that could have been prevented, Just by having a little more understanding of the mechanism involved when bench pressing. ‘How’ this movement, plus the shoulder joint lower stability, can stress the muscles, tendons, and joints, to the point of failure, and ‘Why’ it’s so crucial to use good technique and weights appropriate to you.
I hope that the above information presented here today, will help to prompt you into thinking about the potential injury you could sustain when bench pressing. I sincerely hope it will compel you to taking some action to help prevent any possible injuries to yourself.
Remember that an injury may prevent you from training for months, even forcing you to give-up? So ask yourself this question… “Is it really worth it”.
Strength and development comes through practicing good form over a consistent length of time.
I have written a book on ‘Building a Powerful Physique’, for more information click this link: Build a Powerful Phy