How To Do A Chest Press
The chest press is a common exercise for strength and upper body muscular development and you should know how to do it right to get the benefits. A chest press is an exercise targeting the pectoralis major, minor, and triceps, with the help of other muscles such as the anterior deltoid, latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, and teres major. Therefore, a bench press (on a bench with a barbell, cable press, dumbbell chest press are chest press exercises. This compound exercise is popular among bodybuilders, but it also has weight loss and general function benefits too. Consequently, a chest press with good technique should be part of any fitness program.
When you know the motions of a chest press and how the muscles function, it’s easier to learn the correct form. Likewise, it will help you be creative in the different variations to get more benefits. You’ll learn what you need to know here by exploring:
- Joint motions and muscle actions during a chest press
- How to get the best technique in a chest press
- Common errors exercisers do during a chest press
- Variations and alternatives to a traditional chest press
Joint Motions And Muscle Actions In A Chest Press
As we dive into this exercise, we’ll use the bench press version of a chest press. Again, many exercises are versions of a chest press. Given the bench press is the most popular, it’s a good place to start. The chest press is a compound exercise. This means it uses more than one muscle and joint. During a traditional bench press, there are two primary joint motions. One occurs at the shoulder and the other occurs at the elbow (humeroulnar) joint. But, don’t overlook the motion occurring at the shoulder blade, which is shoulder protraction.
During any exercise, there are three motions or phases. There is the descent of the movement, an isometric stabilization, and the ascent (usually the upward motion). This is important to know because most people only think about the ascent (also called the concentric phase). Why? Because it’s the part where you feel the muscles you’re targeting.
Now, let’s take a look at the muscles and what they do at each joint motion.
Muscle Actions At The Shoulder
During the concentric phase of a chest press, the shoulder will flex, horizontally adduct, and internally rotate. The prime mover to perform these motions is the pectoralis major which performs all three of these motions. The pec minor, on the other hand, protracts the scapula and so does the serratus anterior. The serratus anterior is on the side of the body and has a saw-like appearance. And, these muscles activate at the end part of the exercise during protraction.
The teres major, anterior deltoid, and latissimus dorsi (among other actions) perform internal rotation. Because of this, they assist with the movement. Muscles assisting a prime mover (agonist) are called synergists.
You should know, the muscles of the rotator cuff stabilize the shoulder joint during a chest press. As is the case with other stabilizer muscles, these need strengthening too. If you lift too heavy, too frequently, and don’t do shoulder stabilization exercises you put yourself at risk for injury.
Muscle Actions At The Elbow
The biceps brachii perform elbow flexion whereas the triceps perform elbow extension. Therefore, when coming out of a chest press (concentric phase), the triceps will be the prime mover to get the elbow into full extension.
How To Do A Chest Press Correctly
Knowing the muscle functions at the joints makes it easy to understand how to do a chest press correctly. Again, using the bench press as an example, use these guidelines for the best technique.
- Begin in the correct starting position by lying down on the flat bench with the feet flat on the floor and toes pointing straight ahead.
- Grab the barbell with the hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
- Keep the wrists straight rather than flexed backward.
- Lift the bar up and slowly lower it toward your chest by flexing the elbows expanding the chest.
- If possible, flex the elbows until they reach a 90-degree flexion point.
- Pause at the bottom of the exercise, exhale, and use the chest and triceps to return the bar to a starting position.
Common Chest Press Errors
Most people know how to do a bench press, however, they might be making mistakes. Check yourself to avoid these common errors.
- Arching of the lower back: Your back should connect with the flat bench the entire time. Draw the navel in to activate your core and keep your back flat.
- Lifting the head off the bench: You’re looking for your entire spine to be neutral. This includes your neck. Keep the back of your head against the bench.
- Lifting too much weight: A lifter should always strive for perfect form instead of heavier weight. If the exercise feels too easy, change the tempo by making the descent part of the movement longer, like three seconds.
- Bouncing the barbell off the chest: If a lifter is doing this, the weight is too heavy. They should be able to complete the movement with strength instead of momentum or other forces.
- Neglecting stabilizer muscles: If you’re only doing a bench press or incline bench press, your rotator cuff muscles don’t get the attention they need. Use a cable machine, dumbbell, or other ways to add stabilization and balance to your workout.
Also keep in mind, if anything hurts, you should modify it. You can reduce the weight or change the exercise. Be on the lookout for signs of rotator cuff tears if this happens.
Variations For Chest Presses
A bench press can get old. Even a dumbbell bench press targets the same muscles with some added stabilization work. You have options for working your pec and upper body. Check these out.
- Push ups: If you’re lifting heavier weight, a standard pushup might not be enough for you, but there are harder variations for your pushups. For example, wear a weighted vest or have weight plates on your back.
- Incline bench chest press: This will change the angle of the press and put more focus on the deltoids and upper chest.
- Decline bench press: This takes away from the shoulders and adds to the triceps and lower chest.
- Seated chest press: By sitting on a stability ball or bench, you can use a cable machine for your chest presses. If you want to add even more stability demand, use resistance tubing.
- Seated chest press machine: This is good if you’re a beginning exerciser or don’t have much strength or balance. It will teach you the exercise motion with less risk of injury.
- Stability ball chest press: Sit on a stability ball and grab a dumbbell in each hand, then roll out and perform the chest press exercise.
- Change the tempo: Instead of doing one count down and one count up, increase the time during the descent of the exercise. This is a great way to build even more upper body strength without having to add heavier weight.
- Perform with power: Drastically reduce the weight and explode up during each repetition. Or, do a medicine ball chest pass. You’ll still get a great workout and activate the muscle fibers you want to see growth in the pectoralis muscles.
There are so many ways to change your chest press and all exercises in your workout. Understanding how the body works is what personal training is all about. When you know the secrets trainers know, you can take your fitness game to new levels. So, learn how to train like a professional fitness trainer, check out our personal training course.
Pushup Anatomy Reference
|Muscle||Isolated Function (Concentric Contraction)|
|Pectoralis Major||Shoulder flexionShoulder horizontal adductionShoulder internal rotation|
|Pectoralis Minor||Scapular protraction|
|Anterior Deltoid||Shoulder flexionShoulder internal rotation|
|Serratus Anterior||Scapular protraction|
|Teres Major||Shoulder internal rotationShoulder adductionShoulder extension|
|Triceps Brachii||Elbow extensionShoulder extension|
|Rotator Cuff Muscles (Teres Minor, Infraspinatus, Subscapularis, Supraspinatus)||Act as stabilizers during pushup|
Bengtsson, V., Berglund, L., & Aasa, U. (2018). Narrative review of injuries in powerlifting with special reference to their association to the squat, bench press and deadlift. BMJ open sport & exercise medicine, 4(1), e000382. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000382
Padulo, J., Laffaye, G., Chaouachi, A., & Chamari, K. (2015). Bench press exercise: the key points. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 55(6), 604–608.