Tips for engaging the chest

  • vbportugal

    Posts: 82

    Nov 28, 2015 5:51 AM GMT
    Hello all,

    I am wondering if anyone can give some advice on engaging the chest muscles more. I find chest to be the hardest muscle group to engage and it is also the muscle group that seems to not want to get bigger.

    A little bit about my situation, I have bad shoulders (dislocations) that are both put at risk by pressing movements. Because of this I usually stay away from dips and usually go for dumbbells over a barbell for bench. The dumbbells allow me to rotate my wrists so that I feel less pressure on the shoulder.

    With that said I seem to have a lot of trouble engaging the chest in any of these exercises. The only exercise I really feel my chest working is in cable flies (dumbbell flies put a lot of pressure on my shoulders). So looking around online, I saw an article on bodybuilding.com talking about using flies to fatigue the chest before the bigger exercises. I have been trying this recently, but I am still not feeling my chest engaged. I pull my shoulder blades back while benching but I still feel like I am using mostly tricep/shoulders in the pressing motion and my triceps continue to fatigue before my chest.

    Can anyone give any suggestions on what I should do? Anything that has worked for them when other methods did not work?
  • jrc2005

    Posts: 74

    Nov 28, 2015 1:33 PM GMT
    I like my chest size, though not so much the shape. I, too, have problems where my shoulders fatigue far faster than my chest. To me, barbell bench press is my least favorite exercise and the most awkward. So those are my caveats/experiences.

    I have good luck with the cable press machine (http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/exerciseImages/sequences/870/Male/l/870_1.jpg) and hammer strength seated presses (http://www.bodybuildingforyou.com/Images/exercises/chest-exercise/hammer-strength-flat-2.jpg), and regular machine flies plus cable crossovers, AND PUSHUPS ARE GREAT. Oddly, I find decline barbell presses pretty ok, and otherwise my go-to for benches are dumbbells.
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    Nov 28, 2015 1:34 PM GMT
    Push ups are some of the best things for chest development. Standard push ups, one-arm, elevated legs, stability in balls, spiders,plates on the back etc.
  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Nov 28, 2015 2:06 PM GMT
    My chest isn't anything to write home about. But, I have had similar shoulder and chest engagement issues.

    I've found that incline dumb bell presses work best for me. They give me a better range of motion than a barbell which prevents me from tweaking the shoulders.
    Dumb bell incline presses seem to work the upper chest muscles more. They also let you focus more on the angle of your elbows on the press and drops as well as your wrist angles and adjust accordingly. Pulling the shoulder blades together, arching the lower back and pinching the chest muscles for one second at the top will help you feel the engagement.

    They've also improved my barbell lifting when I do them. But, I love how much work the stabilizer muscles do when using dumb bells.
  • Destinharbor

    Posts: 4434

    Nov 28, 2015 3:45 PM GMT
    ScottCLE saidMy chest isn't anything to write home about. But, I have had similar shoulder and chest engagement issues.

    I've found that incline dumb bell presses work best for me. They give me a better range of motion than a barbell which prevents me from tweaking the shoulders.
    Dumb bell incline presses seem to work the upper chest muscles more. They also let you focus more on the angle of your elbows on the press and drops as well as your wrist angles and adjust accordingly. Pulling the shoulder blades together, arching the lower back and pinching the chest muscles for one second at the top will help you feel the engagement.

    They've also improved my barbell lifting when I do them. But, I love how much work the stabilizer muscles do when using dumb bells.

    This is exactly my primary routine, too. I also do db flies on the incline. Try this and also raise and lower the angle of the bench for additional sets. I think you'll find even a slight incline will help with your shoulders. Another good one is to sit about 45 degrees sideways on the Hammerstrength and do one arm presses. Works the outside edges top, side, bottom on incline, flat, decline HS. Put your free hand on the pec and you'll feel when you've got the best angle.
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    Nov 28, 2015 4:24 PM GMT
    Try different cable variations and squeeze the pecs (iso hold) for a few seconds at peak contraction. Cables can be better for your shoulders than dumbbells because with dumbbells the moment arm is greatest - dumbbell further from your torso (moving the dumbbells upward) when the joint is weakest. When the moment arm is less (when your arms are near vertical) the joint is strongest. In other words the dumbbells work you harder over a weaker point of your joint. The cables don't have this issue.
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    Nov 28, 2015 5:06 PM GMT
    jrc2005 saidI like my chest size, though not so much the shape. I, too, have problems where my shoulders fatigue far faster than my chest. To me, barbell bench press is my least favorite exercise and the most awkward. So those are my caveats/experiences.


    I have a LOT of room to grow in the shoulders (and everything else). But, once my shoulders "caught up" with my chest my results and numbers started improving. From your pictures your shoulders look pretty impressive!

    Like Destinharbor said, I've changed my bench angle and added sets to focus on shoulder instead of chest. It helped me a lot.
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    Nov 28, 2015 6:59 PM GMT
    Try crossing your arms and really squeezing your pecs, until you can't stand it anymore, before you train them. I usually do it 3 times.
    Also, it helps if you concentrate on feeling your chest work as you do the movement. This prevents you from using your shoulders and triceps to do the work.
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    Nov 28, 2015 8:54 PM GMT
    I have always struggled with chest myself, but OP you still need to develop your shoulder and back. For a long time I was really stuck with some fixed weight on bench press, but suddenly my bench progressed quite a lot. I moved from 50 Kgs to 70 Kgs in last 3-4 months. I think my deadlift paid off. So apart from all the advice which have been provided here, I would also suggest you to put more effort in building your your back and shoulders.
    I have seen once you start benching closer to your body weight, you feel the effect more in your chest, especially during the inclined bench press. For me, it has been a really slow process, and truthfully, quite frustrating. Persistence and patience are the keys.
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    Nov 28, 2015 10:25 PM GMT
    Highly recommend you check out Jeff Cavaliere's videos - he stresses mistakes and how to avoid them - especially with regard to shoulders and how they relate to chest and arm exercises.

    https://www.youtube.com/user/JDCav24

    Check out his bench press guide: uses UNDERHAND grip(!)
  • vbportugal

    Posts: 82

    Nov 28, 2015 10:55 PM GMT
    Thank you for the replies. I will change some of my workouts to try out the advice given
  • Sincityfan

    Posts: 409

    Nov 29, 2015 4:09 AM GMT
    jrc2005 saidI like my chest size, though not so much the shape.

    ???
  • jrc2005

    Posts: 74

    Nov 29, 2015 7:12 PM GMT
    Sincityfan said
    jrc2005 saidI like my chest size, though not so much the shape.

    ???


    I think my pecs stick out a good amount in my own perception, but they're not rounded out and well defined around the edges.

    Agree with what others have said about concentrating on/thinking about the target muscle when you're working it. It actually works; similar for stretching.
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    Nov 29, 2015 11:39 PM GMT
    I had this exact problem too...when I was doing presses and flyes with dbs or barbells I was feeling it more in my deltoids.

    Try warming up with resistance bands wrapped around whatever's convenient. I alternate presses and flyes. Make sure that when you extend your arms make sure you squeeze and feel the contraction. Shifting my center of gravity on push ups also helped me a ton.

    I prefer to use cable cross over machines for bench presses and flyes (don't knock it until you try it). I just feel like the pecs gets worked more effectively because I can adjust the position of my arms and shoulders without worrying about being pinned under heavy weights.

    This all may sound counter intuitive since the male ego wants to believe that heavy barbells and dumbells are where the results come from, but after doing a lot of resistance band, and cable exercises for both chest and back. My bench press actually increased, and I upped my wide grip pull up max by 9 reps.

    Hope this helps.
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    Nov 30, 2015 3:01 PM GMT
    Stay away from Hammer Strength machinery for chest workout as they put undue stress on shoulders. Am thinking that you may want to use incremental magnetic weight pieces on dumbbells to gradually help your chest muscles build up in strength.
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    Nov 30, 2015 5:29 PM GMT
    jimib saidPush ups are some of the best things for chest development. Standard push ups, one-arm, elevated legs, stability in balls, spiders,plates on the back etc.



    Bingo Bango. If you aren't doing push-ups you're already losing. Bench press will boost your size pretty fast too
  • Triggerman

    Posts: 528

    Dec 04, 2015 3:42 AM GMT
    This an easy one. Do cable flyes with the cables set high on the sides. Bring the handles down to waist level. Takes out most of the delts and works chest almost exclusively. Stand a foot in front of the rack. Almost like you are clapping your hands in front of your crotch. Takes out the delts. Mostly chest. Delts move up.
  • Triggerman

    Posts: 528

    Dec 12, 2015 2:13 AM GMT
    Well, I am a trainer. I am certified though NASM, a well respected certification program. But I built a pretty big chest long before that by reading everything I could from guys like Bill Pearl, Jon Grimek and Doug Hepburn, the first guy to bench an official 500lbs. I also have an extensive library of articles by some of the world's best lifters.

    When you say chest, you are really talking two things. Pec major, which pulls the arms forward and attaches the breast bone and a few ribs to the upper arm bone.

    You also have pec minor, which pulls the shoulders forward and together.

    Most guys do bench or a pressing movement for chest. Which is great. But it also uses triceps and front delts or shoulders. Three muscles groups. If one is weak, it limits the abilities of the others. Most never work pec minor which just pulls the shoulders forward. Imagine sitting on a bench with a weight at arms length. Push it up a few inches. That is pec minor. It is not a big muscle but it sits below pec minor like a cat under a rug. Bigger cat makes a bigger bulge in the rug? Right?

    To keep it short, to build a bigger better chest, work your triceps and front deltoids to be able to bench more, and work the pec minor to lift up the chest, like a softball under a blanket.

    Trig
  • Triggerman

    Posts: 528

    Dec 23, 2015 9:26 PM GMT
    I guess I could post a vid but this is so simple that I don't think it is necessary. Chest is really two muscle groups. Pec major, the big fan shaped muscle that attaches the upper arm to the sternum or breastbone and ribs. Pec major pulls the arm across the body towards the center. Imagine clapping like a seal. Pec major. Pec minor is a muscle that is under pec major and attaches the shoulders to the breast bone and a few upper ribs. Hunching your shoulders forward. That is pec minor.

    To get big pecs, you need to work both. Best pure pec major exercise is a fly. It works just the pec major which pulls the arm from outside to inside. Bench is good also but that involves front delts and triceps and they can end up doing all the work. Stick to fly.

    To work Pec Minor, hold some dumbbells or a bar straight above your chest like you just finished a bench press. Then push the weight a few inches higher bring your shoulders up off the bench and together. That is pec minor.

    I always say pec minor is like the cat under the rug. Make it big and it pushes pec major out and lifts up pec major. Like a cat under a rug.
  • Noeton

    Posts: 208

    Dec 29, 2015 1:41 AM GMT
    It's hard to say since you have some chronic injury. But it sounds like machine pec flyes and machine chest press will be the way to go for you (probably more of the former). Machines are always the safer route. I'd take it easy and use the machines until you see some progress then work in freeweights if you want. Remember to work the whole body in order to see significant gains in any one area.
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    Dec 29, 2015 9:16 AM GMT
    I learned that you should contract/ squeeze the pecs at the top of the press to get the full effect from the exercise but Triggerman actually described it better as pushing up past where you normally stop. Hold the contraction for a second as well.
  • Triggerman

    Posts: 528

    Dec 30, 2015 12:52 AM GMT
    I can't disagree with someone that agrees with me...lol.

    But for all beginner lifters: Get a cheap anatomy book. See what you are trying to work. See where the muscles insert and attach. It will make everything make more sense. Seeing what a pec major looks like or pec minor will only help you focus on what you need to do to work THAT muscle.

    Best of luck,

    Trig