I can't figure out how to engage my chest / pecs. At all.

  • Rhi_Bran

    Posts: 904

    Jan 09, 2016 12:36 AM GMT
    I've spent months trying to get my form down for several chest exercises, mostly incline dumbbell flyes, bench press, and cross body cable pulls. I've read countless guides telling me all the same things: shoulders down and back, flex your chest (I don't really have much of one, so how can I even do that? icon_razz.gif), breathe properly, etc etc. Yet no matter how much I do these things, no matter how much I try to achieve the mind / muscle connection and tell my chest "hey, turn on and do this", I never feel my chest doing any work. I've reduced the weight I use to a minimum, to avoid injury and get my form down, but still nothing. I always feel everything in my shoulders, and I don't know why. My shoulders always get chewed up even with minimum weight and I don't know how to stop it from happening.

    I'm just so frustrated. What am I missing? I also do back exercises (lat pull downs and regular pull ups), and make sure I have proper form for those, and I don't seem to have any trouble with them. Why is the chest so difficult to activate?
  • camfer

    Posts: 891

    Jan 09, 2016 5:14 PM GMT
    Grip may be too wide in in bench press. Also try keeping the bar below the nipples so the shoulders come less into play. Incline dumbbell flyes can be bad for your shoulder joints. Rather than cable crossovers, try a one arm cable cross with a twist. Really you should be able to contract your pecs no matter what their size.

    This video is pretty good and might help.

  • d_1M

    Posts: 598

    Jan 09, 2016 6:27 PM GMT
    muscle issolation and cycles of 3 months routines

    most of all patience and dedication results will come alone and keep working out with out neglecting other group muscles.
  • jeepguySD

    Posts: 648

    Jan 09, 2016 8:13 PM GMT
    camfer saidGrip may be too wide in in bench press. Also try keeping the bar below the nipples so the shoulders come less into play. Incline dumbbell flyes can be bad for your shoulder joints. Rather than cable crossovers, try a one arm cable cross with a twist. Really you should be able to contract your pecs no matter what their size.

    This video is pretty good and might help.

    Interesting tips in the video. I think I'll try what he's suggesting.
  • NealJohn

    Posts: 157

    Jan 09, 2016 9:25 PM GMT
    Learn the anatomy of the chest muscles. See them working as you exercise them and concentrate on feeling them flex from the beginning of the movement to the end of the moment.
  • leanandclean

    Posts: 235

    Jan 09, 2016 10:42 PM GMT
    If you are able, hire a qualified personal trainer.
  • Sincityfan

    Posts: 405

    Jan 09, 2016 11:27 PM GMT
    Genetics and/or HGH injections.

    Try Decline dumbbell bench press.

    leanandclean saidIf you are able, hire a qualified personal trainer.

    Just because they're "qualified" does not mean that they're good.
  • badbug

    Posts: 800

    Jan 10, 2016 7:53 PM GMT

    Don't do cable crossover bullshit if you haven't added the mass. Don't do sets of flyes, maybe a super set at the end of the workout but flyes aren't mass builders really either.

    I liked dumbbell presses over BP because you get a better range of motion and it requires more stabilization. As an early poster said, just imagine you are lifting the weight with your chest. Leave your arms and shoulders relaxed and focus all the tension through your pecs...imagine them flexing in your mind. (imagine the ones you wish you had)

    If you are having shoulder issues, try a different grip with dumbbell presses. I use a thumbs facing me grip (like a hammercurl) instead of a traditional thumbs in grip. It takes stress off my shoulders, i can really feel the difference.

  • Noeton

    Posts: 203

    Jan 11, 2016 3:47 PM GMT
    Some of what's already been posted is pretty good, and for sure there's multiple ways this can work, but I'll add my advice. Good for you to mention mind-muscle connection!

    --Stretch your chest and shoulders before your workout. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwa8-voMqfY

    --Skip the free weights, cables and dips until you see size gains. With these you're just going to worry too much to use heavy enough weights -- and you should worry: you'll get injured. Use the chest press machine and pec fly machine. Give yourself a handful of gym sessions where you are doing these but not quite at your maximum weight level. Recover. Then lift as heavy as you can on these for 5 to 8 reps per set. You might try some drop sets. Your mind-muscle connection will develop to the point where you know the weight level that is the "sweet spot" at which you will gain without pushing it too far and getting injured. Then work in those other types of chest exercises when you feel ready. Don't think about stabilization now -- the machine stabilizes for you, letting you isolate your chest better. Also, the culprit is probably, as you say, that you are lifting lighter weights. Let the machine stabilize you and give you proper form, then you can lift heavier. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUm0BiZCWlQ

    --Work the whole body to improve gains in any one area. Legs, glutes and back are key here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGvwXNyotdo

    --In my opinion, making sure you get all your essential vitamins, minerals, adequate protein and essential fats plays a big role in preventing injury.
  • Rhi_Bran

    Posts: 904

    Jan 15, 2016 12:02 AM GMT
    Thanks guys! And great news! I found out what I was doing wrong with bench press! I've not been adding much weight to the bar at all recently, so that I could get my form down without hurting myself - this is the video that solved my problem!


    My shoulders had always been tucked in, but I had no idea that the bar is supposed to go in a slightly diagonal movement, and not a straight line above the nipple line. It's not something I would have noticed, because every other instructional video I've watched doesn't have a top-down view of the exercise and the horizontal vector in the movement is so small compared to the vertical. I guess it makes more sense now - it's essentially an upside-down push-up, right? I also worked on the whole "feel like you're pulling the bar to you with your chest", with an empty bar, and actually managed to activate my chest muscles. I finally figured out the form and felt a burn in my chest after my workout today!

    My friend is a personal trainer and he's going to help me figure out other exercises to do too - I would've asked him for help earlier but I only just met him a few months ago icon_biggrin.gif
  • Triggerman

    Posts: 519

    Jan 21, 2016 4:27 AM GMT
    I am puzzled by some of the responses but I do not know everything so maybe I can learn something new.

    I would like to see the chest development of each poster to see what their advice has led to in their development.

    For me, bench was the foundation for chest size and strength. Dumb bell flyes also. I think cables are terrific since they keep the muscles under constant tension. I love dips to finish a chest workout. Elbows flared out to hit chest and tucked in to get a few more out with assistance from the triceps.

    Pushups on a basket ball work well. I have my clients do these also.

    You should learn the muscles and muscle groups. There is a great book, "Strength Training Anatomy" by Frederic Delavier that really shows what muscles are working on each movement. It is almost a text book format and really well done and worth the investment. I give a copy to all my clients so that they can see what and why.