The bench press is probably the most popular and one of the most difficult exercises that you can hit at the gym. As far as chest exercises go, benching might be the most effective, whether you are using a dumbbell set or a barbell.
But it’s also the exercise that people struggle with the most.
One of the most common problems that people experience is when they can’t feel the bench press in their chests. That could happen due to various reasons. But the conclusion is only one – you are not working your chest as much as you should be doing.
So, what’s the solution?
If you’re not feeling bench press in your chest, keep reading on to find the causes and fixes for the problem.
Why Don’t I Feel Bench Press in my Chest?
We have seen even the most experienced gym-goers approach their trainers and say – I don’t feel bench press in my chest; what’s the solution?
When the problem is this widespread, you should know that it’s a genuine one.
Fortunately, there are many explanations as to why you can’t feel bench press in the chest, from poor warm-up routines to lack of proper form and technique.
Here is a detailed list of reasons why you might not be feeling any effect on your chest while benching:-
Your Grip Width is Too Narrow
According to research, there is a greater activation of your triceps brachii if your grip on the barbell is too narrow. As such, most of the work will be done by your triceps and the role of your pecs will be limited.
As such, using a sufficiently wide grip is important to isolate the chest while bench pressing. This is because wide-grip bench presses recruit pecs more effectively for achieving horizontal adduction.
Moreover, using a wide grip also ensures that only the pecs are being used for shoulder flexion, thereby activating the muscles more.
According to experts’ recommendations, you should grip the barbell or the dumbbells at a distance of approximately 2 times the width of your shoulder.
Your Warm-Up Routine is Poor
According to a popular study, incorporating a dynamic warm-up routine in your workout program can improve your strength, speed, and performance while exercising.
Another study found that conducting progressive-intensity warm-up exercises specifically for the bench press with an 80% training load increased the effectiveness of the exercise, allowing the lifter to attain maximal velocities in lesser time.
So, there is sufficient research to prove that having a good warm-up routine plays a huge role in how efficiently you can activate your chest while bench pressing.
More importantly, you should perform exercises that have some amount of impact on your chest before you move on to the main workout. Performing dynamic warm-ups can be more effective in causing blood to flow into the muscles before you start lifting.
Exercises like pylo push-ups, and dips will warm up your entire body as well as your chest, preparing it for an intense bench press session.
You Aren’t Getting the Full Range of Motion
If you are not feeling your chest while bench pressing, have a look at your range of motion. The bench press requires you to achieve the full range of motion by letting the barbell/dumbbell touch your chest with every repetition.
Moreover, there should be minimal arching of the low and mid-back to ensure that you maximize the recruitment of your pecs. But make sure that you don’t eliminate the arch altogether, as it is important for retracting and depressing the shoulders.
Your Tempo is Too Fast
The pec muscle fibers are primarily activated during the eccentric portion of the bench press. So, for maximum muscle activation, you can increase the time under tension by slowing down the pace of the eccentric movement.
To test the results, you should start by reducing the weight slightly and taking 3-5 seconds more to complete the eccentric position while benching.
This approach is effective because multiple studies indicate that the pecs are activated 2 times more during the eccentric portion compared to the concentric portion of the lift.
Your Mind-Muscle Connection is Weak
Some studies suggest that muscle activity increases by a significant margin when the lifter is focusing on using the respective muscles needed to perform the lift.
That is why the mind-muscle connection is key to optimal activation. Having such a good connection allows your body to fix your focus on the target muscles. That happens when your brain releases a chemical called acetylcholine to signal the muscle to start contracting.
With an improved, mind-muscle connection, your brain will release more chemicals, resulting in faster contractions and greater muscle activity. This will engage your chest more while performing the bench press.
Your Triceps are Too Weak
Another reason why you might not be experiencing any activation in your chest while performing the bench press is that your triceps are not strong enough.
We know that the chest muscles are supposed to be the primary movers while benching. But the triceps are heavily involved as well, especially during the upper parts of the movement.
So, if your tricep muscles are not strong enough, you will be limited in how much you can bench.
What happens is that your triceps might be giving up before you can actually start straining your chest muscles enough to get any activation. So, you will feel fatigued even before you reach your actual benching capacity.
You Have Hit a Plateau
Plateauing happens when your body adjusts to your normal workout routines and your muscles stop receiving enough stimuli to get activated.
When you hit a plateau, you might not see the same progress as before. You might even stop feeling your chest being pumped while benching.
Beginners are unlikely to catch a plateau. But experienced lifters who have been exercising for a long time often go through a plateau stage where their progress is hindered.
Why Do I Feel Bench Press in My Shoulders?
Sometimes, you might start feeling a strain on your shoulders when you are performing the bench press. There are many reasons why something like this could happen.
But it’s important to find a solution quickly, as excessive activation of any muscle group other than the chest could mean that you’re not benching to the optimal level.
One of the main reasons why you might be overworking your shoulders while benching is that your chest muscles are too weak. As such, other muscle groups like the shoulders and triceps need to compensate by doing extra work to lift the weight.
Similarly, using incorrect form or technique, such as flaring out your elbows, not retracting your shoulder blades, or rounding the shoulders while laying flat on the bench can also cause involvement of your shoulders while benching.
Other small factors like inadequate muscle-to-mind connection and the width of your grip while benching can also determine how much your shoulders get activated compared to the chest muscles, the designated prime movers for the bench press movement.
How to Feel Bench Press in Chest?
We have talked about the many reasons why you might not be feeling the bench press in your chest while lifting.
But what are the secrets to maximizing chest activation in the chest? Let’s find out.
Get in the Correct Position
Your exercise starts from the moment you lay on your back. If you do not position your body correctly, you will not be activating your chest enough.
The first step you need to do is pinch your shoulder blades together. This will allow you to focus the pressure on the chest muscles.
Here’s how you can do that:
- Lift your arms and keep them straight in front of your face.
- Make sure that there is no tension or tightness in your mid-back region.
- Retract the shoulder blades.
- Retract the lats.
Now start lifting while maintaining this position. Make sure that you maintain the tension when bringing the elbows back and pushing the weight forward. The elbows must be kept down to put maximum pressure on the chest instead of the shoulder muscles.
Improve Mind-Muscle Connection
We mentioned that having a poor mind-muscle connection can often result in minimal chest activation while benching.
Fortunately, that is not a permanent problem. You can actually work to improve your proprioception abilities as well as your mind-muscle connection at the gym.
- Engage in regular flexing and posing to get acquainted with your muscles and body.
- Slow down the repetitions to feel the muscles working to perform the lift.
- Focus only on your muscles and the strain you are feeling instead of counting the repetitions.
- Visualize the movements of various muscles while performing lifts.
Perform Partial Reps
Many professional athletes and lifters, including the likes of Larry Scott, the first-ever champion of the Mr. Olympia competition as well as Ronnie Coleman, incorporate partial repetitions in their bench press routines.
Partial repetitions can be used to overcome sticking points or weaker areas that are often underworked or have biomechanical limitations.
Similarly, partial reps also allow us to put more pressure and tension focused entirely on chest muscles during the lower portion of the benching movement.
As such, incorporating half or quarter repetitions in your bench press routine can actually help you get stronger and bigger muscles due to increased activation.
Focus on Achieving a Full Range of Motion
Even if you are just starting out, your benching goals should include achieving a complete range of motion with each repetition.
It’s better to reduce the weights on your barbell than perform incomplete repetitions. That’s because you are actually compromising a lot of muscle activation by restricting the range of motion while benching.
To get this right, make sure that there is optimum arching of your back when you are laying flat on the bench.
From there on, retract the shoulders back and down to lock them in position. If you are an experienced lifter, your shoulders will already be retracted naturally after arching your back.
For the most important part, make sure that your barbell touches the tip of your chest with each repetition. That indicates that you are achieving a full range of motion while benching. Anything less than that is wasted muscle activation.
Maintain Optimal Joint Angles
The position of your elbows and wrist while pushing the weight off your chest can largely influence the amount of muscle activation experienced by your pecs.
The best way to recruit maximum pec muscles is to keep the elbows and wrists stacked up and in line under the bar, after placing the bar on the chest.
If the elbows remain in front of the bar, your tricep muscles will face more activation, reducing the workload and role of your pecs.
As such, keeping the bar, elbows, and wrists stacked is important for achieving maximum chest activation while benching.
Make Sure Your Chest Controls the Movement
To get maximum muscle activation from bench press, you need to ensure that you are utilizing the pec muscles to their maximum capacity.
For this, you need to ensure that your chest is dictating the benching movements and that there is minimal use of momentum to elevate the bar from its resting position.
If you are bouncing the barbells off your chests or heaving them upwards in a jerky motion, you are actually using momentum to push them upwards. This inhibits the influence of the pecs on the exercise and limits muscle activation.
As such, make sure that you maintain proper form and technique throughout the exercise instead of “cheating” your repetitions by using momentum instead of your own muscles to lift the barbell.
Correct Your Arm Path
When it comes to dumbbell or barbell bench presses, a lot of people make one common mistake. They typically have a wider grip and push the dumbbells up and down in a straight path.
The mistake is exceedingly common because this arm path feels natural and also makes the exercise appear easier.
However, doing so is actually increasing the risk of injuries and reducing muscle activation.
The correct way is to line up your arm path in the same direction as the pull of the chest fibers. To achieve this, follow these steps:
- Make sure that your elbows are tucked at an angle of around 45-60 degrees away from your body.
- Make sure that your grip can turn in slightly along with your elbow.
So, this arm path basically allows you to move the barbell/dumbbell in the forward direction on the way down and then backward direction on the way up, minimizing the strain on your shoulders and maximizing chest muscle activation.
Overcome the Plateau
Overcoming a performance plateau is not going to be easy. But it’s important if you want to progress in your workout goals.
Here’s what you can do to beat the plateau:
- Alternate between dumbbell presses and barbell presses. Using new pieces of equipment can shock your body into getting enough stimuli for muscle activation.
- Try out different variations of the same exercise. Rotate the bench angle regularly to work other parts of your chest muscles.
- Make sure that your repetitions are verified. Performance plateaus often indicate that your rep scheme is not working. So, adjust the intensity as well as the volume of your training to keep your body on its toes.
Optimize the Bench Angle
The last bench pressing mistake is less about your form or technique and more about the angle of the bench.
The standard, flat bench press can work just fine. But they primarily target the muscles in the middle portion of your chest, leaving the upper and lower pecs relatively underdeveloped.
This can be proven by a 2020 study which indicated that performing incline bench press can double the growth in the upper portion of the chest compared to performing a flat bench press while working out.
So, it’s good to kick your workout routines up a notch and include decline as well as incline bench presses.
However, it’s important to note that research indicates that an incline of just 15-30 degrees on your bench is good enough to activate the muscles in the upper part of the chest. Any more than that could cause unnecessary complications.
Benching is one of the most effective strength-based exercises. It is certainly the most popular choice for people wanting to build their chest muscles.
But however easy the bench press movement might appear, performing the perfect repetition can be quite difficult. To achieve maximum chest activation, it’s important that you pay attention to all details.