Your chest is a paradox. Comprising only one major muscle pair, it would seem to be an easy area to train. Press and flye end of story. But this story is a mystery with unpredictable twists. The pecs are deceptively complex–working them is fraught with pitfalls you’ll likely blunder into workout after workout, year after year. This month, we expose those pitfalls, highlighting the five most common chest-training errors and detailing strategies to avoid them. Take notes; you may be shocked at the number of pec peccadilloes you’ve been committing.
#1 Overreliance on barbell bench presses
“How much can you bench?” The question is asked so often of anyone with a modicum of muscle that it’s long been the ultimate gym cliche. Still, the fact that the bench press is the go-to strength barometer has had a decimating effect on chests. Bodybuilders bench too much too often for too many sets of too few reps. Used correctly, the bench press is an excellent exercise. Overused, it can potentially overdevelop the lower-pec region in relation to the upper region, giving you “droopy boobs” (think Art Atwood). Furthermore, consistently benching for maximum sets of low reps will boost your chances of injuries, ranging from shoulder, elbow and wrist strains to pec tears.
- Think of barbell bench presses as just another chest exercise, one that can be done at any time during your routine, including last.
- Do sets of eight to 12 reps, only occasionally pyramiding to as low as six reps.
- If you’re curious about how much you can bench for a single rep, use an online calculator and your best 10-rep set to compute your one-rep max.
- If you always do barbell benches first, start with incline presses–with barbells one workout and dumbbells the next. Alternately, cycle eight-week periods during which you do no free-weight benches with eight weeks during which you do benches with barbells one workout and dumbbells the next.