By Jamie Wykes
When looking to develop that overall rounded, well shaped chest area; the first exercise people will refer to is the Flat Barbell Bench Press, and rightly so! The flat barbell bench press is a beneficial staple chest movement for those looking to build size, strength or power in the upper body region. However, all too often; variations of this movement are ignored in the gym in favour of the flat bench. Let me ask you this, When was the last time you heard ‘How much can you bench?’ Probably yesterday, right? However, what if I was to ask you if you have ever heard; ‘How much can you decline bench press?’ I will assume never!
The decline bench press is an effective flat bench alternative that will change the angle and tension placed on the chest; increasing the likelihood of new stimulus to the working muscle and therefore an increased probability of muscle growth in size and strength. Whilst the decline bench press is sometimes favoured over the flat bench in terms of shoulder impingement, here are some further benefits of the exercise;
Lower Chest: Whilst the jury is still out there as to whether certain exercises can stimulate alone the upper, medial and lower chest; studies have shown the decline bench press to be an effective exercise for those looking to improve the typically stubborn lower section of the chest. The lower section of the pectorals major is often neglected as there are only a handful of exercises (Decline Bench, Cable Crossovers, Dips) for it in comparison to the rest of the chest, so taking full advantage of this exercise is going to greatly help the development of this section.
No Back Stress: A common mistake of the flat barbell bench press that we have all seen and witnessed in almost any gym is arching the back in order to shift more weight. Sure, this is acceptable for powerlifters looking to bench press over 200 kilograms, but for those looking to make an aesthetic improvement to their chest, this will do very little to your chest and instead, it will shift the tension from your chest to your lower back and increase the likelihood of an injury. Due to the lowered positioning of the decline barbell bench press; the ability to lift and arch your back is eradicated and therefore there is less potential stress placed on the back and an all round safer lifting experience for anyone performing the exercise.
More Weight: Because of the angle and positing of the decline bench, you are able to safely increase the weight that you perform the exercise with. In turn, this increase in resistance will shock and stimulate the larger fibres of the pectorals respectively and as a result, this will stimulate them to grow over time. However, it must be noted that when this weight is being regularly increased over time, anyone performing the exercise should have a Training Partner/PT/General Spotter overlooking them at all times for safety and serious injury prevention.
Because of the unusual positing of this bench press variation, it is key that form and technique is sound throughout the movement. Below is a step by step guide on how to perform this exercise effectively and also some common mistakes.
- Before any positioning of this exercise can take place, a thorough warm up should take place. Be sure to actively stretch out the muscles that are going be involved throughout this movement as well as some rotator cuff movements.
- It is advised also that before this exercise is performed, you perform a warm up set with just the bar whereby you are cognitively as well as physically going through the motions.
- First off, place your legs under the padding at the end of the bench and lower yourself into the decline position.
- Apply a grip that suits you best (Preference is key, but most apply a medium width), whilst keeping your body straight and controlled, un rack the barbell and position the bar just above your chest.
- Whilst inhaling a deep breath, gradually lower the bar down until it touches your chest. Pause for a brief second and let the fibres stretch across the chest.
- Once the pause has occurred, exhale your breath and return the bar back to where it started. Throughout this phase of the movement, all the tension should be via your pectorals, with the triceps being the assistance.
- Once you have completed the designated number of repetitions, place the barbell back on the rack and slowly return from the decline position.
- It is suggested that you have a training partner or someone of assistance help you re rack the bar due to its awkward positioning.
Bouncing The Bar Off The Chest: Generally, because we are able to add more weight than usual to the decline bench press, the form and range of motion (Next Point) is ignored and thrown out the gym window. People will often bounce the bar off the chest in order to add momentum to the increased resistance they are pushing. Not only will this increase the probability of a sternum injury but it will also take away any chance of time under tension. Time under tension is what is going to stimulate the chest to grow and if this is ignored then you can forget any chance of improvements in the chest area.
Lack of Full Range of Motion: Following on from this, when an increased weight is added to the equation; range of motion is often difficult to complete. Not only will this range of motion create drastic tension across the pectoral muscle fibres; but it will also reduce injury likelihood, help with daily functionality and also benefit the joints surrounding the muscles. To prevent this lack of Range of Motion, select a weight that you can perform the whole concentric/eccentric movement throughout and if it helps, use a spotter to correct your form/technique if needs be.
Improper Breathing Methods: Push movements such as the shoulder press, bench press, military press as well as any other exercises for that matter; are greatly complimented in efficiency when a proper breathing method is applied from start to finish. Breathing properly (inhaling on the eccentric and exhaling on the concentric) will not only lead to increased exercise efficiency but it will also allow greater exertion on typically different movements as well as an interlinking relationship wit the tempo of the exercise itself. For example, a deep slow breath on the slow eccentric and a powerful exhaling breath out on the concentric.
No Spotter: As previously mentioned, as well as the exercise itself being in an unusual position; re racking the barbell can be extremely awkward especially with an added onset in muscular fatigue. Failure to re rack the weight securely will lead to severe injury and also the potential to be put off this exercise for life! As you have seen the benefits of the exercise in the foregone passage; its safe to say that you don’t want this to happen! In order to prevent this, ask your training partner or anyone on the gym floor with a sound training knowledge such as a PT to help you throughout the whole exercise, from the lift off at the beginning all the way to the end.