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Bench press: building pectoral muscles

Bench press: building pectoral muscles


Basic pectoral exercise

The bench press is considered to be the king of basic movements for pectoral development. This multi-joint movement involves the pectorals, the anterior deltoids (front of the shoulder) and the triceps, the muscles at the back of the arm.

The bench press develops the pectoral muscles as a whole, regardless of zone (lower, middle or upper), but with the emphasis on the middle and lower zones.

It can be performed with a free barbell, dumbbells, guide frame or special machines. It's worth noting that today there are highly effective machines for stimulating pectoral development, enabling you to target specific areas of the pectoral muscles.

I'm going to describe the different versions of the bench press and their advantages and disadvantages.

The free barbell bench press


Lying on a flat bench, with the eyes under the bar and the back flat against the bench (without arching), the user grips the bar so that the hands are equally spaced from the center of the bar. The ideal grip is slightly wider than the shoulders, as too tight a grip involves the triceps too much.

Once properly positioned, the bar should be taken out of the supports and brought over the pectoral muscles with arms outstretched. With your torso arched, flex your arms slowly so as to control the descent, bringing the bar to the center of your pectoral muscles until it makes contact. Then push the bar back to the starting position.

The descent is slow and controlled, while the push is explosive. At the top of the movement, it's advisable not to lock the elbows to keep the pectorals under tension.

Working with a free bar allows you to handle heavy loads, but limits the range of motion.

Dumbbell bench press

The dumbbell version requires greater technical mastery. Having a free load in each hand requires balance between the right and left sides. The dumbbells need to be controlled so as not to let them slip either on the outside or on the inside. Either way, there's a risk of injury.

With a dumbbell in each hand, resting on the thighs, tilt backwards so as to lie on the bench, taking advantage of this tilt to develop the dumbbells over the pectoral muscles, arms outstretched. Bend your torso.

Bend your arms to bring the dumbbells to either side of your pectorals. Don't aim forextreme stretching, as this can lead to injury. Once in the lowered position, push the dumbbells up towards the ceiling until you're in the straight-arm position. You can keep the dumbbells shoulder-width apart, or have them touch at the end of the movement. Bringing them together at the end of the movement stimulates the inner pectoral area more intensely than keeping the dumbbells apart.

Guided barbell bench press

Compared to the two above-mentioned versions, the guided-frame version offers greater safety and enables better concentration on pectoral work. The shoulder stabilizer muscles are used less, as are the back muscles involved in maintaining balance.

However, the trajectory imposed by the bar's guidance makes the movement less natural. As the auxiliary muscles are less solicited, there may be a slight loss of strength when switching back to the free bar version.

To execute the movement, lie down on a flat bench placed in the center of the guide frame. Position yourself more or less forwards or backwards, depending on the area of the pectoral muscles you wish to target. As you lower the bar, it should come into contact with the target area. Although the bar is guided, the movement must remain controlled and the bar must not bounce off the pectorals, which would take tension off the muscles and be counter-productive!

Machine versions

Machine versions bring the safety of the guided bar. They also make it increasingly possible to target specific areas of the pectoral muscles. Machine versions come close to free-load versions, thanks in particular to convergent movements. They therefore combine the effectiveness of free-loads with the safety of the guide frame. This type of machine enables complete development of the pectoral muscles.

In short, it's worth working the pectorals using the full range of equipment available. While free-loads should be preferred, it's important to work with machines that allow you to target more precise areas with greater safety.

Use all the equipment at your disposal for optimal development of your pectoral medial zone.