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What’s with the controversy over the bench press? Some bodybuilders say it's the most important chest exercise, and some say it isn’t any good. What do you think?
The controversy originates not in the value of the bench press as an exercise for building chest mass so much as in the blind acceptance that it is categorically the best chest exercise for every person on earth. For most, yes, for some, no — I happen to belong to the latter group.
To benefit from the flat bench press, you have to be built for it. Your body structure must be such that the length of your arms in relation to your torso allows your pectoralis muscles to move through their full range of motion with maximum strength and to be fully fatigued before other muscle groups become involved. If that occurs for you, then stay with the flat bench press — nothing will give you faster gains in your pecs.
If, however, you are like me, find another movement or variation that works better. For me, flat benches are awkward and limiting; with my biomechanics, the target of the press is shifted away from my pecs and onto my deltoids. Sure, I developed great delts, but my upper chest was not being worked as I’d hoped. No matter how hard I tried to salvage the movement by shifting my position or altering my form, I only made it worse.
Eventually, I discovered that what worked best for most people did not work best for me. I had to lose my fixation with the flat position and instead elevate the bench slightly. This changed my pressing angle enough to shift the stress away from my front delts and back onto my upper pecs.
The incline I used, however, was very low. Any higher and it would again become another front delt exercise. I recommend that you start with a flat bench that can be adjusted upward in small gradations; the best angle for me is less than 30 degrees.
At the same time, I also changed my mental approach. No longer did I simply try to power up as much weight as possible. Instead, I concentrated on feeling the contractions of all of the muscle fibers in my chest. The sensation I got from this switch — a deep, full, tight pump — is one I appreciate to this day.
The bench press remains a superior movement, and it may be so for you, but only if you learn these lessons, as I did. First, it’s not an ego exercise, so don’t use it to see how much you can bench; use it to build your pecs. Second, adapt the exercise to your body rather than vice versa — if you feel it more in your chest muscles when you’re on a flat bench, then that’s the position you should use; if you feel it more at a specific angle, use that angle. Third, control the movement so that you feel the pump build in your pecs, right where you want it. – FLEX