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Pump up your pecs

What is the best angle to use in the bench press if your goal is to develop insane upper body strength?

Exercise scientists recently set out to discover the impact of muscle activation during the barbell bench press, one of the three major exercises performed in the sport of powerlifting.

They looked at 0°, 30°, 45° and – 15° degree bench angles.

The primary muscles used in the bench press include the pectoralis major, as well as the triceps and deltoids, although several other muscles act as stabilizers.

For the study 14 young men were put through two training sessions.

In the first session, participants completed performed a one rep max bench-press. In the second session, they performed six reps for each of four barbell press angles—0, 30, 45, and -15—at a weight equivalent to 65 percent of their one-rep max. Surface electromyography (sEMG) was utilised to probe the muscular activation of the selected muscles during the eccentric and concentric phases of the movement.

The results of this study support the use of a horizontal bench to achieve muscular activation of both the upper and lower heads of the pectoralis. However, a bench incline angle of 30° or 45° resulted in greater muscular activation which underlines the importance of considering how muscular activation is affected at different angles when you perform the exercise.

There is a greater horizontal shoulder adduction moment in the flat variation of the bench press, but a larger shoulder flexion moment in the incline variations.

When you do an incline bench press you will work the clavicular portion of the pec muscles (upper chest area just below your collarbones). If you opt for the flat bench press, the sternal head of the pectoralis major (the large, fan-like muscles of the chest) will be targeted in your workout.

Key points to pump up your pecs:

  • If you just do one exercise for chest, stick to the flat bench press for overall development.
  • If you perform bench press on an incline angle, you should favour the 30° over the 45° degree bench press as there will be less shoulder involvement. The 30° degree angle is the most effective at strengthening and developing your chest muscles.
  • Vary the loading by using either a barbell, dumbbells or a machine.

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