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Whadaya Bench?

       Big pecs aren’t good for much. Nothing makes the other upper body muscles look smaller and out of proportion than big pecs. And it’s due to giving the bench press priority in upper body workouts.

I did it and so do many bodybuilders yesterday and today. When I trained with Arnold, we always started chest/back workouts with bench press. I went 135 for 15 reps, 185 for 12, 225 for 10, 255 x8, 275 x 6 (Arnold used more and usually went up to 315). Then we’d do 4 sets of incline barbell bench press on a 45-degree angle, and dumbbell flyes for 4 sets of 10.  Flyes were the exercise that Arnold relied on to build his massive pecs. He’d lower the 60-pound dumbbells deep down and tensed his pecs at the top of the movement, stopping the dumbbells before they touched. His pecs got so big that one pec got scraped and bruised when we shot archery in the 1970s. So aside from attracting eye attention because of their over-development, his pecs got in the way.  Reg Park actually stopped working pecs later in his career because they had grown enough, and he wanted to emphasize his outstanding deltoids and width more.   Many bodybuilders, I included have eliminated barbell bench press  because of the stress it puts on the shoulder muscles and joints. With the regular bench press grip much of the effect of the bench press goes to the front deltoids. I learned to prefer dumbbell work for chest where the DBs are held in a neutral grip with palms always facing each other. That way I can stretch deeper down.    Why is the bench press so popular? Most trainees are stronger in the supine position for pressing than overhead or incline pressing. Using more weight in the comfort of lying down while benching makes it a preferred exercise for less than ambitious bodybuilders. Bench press is the first of the power lifts and is considered one of the best exercises for adding upper  body muscle mass. But after a good degree of pec/front deltoid development, the style of bench pressing should be changed.   In 1965 I was living and training in Norfolk, Virginia and trained at a Health club six days a week. I got quite strong in the bench  press — using a wide grip I did 10 reps with 300 pounds and hurt my shoulder. So, I switched to a shoulder width grip and did the exercise as part of my triceps routine with less weight.  Close grip bench press is one of the best size builders for triceps. Done with slow negatives and thumbs one foot apart (and elbows slightly pointed outward)   really works all heads of the triceps. When super-setted with press-down or kickbacks, close grip bench press makes a great start to my triceps routine. Add one arm dumbbell extension and it does the job better than any triceps program I’ve ever used.  So, try doing chest work after you do back or after deltoid work. You’ll prioritize other key areas and keep your pec development in balance.