How to Increase Chest Activation When You Bench

Had a reader email me the other day:

“Help! My chest isn’t activating when I bench press!

I can feel my arms working… but not my pecs! 

What’s wrong?”

I know exactly what you’re going through. For the longest time, I couldn’t get my left pecs to activate during the bench. My right pecs would activate just fine, but never my left. 

I suspected it had something to do with my left scap feeling loose and unstable compared to my right. Whenever I benched, I would feel the pressure on my left side being displaced onto my arm and shoulder, whereas on my right, all the pressure was on my pecs. 

It wouldn’t be until 3 years later that I finally fixed this asymmetry. 

And today, I want to share the solution with you.

And no, it won’t take you 3 years.

If you follow my steps, your chest should be activating within 6 weeks.

Here’s what you have to do first: 

  1. Spend a few weeks releasing your thoracic spine.
  2. During this time, make sure to also release your pecs and the areas around your scaps using a lacrosse ball.
  3. After a few weeks, you can start doing retraction exercises, such as T’s, Y’s, and rows. Do these exercises for another 3 weeks. 

Then once these 6 weeks are over, you’re ready to start benching.

I prefer using the barbell, as it helps keep your body locked in.

Here’s what you have to do if you want to maximize your pec activation when you bench:

  1. Lie down on the bench and grip the barbell with a WIDE grip. There should be rings on the barbell that show you where to grip.
  2. Pinch your scaps BACK.
  3. While still gripping the barbell, slide yourself up the bench a bit (towards the direction of your head, not your feet). This will help push your scaps DOWN.
  4. Now your body is in an optimal position to start benching, because your scaps are BACK and DOWN. 
  5. Unrack the bar without changing the position of your scaps.
  6. Bring the bar down towards your chest and push it up while keeping your scaps BACK and DOWN. Whatever you do, do NOT let your shoulders shrug forward. If the front of your shoulders are kicking in, then that means your form is off. Deload to a more comfortable weight.

So you see, achieving pec activation during the bench isn’t just about having proper form. It’s also about releasing the right muscles: if your pecs, spine, and scaps are tight, then your chest will never activate. 


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