Here’s what you need to know…
• Using a thumbless grip on overhead pressing allows for a better path of the bar by bringing it in closer to the centerline of the body. It’s also easier on the shoulders and wrists.
• Start with a shoulder-width grip. As a visual cue, rotate your hands back towards your delts. If your thumb grazes the outside of them, you’ve got it right.
• Contract your glutes, abs, and quads when you press. The more tension you have throughout the body, the stronger you’ll be.
• Activate the biceps on the eccentric portion of the press. When you lower the bar, think about doing a sort of hammer curl towards your face/ears.
• Press with a purpose. That means press with violence and hate. Try to think about throwing it through the ceiling.
Lots of guys these days shit on any form of seated press, but I’m not sure why. The entire purpose of pressing overhead is simply to build bigger and stronger shoulders. Whether you’re seated or standing doesn’t really matter unless you’re a competitive strongman and … (read more here)
A frequently asked question when it comes to chest training is ‘Are Dumbells better or worse than a Barbell?’ – There is no yes or no answer to this one, it is entirely dependant on your goals.
As you can load a barbell gradually with minor increases in weight, they are the ideal tool for building strength. To get stronger you need to progressively lift more weight over a period of time. If you can’t, something is not right – You can perform all the drop-sets/supersets/giant sets/forced reps etc etc, but if the weight is not increasing, you will not get stronger – You will plateau much quicker with Dumbbells due to the large increase in weight percentage between them. Even a well stocked gym will have the weight increases around the 2.5kg mark. This is as increase of 5kg on your lift which is going to be a challenge for most and makes progressive loading nigh impossible. If your goal is pure strength you can load significantly more onto a barbell due to its balance and stability and so is the perfect tool in this situation.
Muscular imbalance is another thing to address. Although you can try and be more aware of pushing equally or focusing on leading with the weaker side, with a Barbell imbalances can be masked. When using Dumbbells you will be much more aware of imbalances as one side will be unstable or will fatigue first, and will prevent your dominant side from growing faster than the other. Balanced body strength leads to greater performance and lowers the chance of injury.
The Barbell bench press is also harder on your joints than dumbbells. When pressing with dumbbells, your hands won’t remain completely pronated (palms forward), but will rotate slightly inwards reducing the stress on your wrists elbows and shoulders (particularly rotator cuff) and therefore reducing your chance of injury.
With regard to muscle recruitment, researchers noted that electrical activity or muscle stimulation in the arms was greatest in the triceps with a barbell, but when dumbbells are used the biceps also come into play as stabilisers. The Barbell activates more upper chest fibres and anterior deltoid due to the wide grip in the top position, however as your hands are free to move across your body with dumbbell presses there is greater lower pectoral activation. Although yes, you will use more stabilising muscles with the dumbbells, you will be limited by the weight increases as previously mentioned meaning you will plateau sooner.
In my opinion the barbell is the better option as you can handle a lot more weight doing the same exercises. More weight moved = bigger muscles. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use dumbbells, you should try and use both – Just keep the main focus on increasing the weight on the bar and use dumbbell sets to ensure you work the entire chest area, prevent imbalances and keep your joints healthy.
In a nutshell:
Anyone who has been doing bench press in some variation will have had or still suffer from shoulder pain. Usually around the anterior deltoid (front shoulder) or impingement in the rotator cuff area. Though you would think otherwise the flat bench press tends to irritate the shoulder more than the overhead press. This is because the flat bench utilises the anterior deltoid heavily, especially with a medium to narrow grip, developing mainly the front part of the shoulder. Whereas the overhead press (performed correctly) develops the shoulder as a whole.
Most bodybuilders believe that the chest should be worked at all angles and that decline is for the lower chest only. In fact during EMG studies it has been shown that the decline bench press (at a minimal angle i.e 15-20 degrees) actually activates more total chest muscle than other angles. Not only that, but there is a lot less pressure on the anterior deltoid seriously reducing chance of injury and less irritation for already damaged shoulders. Many of the biggest names (and bodies!) in bodybuilding – Yates, Coleman & Cutler to name a few, swear by the decline bench and use it as a main stay of their training, this should make it definitely worth considering if mass is your goal.
One of the things I particularly like about the decline bench is that it feels so much better, the angle feels more natural (it resembles the movement the pectoral muscles are mainly responsible for) and certainly for me, I am more aware of my chest in the movement and so find it easier to focus on the lift rather than the pain in my shoulders!! You can also move more weight in a decline position, increasing your strength and confidence under the bar, which can then help you past sticking points when you return to flat benching.
If you haven’t tried it before (or even if you have), replace your flat bench with it for a while. When you reach a plateau swap it back out again and see how it has helped your strength come along, as well as your physique! Just be sure to have a spotter to hand as any bench, and worse case, dare I say it? use a smith machine for safety.