Want a bigger upper-chest? Then stop doing this popular exercise (*cough* bench press *cough*) yesterday… (and what exercise to do instead)

I'm in front of the mirror trying on shirt number three. Numbers one and two are soaking in gasoline. I'll burn them later. I don't like how they look on me.

And not because they aren't fashionable. I don't have any fashion sense. I once wore a horizontally striped shirt with plaid pants. I guess that's frowned upon. Who knew. (Everyone but me, apparently.)

So there's nothing wrong with the color of these shirts or how they clash with my eyes or whatever. Is that a thing? Wearing clothes that match your eye color? I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore.

I don't like how these shirts look on me for one simple reason: they accentuate my moobs.

And this isn't something someone with a six pack (of abs, not beer) should be saying. But I am. Because I have a dominant lower chest. And I hate it. With a pre-contemplative obsessive serial killer hate.

And yet…

AND YET!

I'm still fucking bench pressing.

HAHAhAHAHahaAHaHAHaHAHAAHAAH

farts

If you're an amalgam of anxiety because of you're chest proportions, I have some news about the bench press that you need to hear.

I also have a picture of Franco Columbu's upper chest for you. MYYYYYYY GAAaaAAWwwWwDDDddDDD.

skinny fat upper chest

You bench press for the same reason twelve year olds wear Uggs

The bench press is popular. A little too popular. My mom knows what the bench press is, and she only knows the word “iron” as it relates to getting wrinkles out of clothes.

But let's play a game. Let's say we go around and ask every bro at the gym why they are bench pressing. I'm guessing answers would centralize around: getting stronger, building muscle, and other similar shticks. But these answers are façades.

The REAL reason why 99% of bench pressers do the bench press is the same reason why twelve year old girl waltz around in Uggs.

BECAUSE, LIEK, EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT. U NO WHAT I MEAN, RITE?

I'm guilty. I used to bench press because, liek, everyone else was. Meaning, I was the manifestation of the sort of human being that I would karate kick in the clavicle without hesitation.

Fortunately, for my clavicle's sake, I don't bench press anymore.

Unfortunately, for my clavicle's sake, I drink alcohol. And after consuming alcohol for nearly 30 straight hours, I was thrown from a moving vehicle. My clavicle paid the price for my antics.

Anyways, I don't bench press anymore because one thing I've learned over time:

POPULAR ≠ USEFUL

If you ever need to be reminded of this, open up your high school year book and find the most popular kid in your graduating class. How's that for a punch in the parietal lobe?

Identifying your problems and needing Frank Costanza's Bro©

I ended my last thought strong, but I always bend the knee to logic. Popularity doesn't equal usefulness, but that doesn't necessarily mean popularity equals uselessness.

Except in this case.

lol

Okay, okay. “Uselessness” is a bit extreme.  The bench press isn't useless from an absolute standpoint; it's not always useless. But it can be useless from a relative standpoint; it's sometimes useless.

The utility of the bench press depends on how it relates to the problem you're trying to solve. So you have to ask yourself, “What problem am I trying to solve?”

For the longest time, I was trying to not be a skinny-fat awkwardly shaped human being. This was my problem. A subset of this problem: my chest proportions. I felt like I was the target market for Frank Costanza's Bro©.

frank costanza bro gif

Solving your problems and not needing Frank Costanza's  Bro©

I had saggy man tits. This was my problem. How does the bench press relate to said problem? Good question. But we're not ready to go there yet. I need peel apart the problem itself a little more because there isn't just one cause. There are two.

  • First, a bunch body fat.
  • Second, a lack of proportioned muscle mass.

My problem was a lack of proportioned muscle mass. I didn't have a lot of body fat. And I had some muscle mass, it was just clumped in the lower-chest.

Given this specific problem, we can reroute back to the original question. How does the bench press relate to said problem? In other words, is the bench press a viable solution to said problem?

  • If it is, then its useful.
  • If it isn't, then its useless.

Right?

How the bench press relates to a lackluster upper-chest

Given any exercise done with muscular intent, there are two big questions to ask:

  • What's the global effect?
  • What's the local effect?

The global concern is a matter of looking at whether or not the exercise is going to convince your body to build more muscle. Tickling your hand with a feather won't build a callus.

The bench press will trigger your body to build more muscle. This isn't debatable. Lifting heavy iron things is Lindy tested, Lindy approved. (If you haven't met Lindy, you can here.)

The local concern is a matter of looking at where the exercise is most likely going to build muscle. Because, unlike body fat, muscle responds to stress on a local level. A bricklayer doesn't get calluses on his ears.

The bench press is powerful enough to build muscle.

But where?

Here's the bench press fizzicks you need to make sense of things 

The angle of any press relative to the thoracic spine changes muscular activation. So consider a press at 90-degrees relative to a neutral thoracic spine to be the reference point.

A press at 90-degrees (perpendicular to a neutral thoracic spine) hits the entire chest well. Muscle activation between upper and lower is about equal.

bench press chest muscle activation

Go above 90-degrees, and you’ll activate more of your upper-chest… for a bit. You'll eventually reach a point where the shoulders do most of the work.

Go below 90-degrees, and you’ll activate more of your lower chest.

Two things worth noting.

(Second one will BLEW UR MHIND!)

Two things you should know about the bench press

First, if you consider a standard bench press to be at 90-degrees (perpendicular to a neutral thoracic spine), you're, AT MINIMUM, going to preserve your current chest proportions.

Meaning, for a skinny-fat goober like myself, I'm going to preserve my lower-chest dominance and my upper-chest subservience.

In other words, fuck.

Second, the vast majority of people DO NOT bench press at 90-degrees (perpendicular to a neutral thoracic spine). People often arch their lower back during the exercise, which changes the angle of the thoracic spine relative to the press.

bench press arch technique muscle activation

This turns the bench press into more of a decline press, which means you're pressing below 90-degrees, which means you're shifting the stress to the lower boobies, which means AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, which means a skinny-fat goober like myself is going to heighten my disproportion.

The fate of the bench press for those with upper-chest woes

If you want to build a bigger upper-chest, you shouldn't bench press. At best, you'll build your upper-chest and your lower-chest in a one-to-one ratio. At worst, well, things'll be worse.

Yeah.

I know.

You don't have to say it.

I found something that encapsulates your emotions.

hamm sad gif

But don't fret.

You can still do incline presses.

The best bench angle for your upper chest is a 30-degree incline. A higher incline (45-degrees) is okay, but it'll be more shoulder intensive and you might struggle to really activate your upper chest.

anthony mychal incline press

anthony mychal incline press

Also, during incline presses, don’t arch your lower back too much. Keep a neutral spine. Arching does the same thing it did before: it puts you into more of a decline bench position, which is never good for your upper-chest.

Why is the bench press popular if it doesn't work?

If most men have unbalanced chests, and if most men don't want unbalanced chests, then why is the bench press so fucking popular?

I fought off an urge to launch into a full scale investigation into the popularity of the bench press earlier. I have a few ideas as to why the bench press is so popular.

One of them deals with the overhead press being dropped from Olympic competition. One of them deals with the bench press being the equivalent of a shitty high school quarterback. All of them, however, deal with culture influencing our behavior in irrational ways.

But none of these things matter. Sometimes its better to eat reality. It doesn't matter why the bench press is popular. All that matters is that it is. And, because it is, you're more likely to do it.

We broke the chain. Turns out, the only valid reason to bench press (if you aren't a powerlifter) is to qualify status and pecking order without having to pull down your pants.

Trying to lose fat, build muscle, and build a body you’re proud of?

Maybe you’re a little lost right now.

Maybe you don’t have much motivation.

Maybe you don’t what program or diet to use.

I don’t know…

But what I do know is this:

Everything you need is inside of you.

You’re capable of more than know.

You just have to open your eyes.

My weekly column can help.

Just a small little honest note from me sent every Sunday.

Unless I’m hungover.

And then it comes Monday.

What I’m trying to say is that it’ll come Monday.

(These weekly columns don’t get posted to the site.)

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