Do you want a bigger upper chest? Then stop doing this popular exercise

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. apparently that's frowned upon. who knew! (everyone but me, apparently…)

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

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, like most men, I have a dominant lower chest. And I hate it. With a pre-contemplative obsessive hate. I wear shirts every day. My feelings are righteous.

And yet…


I'm still fucking flat bench pressing.



I'll tell you why. And i'll also tell you that, if you're an amalgam of anxiety because of you're chest proportions, i have some news about the flat bench press that you need to hear.

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

skinny fat upper chest

The bench press news


The story above is true, but it's not current. I no longer flat bench press. But I can absolutely tell you why I was flat bench pressing back then:

Because everyone else was doing it.

The response I imagine a snobby twelve year old girl giving her father upon being asked why she needs a pair of Uggs.

In other words, with my rationale for bench pressing, I am the manifestation of the sort of human being I want to karate kick in the clavicle.

Why didn't I open up my high school year book and find the most popular kid in my graduating class in order to get a visceral home hitting punch in the parietal lobe example of the following:

Popular ≠ Useful

But let's give Mr. Bench Press a chance, shall we?

Why are you popular Mr. Bench Press?


Why are you popular Mr. Bench Press? Do you do magical things? Or are you just a shitty high school quarterback?

I've been told you weren't always popular. Not long long ago, the big question was, “How much can you press?”

“Press” being short for “overhead press.” Even though there are dozens of different presses, the overhead press was so popular it was just the press. That's like Harley-Davidson sort of cool. Can you say that about yourself, Mr. Bench Press?

Unfortunately, the overhead press is no longer the press. My cousin, the one that knows the word “fit” only as it relates to decade old denim, isn't asking me how much I can press when I see him.

Why did the overhead press stop being the press? Was it found to be ineffective? Dangerous with a list of side effects longer than Accutane?


The sport of Olympic weightlifting consists of two events: the snatch and the clean and jerk. But there used to be a third event: the clean and press.

overhead press lay back technique

In 1972, the clean and press was dropped from the sport because it got too difficult to judge with all of the excessive lean back techniques that were evolving.



The press was no longer the press, which provided an opening for the bench press — an exercise that just so happens to be contested in the sport of powerlifting.

Bench press and powerlifting


Powerlifting is a sport where athletes compete in the (a) bench press, (b) squat, and (c) deadlift to see who can lift the most weight.

Are you seeing the theme?

It's the sport, not necessarily the exercise's utility or effectiveness, that dictates popularity.

Might seem fine until you escape the first world bubble and realize that


they are just games. Games have make-believe rules that us smelly humans just so happen agree upon for the sake of fun and/or competition.

Doing an exercise because it appears in a sport is like regularly getting into fist fights with a chicken because Peter Griffin does.

peter griffin fighting chicken

Why do powerlifters bench?


I suppose we can dig dig dig and try to find out why the bench press is a contested powerlift, but it doesn't matter. Because here's what does matter…

If you want to play the make-believe game that is powerlifting, you absolutely 100% NEED to bench press.

But, if you don't care about powerlifting, exercises are nothing more than tools in a toolbox. Your job is to pick the tools that best serve the job at hand.

Select tools for their utility, not for their popularity.

So, Mr. Bench Press, what utility do you have for someone that's all in a tizzy over their lackluster upper boobies?

The bench press as a tool


If you're training for aesthetics, there are two things to concern yourself with…

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

The first (global) concern can be reduced (for now) into this: is the exercise powerful enough to convince your body to build muscle?

The answer (for the bench press): yes. This isn't debatable. Lifting heavy iron things is Lindy tested, Lindy approved. (If you haven't met Lindy, you can here.)

So what about the local effect of the bench press? Bricklayers get calluses on their hands, not the ears.

The bench press is powerful enough to build some calluses, but…where?

Well, here's some bench press fizzicks for ya.

Bench press and muscle activation


The angle of the press relative to torso changes muscular activation.

Let's make a press at 90-degrees relative to torso (perpendicular) our reference point. A press at 90-degrees hits the entire chest pretty well. This is a wash. Muscle activation between upper and lower is about equal.

bench press chest muscle activation

Go above 90-degrees, and you’re more upper chest, for a bit. (You'll eventually reach point where the shoulders take most load.) Go below 90-degrees, and you’re more lower chest.

So, two things…

(second one is the kicker)

First, if you consider a flat bench press to be a press at 90-degrees, you're (at minimum) going to preserve your current unfavorable chest proportions.

Second, the flat bench press done with a lower back arch (which is a common technical practice) is NOT pressing at 90 degrees. It's pressing below 90 degrees, which shifts the stress to the lower boobies.

bench press arch technique muscle activation


I know.

You don't have to say it.

I'll just encapsulate your emotion with a .gif instead.

Bow-tie on the bench press


You want a bigger upper chest. And, with the current state of your chest, if you build upper chest muscle in a one-to-one ratio with lower chest muscle, you're still losing. Yet you do an exercise that, at best, will build muscle in said one-to-one ratio.

Makes about as much sense as reading this website if you want to retain any shred of your sanity. “Wubba lubba dub dub biiiatch!”

So, for my purposes (and most people reading this that aren't powerlifters or Olympic weightlifters), it's much better to swallow your ego and, instead, do incline bench presses. (You still get to bench press, you can breathe now.)

incline press upper chest anthony mychal

The best incline angle for your upper chest is 30 degrees. Don’t arch your lower back too much. Try keeping neutral spine. Here's a video.

Higher (45 degrees) is okay, but it'll be more shoulders and you might struggle to really activate your upper chest.

Upper chest fixes


Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to subtract whatever is causing to the problem, rather than adding to cover up what's already broken.

And this is an easy thing to do when you accept the following reality:

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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