Tips from your YMCA Club experts

YMCA Gym London

Flat Bench Press    

The barbell or flat bench press is probably the most commonly used chest exercise in the gym and most likely the world. When performed correctly it can help build a strong and defined chest.                    

  1. To perform the exercise start by lying back on a flat bench. Using a medium width grip (a grip that creates a 90-degree angle in the middle of the movement between the forearms and the upper arms), lift the bar from the rack and hold it straight over you with your arms locked.
  2. From the starting position, breathe in and lower the bar in a controlled manner until it touches the middle of your chest.
  3. After a brief (1 second) pause, drive the bar back up to the starting position in a controlled manner as you exhale. Lock your arms and squeeze your chest in the contracted position at the top of the motion, hold for a second and then lower the bar slowly again.
  4. Repeat the movement for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
  5. When you are done, carefully place the bar back in the rack.

Top Tips:

  • Ideally, lowering the weight should take about twice as long as raising it.
  • If you are new to pressing, it is advised that you use a spotter (a spotter is someone who will help manoeuvre the bar if you reach failure during the exercise). If no spotter is available, then be conservative with the amount of weight used.
  • Also, beware of letting the bar drift too far forward. You want the bar to touch your middle chest and nowhere else.
  • Don't bounce the weight off your chest. You should be in full control of the barbell at all times.
  • Focus on pushing the bar using your chest muscles.
  • This exercise can also be performed using dumbbells.

Incline Bench Press

The Incline bench press is easily the second most commonly used chest exercise after the flat bench press. The mechanics of the movement are very similar to that of the flat bench. However, the incline press puts more emphasis on the upper pectoral (the top half of the chest) muscles.

  1. To perform the exercise start by setting a bench up so the back is at 30-45 degree angle.
  2. Lie back on the bench and grip the bar with a width just wider than your shoulders.
  3. Take a deep breath in, drive your heels into the floor and arch your back slightly pushing your shoulder blades into the bench. This will give you a stable base.
  4. Unrack the bar and lower it to your clavicle (top of the chest) in a controlled manner.
  5. From the bottom position exhale forcefully as your drive the bar back up to the top.
  6. Ensure you maintain the stable position throughout the exercise and repeat for the programmed number of repetitions.

Top Tips:

  • Try to ensure the bar travels along a straight path up and down
  • Do not lift your head as you press the weight back up, if you find yourself doing this then the weight is too heavy
  • Drive your feet into the floor, making your lower body and core rigid to increase stability and pushing power
  • Grip the bar as tightly as you can to help generate pushing power also
  • The incline press can also be performed using dumbbells
  • The angle of the bench will dictate how much emphasis is placed on the chest and how much is placed on the shoulders. A higher incline will be a more shoulder dominant movement.

Narrow Grip Barbell Press

The narrow grip bench press, although not hugely different from the bench press is also very popular as it allows you to place a larger emphasis on the triceps (back of the upper arm) whilst still using a heavy load.

  1. Lie back on a flat bench. Using a close grip (approximately shoulder width), lift the bar from the rack and hold it straight over your chest with your arms locked. This will be your starting position.
  2. As you breathe in, lower the bar slowly until it touches the middle of your chest.
  3. After a second pause, bring the bar back to the starting position as you exhale. Lock your arms at the top, hold for a second and then start lower the bar slowly.
  4. Repeat the movement for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
  5. When you are done, place the bar back in the rack.

Top Tips:

  • If you are new to pressing, it is advised that you use a spotter (a spotter is someone who will help manoeuvre the bar if you reach failure during the exercise). If no spotter is available, then be conservative with the amount of weight used. Also, beware of letting the bar drift too far forward.
  • Also, beware of letting the bar drift too far forward, you want the bar to travel over the middle of your chest.
  • This exercise can also be performed with an e-z bar using the inner handle as well as dumbbells, in which case the palms of the hands will be facing each other.
  • Make sure that - as opposed to a regular bench press - you keep the elbows close to the torso at all times in order to maximize triceps involvement.
  • Avoid using a grip narrower than shoulder width as this puts additional stress on your wrists and can lead to injury.
  • It should take at least twice as long to go down than to come up.
  • This exercise can also be performed using dumbbells.

Military Press

The military press is the most commonly used shoulder exercise and is great for building strong and resilient shoulder muscles.

  1. Start by placing a barbell that is about chest high in a squat rack. Once you have selected the weights, grab the barbell using a pronated (palms facing forward) grip. Make sure to grip the bar with just wider than shoulder width.
  2. Place the barbell on your collarbone and remove it from the rack. With barbell rest on your chest, take a step back and position your feet shoulder width apart. Ensure you have maintained the correct grip width, this is your starting position.
  3. From this ‘racked’ position, shift your head back and out of the path of the bar as you drive it up over your head until your arms are locked out. In this position your head should come forward again into its natural position so it is below the bar.
  4. Inhale as you lower the bar back to the starting position.
  5. When repeating the lifting phase, forcefully exhale as the bar travels upwards.
  6. Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.

Top Tips:

  • If you have lower back injuries/problems then it is advised to perform a seated press instead.
  • The behind the neck press is not recommended for people with shoulder problems as it can be hard on the rotator cuff due to the hyperextension created by bringing the bar behind the neck. This could lead to injury.
  • Another option is to use dumbbells when performing this exercise for better isolation and to balance any strength differences between the shoulders.
  • To help generate move pushing power, focus on squeezing your glutes and core and locking your legs when driving the weight up.

 

About the Author

Terri Snelling is our health and fitness programme manager here at the Club and a qualified personal trainer. She started her fitness journey as a volunteer with YMCA when she was only 13 years old. Since then, she has held various jobs in her 15 years in the industry including working with a premiership football team and being a personal training manager in the city, before settling into her calling as a fitness manager at the Central YMCA Club. Over the years Terri has developed a vast and impressive set of skills ranging from but not limited to lifestyle management coaching, advanced kettlebells, indoor cycling and pre and post-natal care. She teaches several classes on our timetable such as indoor cycling, kettlebells and Octane Circuits.

ymca | 27 October 2015