By Bill Geiger, MA and Jimmy Peña, MS, CSCS
1. LIFTING YOUR BUTT OFF THE BENCH
While you might see some big benchers raise their hips off the bench, it’s not a practice you should try. Raising your hips off the bench in an attempt to lift more weight invites injury while turning the move into more of a decline press (during which you’re stronger and the range of motion is shorter). While that may be advantageous for guys who bench for record weights, as a bodybuilder you could simply do declines instead if you want to focus on your lower pecs. To keep the stress on the middle pecs, keep your hips glued to the bench. You can still drive through your feet, but keep your hips and glutes down.
2. NOT WRAPPING YOUR THUMBS AROUND THE BAR
Here’s one of those mistakes you make because you get comfortable doing a movement in a particular way, and then it just feels right to do it that way — even when it’s not. Using a thumbless grip (thumbs wrapped around the bar on the same side as the fingers) won’t be a problem 99% of the time, but it’s that 1% that can kill you. With a heavy weight, the bar can slip from your grip and come crashing down, exactly as it did to USC tailback Stafon Johnson a few years ago and almost ended his football career. Get in the habit of wrapping those thumbs around the bar.
3. LOWERING THE BAR INCORRECTLY
Whether you’re doing incline or decline presses, the point at which the bar comes closest to your pecs changes with the angle of the bench. With declines, the bar should tap your lower pecs — not your neck — and with inclines it should come down high on the chest. The reason is all about leverage and being in the position to push the most weight safely. Of course, you don’t want to compound one mistake by making another: bouncing the bar off your pecs in an effort to generate momentum to help lift the weight.
4. ALWAYS FOCUSING ON BENCH PRESSES FIRST
The bench press is a clear winner as a mass-building chest move, and some of its cousins are also great, including the flat bench with dumbbells and benching from the incline and decline positions. But your energy levels at the gym are like a balloon with a small leak, declining over the course of your workout as fatigue sets in. If you’re always doing inclines after flat benching, your upper pecs are going to start to lag behind, and if you always do declines third in your routine, your lower pecs will never be challenged to their fullest. Instead, on occasion do inclines or declines first in your workout when you’re fresh and can tackle some weights never before pressed. Building a muscle to its fullest potential means breaking out of routines, and always doing bench presses first is one routine you don’t want to settle into.
5. PRESSING YOUR FLYES
Who doesn’t want to go as heavy as possible on chest day? But if you go heavy on your flyes, you’re far more likely to press them (a multijoint move) rather than lock the slight bend in your elbows, which is required for single-joint exercises like flyes. Maintaining the slightly bent arm position better isolates the chest, reducing the contribution from the delts and triceps. Because you have to back off on the weights, they’re best done at the end of your workout. Watch the motion in the mirror carefully; the degree of bend shouldn’t change during the rep. If you have trouble doing this, do your single-joint moves on the pec-deck machine instead, which does a better job of locking your arms in position.