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 Post subject: Fixing a weak chest
PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:01 pm 
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No, seriously, you guys have known me long enough to know this isn't a joke.

That said...I need to build up my chest.

My chiro told me he feels my tight upper back and neck/shoulder tightness is either caused by, or exacerbated by, by muscle imbalances. My chest is significantly less developed and weaker than my upper back. It gets tight enough to cause pain and loss of range of motion until it relaxes after a few days. I can see my shoulders and neck are crooked in the mirror after it happens. It's generally after neck cranks or odd angles from sparring, but that's the proximate cause, the imbalance seems to be *why* it keeps happening.

It's a serious problem, but neither he nor I want to cut out my pullups, rows, etc. I just need to get stronger in front to match it.

He suggested the following - bench presses, both barbell and dumbbell, for sets of 10 reps or so, to build up my chest to match my back.

I'm already doing a lot of DB pressing for high reps, plus ME benching, plus pushups, so I'm not sure how much more DB pressing I can do. I generally don't do dips, because of a shoulder problem that comes back when I do dips.

What else can I do?

Obviously, I'll talk to my trainer. But I'm also curious and I want to read up on this. My first thought was "I have to learn how raw powerlifters up their bench off the chest."

I found these so far:

http://www.fitnessforoneandall.com/powe ... /bench.htm

http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_art ... sing_power

But they mainly address issues about extra ROM exercises and speed off the bottom.

Any other suggestions? It's an odd request, and KPj's head must be exploding by now, but I'm willing to give this a go. As my upper back has gotten stronger, so has my tendency to get a tight upper back.

I'm willing to entertain other ideas, too, that aren't related to getting my chest stronger. I just don't want my upper back locking up like it does now.

Thanks,

Peter


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 9:51 pm 
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Have you ever tried declines? What about inclines? Do you pause with the bar on your chest when you bench press?


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 06, 2009 10:22 pm 
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Try half reps at 50-60% can help alot, otherwise maybe try stretching your back before each set? Supposedly the antagonistic stretching of the back helps pressing power of the chest.

Beyond that, your feet should be planted. If theyre not planting, spread them further apart and closer to the torso to where you're digging your heels in, but you're not stretching your quads doing so... ass should also be pushing against the bench as well from the feet pushing into the ground.

Breathing is also important, deep breath at the top of each rep, release slowly at the middle of each rep as you begin your push out.

These are things I've figured out as I've had trainers help me with my form benching, and through personal practice. Make the lighter sets really count form wise too, it'll reinforce your form through practice, and will carry through to heavier sets.

If that doesnt work.. figure your sticking point could be related to a support group to the bench.. aka triceps or front deltoids. It also helps to switch back and forth from dumbbells to barbell and such. Benefit of the dumbbell is that you can work left and right independently as well as range of motion beyond the top of your chest "bring them down into your pits".


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 7:47 am 
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Matt Z wrote:
Have you ever tried declines? What about inclines? Do you pause with the bar on your chest when you bench press?


Yes, but I don't have access to a decline bench. Either at the gym or home. I can't improvise one home because my bench has an integrated rack for the barbell, so tilting backwards would be extremely dangerous with weights on it.

Incline bench - yes, and I've done a fair amount of incline DB pressing.

Pause - yes and no. It depends on when I do them. Most of the time it's touch and go, but recently my trainer has been having me pause and hold and then press on command. Probably because of my weak chest, actually, since my lockout is fine.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 8:00 am 
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brook011 wrote:
Try half reps at 50-60% can help alot, otherwise maybe try stretching your back before each set? Supposedly the antagonistic stretching of the back helps pressing power of the chest.


I thought about that after I posted - pressing alternated with stretching my shoulders a bit. I probably wouldn't want to do that before heavy benching since the lats and fixed shoulder position helps so much in providing a stable base. But for my lighter stuff, that's a good idea.

I'm going to do some light lifting this morning and try that.

brook011 wrote:
Beyond that, your feet should be planted.


Yep, already doing that on the barbell bench. It's less effective on the lighter DB bench presses or on the swiss ball bench press.


brook011 wrote:
Breathing is also important, deep breath at the top of each rep, release slowly at the middle of each rep as you begin your push out.


That's new to me. I'm a breath-holder on max effort pressing. If I'm doing 3 reps I hold my breathe the whole time so I don't lose the stiffness in my upper body.


brook011 wrote:
Benefit of the dumbbell is that you can work left and right independently as well as range of motion beyond the top of your chest "bring them down into your pits".


Yeah. I didn't mention yesterday but my chiro suggested I do alternating DB presses or one-arm DB presses sometimes, because it's a much different exercise. Longer ROM and different muscle activation. I didn't really have the time to give him a rundown of my varieties of pressing. Just off the top of my head, here's what I've done recently, circa this problem starting up:

Bench Press (1-5 reps, also max reps - 10-15)
Fat Bar Bench Press (1-5 reps)
Floor Press (1-5 reps)
Swiss Bar Bench Press (1-5, also max reps, 10-20)
DB Bench Press (All rep ranges from 6+, usually higher)
DB Incline Bench Press (All rep ranges from 6+, usually higher, from slight incline to very steep incline)

All of the DB presses have been done together, or one-arm, or alternating (leaving one DB up, and repping the other, then switching).

Plus some overhead pressing (DBs, kettlebells mostly)


You know, this would all be so much easier if the fly and cable crossover and pec deck really made your chest stronger. I could just go do those.

You guys have given me some ideas on what to do. Thanks.

Peter


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 8:39 am 
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pdellorto wrote:
You know, this would all be so much easier if the fly and cable crossover and pec deck really made your chest stronger. I could just go do those.


Is it a case that you've tried flys, cables etc and they dont work for you, or is it you dont try them because of other peoples opinions?

It's not that I dont get the whole 'isolation doesn't work' argument, just that everyone is different. What doesn't work for others, may be great for you to break through a plateau. Surley all those bodybuilders out there are all wrong!?

Agreed, you are training for strength, not size. But with size must come some strength.

I personally think that some people really struggle with the 'mind to muscle' connection. Not because they are inferior, but because their bodies are actually slightly different. Your pecs in a standard press, arms tucked in may not activate like the next mans. Your arms are a different length for example, your pecs are a different shape and have a slightly different ratio of fast/slow twitch fibres. Therefore your delts and triceps do the work and the pecs are left out.

I'm no expert, but from my own experience I know that what we do is always 'a work in progress'. You constantly have to adjust exercises untill you find the sweet spot that works for you. And then, just as you get used to that, change again! It's what keeps it so interesting.

It will be interesting to hear what you find to break through this problem, good luck, i'm sure you will find the answer.

Rik


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 8:50 am 
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Got to make this quick, I'm at work but...

Try suspending two ropes from a pull-up bar in loops. Have the bottom of the loop hang just about three or four inchs from the floor.

Do push-up's and body weight flys with the bottom of the rope as a handle.

If you don't smash your face on the floor your doing well.

When your repping 3 sets of ten on those you should be getting stronger. My roommate in college swears that is how he went from struggling with 295 to repping 315 in 4 weeks.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 9:05 am 
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Peter, if anyone else on this forum had posted that question, you'd be the one with the best answers!

This is actually pretty ironic in several ways. It's pretty wierd to need to work on balance because the back is ahead of the chest. You need to spend a little more time in front of the mirror. Wait. They don't have mirrors at DeFranco's. I guess you need to find a mirror somewhere.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:28 am 
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Is your serratus strong enough? You might want to try this


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:40 am 
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Well, my head was about to explode, but Jungledoc provided a reality check - you know all the main, well known tips on benching yourself. So, that saves a lot of typing. Still though, knowing and applying, especially to yourself, is a different ball game.

Did you catch Cresseys latest benchign article?

http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_art ... e_benchers

So, first, talk about your weak point. Obviously it's off the chest. Sounds to me like Defranco's are addressing this anyway. You have both the 'acceleration' aspect, plus, the 'speed' aspect. Forcing you to pause is taking away some advantage you get from the stretch reflex and therefore your training the 'acceleration' part. The other obvious one is speed work, sub maximal weights lifted with maximal force. I know you know all this, btw, it's just good to recount. The lack of feeling a burn puts people off applying speed work properly, but it's very effective, for obvious reasons.

Also, if your chest is 'underdeveped', then it may just be case of putting some mass on then hammering away at all the same stuff again.

So, using a pause, which your doing, and speed work, which i would be surprised if it wasn't already on the cards....

I fail to see the logic in the upper back stretches, btw. Not saying it won't work, I just don't why this would be suggested. I could see the logic your rhomboids and upper traps were incredibly tight, though.

Random recommedations I would give beyond that would include,

- Bench less. Use other variations more. I've not done full ROM barbell bench press for about 3 months now, when I done it then it was a PR, and when I do again, I predict another PR. Westside and other known PL's recommend rotating variation. "variation without change". You don't want to adapt, you want to be 'adapting'. If you adapt you'll just stagnate. There are some trains of thought that are against this, though, but personally it's somethign i've read a lot, and something that works for me. Like yourself, I am 'up against it' when it comes to bench pressing, it's a very stubborn exercise for me.

-Foam press. Benching down to a bit of foam, pausing, and blasting off it. I think this is going to be a 'secret weaponfor me'. Benching to my chest is hard on my shoulder, my weakness is also off mychest, so it's a tricky situation. Foam press improves your ability to explode off the chest, without using a full ROM.

-Get used to handling weight heavier than you can bench. IF you switch variations a lot, you'll do various board presses, floor pressing etc. These, especially with your weak point, should give you the chance to press with more weight than you can do full ROM. It then makes your max bench weight feel quite light.

-Someone mentioned DB bench press and getting a good full ROM. I would second that.

-Close grips. I like this variation especially because it's not as hard on the shoulder when you go to the chest and it forces you to get tight, and to me, getting tight is crucial. Don't think of it as a 'tricep exercise', think of it as a bench press variation.

-singles over 90% WITHOUT missing reps all the time.

KPj


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 10:55 am 
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Three replies in one!

That makes this post huge. I wonder if there is a character limit here? Hmm...

Rik-Blades wrote:
Is it a case that you've tried flys, cables etc and they dont work for you, or is it you dont try them because of other peoples opinions?


Both. They never worked for me. I used to do lots of DB flys, never actually did a cable crossover, but the flys didn't help no matter how I programmed them. I didn't miss them when they were gone. I'd be happy to try blast strap flies though, but they aren't quite the same exercise as the standard DB fly.

I was mostly joking around, though - if isolating the chest made it so powerful I'd have a lot less problems solving thing. But generally, it doesn't, because those isolation exercises are hard to load up.


Rik-Blades wrote:
Agreed, you are training for strength, not size. But with size must come some strength.


I'd love some chest size. I'm so flat chested I sometimes wonder if I have pecs. I feel like a 2xversion of Tra Telligman, the MMA fighter who is missing his right pectoral muscle.

Rik-Blades wrote:
I personally think that some people really struggle with the 'mind to muscle' connection. Not because they are inferior, but because their bodies are actually slightly different. Your pecs in a standard press, arms tucked in may not activate like the next mans. Your arms are a different length for example, your pecs are a different shape and have a slightly different ratio of fast/slow twitch fibres. Therefore your delts and triceps do the work and the pecs are left out.

I'm no expert, but from my own experience I know that what we do is always 'a work in progress'. You constantly have to adjust exercises untill you find the sweet spot that works for you. And then, just as you get used to that, change again! It's what keeps it so interesting.


Thanks that's good stuff to keep in mind.

Thanks Rik!

nygmen wrote:
Got to make this quick, I'm at work but...

Try suspending two ropes from a pull-up bar in loops. Have the bottom of the loop hang just about three or four inchs from the floor.

Do push-up's and body weight flys with the bottom of the rope as a handle.

If you don't smash your face on the floor your doing well.


Sounds like the unstable pushups they have me do - blast strap pushups and med ball pushups. Hopefully they'll help in the long run.

And yes, on not smashing your face. With blast strap pushups, you're doing great until suddenly you're not. There is never "one last sloppy rep" in you, because you face plant if you try it.

Jungledoc wrote:
Peter, if anyone else on this forum had posted that question, you'd be the one with the best answers!

This is actually pretty ironic in several ways.


Yeah, like you said, I'd probably jump in with a good answer. Physician, heal thyself!

I feel like I know a lot of stuff, but I need to have someone else tell me what to do or I get distracted by too many choices.

Jungledoc wrote:
It's pretty wierd to need to work on balance because the back is ahead of the chest. You need to spend a little more time in front of the mirror. Wait. They don't have mirrors at DeFranco's. I guess you need to find a mirror somewhere.


They do have giant mirrors, actually. That's what I look at when I do my delt flies and my curls.

But yeah, it's terribly ironic. I guess what happened is I realized a while back that I was too bench press focused, and my pulling strength wasn't so good. So I started to emphasize my back. I copied some pictures of Bruce Lee's flexed back and slapped them on my training book to remind myself of what I wanted.

I never actually stopped aiming for a stronger and stronger back, so for years I've been working hard on a stronger and stronger back. I get to DeFranco's and they help me fill in the weak points and my pulling strength has gone up. Even though my chest strength has gone up, it's not improving as well.

Again, my chiro isn't sure this is the cause. But he was pretty clear it's not helping, and there isn't anything else we can figure out that might cause it. I'm not opposed to getting a stronger chest, either. It can't hurt anything I'm doing. In the end though I might do this and still have the same problem, but we have to start somewhere.

I've been digging for ideas, but so much of it seems to parallel what I'm already doing, like the exercises in this Chris Thibaudeau workout:
http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_art ... hest_blast

I don't superset them like he does, but almost all of them are there somewhere. The floor flies are new to me, I can try them at some point.

I was also thinking I could do pin presses for isometric strength at the bottom, if I had a rack. But perhaps I can do band or DB presses and hold just off the chest for time, getting a similar effect. Isometric strength doesn't help size much, but if it even slightly improves my strength out of the bottom, it'll help me bench heavier. That in turn will help me get stronger in the full ROM with my chest.

Hey, I did find this amazingly crappy workout I can try. Best part? "This workout has never been performed." That's reassuring. I feel better knowing it was never tried, actually.

http://www.gyminee.com/workouts/25383-Chest

:D

I just have to find a way to ask my trainer to help me build up my chest without being embarrassed to ask. That's tough. It sounds like "dude, I need bigger bis and pecs to impress the chicks!" But I suspect my chest weakness is why he's got me doing more paused work on the bottom lately...


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 Post subject: Re: Fixing a weak chest
PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 11:00 am 
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pdellorto wrote:
My chiro told me he feels my tight upper back and neck/shoulder tightness is either caused by, or exacerbated by, by muscle imbalances.


I would like to try and understand this a little more.

So, what's tight? Your shoulder, neck, upper back? They're all sort of the same group. A trainer friend that I help out had what he called 'neck pain' but i called it 'shoulder pain', for example. The pain was in his upper traps/levator scapulae area, therefore, as far as i'm concerned, thats a shoulder problem. I almost class the whole upper back as 'shoulders'. Mainly because issues with the upper back and neck area are commonly down to shoulder problems... My point is, it would be good to trace this 'tightness' to the root of the problem...

Due especially to recent experiences (one with the trainer metioned above), I can't help but think of the thoracic spine. Has anyone ever checked your thoracic spine function? I'm talking about active extension, and rotation, both sides? Might seem far from the problem but lack of fucntion at the thoracic spine can just generally screw things up. When my shoulder was screwed I seen several specialists and no one checked my thoracic spine. It may be an area that's getting overlooked between your training (not REALLY a trainers job, though) and the chiro.

KPj


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 Post subject: Re: Fixing a weak chest
PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 11:13 am 
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I saw your post above just now. Thanks, that's all good stuff.

KPj wrote:
The pain was in his upper traps/levator scapulae area, therefore, as far as i'm concerned, thats a shoulder problem.


Right there. Most of the time the tightness occurs in my right shoulder, in the trap/levator scapulae area. Sometimes - like this week - it happened right around the rhomboids and upper traps, centered on the vertebrae. Right around that one vertebrae everyone uses for squat bar positioning. It locked so tight my head was crooked and my right shoulder dipped down. I needed the ART before I could really turn my head properly.

KPj wrote:
Due especially to recent experiences (one with the trainer metioned above), I can't help but think of the thoracic spine. Has anyone ever checked your thoracic spine function? I'm talking about active extension, and rotation, both sides?


No one has. Can you recommend good self tests for these, until I can find someone to do it?

Maybe I need to take a train down the Virginia and find Gray Cook's gym for a consult. But that's a little out of the way at the moment. Maybe my PT cousin can actually be useful to me. I'll email her...


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 11:19 am 
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Wouter wrote:
Is your serratus strong enough? You might want to try this


I'd like to think they are after all those scap pushups in my warmups and full-range pushups in general, but I'll add these to my next extra pushing workout.

Thanks. Forgot about those.


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 Post subject: Re: Fixing a weak chest
PostPosted: Sat Mar 07, 2009 11:35 am 
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pdellorto wrote:
Right there. Most of the time the tightness occurs in my right shoulder, in the trap/levator scapulae area. Sometimes - like this week - it happened right around the rhomboids and upper traps, centered on the vertebrae. Right around that one vertebrae everyone uses for squat bar positioning. It locked so tight my head was crooked and my right shoulder dipped down. I needed the ART before I could really turn my head properly.


This is interesting. You need to try and get to the bottom of that.



pdellorto wrote:
No one has. Can you recommend good self tests for these, until I can find someone to do it?

Maybe I need to take a train down the Virginia and find Gray Cook's gym for a consult. But that's a little out of the way at the moment. Maybe my PT cousin can actually be useful to me. I'll email her...


First off, Gray Cook is 'the man'. You wouldn't regret going to his gym.

OK, first, for thoracic extension and upward rotation. Simply stand still, hand by your side, squeeze your abs and glutes, and raise your arms straight up, see how far they go. You should be able to get them beyond your head (think of the bar in an OH squat bottom position). If you can't, your resticted, and it's a problem. People that fail this, for example, and in my view, should not do any OH pressing at all until it's fixed.

The rotation is harder to explain but i'll try. It's actually from Gray Cook. Sit infront of a door jam, so that it's centred infront of your body. Sit with legs crossed. keep your back neutral, no rounding, chest up. Get a broomstick or pipe or something, and hold it to your clavicles/top of chest with your arms crossed. Think of arms crossed front squat, only your elbows are down instead of horizontal. Your hands hold the broomsitck across your upper chest. YOu then rotate to each side, you should be able to touch the door jam with the broomstick. If you can't, you fail. Watch for compensation - the usual. You should start in good posture and keep it that way.

The trainer I mentioned above had 'neck pain'. I attempted to fix loads of things about 9 months ago. I got rid of lower back pain, and managed to make his shoulders WORSE. Really frustrated me. I didn't know how to check thoracic rotation, though, so I didn't. I gave him all the usual shoulder stuff. Didn't work - it flared up even more.

He still let me use him as my lab rat. Next time I seen him, in December, all I done was check this Thoracic rotation. Huge discrepancy to the right. Gave him 3 movements to address it, and he contacted me 3 weeks later to say the pain was "as good as gone", and now the stuff I gave him originally, which made him worse, is actually doing the world of good now.

I'm not saying you'll be the same, but it's worth a try.

KPj


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