Most fitness freaks believe bench press is the best exercise for building up their pectoralis and having a bulky chest. And there is also evidence to prove that. However, once they start propping up the barbell, they can’t see that area pumping back and forth or just don’t feel it working. So, they may wonder if they’re making any progress and why that is the case.
If you don’t feel it in your chest when benching, you’re probably not applying it to its full potential. This can have various reasons, from incorrect body form to inaccurate benching methods. Incomplete sets, no warm-ups, feeble assisting muscles, and lack of mindfulness are other possible reasons.
This article will further discuss why bench pressing isn’t triggering your pectoralis muscles, providing you practical tips to enhance your workout effectiveness. It also talks about the difference between feeling the moves and soreness.
Is Not Feeling Your Chest The Same as Not Feeling Pain?
Not feeling your chest isn’t the same as not feeling pain. The latter isn’t a big deal for seasoned gym-goers because once you get used to the workout, your DOMS symptoms start to fade away. But if you feel the bench more actively in your biceps, triceps, and trapezius area, significant flaws are in play.
And, you need to fix the cause to get the most out of your benching session.
Here are five reasons why you don’t feel it in your bench while benching and how you can resolve them:
Incorrect Body Form
You shouldn’t just rest on your workout bench as you do on your sleeping bed! Some body parts need to stay off the bench, while others touch hard against it. You’ll also need to maintain a proper form.
Here are essential parts to consider:
When benching, you should pinch your scapulas together so tightly that your spine gets compressed. At the same time, push the shoulder blades back as hard as possible so they won’t rotate forward. This way, you’ll have a firm supporting structure for your pressing moves.
But when you fail to do this, the barbell’s weight will disperse to shoulder muscles, making you not feel it in your chest. It not only decreases your pecs ROM but also heightens the risk of injury to your shoulders.
A significant culprit for not feeling the press in your chest is a flat back.
When you lie on the bench with your back straight or legs up, your shoulders pop up, no matter how much you try to squeeze them back. That’s because the position changes your spine’s natural curve and limits your mobility. As a response, your shoulders roll forward to take care of the task.
To rectify your back position, sit on the bench and pull your feet back from where your knees are. Then, lie down, trying not to move your feet any forward. This will automatically rest your upper back on the pad, giving it a slight, comfortable arch.
Start benching, and you’ll see how it contracts the chest muscles.
Moving, bouncing, and repositioning your feet in a bench press session is another cause of not feeling anything in your chest.
When you lift your feet, your hips, buttocks, and back spring each time, you press. It destroys all your efforts for creating a firm body foundation.
So, you need to stabilize your feet, too.
Place them under the bench, with your legs having a backward angle. At the same time, press them into the flooring as hard as you can and also towards your shoe tips. This not only prevents unwanted body recoils but also transfers some force from the ground up to your legs, torso, and then chest. Therefore, your pectoral region gets enough activation.
Activating your chest in the bench press is also about your elbow position.
When you lift the barbell up and then down to your chest, your elbows should remain at 45-75 degrees from your torso.
If your elbows stay too far from your rib cage, your rotator cuff and delts take charge of the lifts. Similarly, a very tucked angle shifts the pressure away from your chest and onto your triceps. As a result, your chest muscles won’t fire up, and your exercise gets even harder.
To get a better sense of the difference, try pushing a car or any heavy object with your elbows flared to the sides. Then, do the same while tucking them inwards. You’ll see that the latter position is far easier because all muscles—triceps, pectorals, and delts—receive a share of work, increasing your strength.
However, it’s your job to find your best angle in the given range, depending on your arm lengths, bar load, and lifting style.
Other than your posture, your actions also play a role in bench pressing. Here are some faulty techniques that make you not feel your chest muscles when benching.
Straight Barbell Direction
Unlike what most beginners would assume, you shouldn’t lift up the barbell in a linear direction as it can relocate the tension to the non-chest muscles, decreasing your strength.
Start each rep from above your shoulders, then move it down and slightly forward—where your nipples or the xiphoid process reside. To better visualize the move, think of it as an upside-down J path.
This will involve all your upper, middle, and lower chest muscles.
Even seasoned trainers modify their grip to get a good balance of comfort, speed, and control. But although practical, it’s not all about that. You should also adjust your grip style to what muscles you want to target.
For example, a narrow grip would recruit your tricep muscles while a wider one would engage your chest more. It’s your pecs that adduct your arms, so the wider your arms during pull-ups, the more emphasis on your pecs.
Try to distance your hands as much as you can, as long as you don’t compromise your strength. But don’t overdo it since the ideal grip is between 1.5 to 2 times your shoulder width.
Another thing to consider is having an even grip. It means both of your hands should be equally far from the two ends of the bar. Otherwise, you’ll risk your balance and destroy your muscle gains.
Also, grip the barbell tightly so that your wrists won’t lean over backward. Tilted wrists put extra strain on your forearms and don’t make your upper body any thicker.
Partial reps are considered cheating in a bench press session. They not only prevent the moves from reaching their full potential but also may harm your sternum bone, rib cage, and rotator cuff.
So if you’re not getting the desired growth, try lowering the bar closer to your chest in each rep. Make it touch your shirt, or at least hover it above that area before you lift it again.
Muscles need oxygen to supply their needed energy for physical activity. And bench-pressing, as a demanding activity, requires a great deal of oxygen to break down the stored glucose and release energy.
So, you need to take a few breathing tricks to draw more oxygen to your lungs. The first technique is belly breathing—aka deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. Before starting the session, inhale the air deeply through your nostrils, so your stomach gets inflamed. Then repeat it for almost two minutes to contract your abdominal muscles, preparing your midsection.
Also, during the set, you should exhale on the push-ups and inhale as you lower the bar. But this time, work with tiny bursts of air rather than breathing deeply.
This increases your chest work to maximum efficiency.
Inactive Chest Muscles
Sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with your benching techniques and position. And the problem lies in the lack of preparation.
Here are two ways you can activate your chest muscles before starting your sets.
Have Attentional Focus
Studies have proved mind-muscle connection can enhance the effects of training on a specific muscle. And since bench pressing isn’t a dedicated chest isolator, you need some focusing strategies to fire this muscle up during the exercise.
Muscles need acetylcholine to contract and grow, and one way to produce this chemical is through activating your central nervous system. To that end, you need to concentrate on your muscles and rely on your body cues rather than external ones.
For example, start with lighter weights and don’t count the reps at the beginning. Don’t listen to any music or think about anything but your moves. And with every repetition, try to squeeze your chest muscles rather than other ones.
You shouldn’t just focus on lifting the weight. Instead, you should focus on engaging your muscles.
Here are additional guides on how to improve the link between your mind and muscles:
If you meet all the above requirements and still can’t feel it in your chest when you bench, forest, warm up using exercises with which you do feel your pecs. Flat dumbbell press, incline/flat chest press, incline flys, and flat flys are practical ways that prime your pecs for an entire bench press session.
Just lay a pad on the floor, and pick up two medium-weight dumbbells. Then, lift them up for 1-3 sets of 8-10 reps. During the process, focus on your pecs and their contraction/motions. Try to put the same pressure on them while benching.
This method especially works if you’re new to the world of weight-lifting.
Another possibility is that you’re not doing enough reps and sets. So, increase their numbers and see if you experience any soreness or DOMS after the session.
This method is mainly recommended to those in the habit of lifting heavy weights because the heavier the weights, the more extended your exercise should be. As a rule of thumb, adjust your sets and reps according to your fitness status, bar weight, and physical preparedness.
Weak Stabilizer Muscles
Stabilizers are muscles that don’t mainly perform an activity but work almost equally to maintain body alignment. Simply put. They assist your primary muscles in doing their job. But how are they supposed to provide good support to your main muscles when they’re weak themselves?
Before you start benching, make sure you have strong enough stabilizers—rear delts, leg, back, and abdominal muscles. Otherwise, you can’t accelerate/decelerate heavy dumbbells without buckling your arms.
The bench press is a highly efficient exercise to scale up your chest muscles, but only as long as you know how to do it.
First, make sure your other muscles are strong enough to handle the process. Then warm up and take a deep belly breath before you start the sets. Make sure your elbows, feet, back, and hands are all in the proper position and that you’re performing enough reps.