The chest is one of the powerhouses of the upper body: many of us are concerned with how the chest looks, how heavy we can bench press or how easily we can perform gymnastic movements like dips and muscle ups. A strong chest is a great way to protect the shoulders from injury (as long as it doesn’t get too tight) and improve strength and power for sports
How to improve chest strength and size
It is important to know how the chest works in order to improve the way that we use it and how we develop muscle strength and size. The role of the chest is to bring the arms in front of the body and downwards. To increase the range of motion of chest exercises – which increases the number of muscle fibres we can use and how much we can develop them – we need to maximise the length of the muscle in the ‘extended’ position.
The best way to do this is to bring the shoulder blades down and back, locking the shoulder blades into a depressed position. If we leave the shoulders in a shrugged position, it over-involves the shoulders and reduces the amount of chest fibres we can use in chest exercises such as the bench press, push up or fly. This means that we can produce more force, and faster, as well as building more muscle in the long term.
In this video, Jeff breaks down the way that the chest and shoulders work together. This confirms the widespread belief in powerlifting that tucking your shoulder blades down and back in all chest exercises not only improves strength but also improves the ability to strengthen and develop the chest muscles.
How can this improve shoulder health?
Not only will this improve the amount of contraction we get from the chest – meaning more strength and the chance to build more size – but it also protects the shoulders. Powerlifters have used this strategy to protect their shoulders for years, focusing on putting the shoulders in the back pockets, whilst using them to squeeze the bench. This reduces the chance of tearing the rotator cuff or impinging the shoulder, which can easily happen if we bring the shoulders into the lift.