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Bench press and "upper pecs"1881

The Dark
Knight
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OK, after being asked to discuss this, I started a new thread. Pardon me in advance that this is going to be long, I'm sure.
We've all heard for years, I'm sure, that doing incline bench presses will work more of the upper chest, right? Wrong. Here's why. Quick review of anatomy for those who are interested. The muscles of the chest are composed of two primary muscles- the pec major and minor. The pec minor is NOT a "mover." It is a fixating muscle whose only action is fixate and stabilize the scapula by drawing it inferiorly and anteriorly against the thoracic wall. In other words, it will not gain significant hypertrophy from bench pressing, because that's just not what it does- it fixates and helps keeps the shoulder joint in place; it doesn't move and contract the way that the pec major does. Next, the pec major- the large muscle that fans our from the sternum to the shoulder joint, with fibers running out in that direction. Muscles, as we all know, can only contract in the following ways- one, either completely or not at all (like a light switch), so there's no way to work only a portion of the muscle; in other words, you can't cause a nerve impulse to contract from one portion of the muscle without contracting the entire thing- just doesn't work that way. Two, they only contract in the direction that the fibers run (which is why pullovers are not a "chest" movement- they cause the chest to move up-and-down, not in and out). Finally, Electromyography (EMG) is a technique for evaluating and recording the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles. It actually measures where and how hard a muscle contracts. Basically, when a muscle contracts it produces electrical energy. The higher the electrical energy the more work the actual muscle is producing. By attaching electrodes to the skin over the bellies of each of these muscles this electrical energy can be measured and read using an electromyograph (EMG).
OK, now that that's out of the way, some logic should dictate my next point- if you can only contract a muscle entiely or not at all, significant changes in how that muscle contracts shouldn't be caused by changing the angle of a pressing movement. This is why inclines do not cause significant growth in the "upper pecs"- first, there are no upper pecs, just pecs; second, moving the angle will not increase greater contraction across this gradient.
When applying EMG activity to the chest, what do the results say? Rather than citing each of the several studies that say this, I'll direct you to the follwoing meta-analysis, which has done just that, and quote some of the particulars. Have a read of the entire thing if it interests you: http://www.thesportjournal.org/article/optimizing-development-pectoralis-major

The first noteworthy piece here, states, "It has been perceived that by performing the bench press at the incline position the clavicular head is targeted while the horizontal position targets the sternocostal head. Barnett, C., et al. (1995) showed that the clavicular head showed no significant difference in EMG activity from the horizontal to the incline position but was least active during the decline bench press. "

Barnett, C., et al (1995), also found this to be true, noting "The incline press does not result in greater activation of the clavicular head of the pectoralis major than the horizontal bench press." (http://www.daveywaveyfitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Effects-of-Variations-of-the-Bench-Press-Exercise-on-the-EMG-Activity-of-Five-Shoulder-Muscles.pdf)

Glass, S. C., & Armstrong, T. also found this to be true, concluding that, "there was no significant difference in activation of the upper pectoral portion during either the incline or decline bench press."

In fact, EVERY EMG test I know of said the same thing- isolation of the upper pecs, or even noticeably greater development of them is not going to happen from doing inclines.

So, what's the take home from this? I don't believe that inclines are "bad," or "useless." They offer variation to your workouts, slam the front delts more, increase triceps and pressing strength in general, and certainly have their place. It's just that they aren't going to hit the clavicular head of the pecs much more than flat benching, and thus, offer no advantage over a supine bench press in terms of that. -EK
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the1 private msg quote post Address this user
Great read EK,

I red somewhere that Decline promotes the most muscle fibres out of all the chest movements, decline dumbbell flys to be specific.

I red in your paragraph though that decline was the least active in the EMG test.

What chest exercises promote the most activity? Benchpress and Flat DB press?

Thanks man!
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The Dark
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Decline was least active for the clavicular head. The studies I've read show that overall, decline DB presses activate the greatest fibers of the pec as a whole, concurrent to what you said. I'm guessing that's because there are greater numbers of fibers in the lower area of the chest than the rest. -EK
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MyOwnEntity private msg quote post Address this user
Great post, going to read the two articles now.
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The Dark
Knight
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Thanks! And thanks for the reps! -EK
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dwatson private msg quote post Address this user
Wow interesting read. So basically you should do decline dumbbell press to get the best 'overall' workout on your pecs.

Funny to think before i became more knowledgeable i use to do Flat, Incline, Decline all in one day.

Can you say over training of the entire pec itself.

Good read man.
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Cupcake private msg quote post Address this user
hmm, doing decline may activate more muscle fibers, but isnt that because there are more muscle fibers in the lower chest?

Dont want dem droopy pecs.
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dwatson private msg quote post Address this user
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cupcake
hmm, doing decline may activate more muscle fibers, but isnt that because there are more muscle fibers in the lower chest?

Dont want dem droopy pecs.


Working the lower pec doing decline press isn't going to give you droopy pecs
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The Dark
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^^Yes, exactly. -EK
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dwatson private msg quote post Address this user
Quote:
Originally Posted by eknight
^^Yes, exactly. -EK


which was this intended for lol
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The Dark
Knight
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Sorry, that was for "doing decline may activate more muscle fibers, but isnt that because there are more muscle fibers in the lower chest?"

Not the droopy pecs part. -EK
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dwatson private msg quote post Address this user
So would you say quit doing barbell flat press, incline press and for chest day instead of focusing primary on flat barbell/Dumbbell press, do decline DB press??
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Cupcake private msg quote post Address this user
but you dont want to just be doing declines on the bench press. Surely, i guess it still hits the upper chest, but not as much as say flat or incline will.
I would never catch myself only doing decline on bench press.

Sorry, i've not got the time just now to read your whole post, but will later on. Just had a skim through and read the comments
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SwoleAnimal private msg quote post Address this user
Adding decline dumbell press. Removing incline barbell press. I hated that excersise anyway.
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The Dark
Knight
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LOL....well, as I said, it's not a "bad" exercise, per se. Just wanted to dispel the myth that it will somehow help your upper chest grow more. Sadly, that comes down to mainly genetics (like everything else in bodybuilding). A good example is Mariusz Pudzianowski. He only flat benches (like many powerlifters and strongmen), and his "upper chest" is thick and well-developed- hell he has a split between upper and lower areas!




-EK
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THE GODFATHER wannabemuscular private msg quote post Address this user
What constitutes an "incline"? What degree of angle?

I do incline bench all the time and sometimes exclusively. I do feel a difference in pump of the pec minor area after a few good sets of inclines. I also have the line that separates the major and minor muscles.
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The Dark
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Incline usually is over 30 degrees. You can't feel a pump in your pec minor- it doesn't move that way. With the ribs fixed, it draws the scaupla forward and inferiorily. With the scapula fixed, it draws the ribcage superiorily. Generally, it is too small and immobile to get a "pump."-EK
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THE GODFATHER wannabemuscular private msg quote post Address this user
I looked up the anatomy and learned that the upper pec is not the pec minor (like I assumed). So I see what you're saying and referring to. Still I sware I feel a difference when I do inclines. I guess it's just mental.

Or maybe I just have superior genetics. :-) Hence, the line separating my upper and lower pec regions.
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The Dark
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^^ Lucky ass! -EK
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dwatson private msg quote post Address this user
Quote:
Originally Posted by wannabemuscular
I looked up the anatomy and learned that the upper pec is not the pec minor (like I assumed). So I see what you're saying and referring to. Still I sware I feel a difference when I do inclines. I guess it's just mental.

Or maybe I just have superior genetics. :-) Hence, the line separating my upper and lower pec regions.


Where the pics to prove this line
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adam82a private msg quote post Address this user
Quote:
Originally Posted by eknight
Sorry, that was for "doing decline may activate more muscle fibers, but isnt that because there are more muscle fibers in the lower chest?"

Not the droopy pecs part. -EK


I might be stupid but your whole first post state the muscle is binary, either you contract all or nothing which is why inclined arent better at building the upper pecs. How can decline be better at building the lower pecs then if you either contract all or nothing? What have I missed?
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The Dark
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The "lower pec" area has significantly more fibers than the upper portion. You're not really building it better, exactly, but what you're doing is hitting more fibers in the lower portion, which gives the appearance of better developing and also produces a higher EMG. Sorry that wasn't clearer. -EK
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The Dark
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Finally came across the Glass/Armstrong article, which basically says the same thing if anyone is interested: "It is concluded that there are variations in the activation of the lower pectoralis major with regard to the angle of bench press, while the upper pectoral portion is unchanged."

http://www.edulife.com.br/dados%5Cartigos%5Ceducacao%20fisica%5Cmuscula%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20e%20condicionamento%20fisico%5Celetromiografia%20do%20peitoral.pdf

-EK
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adam82a private msg quote post Address this user
Quote:
Originally Posted by eknight
Finally came across the Glass/Armstrong article, which basically says the same thing if anyone is interested: "It is concluded that there are variations in the activation of the lower pectoralis major with regard to the angle of bench press, while the upper pectoral portion is unchanged."

http://www.edulife.com.br/dados%5Cartigos%5Ceducacao%20fisica%5Cmuscula%C3%A7%C3%A3o%20e%20condicionamento%20fisico%5Celetromiografia%20do%20peitoral.pdf

-EK


Alright, gotcha. Thanks for clearing that up. Seems I have to rethink chest day.
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Christf private msg quote post Address this user
Quote:
Originally Posted by eknight
The "lower pec" area has significantly more fibers than the upper portion. You're not really building it better, exactly, but what you're doing is hitting more fibers in the lower portion, which gives the appearance of better developing and also produces a higher EMG. Sorry that wasn't clearer. -EK


Still doesn't make 100% sense. You're post says that a muscle is a muscle and if you activate it, the whole thing contracts. If that really is the case (which I believe it is), how could you then say decline bench activates more fibers? Because if that is indeed true, wouldn't incline activate more upper pec fibers?
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Thor private msg quote post Address this user
There's just so much broscience around it's hard to combat.

I am usually left to nod when a trainer or other lifter recommends incline to bring up the upper chest. You just can't convince them otherwise.

That said, I know of some brilliant physiques which have been built almost entirely on incline benching.

p.s. why is everyone so stingy with their reps?
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BBS private msg quote post Address this user
Ya but the orientation of the humerus inside the glenoid fossa has to be taken into consideration as well. Depending on this factor the pec major changes its line of pull and allows for different actions of this muscle. In anatomical position yes, it is going to do the things that were stated previously, but when the angle of pull of any muscle is changed it can result in different actions. Also, the pec major has two common nerves that innervate it, the lateral and medial pectoral nerves, which happen to come off of the lateral and medial cord of the brachial plexus (works out nicely). But to go further the clavicular head has nerve roots of C5, C6, and the sternocostal head has the roots of C7, C8, and T1 (depending on reference). Here is a study that says decline doesn't activate the sternocostal head more than in horizontal position.
little outdated but here it is

http://www.daveywaveyfitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Effects-of-Variations-of-the-Bench-Press-Exercise-on-the-EMG-Activity-of-Five-Shoulder-Muscles.pdf

Also, you can't just look at a research study and say that it did any justice. You have to analyze it first by looking at a variety of things including p value, inclusion criteria, exclusion criteria, validity and so many other factors. So courses in research are pretty much needed in order to be able to really understand a research study and if it is valuable or not. Just my two cents.

BBS-DPT
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KReed private msg quote post Address this user
When you refer to the different "heads", is there really a clavicle head, etc in the way the deltoid has three heads? The frontal, lateral, and posterior delt can be focused on seperately from different movements, correct?

From this article, I am also assuming pec flys are felt more in the outer chest from the stretch reflex moreso than anything?

Interesting stuff, Thanks for the info.
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IrishGymSheep private msg quote post Address this user
Quote:
Originally Posted by eknight
LOL....well, as I said, it's not a "bad" exercise, per se. Just wanted to dispel the myth that it will somehow help your upper chest grow more. Sadly, that comes down to mainly genetics (like everything else in bodybuilding). A good example is Mariusz Pudzianowski. He only flat benches (like many powerlifters and strongmen), and his "upper chest" is thick and well-developed- hell he has a split between upper and lower areas!




-EK


Sorry to dredge this back up but Strongmen do not flat bench it has no carry over to their sport at most they do it for balance, the majority of their pressing is shoulder related either standing or in custom sitting like Big Z's press.

Strongman training methods have come along way from the powerlifting base most of them came from. It is now a sport in it's own right and people train soelly for it.

Also most of the strongman event's involved axel or odd shaped objects which must be cleaned onto the chest but are too oddly shaped to properly press with the shoulders it often ends up ina leaning press involving a lot of chest in the same angle that one would incline bench in.

So Mariusz is a really poor example of it.


But Matt Kroc is a pure powerlifter and only flat benches.
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Popeye25 private msg quote post Address this user
EK what chest workout wud u reccomend then. im all over the place now lol. what exactly do inclines do diferently for CHEST other than hit tris and delts more? thx great info
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