Chest Training Principles, Part Two – Contract the Working Muscle Prior To and Through the Movement

Dumbbell Chest Press performed by Gregory Taper
Image: Dumbbell Press, Lengthened and Shortened Phase

Squeeze the muscle from beginning to end! DO NOT WASTE A SINGLE INCH OF THE REPETITION. When you are lifting weights, you do not want to be resting.

Are you contracting the muscle prior to moving the weight? Are you initiating with the desired working muscle? Are you contracting as hard as possible through the movement and not just moving in space from A to B? Mind muscle connection is paramount, especially in the context of sculpting the physique.

The goal should always be to strive for more work done in less time. How do we do this? Train efficiently! How do we train more efficiently?, by training consciously. To start training consciously begin to understand how our muscles function and how to best create tension in the working muscle while we train. We generate tension in the muscle by contracting it and by using resistance/tools. The key is to do both simultaneously.

Contract the working muscle performed by Gregory Taper
Image: Contract the Working Muscle

The greater we can maintain stability/control while we train, the greater our ability to generate tension in the working muscle and achieve sustainable development results. The control and stability that I am talking about for this movement are the shoulder blades. While we press and contract the chest, it is imperative to keep the shoulder blades back and down (retracted) like I discussed in part one about how to correctly lengthen the chest. If the shoulders protract during the movement, tension is taken off of the chest (the muscle we are trying to develop) and on to the front deltoid. This is exactly what we do not want to happen when our goal is to generate as much tension in the working muscle as we possibly can.


  1. While laying face up on the bench, holding the weight in each hand, keep the palms of the hands facing each other. The elbows should be straight out to the side of the body with the upper arm (shoulder to elbow) parallel (or lower) to the floor, while keeping the forearm perpendicular to the floor.
  2. Once in this position, before moving the weight, make sure to keep the shoulder blades retracted (pull down and back into the bench, essentially squeezing the bench with your upper back, and initiate the muscle by squeezing the muscle being targeted (chest.)
  3. While pressing the dumbbells up, try to keep the forearm as close to perpendicular to the floor as possible. This ensures proper tension being placed on the working muscle (chest) and not the triceps and anterior deltoid. This will also minimize/eliminate joint and elbow pain/discomfort because the resistance is on the muscle and not the bones/joints.
  4. To further help with the movement, think of drawing the elbows together (move from the upper arm, drawing the upper arm up and across the midline of the body) instead of the hands, not moving up and down, but moving up and in and out and down laterally, closing and opening the chest or shortening and lengthening the muscle.

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