The most popular day in the gym often begins without a proper warm-up. This is a pity, because chest day can be so much better with a stretch, some mobility work, and activation to help you push more and achieve faster results. But then, there is also a rush to hit the bench, so gym-goers end up doing a few push-ups for a pump, and then hit the weights quickly. The last two columns I wrote for Lounge covered warm-up and activation exercises for leg day and back day. Continuing with the series, today’s column focuses on five activations you can do on chest day.
1.Dynamic basic stretches: YouTube channel CriticalBench has 1.4 million subscribers and an easy-to-do video on dynamic stretches to warm-up the chest muscles. “This combination of dynamic stretches is ideal for beginners or advanced weightlifters and helps improve range of motion, joint mobility and can help reduce strains in the chest area associated with lifting weights or bench pressing,” says the video. In less than two minutes, it shows basic exercises like arm circles, scapula retractions and chest openers. This is a great starting point.
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7AFpzWV2I8
2.Medicine ball squeeze/press: Pecs are usually tough to activate and it is extremely important to have those engines running before you bench. The medicine ball (it could be any ball available at the gym) squeeze is perfect to activate the pecs. Take the ball, activate the chest, move it away as if benching – even if you are standing, apply a constant squeeze to the ball and bring it back to your chest. If you don’t have a medicine ball handy, you can do this without any equipment by pressing your palms together and feeling the pecs slowly warm-up. If you’re doing this lying down, and the ball is light enough, throw it up and catch it. This is a great workout for coordination as well.
Watch a demo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-3kRwBhadY
3.Bench lat stretch: “Regardless of your bench press goal, there should be a natural arch produced through your thoracic spine while you press. Powerlifters may aim to create a more pronounced arch as a method of improving competitive performance,” says an article titled The Only Bench Press Warm-Up You’ll Ever Need on popular lifting website, barbend.com. That means a lot of chest warm-ups will incorporate back work. And the bench lat stretch is a winner at this. I have done these post workout, but plan to start doing them before as well.
Find a bench or a surface and place your elbows on it while kneeling. Clasp the hands. Make sure there is space to drop your head between the shoulders. Now let your chest fall through and relax while slowly sitting back a little. Press the chest downwards and feel the stretch through the triceps and onto the thoracic spine.
Like in the video, you can also hold up a band or a PVC pipe to keep the hands propped up: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZ0ddF4v3Pg
4.Single-arm chest/resistance band presses: You can do this in a tall kneeling position or while standing, but doing a single arm work before a workout that incorporates a lot of two-arm exercises (like the bench press) will make sure both your sides are well-oiled. Attach a resistance band to a machine or get on the cable machine and use light weights to press forward with each hand one by one without a very strict position. The key here is movement, motion, and getting the body used to higher resistance and weights it will lift in the main workout.
For a demo, watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK-mO8p4F0k
5.Hand-release pushups: Straightforward but excellent in how it activates the chest muscles every time you release the hands from the floor for the next rep. This is the pushup of choice to warm-up, especially if you have a push-up set as part of your chest routine. Regular push-ups are helped by the pre-activation of muscles, but these are different. “Hand release push-ups will give you much stronger pectoral contraction than a regular push-up. When you are doing hand release push-ups, each rep starts from a ‘dead’ position where there is no contraction in the prime movers,” says an article on trianglecrossfit.com while demonstrating the exercise.
Watch the demo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfnMuP5JgIw
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator, podcaster and writer.
Also read: 5 full body exercises to regain form after a break