You just wouldn’t believe the number of exercises that an imaginative, knowledgable, and experienced fitness leader can choose from when prescribing exercise. If you’re unsure about an aspect of your exercise program, a fitness leader will pick the safest and most effective exercise for you.
The choice will be based on your specific aims, your long-term goals, your present level of fitness, your exercise preferences, and history, whether you’ve been injured, and any identified medical factors.
Without really trying I can think of over 20 different exercises for the one muscle group, the pectorals. Which one you prefer to put into your exercise program is up to you. Let’s have a look at just one last exercise for this important muscle group covering the front of your chest — the incline press.
The incline press is the exercise to flesh out the top part of the pecs. If you do lots of push-ups or bench presses you’ve probably noticed that the bottom part of your pecs bulks up, but the top part stays undeveloped. Needless to say, this looks a bit odd, making you unhappy if one of your exercise aims is to look good.
This development of only one part of the muscle is a result of a basic principle of exercise — “specificity” — one of my all-time favorite words. Specificity means that your body will only adapt to the specific demands made on its tissues and systems.
The bench press and pec deck put a lot of force on just one specific line of muscle fibers and connective tissue of the broad flat, pectoral muscle. This part of the muscle will get stronger and develop in size over time (called “muscle hypertrophy), while the rest of the muscle remains the same size.
If you want to develop other parts of the muscle, then you have to make subtle variations to the exercises you perform. The most common variation is to do a bench press on a bench which slopes up or inclines. The incline changes the direction of travel of the bar relative to your chest, so it recruits a different set of muscle cells and puts a strain on a different section of connective tissue.
Voila! The muscle is more developed, is able to exert strength in more than one direction, can absorb external and internal forces from more than one direction, and you have no more flat spots on the high part of your chest.
The incline press is good for variety, as the back support can be adjusted to different angles, each angle subtly changing the forces on the pectoral muscles.
Whenever you use free weights, ensure that:
- you work with a partner to avoid accidents;
- you use “collars” on the outside of your weight discs to prevent them slipping or falling off;
- you have “racks” behind you to hold the bar before and after you perform your exercise;
- and you don’t overdo the weights you are attempting to lift — go lighter, and do an extra rep if you need to.
Now let’s walk you through the technique for performing an incline press. You should follow all the hints given in the articles on the bench press about selecting the right weights to lift and preparing yourself for exercising the pectoral muscles.
- Adjust the incline bench to an angle of about 45 degrees.
- Sit on the bench, facing away from the bar. Your hips should be well supported, with your torso, shoulders, head, and buttocks in contact with the back support.
- Check that your feet are firmly planted on the floor. If your feet can’t reach the floor without causing an arch in your back than lift your feet up and place them on the bench. If there’s no room, move a block or box over for your feet so you can perform the lift without straining your back.
- Grip the bar so that your hands face forwards and are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, evenly spaced from the center of the bar. Your elbows should be bent at this stage. If your arms are too straight, then get your partner to help lift off the bar, adjust the height of the rack, and replace the bar. Reposition yourself.
- Slowly straighten your arms to lift the bar off the racks. As you lift, bring the bar slightly forwards so you will miss the racks as you perform the lift.
- Lower the bar until it just breathes on your chest, without touching your chest.
- Push the bar up vertically until your arms are almost straight, pause, then lower the bar.
- After completing your set, push the bar up and get your partner to help you guide the bar back on to the racks. Don’t fiddle around trying to locate the racks, as this is when most injuries occur. Confidently place it in the racks.
Concentrate on the proper grip, body position, movement pattern and breathing, and the range, speed, and smoothness of the movement.