Most people who have trained have probably heard of the 5x5 strongman training program and how good it is. It’s good for a reason. Physiologically, to move a joint or a bone across an angle, we must contract the muscle that coordinates the bone in that specific area.
For example, to bring the forearm up to the shoulder, we must contract the biceps, which then shorten, to raise the ulna and radius.
The efficiency of the biceps to contract is determined by how well the brain can send signals to the muscles of the biceps. As we grow up, we do most things with our hands, so we learn to utilise our biceps a lot, so they get plenty of practise.
What we don’t utilise a lot are things like hip hinges, or pull ups, or push ups, or all the stuff we suck at, so we need to start practising those movements.
When we start practising these movements, we need to remember the muscle is going to be quite weak, so there isn’t much point in going heavy, we want to start light and work our way up, and we want to start going higher when we no longer feel the muscle contract, or generally working, because it’s too strong and has adapted.
When we feel the muscle working, this means the brain is getting better at sending signals to that particular muscle.
We need the right amount of weight for the right amount of reps, and this will depend on the muscle group we are training.
The pecs are a relatively small muscle group, depending on who you ask, but because the bench press is a compound movement (compound movement involves more than one muscle group), and in this case it also trains the triceps, we can generally bench press quite a lot of weight.
For me personally, my bench press always sucked, and I could never feel my pecs engaging. I was cognitively dissonant about the fact that my pecs didn’t get engage and couldn’t understand why the bench press was meant to be such a good exercise to build pecs.
I did everything, dumbbell press, dumbbell bench press, pec flys (at one point I could feel my forearms burning from doing pec flys), and yeah they grew a bit, but nothing was signicantly challenging them.
I eventually learned, and finally accepted, that some people also have tremendously strong forearms, and the better your grip the better your bench press. My bench press may not always be as strong as I’d like it to be, but if I can make 100kg with not much effort, I’ll be happy with that.
So I’ve decided to start doing 5x5 bench press. I do the bar for 20-30 reps to activate and slightly burn the pecs. The I put on another 40kg to make it 60kg and do a set of 5 reps.
I then do 75kg for 5 reps.
The important thing is to remember that each time you perform an exercise, you are developing new neurological pathways from the brain to the muscle.