The Flat Bench Press Screws You Up!
I love the bench press, but even with solid technique and balanced muscular development, I always end up suffering shoulder problems. This, of course, has always frustrated me.
Well, thanks to a conversation I had in the gym with John Meadows, I decided to try something different, something that will no doubt be regarded as heresy by a majority of lifters. What I tried drastically reduces shoulder stress and is actually a better chest builder!
The answer is a decline bench press — not the conventional decline you probably do every once in a while when you remember to add it to your routine, but a very slight decline bench press.
When I say slight decline, I'm referring to about 3 degrees. As a practical matter, simply put a 25-pound or 45-pound weight plate under the foot end of a bench, which will increase the foot-end elevation by 1.5 to 1.75 inches.
Advantages of the Slight Decline Press
Even if the angle difference is barely noticeable, the 3-degree decline reduces shoulder involvement immensely. It's simply a more natural pressing angle.
You can use a little more weight at this angle, which is why powerlifters use such a big arch: it simulates the slight decline angle. But that's not the main reason why the 3-degree decline is effective. The angle simply shifts more of the load to the chest instead of the front delt.
I never liked traditional declines done on a decline bench because you can't use leg drive. But the slight decline allows you to do that. From my perspective, there's no downside and no reason to do a pure flat bench. The 3-degree decline is pretty much a flat bench, but it's safer and more effective.
The slight decline is really no different than a regular bench press as far as setup is concerned. In fact, you hardly notice you're in a decline, so you shouldn't modify the mechanics:
• Lower to the nipple line or slightly above.
• Keep the elbows directly under the bar at all times.
• Press the bar in a slight backward arc so that it ends up moving toward the eyes as you press up.
Ignore the masses. Adding a slight decline to bench produces better pec development with no shoulder issues. You really can't beat that.