“Warm-up: Specific Guidelines”
“Bench Press: Effective Variations”
“Back Injury Prevention”





Most trainers and training organizations recommend a “general” warm-up (i.e. 5-minutes of light activity such as a stationary cycle) prior to all forms of exercise, including upper-body weight training. The cycling warm-up makes excellent sense for activities that will be stressful to the lower body, however is this type of warm-up necessary prior to a session of heavy presses or pulls?


The purpose of the warm-up is to increase the body temperature and to increase the blood flow to the muscles. Light cycling would certainly promote an increase in body temperature BUT/ blood flow only increases within the legs. Thus, the cycling does not provide a specific warm-up effect for the upper-body musculature.


A better and more specific warm-up activity would be several sets of an extremely light load prior to the performance of heavier sets of that same exercise. I do not mean just 1 set of 10 repetitions at 60% of your maximum lift either, BUT/ rather 4 sets of 6 or less reps at a weight of 40-80% of your regular lifting weight. Light load sets should also be performed to increase the blood flow to the muscles that will assist exercise performance.


For example, prior to a day of heavy bench pressing, perform 2-3 sets of warm-up bench presses, 2 sets of light shoulder lateral raises, and 2 sets of light external rotations for the rotator cuff. This warm-up takes very little time and merely replaces your 5-minute cycling bout.


The specific warm-up will promote blood flow to the muscles that will be stressed during exercise, therefore providing a “tissue-precise” warm-up that will be much more beneficial in injury prevention and performance enhancement. The warm-up may also increase the coordination of the nervous system and this should enhance performance. I also recommend light stretching pre-exercise to further prepare the tissues for stress.


The warm-up and stretching will not help diminish the soreness felt the next day. In fact, a proper warm-up may enhance your lifting performance and therefore will result in even greater muscle soreness! Remember though, muscle soreness is not muscle pain or joint injury, and each should be distinguished from one another.


I believe that a warm-up specific to your exercise activity will be extremely beneficial in performance enhancement and injury prevention. If you have not already, incorporate a 3-7 minute specific-activity warm-up in your program and you should feel the benefits in performance.





Bench presses are the most common exercise used to develop upper body “pushing” strength and it recruits the pectoral muscles, deltoids, and triceps. The amount of specific muscle stress is altered through changing either the grip or the angle of the bench. As well, the shoulder joint may be placed under more or less stress with different bench press variations. 


In performing the bench press, always use a spotter when lifting heavy and remember to breath out when you push the weight up. Use a full range of motion only if your flexibility and muscular strength permit this (a full range of motion is defined as pain-free and comfortable, and effective at stressing the pectoral muscles). If you can’t do so, then address your limitations with specific stretching and strength work.


The pectoral originates on the sternum and inserts on the upper arm, therefore its functions are to horizontally adduct the arm (“tree hugging” or pec-dec motion) AND to extend the shoulder (swimming’s front crawl motion). By widening your bench press grip, you will increase the horizontal adduction (“hugging”) motion within the bench press. This will decrease the amount of assistance provided by the triceps and will make the exercise slightly more difficult (you will use less weight in this press).


The narrow-grip increases the recruitment of the triceps, however an extremely narrow-grip (palms less than 6-inches apart) places unnecessary stress on the wrists and elbows. It is very important to keep the elbows as close as possible to the body (rather than allowing them to extend out to the side) to maximize the “elbow extension” portion of the movement and therefore maximize triceps recruitment.


Traditional flat bench press

·         lie on the bench with the feet flat on the floor and the legs bent at 90 degrees

·         place your head directly under the racked bar

·         take an overhand grip ~4-6 inches wider than the shoulders 

·         unrack the bar and slowly lower to mid-chest level keeping the elbows directly out to sides throughout the movement

·         stop the bar above mid-chest and push the weight back up

·         (do not “lock-out” the elbows)

·         keep your back kept completely pressed against bench


Wide-grip bench

·         increase the width of your grip by ~2 inches (or up to a point where the press is still “comfortable” to perform)

·         after adjusting for the grip, perform a bench press in the traditional style, BUT/ note this variation also allows the shoulder to be stretched to a greater degree, so be careful to limit your movement to a comfortable range of motion to prevent any excessive stress on the complex shoulder joint

·         the wide-grip places extra stress on the wrists, so avoid if you have wrist problems


Narrow-grip bench

·         your hands should grip the bar so that they are in line with your shoulders

·         unrack the bar as usual and lower the bar to the lower portion of chest

·         stop the bar ~2-6 inches above the low-chest and push the weight back up





I really despise dealing with injuries and would much rather prefer to help you prevent and avoid injury through proper conditioning and correct movement technique (in & out of the gym). But because back injuries are so prominent and can hinder daily function, I have provided the following tips for helping to avoid back injuries and possible manners in which to ease pain & improve recovery. Take care.


Basic care

: Lose weight. 

: Use good posture and do not sit for extended periods of time. 



When rehabilitating an injury, it is always wise to do so under the guidance of a professional. Exercise is important to strengthen the muscles, increase your work capacity, and relieve stress (that may underlie pain and dysfunction). Perform low-impact aerobics if you are susceptible to injury (i.e. stationary cycling instead of running). Strengthen the area using low-back exercises (i.e. low-back extensions). Also perform abdominal exercises to strengthen the abdomen and help to reduce spinal stress. 


When lifting, maintain a flat back lifting posture to minimize compressive forces, strain on the ligaments, and to best avoid injury. Try to maintain close to neutral back position to avoid excess compression on disk portions. Hold the weight close to the body to minimize torque (stress) on the spine and to help increase the mechanical advantage of spinal muscles (allows greater force production & safety for the low-back muscles).


Many trainees perform all exercises with proper technique, BUT/ then put themselves at great injury risk when returning the weights to the racks OR picking them off the floor. Most importantly, during all lifting, maintain a flat back and keep the weight close to the body. If necessary during your sets, rest the dumbbells on an empty bench between sets, not the floor. NEVER round your back when picking up OR putting the weights away.


Injury requires special attention gets paid to the area. See a physician if the pain lingers excessively, radiates to extremities, causes spasms, OR feels extreme in general. Other symptoms can be dealt with using rest and ice, stretching exercises, and heat therapy. For less severe injuries, stay mobile, increase flexibility, and perform strengthening exercises such as crunches and back extensions. Always use proper technique and see the proper rehabilitation professional for back care.





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