Stretching before working out has proven performance results and that’s something you should do before working out. Stretching your chest has proven performance benefits, and you’re only missing out….
…..but most people don’t warm up and jump right in. Injury prevention should be #1 when you’re lifting. Since if you injure yourself, you can’t lift. Seems pretty straight forward.
In this article I’m going to go over stretches that are best performed before your chest workout to get the best out of it.
What’s Involved With Chest Pressing?
Let’s break the topic down, which will then funnel into the individual stretches.
During chest pressing movements (eg bench press, dumbbell etc press), several muscles are used simultaneously, namely your pectorals (chest, duh), triceps, and deltoids (shoulders).
What About The Differences Between Barbell And Dumbbell?
Different tools and different demands are put on your body when using dumbbells versus barbells. Range of motion, instability and size are all different factors to consider when using either or.
Dumbbells can potentially give you a greater range of motion since you’re not restricted bar the bar on your chest.
For beginners, dumbbells can be more difficult due to the instability of the shoulder. You may spend more time and effort trying to hold the dumbbells up in the air that you do actually doing chest pressing.
The fixed hand and wrist position of a standard barbell bench press can cause issues and be an exercise to avoid at the gym. Dumbbells can be the solution.
I know for myself when I had wrist pain, I avoided barbell bench press and used alternatives like the dumbbell hex press, since it uses a neutral grip.
Quoting from a study from Journal of Sports Sciences, vol. 29:
Across the whole exercise (both eccentric and concentric phases), Saeterbakken et al.  reported significantly greater biceps and less triceps muscle activity using dumbbells for the bench press compared to using a barbell or Smith machine. They reported no differences for anterior deltoid and pectoralis major muscles. Based on their results, it is plausible that the activation differences previously reported between varying angles of inclination during press exercises with barbells and Smith machines may be less when performed with dumbbells.https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jsm/2013/612650/#B4
So we can see that triceps can be used more in barbell chest pressing but the demands are mostly the same. 100lbs in your hand is still 100lbs.
Rear Deltoid and Pec Stretch
The easiest way and my general go-to stretch is band pull aparts with a latex or rubber band
Grab a light to medium resistance band and pull it apart at chest level 10-20 reps for a stretch of your chest and the back of your shoulder, your rear deltoid muscles.
Here are the bands I use, Fit Simplify Resistance Loop Exercise Bands on Amazon:
The band pull apart is versatile in that it can be used at multiple angles to target different muscles. Pulling at a 45 degree angle helps you target shoulder (deltoid) flexion, while pulling the band overhead helps you target your triceps.
Rotator Cuff Stretches
There’s tons of rotator cuff exercises you can do (I mean tons), but let’s narrow it down to particular planes of motion.
I often see people in the gym spend too much time performing rotator cuff exercises. Yes there is a place for prehab work (to prevent injuries), but on the other side you don’t want to constantly hammer your rotator cuff with heavy loads.
How Your Shoulders Work
Your shoulder joint is pretty much floating around making it very unstable. In fact, your shoulder isn’t a single joint but a group of ligaments, tendons, muscle and bones.
The function of your rotator cuff is to keep itself centered in the glenoid as the shoulder moves. Since it is a ball-socket joint, it provides many axis of rotation. You can lift a cup from a table and bring it towards your mouth, or shoot a basketball, as this showcases the range of motion of the shoulder joint.
Since it is very mobile, that also makes it very unstable. Shoulder strengthening exercise
For a shoulder flexion exercise, a great one is resistance band pull apart at a 45º angle.
- Hold a resistance across your chest at a 45 degree angle
- Keep one end of the band above your head
- While holding the other end, stretch the band across your body, having the lower arm move past your torso
You’ll get shoulder flexion at the bottom of your bench press, when the bar is nearest your chest.
This is a great shoulder warmup exercise that I perform on every time on chest workout days.
For something like this, you want to choose a resistance band that has a medium to medium-light resistance. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t want to hammer your rotator cuff, and even more so, since this is a warmup exercise you don’t want to be using all your energy.
External rotation is rotating away from the centre of the body.
“Why is external rotation needed?” you ask. Well, it is necessary for healthy and strong shoulders. External rotation would be used in an exercise like a dumbbell shoulder press.
If you have crappy body mechanics, limited external shoulder rotation is going to make normal everyday activities and exercises that much more difficult.
This study (link) shows that life is negatively impacted when shoulder stability and strength is compromised.
For external shoulder rotation, I recommend banded W’s
Hold the band underhand, elbows at your side. Doing your best effort, keep your elbows pinned to your torso as you stretch the band outwards.
Chest Dynamic Stretch Exercise
Wow that’s a mouthful.
Okay so it’s actually just getting 1 to 2 sets of chest flyes, either machine, dumbell or cable, for 20 reps. It pumps blood to your chest, getting it all fired up for a killer workout.
Now the difficult part is you want to fully target and activate the muscle but without turning into into a full-blown set itself. You could spend an entire gym session doing chest flyes and get no where.
Dynamic warmups should mimic the real life applications and getting the muscle or muscle groups ready for action.
Another option for a dynamic chest warm up is 2-3 sets of 8 of machine chest press. Its enough volume to activate your chest and shoulders, but not too much that you’ll be fatigued.
Whatever you exercise or workout you do, warming up is crucial and in fact there are proven performance benefits of doing so. You’re only missing out on gains if you don’t have a proper warm up.