I know for a fact that many people want to know, “Why Can’t I Feel Bench Press in My Chest?”
We all know what a fantastic chest exercise the bench press is.
In fact, if you want to get bigger and stronger pecs, it makes perfect sense to bench press on a regular basis.
With that being said, you won’t always feel your chest, or even as though your pecs are actually working when you bench.
However, there are numerous reasons this occurs.
So, I’ll explain these to you now and tell you how to fix your potential bench press errors.
Can’t Feel Bench Press in Chest
There are various reasons why you can’t feel bench press in your chest. The main one of these is that you’re not using a full range of motion, as the pecs are most activated during the bottom half of the press. However, this could also point to a potential triceps weakness, and your triceps are fatiguing before you’ve really had a chance to work your pecs.
1. You’re Not Using a Full Range Of Motion
One of the most obvious reasons that you can’t feel bench press in your chest is that you’re not using a full range of motion.
Firstly, I’m not talking about partial reps here, and partial reps can certainly help with muscle stimulation.
In fact, even adding a few partial reps at the end of your bench press set can definitely do wonders for your pecs.
However, I am more focused on proper form here when I mention full range of motion.
The pecs are heavily involved in both the concentric and eccentric portion of the bench press.
I guess this makes a lot of sense, as the bench press is primarily a chest exercise.
With that being said, the pecs are most activated in the bottom half of the bench press.
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So, you are typically using the most force from your chest muscles as you press up from the chest and once you have a bend in your arms as you lower the bar.
In reality, the top half of the movement (both concentric and eccentric) is much more about the triceps.
Therefore, you’ll want to lower the bar until it lightly brushes your chest.
In fact, you can even briefly pause here, as this will lead to even more chest activation.
And then use your pecs to really force that bar back up.
Furthermore, as the bar reaches the top of the movement you have an opportunity to really squeeze and contract the pecs under a loaded weight.
2. Your Triceps Are Weak
Okay, so I’ve just mentioned that your triceps typically take over for the upper part of the bench press.
So, as you’re about halfway and pressing the barbell up, your triceps take over.
Plus, as you lower the barbell back down towards the halfway point, it is once again your triceps that are working hardest.
Now, what could be happening here, and is actually quite common, is that your tricep strength is limiting how much weight you can actually bench press.
As I say, this is actually a fairly common issue, and something that many people tend to ignore.
But, in effect, what is happening here is that your triceps have fatigued before you’ve even really gotten round to working your chest.
So, you’re no doubt really feeling your triceps whenever you bench press, but hardly feel anything in your chest.
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In truth, this is a weakness that you’ll want to fix as soon as possible, and you’ll be surprised at just how much more weight you can bench press.
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3. Your Grip is Too Narrow
Staying on the subject of triceps for a while, it could be a case that your grip on the barbell is too narrow.
In effect, you have turned the movement into a close-grip bench press, which happens to be one of the best triceps builders there is.
There could be a number of reasons for this, although I’m generally used to seeing people bench with too wide a grip.
With that being said, if you’re on the shorter side, like myself, there is a tendency to use a narrower grip on the bench press.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely fine, but you don’t want to overdo it, as you’ll turn the movement from a chest exercise into a tricep exercise.
I would say as a bare minimum you’ll want to ensure that your hands are at least shoulder-width apart in order to activate the chest sufficiently.
Another reason for having too narrow a grip is trying to concentrate on “elbow tuck”.
Basically, at the bottom of the bench press you’ll want to ensure that your upper arms are at approximately a 45-degree angle to your torso.
There will always be some elbow flare as you press the bar back up.
So, tucking the elbows will protect the shoulders, but you don’t want to overly “tuck” by having your elbows scrape against your torso.
This will put just as much stress on your joints.
So, you can still have your hands a sensible distance apart on the bar while adhering to proper elbow tuck as the bottom of the movement.
4. Your Training Has Plateaued
This is something I see far too often in the gym environment.
Basically, people doing the same exercises, with the same weight, the same number of reps, the same number of sets, and with alarming regularity.
Essentially, your bench press training has plateaued.
The whole point of training is to generally use progressive overload in order to get stronger and bigger.
Obviously, this will depend on your specific training goals, but realistically you should always be trying to make any exercise you perform more challenging.
Then again, there is nothing wrong with changing things up, perhaps to hit the pecs from a different angle, or simply to apply a different training stimulus.
Unfortunately, if you continue doing everything the same, then you’re clearly not going to progress.
Plus, it’s unlikely that you’ll feel bench press in your chest, never mind stimulate new growth in your pecs.
Even something as simple as performing the same number of reps and sets with the same weight, but with a shortened rest period can make the world of difference.
So, as an example, you typically perform 3 sets of 10 reps with 225lbs and 2 minutes rest between sets.
Simply changing your rest periods to 90 seconds could see you stimulate new growth in the pecs.
The same can be said for keeping everything else the same, but performing 4 sets of 8 reps with your normal rest periods.
Then again, keeping everything else the same, but now aiming for 12 reps per set.
So, even the smallest of changes could see you make new gains.
5. Warm Up & Use the Mind-Muscle Connection
I’m sure you’re aware that you should warm up before you perform any exercise.
However, I know for many people this typically involves a couple of sets of benching with an empty bar.
Unfortunately, this is never going to be enough.
In fact, for all the big compound lifts, including the bench press, you need to complete a far more thorough warm up.
And this shouldn’t just include the target muscles, but the body as a whole.
Warming up is obviously a way to get the heart pumping and blood flowing, which in turn ensures that your muscles are warm.
However, I also feel it’s important to warm up the actual muscle you’re going to work, as well as the antagonistic muscle group.
Basically, antagonistic muscle groups generally work in tandem, so when one muscle stretches, the other one contracts, and vice versa.
Therefore, you should be warming up your pecs and lats prior to benching.
For the lats, some face pulls and band pull aparts are ideal.
And for your pecs, you really want to squeeze and contract them hard prior to getting under the bar.
I personally prefer chest presses with resistance bands, and performing chest flyes with a really light set of dumbbells.
The aim here is to simply contract the pecs hard at the top of both movements, which helps send blood rushing towards the muscles.
I also think this is a great way to improve the mind-muscle connection.
In fact, concentrating on the mind-muscle connection is a fantastic way to not only “feel” a muscle working, but also to make it bigger and stronger.
As silly as it sounds, the more concentrated your mind is on a muscle group as you work it, the more likely you’ll be to stimulate growth.
So, as you’re warming up, and then again while you’re actually benching, really focus your mind on contracting your chest muscles.
Trust me, it works wonders.
How to Use the Mind-Muscle Connection For Growth
So, as you can see, there are a number of reasons why you can’t feel bench press in your chest.
Initially, this is typically down to not using a full range of motion, especially when it comes to lowering the bar down to your chest.
Your pecs are most activated during the bottom half of the bench press, so if you’re “stopping early” you won’t be stimulating your pecs as well as you could.
With that being said, if you don’t feel your chest during bench press, this could mean that your triceps are lagging behind.
Basically, your triceps fatigue well before you’ve even properly activated your pecs.
This could also be down to the fact that your training has plateaued, you’re not warming up correctly, and you’re failing to use the mind-muscle connection while you bench.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.