Last updated on October 29th, 2022 at 12:17 pm
The frustration is real, I get it, you train your chest and yet all you ever feel is your front delts taking over.
In fact, you probably don’t feel as though you’ve activated your chest at all.
And yet, once more, your front delts have had an awesome workout.
In this article I’ll explain why this happens, and of course, what you can do to fix it.
Table of Contents
Here’s Why Your Front Delts Take Over When You Train Chest
The most obvious reason your front delts take over when you train chest is due to poor form. It’s likely that you are allowing your shoulders to rotate internally, which places additional stress on the rotator cuff muscles and tendons. You should always retract your shoulder blades prior to performing bench press and a wide variety of other chest exercises.
You’re Using Poor Form When Training Chest
Let’s face facts, when you’re training your chest, especially with pressing movements, you’re going to hit your front delts.
Unfortunately, there’s no way around this, but your front delts are definitely part of the equation when you train your chest.
This is amplified when you perform pressing movements like the bench press.
And front delt involvement is increased when you bench with an incline.
So, as I say, you’re always going to use and feel your front delts during a chest training session.
That being said, if you feel that your front delts are always taking over there are a few simple form fixes you need to adhere to.
Retract Your Shoulder Blades
Simply put, you want to pull your shoulder blades back and then towards each other.
You can imagine that you’re trying to hold a small ball or coin between the back of your shoulder blades.
Plus, you need to maintain this shoulder position throughout your entire set.
What often happens if you aren’t concentrated on pulling your shoulder blades back is that they rotate internally.
Unfortunately, this places a huge amount of stress on the shoulder joint, rotator cuff muscles, and surrounding tendons.
If you allow this to happen you’re definitely going to feel it more in your shoulders, so typically your front delts take over to shift the weight.
How to Retract Your Scapula For a Safer & Stronger Bench
In addition to retracting your shoulder blades you also want to ensure that your elbows are tucked in towards your sides.
You don’t want your elbows and upper arms to be tight against your side and you won’t want your upper arms to form a ninety degree angle to your body either.
Basically, having your elbows too close or flared out will once more cause your shoulders to internally rotate.
And yes, you’ve guessed it, your front delts will yet again take over.
The perfect bench press position is to have your upper arms at approximately a 45 degree angle to your torso.
I guess this tip is more geared towards barbell bench press, but it’s an important factor too.
You’ll generally find that your front delts, and shoulders in general, take over the higher up your body you bring the bar to.
Granted, an exercise like the guillotine bench press requires you to lower the bar towards your Adam’s apple
This is a legitimate bench press technique, and the favoured bench press variation by legendary trainer, Vince Gironda.
The guillotine bench press is far more focused on working the upper chest, which in turn will bring the front delts more into play.
However, the lower down your body you bring the bar to, the less your front delts have to do.
So, I would suggest that you lower the bar on bench press to around nipple level.
If you do this, as well as retracting your shoulder blades, while keeping your upper arms at 45 degrees to the body, you’ll feel much relief in those overused front delts.
Ditch the Flat and Incline Bench Press
Okay, I’ve mentioned how the front delts are involved more with pressing movements, such as the bench press.
Plus, as soon as you add an incline your front delts have to work even harder.
Personally, I’ve never actually been a fan of the bench press.
Sure, it’s viewed as the main chest exercise, but this doesn’t mean it’s always the best exercise for everyone.
Remember, our bodies are constructed differently and our bodies react differently to exercise.
Therefore, not everyone will be able to perform the same exercises with the same ease or level of comfort.
However, for me, I have largely avoided the bench press for many years now.
My chest is still one of my best developed muscle groups and I never feel as though my front delts take over when I train chest.
I think not.
Furthermore, an exercise like bench press may allow you to lift much more weight than other exercises, but this still doesn’t mean it’s best for YOUR chest development.
What I Do For Overall Chest Develeopment
As with most things in life, you have to find what suits you best, and this may well mean that there are other chest exercises more suited to you than flat or incline bench.
For me, my main “pressing exercise” which focuses on the chest has always been weighted dips.
Okay sure, there are times that you may feel dips in your shoulders.
However, this usually, once again, comes down to poor form and poor execution.
But, I will also say that it takes a huge amount of stress off the front delts.
I’ve also found that flyes, whether cable or dumbbell, will always allow me to feel my chest working much harder.
Plus, I am forever performing push ups, whether in the gym or at home.
If I do prefer one type of pressing exercise it’s the incline dumbbell chest press.
Okay, I admit this goes against using “pressing” movements and incline benches, but it certainly feels much easier on the front delts than when I use a barbell.
However, as I say, you must find chest exercises that are more suited to you.
But, in the meantime, if you find that your front delts are always taking over, it could be time to dump the flat and incline bench press.
Perhaps it’s time for you to add some variety to your chest workouts.
The 8 Best Chest Exercises (NO Bench or Dips)
Activate Your Pecs First
If you’re feeling chest exercises in your front delts then I would hazard a guess that you’re not really feeling them in your pecs.
And of course, when you train your chest you expect to “feel” your chest working.
Now, one way to achieve this is to activate your pecs first.
By this, I don’t mean pre-exhaustion, whereby you perform a pec isolation exercise with high intensity.
No, this is more about activating the mind-muscle connection through simple isometric contractions.
In other words, you’re not shifting heavy weights, in fact you’re going very light, and you’re really looking to squeeze your pecs with every rep.
I typically find that flye-type movements achieve this best for me, but once more, you need to determine whether this works for you.
A fantastic exercise to help you do this is to perform the squeeze press to flye.
And remember, this isn’t about trying to lift lots of weight, but rather really squeezing your pecs and allowing blood to flow through the muscles.
Dumbbell Squeeze Press to Flye
Activate Your Lats Too
Now, as strange as it sounds to say “activate your lats” before performing chest exercises, it’s actually a huge help.
In fact, activating your lats prior to say bench press may actually allow you to bench with better form, and even with more weight.
The main reason for this is that the lats are the antagonistic (opposite) muscle group to the pecs.
Therefore, when one muscle group is “working”, the opposite muscle group is providing “support” in some way.
Plus, you’ll actually find that by activating your lats you’ll be able to retract your shoulder blades with far more ease.
I will also say that lat activation will often also stimulate the traps, rhomboids, and rear delts.
These all happen to be antagonistic muscles for the front delts.
Additionally, you can also stimulate those weak rotator cuff muscles, which once again will help to take the pressure off your front delts.
So, in effect, if the muscles behind you are activated, this takes some of the stress off the muscles in front of you.
Activations to do Before Bench Press
Firstly, I hope you appreciate that there will always be some front delt involvement whenever you train chest.
However, this can typically be made worse through poor form.
This is especially true if you perform chest exercises without retracting your shoulder blades first.
Unfortunately, this can lead to internal rotation of the shoulders, which place far more stress on the shoulder joint as a whole.
That being said, if you feel you can’t perform exercises like flat and incline bench without your front delts taking all the strain, it could be time to drop these exercises.
Furthermore, you should always aim to activate both your pecs and your lats before training chest.
This will help with the mind-muscle connection, as well as making retracting your shoulder blades feel far easier.
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.