“You’re looking Zacked. It’s like jacked, but better.” — Matthew Sprinkle

Welcome to the first installment of Get Zacked, a celebration of broing out and all things flex.

In this series, you’ll learn my favorite bodybuilding-inspired tips and techniques to build muscle, get an epic pump, and increase the almighty mind-muscle connection.

Today we’re spicing up the classic dumbbell bench press.

Many lifters have a hard time consistently activating the pecs with traditional barbell bench presses (myself included), forcing the triceps and front delts to take the brunt of the work.

In this exercise, we’ll play with bench angles, joint position, and range of motion to get the pecs fired up.

Here’s how:

  • Set up a bench to a low to moderate incline -2 or 3 clicks. Bonus – you’ll get to check yourself out in the mirror.
  • Grab a pair of dumbbells (something you can handle for 15 reps).
  • You’ll be pressing “see-saw” style with the arms moving in opposing directions at the same speed. When one side locks out at the top, the other reaches the bottom.
  • Perform a “corkscrew” rotation with the arms. At the bottom, the palm faces your head or same side shoulder (resembling the top of a bicep curl). This will allow the elbow to sink safely, increasing the range of motion and stretch on the pec.
  • As you press up, internally rotate the arm into a traditional “punch the ceiling” position. Give the working side pec an extra squeeze to move the arm slightly more toward the midline.

Remember, move the arms with equal speed in opposite directions.

Focus on the simultaneous “stretch and squeeze.”

As fatigue builds up to around RPE 8, increase the speed and shorten the range of motion to really blast the chest. Don’t worry about counting reps. Just keep the presses smooth and under control and keep pushing.

A quick note for those who normally train bench press with a big powerlifting style back arch:

Resist using that technique here.

Arching the back to force the chest up is great for lifting heavy weights while keeping the shoulders safe. But when on an incline, the arch essentially “flattens” the press angle, thus defeating the purpose of the incline entirely.

Keep a more subtle arch and pull the shoulders down to both maintain upper back tightness and take full advantage of the bench angle.

I’ve been using this dumbbell chest press variation as a way to get the pecs fired up during warm-ups and as an intense finisher.

For warm-ups:

10 presses each + 30 seconds pump

8 presses each + 30 seconds pump

6 presses each + 30 seconds pump

Increase the weight each on each set.

Rest a minute between sets or superset with a pulling exercise.

As a finisher:

Grab a medium to heavy pair of dumbbells and set a timer for 2 minutes.

Get as many slow, full range of motion presses as possible up to RPE 8 (shoot for around 6 reps each), then pump ’em out for the remainder of the time.