An Analysis of the Activation of Upper Extremity Muscles During the Chest Press

An Analysis of the Activation of Upper Extremity Muscles During the Chest Press

Written by Ben Bunting: BA, PGCert. (Sport & Exercise Nutrition) // British Army Physical Training Instructor // S&C Coach.


The chest press requires the activation of several upper-extremity muscles. In this article, we focus on the Pectoralis major, Triceps, and Anterior deltoid muscles. We also discuss the effect of grip width on these muscle groups.

The chest press

A chest press exercise focuses on the pectorals and requires the shoulders to press against the ground and elbows near the body. The correct technique should be followed to prevent strain on the wrists and back. Beginners should start with light dumbbells and focus on correct form. They should stop the exercise if they feel pain or discomfort in the chest. Once they have found the proper form, they can increase the weight. A spotter should assist them when using heavier weights.

The chest press exercise involves the use of the pectoralis major and minor, triceps brachii, and deltoids. While this particular exercise focuses on the anterior head of the deltoid muscles, it may also utilize the biceps, trapezius, and latissimus dorsi.

The chest press exercise can be performed on a bench with a barbell or dumbells or with a machine. A machine is often a safer option and can reduce the direct force against the torso, while allowing the exerciser to recruit more muscle groups. This type of exercise also allows for higher weights than traditional bench presses. Performing chest presses is an effective way to build strength in the chest, arms and shoulders. 

What is Muscle Activation?

Muscle activation is a complex process. It begins with a nerve impulse that triggers the muscle to become active. Once this nerve stimulation ends, the muscle relaxes to its resting state. This process can be difficult for a weak muscle, as its pathways are less well developed than its dominant muscle. 

Muscle activation also helps us improve our performance. When our muscles aren't working optimally, they stress other structures in our body. This can lead to injury or pain. This is why it's important to know which muscles to use during certain movements and to practice them. Once you have perfected the right muscle activation technique, you can start increasing the load gradually. Remember, too much weight on a muscle can change its recruitment pattern.

In addition to strengthening muscles, muscle activation helps the body's nervous system communicate more effectively. As a result, the brain is able to better coordinate the use of the targeted muscles, and they become more effective. .

Pectoralis major

In this study, electromyographic activity of the pectoralis major muscles was measured while the participants performed a chest press. Four electromyographic sites were used: the clavicular head, sternocostal head, abdominal head, and pectoralis major. The electrodes were attached to the skin using adhesive tape, and the muscle EMG signals were preamplified.

The clavicular and sternocostal heads of the pectoralis major and triceps brachii were most active when the elbows were positioned close to the torso. These muscles were less active during the eccentric phase of the chest press when the elbows were placed farther away from the torso. However, the abdominal head was significantly more activated when the elbow was positioned below the hand.

The pectoralis major's peak stress value represents the maximum force output before the muscle begins to contract. This force is an important indicator of the intensity of muscle activation, as it determines the peak electricity ratio and discharge level. 

The study compared the activation of the pectoralis major and triceps brachii during chest press exercise. It found that incline bench presses did not recruit the pectoralis major thoracic head more than did a decline bench press (-15deg) with the same grip.

This study indicates that using a paper balloon during the chest press exercise can significantly increase lower trapezius activity while significantly decreasing the activity of the pectoralis major muscle. This may have implications for the prevention of musculoskeletal injuries, improved sports performance, and injury rehabilitation.

Anterior deltoid

Anterior deltoid activations increased significantly on an incline bench during chest press, as compared to flat bench presses. This was found to be the case in both the lower and middle phases of the test. This suggests that narrow hand spacing may help increase anterior deltoid activation.

Researchers conducted electromyography to measure the activity of the pectoralis major and anterior deltoid during the chest press. The study included ten male volunteers who had undergone resistance training. Each participant performed the exercise in a crossover manner with surface EMG electrodes positioned on the anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, and pectoralis major. The results showed that the anterior deltoid was significantly more active during the free weight bench press than during the Smith machine bench press. The researchers also found that the exercise load and experience level did not influence the activation of the anterior deltoid.

The anterior deltoid plays an important role in shoulder flexion and transverse flexion during the chest press. In this exercise, anterior deltoid activation is greatest during the mid-position of the movement, where it provides the most assistance. Latissimus dorsi, meanwhile, remains relatively inactive during the bench press.

The study also showed that chest presses are effective at activating the anterior deltoid, and that bench incline greater than 45 degrees is associated with increased anterior deltoid activation. However, other factors could contribute to high anterior deltoid activation during chest presses, including the fatigue of the other muscle groups during scapulohumeral flexion exercises.


In the present study, the research team used surface EMG recordings to analyze the activation of upper extremity muscles during the chest press. They focused on muscle activation in the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps brachii, and biceps brachii. They then compared the activation of these muscles during the upper, middle, and lower phases of the exercise.

To determine the activation of the upper extremity muscles during chest press, the correct grip width needs to be identified. Then, the position of the elbows relative to the torso need to be determined. The elbows should be kept close to the torso to increase the activation of the anterior deltoids. This may help improve shoulder mobility and reduce shoulder problems.

The results demonstrate that the pectoralis major produces the greatest amount of force during the chest press, but as the grip distance increases, this muscle group produces less force. At forty-five centimeter grip distance, the pectoralis major generates approximately 433.1 N of force, while at fifty-five and sixty-centimeter grip distances, it produces less force.

The results of this research show that pectoralis major is supported by the posterior deltoid, triceps, and biceps. The triceps assist the pectoralis major during the bench press. We also see that the pectoralis major activates higher when the grip distance is shorter.

The anterior deltoid is one of the most commonly studied muscles in the chest press, and the lateral deltoid is another important muscle involved. The latter is responsible for shoulder flexion. It assists in lifting and transverse flexion. It is used more at the mid position, during the descent and lift phase. The Biceps brachii are also important, acting as a dynamic stabilizer. During bench press, however, the Latissimus Dorsi remains relatively inactive.

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Effect of grip width

There are several factors that may affect the activation of upper-extremity muscles during the chest press, including grip width. Increasing the grip width decreases the activation of the triceps and posterior deltoid muscles. However, increasing the grip width increases the activation of the pectoralis major.

Grip width can also influence the activation of upper-extremity muscles during the bench press. Wider grips target the pectorals and anterior delts while narrower grips target the triceps and clavicular (upper chest). It is recommended that beginners start with shoulder-width grips to improve muscle coordination and reduce joint stress. After becoming more comfortable with this grip width, they may implement a narrower grip.

The length of the grip can also impact pectoralis major activation. For example, the shorter the grip width, the lower the pectoralis major's surface myoelectricity value will be. For example, a grip distance of 40 cm reduces the activation of the pectoralis major, while a grip distance of 60 cm increases the activation of the pectoralis major.

As the weight increases, the activation of the pectoralis and triceps increases. Pectorals provide a strength base for the movement, while triceps provide the extra kick needed for heavier weights. The activation of these muscles is based on joint moments, which are based on elbow extension demands and shoulder flexion and horizontal flexion.

In the bench press, the grip width should be slightly wider than the shoulder width. This width helps avoid twisting of the trunk, which could potentially result in injury. Furthermore, the bench press exercise requires equal strength on both sides of the body. Additionally, the arms must be parallel, and the feet must be separated.


An analysis of the activation of upper extremity muscles involved in the chest press was performed to evaluate muscle activation patterns in the anterior deltoid and pectoralis major. The subjects were asked to perform three repetitions of a six-repetition maximum in three different lifts (a barbell bench press, dumbbell bench press, and fly). The study found that the activation level of both muscle groups was similar during all three exercises, but the pectoralis major showed higher activation levels than the anterior deltoid during the dumbbell fly.

In Trebbs's study, the clavicular head of the Pectoralis Major was significantly active at 44 degrees, 28 degrees, and 56 degrees, compared with the flat bench press. However, other authors have found no significant differences in activation between the two exercise types.

Using a Vicon MX40 system, the researchers were able to obtain kinematic data of the upper extremities. The system features 22 cameras with a resolution of 2353 x 1728 pixels, which capture motion at 100 Hz. They also used a skin marker set containing 54 markers, specifically designed for biomechanics research in the upper extremities.

In the chest press, the pectoralis major muscle is more active during the concentric phase, which allows the muscles to release stored energy. However, this muscle also has a sticking point, which occurs during the concentric phase of the lift when the bar is three to sixteen centimeters from the chest. This point is not the same in all subjects, but it occurs approximately 0.2 seconds after the upward movement of the bar.

In addition to the MMF, the participants' body weights were also measured. During the bench press, the weights used were corresponding to thirty-five percent, sixty-five percent, and seventy percent of the subjects' body weight. The subjects also varied their shoulder widths and used different grip widths. In addition, the researchers chose the length of time required to complete the bench press.


The chest press is an excellent way to build a strong chest. Both incline and flat bench presses target the major muscles in the upper body. An incline bench press is better for developing chest strength than a flat bench press, but it's important to perform both types to get the best results.

During the incline chest press, the elbows are placed closer to the torso than they are in the normal bench press position. The closer angle reduces the load on the pectoralis muscle, which puts more emphasis on the smaller muscles of the upper chest. The anterior deltoid and triceps brachii are two other muscles that can be activated during this position.

The chest press is a compound exercise that requires the use of several muscles in order to produce the desired force. The Pectoralis major is the primary muscle for performing the bench press, and it has two heads - the sternal (middle chest) and the clavicular (upper chest). The pectoralis major is active during all phases of the chest press, including the bench press. In the chest press, the entire shoulder muscle is recruited, including the anterior deltoid. Its main function is to lift the arm toward the head.

When comparing the two exercises, BBP elicited more activation of the pectoralis major compared to the DF. In addition, the BBP was found to produce more activation of the triceps brachii and lower biceps brachii in the lower and middle phases compared to the DF.

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