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Bench Press Upper-Body Muscle Activation Between Stable and Unstable Loads

Dunnick, Dustin D.; Brown, Lee E.; Coburn, Jared W.; Lynn, Scott K.; Barillas, Saldiam R.

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: December 2015 - Volume 29 - Issue 12 - p 3279–3283
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001198
Original Research

Dunnick, DD, Brown, LE, Coburn, JW, Lynn, SK, and Barillas, SR. Bench press upper-body muscle activation between stable and unstable loads. J Strength Cond Res 29(12): 3279–3283, 2015—The bench press is one of the most commonly used upper-body exercises in training and is performed with many different variations, including unstable loads (ULs). Although there is much research on use of an unstable surface, there is little to none on the use of an UL. The purpose of this study was to investigate muscle activation during the bench press while using a stable load (SL) vs. UL. Twenty resistance-trained men (age = 24.1 ± 2 years; ht = 177.5 ± 5.8 cm; mass = 88.7 ± 13.7 kg) completed 2 experimental conditions (SL and UL) at 2 different intensities (60 and 80% one repetition maximum). Unstable load was achieved by hanging 16 kg kettlebells by elastic bands from the end of the bar. All trial lifts were set to a 2-second cadence with a slight pause at the bottom. Subjects had electrodes attached to 5 muscles (pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, medial deltoid, triceps brachii, and latissimus dorsi) and performed 3 isometric bench press trials to normalize electromyographic data. All 5 muscles demonstrated significantly greater activation at 80% compared with 60% load and during concentric compared with eccentric actions. These results suggest that upper body muscle activation is not different in the bench press between UL and SL. Therefore, coaches should use their preference when designing training programs.

Department of Kinesiology, Human Performance Laboratory, Center for Sport Performance, California State University, Fullerton, California

Address correspondence to Lee E. Brown, leebrown@fullerton.edu.

Copyright © 2015 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association.