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Effect of an Unstable Load on Primary and Stabilizing Muscles During the Bench Press

Ostrowski, Stephanie J.; Carlson, Lara A.; Lawrence, Michael A.

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: February 2017 - Volume 31 - Issue 2 - p 430–434
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001497
Original Research
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Ostrowski, SJ, Carlson, LA, and Lawrence, MA. Effect of an unstable load on primary and stabilizing muscles during the bench press. J Strength Cond Res 31(2): 430–434, 2017—Unstable resistance exercises are performed to increase activity of stabilizing muscles. The premise is that this increase in activity will yield greater strength gains than traditional resistance exercises. The purpose of this study was to determine if an unstable load increases muscle activity of stabilizing muscles during a bench press as compared with a standard bench press with a typical load. Fifteen resistance-trained males (age 24.2 ± 2.7 years, mass 84.8 ± 12.0 kg, height 1.77 ± 0.05 m, weight lifting experience 9.9 ± 3.4 years, and bench press 1 repetition maximum [1RM] 107.5 ± 25.9 kg) volunteered for this study. Subjects pressed 2 sets of 5 repetitions in both stable (75% 1RM) and unstable (60% 1RM) conditions using a standard barbell and a flexible Earthquake bar, respectively. Surface electromyography was used to detect muscle activity of primary movers (pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps) and stabilizing musculature (latissimus dorsi, middle and posterior deltoid, biceps brachii, and upper trapezius). Muscle activity was compared using a multivariate analysis of variance to determine significant (p ≤ 0.05) phase and condition differences. The right and left biceps and the left middle deltoid were significantly more active in the unstable condition. Some of the stabilizing muscles were found to be significantly more active in the unstable condition with 15% less weight. Therefore, bench pressing with an unstable load appears promising in activating stabilizing musculature compared with pressing a typical barbell.

Departments of 1Exercise and Sports Performance and

2Physical Therapy, University of New England, Portland, Maine; and

3Center for Excellence in the Neurosciences, University of New England, Portland, Maine

Address correspondence to Michael A. Lawrence, mlawrence3@une.edu.

Copyright © 2017 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association.