Men Over 40 Should Make One Small Change for Safer Chest Workouts

Author, fitness model, and trainer Kirk Charles, NASM-CPT CES, knows that as you get older, life can get more complicated. But that shouldn’t prevent you from being on top of your game. He’ll help to answer the tough training questions that come with age so you too can be Fit Beyond 40.

When you hit the gym with a goal to get big and strong, the first exercise most men think of is the bench press. There are few more representative moves from the old school bodybuilding playbook; you see the weight, you press the weight, you build a barrel chest.

However, when you’re older and haven’t been training consistently, or if you’re just starting, it’s advisable to begin slowly. As older men, we tend to believe we can do all of the things we did when we were younger, but bringing that belief to the gym can sometimes translate into injury. Ego can get in the way and we may have weaknesses we’re unaware of, simply because we haven’t tested ourselves in a while. One of my friends tried to pick up where he left off on his first visit back to the gym almost a year since the coronavirus lockdown began. He started with too much weight and aggravated an old rotator cuff injury doing a dumbbell bench press.

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To help prevent this type of injury, I like to start my older clients off with another exercise, the floor press. The beauty of this variation is that you can’t lower your elbows below your body level as you can on the bench, so you have built in shoulder protection. That helps to make it a safer way to progress to heavier weights before trying them out on the bench .

To set up and get a feel for the floor press, start with light dumbbells, about 10 to 15 pounds in each hand (if you go heavier, you might eventually need someone to hand you the dumbbells as you’re lying on your back). Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. With lighter dumbbells you can start by resting them on your thighs. Then lower your body down so you’re flat on your back. While holding the dumbbells your forearms should be perpendicular to the floor with your upper arms at a 45-degree angle relative to your body. This is your starting position.

Before you start pressing upward with the dumbbells, cement your feet flat on the floor and squeeze your glutes. It’s also critical to squeeze your abs so your back doesn’t arch as you press upward with the dumbbells. If that happens, use a lower weight. You want your chest to do the work without any compensations. Maintain that 45-degree angle with your upper arms as you press upward and fully extend your elbows at the top of the press. As you lower the weight back down, go slowly so you don’t ram your elbows into the floor.

As you continue to do reps of the floor press, you’ll notice how you’re able to control the dumbbells. The floor eliminates the fear of going too deep during the eccentric (lowering) part of the exercise, so the floor press should be a useful addition to your chest routine. Try three sets of 8 to 10 reps on upper body training days to get started and add more weight as you become comfortable.

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