Pec injuries have become more and more popular over the past few years. Sports like Crossfit, MMA, football, and bodybuilding are the main sources of pec injuries. Pec tears can be extremely devastating injuries that can really setback your progress. The leading cause of pec tears/injuries is the flat bench press. The question is why do pec tears happen? Is the flat bench press just a terrible exercise or is there other reasons behind it?
Pec tears happen primarily due to the flat bench press, although there are multiple reasons why pec tears happen. Pec tears happen due to a combination of things such as poor body mechanics, lack of recovery, and improper warm-up. Not just because the flat bench press is a bad exercise. Yes, flat bench press is bio-mechanically not the best exercise for our shoulders, but there are some other factors that come into play. I am going to be discussing why pec tears happen, and ways to avoid them. If you believe you have already suffered from a pec injury, then read my article “Did I Tear My Pec?” to find out.
10 Reasons Pec Tears Happen
1. Flat Bench Press
Let’s face it, the most popular exercise in the gym is the flat bench press. Everyone always asks “Bro how much can you bench”. The truth is the flat bench press is not a very good exercise. I am saying this in terms of biomechanics of the shoulder. It really puts the shoulder complex in a very vulnerable position making the flat bench press the #1 cause of pec tears. There are many other exercises that can actually target the pectoralis muscles way better than the flat bench press. In my opinion the incline bench press is a way better choice, and safer for the shoulder complex. How many people have you heard about tearing their pec while performing incline, not many. It is very rare on incline press, because of the way the shoulder joint is positioned. The incline press placed more emphasis on the upper chest and front deltoids, making it a safer option for those worried about pec tears.
2. Improper Warm-Up
Another main cause of why pec tears happen is improper warm-up. People will come in the gym, and immediately head to the bench press. I strongly advise against this. You need to properly warm-up BEFORE you start bench pressing. Benching the bar 20 times is not an adequate warm-up. You need to warm-up the entire shoulder complex and pecs before adding weight to the bench press. I recommend starting with some light arm swings, stretches, and push-ups to get the shoulders warmed up. The shoulder/pecs work much better when they are properly warmed up and lubricated. The pecs need to get some good blood-flow before you begin heavy benching. I highly recommend warming up the rotator cuff muscles as well. Make sure you use some resistance bands, and begin with external/internal rotations. Do 3-4 sets of 15 reps to get the rotator cuff muscles ready to bench press.
3. Poor Body Mechanics
This is a major issue for inexperienced lifters who just begin working out. The first exercise guys want to start doing is the bench press. This can be problematic for those who do have someone to teach them proper form on the bench press. Inexperienced lifters usually just jump on the bench press, and load the weight to see how much they can do. I recommend first having an experienced lifter show you proper body mechanics. The bench press all comes down to proper form, and proper form will help prevent pec tears and injuries. A lot of pec tears happen due to poor form on the bench press. When people have poor body mechanics on the bench press it puts their shoulder in a vulnerable position for injuries. Not only can you suffer from pec injuries, but also rotator cuff tears, etc. Some basic tips for bench pressing is remembering to keep your feet flat on the floor, keeping your butt down, tucking your elbows, and keeping your shoulder blades down and back. A lot of people experience shoulder impingement due to poor body mechanics while benching.
Overtraining is another main reason pec tears happen. People will bench press all the time because they want to increase their 1-rep-max. The issue with this is the pecs never get a chance to recover. People are benching daily or every other day trying to get stronger on the bench press. This puts the pecs and shoulders at a greater risk of injury. I recommend waiting at-least 48 hours before benching again between sessions. This will ensure the pecs are getting a chance to recover, and not being overtrained. The problem with overtraining is that the pecs become fatigued, and this increases your risk of injury. Muscles need time to recover and heal. When muscles become fatigued they are not as strong, and can tear under the increased stress/demand.
A common saying is “you’re not overtraining, you are under-recovering.” I believe this has some truth behind it. A lot of lifters/athletes simply are not getting the nutrition their body needs. After hard workouts or maxing out on the bench press, your body needs the proper fuel to recover. I recommend keeping protein intake high at around .8-1gram per pound of bodyweight. This will ensure the muscles have adequate protein to recover following a workout. Another key factor is staying hydrated with enough water. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are composed of water, and need adequate hydration to function normally.
6. Tight Pec Muscles
Tight pecs is a huge problem that most people are guilty of. Most of us spend way too much time in a sitting position at a desk or couch. This position puts our shoulders in a forward/rounded posture, which overtime causes tight pectoralis muscles. Pec tears happen all the time for the reason alone. Tight pecs can wreck havoc on your posture and body-mechanics. Also, a tight muscle cannot function properly and as strong as it could. When a muscle becomes tight the muscle fibers are bound together, therefore disrupting normal contracting/relaxing of the muscle fibers. The tightness can contribute to tears of the muscle fibers. I recommend stretching the pecs daily, 3-4 sets for about 3-45seconds. A great stretch to do is a doorway stretch, by placing both arms on the doorframe and leaning your body forward.
7. Inadequate Sleep
This goes along with under-recovery, but it is so important that it deserves its own category. Sleep is the number one thing you can do to recover your muscles. Even more so than protein intake, supplements, etc. If you are not getting enough sleep, you are more prone to injuries such as pec tears. I recommend getting at-least 8-9 hours of sleep every-night. This will ensure your muscles are recovering and growing between workouts.
As we age the elasticity in our muscle fibers/tendons decrease. This is a normal process of aging, but it can be a main cause of why pec tears happen. The majority of pec tears happen to middle-aged/older men, and this can be one of the main reasons. The muscle tendons are simply not as strong/elastic as they once were. So at this age guys are more susceptible to pec tears and injuries. Therefore, I recommend just going a little lighter, with the reps a little higher. There is no reason to be maxing out unless you are powerlifting or competing, etc.
I have to touch on this subject because a lot of times those who suffer from pec tears are people using steroids. Pec tears are very common with big bodybuilders/powerlifters. The truth is the majority of them are using steroids, which puts them at an increased risk of injury. Those who use steroids are more susceptible to muscle tears and joint injuries. This is because the muscle cells get bigger/stronger than they naturally would, which allows you to lift more weight. The problem with this is, your tendons and ligaments do not get stronger from steroids. So basically, you are lifting increased weight because of the steroids, but your tendons/ligaments cannot keep up with this amount of weight. So pec tendons will often tear under the increased demand.
Everyone’s skeletal structure and body tissues are different depending on your genetics. Some people are just more prone to injuries/tears than other people. Some people have thicker tendons/ligaments than other people, whereas, some have very narrow tendons/ligaments. It all depends on your genetics. Another genetic factor is muscle belly size and placement. Some people have different sized muscle bellies, and they are attached in different places. For example, put your pinky and thumb together, and watch for a tendon to become visible on your wrist. This is called the Palmaris Longus tendon, and it is absent in about 15% of the population. This is just a small example of the difference among us, depending on our genetics.
Pec tears are going to happen, there are no definitive ways to prevent them from happening. However, it is important to understand why pec tears happen, so you are better prepared to avoid them. Having knowledge and practicing these 10 reasons why pec tears happen, you will be at less of a risk of suffering from a pec tear. These are the top 10 reasons pec tears occur, but I believe they mostly occur from a combination of these reasons.
Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, improper form, and inadequate warm-up are just some of the reasons a pec tear can happen. Usually it is from a combination of all these which puts you at a much higher risk of injury. Practice/remember these 10 reasons to help keep you benching safely without injury!
*Learn more about pec tears and what to do if you suffered from a pec injury here.