Effect of verbal instruction on muscle activity during the bench press exercise

J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Sep;26(9):2394-400. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31823f8d11.


Recent research suggests that humans have some ability to selectively activate or relax some muscles during isometric or dynamic muscle actions without changing posture or position. This study sought to reveal whether trained athletes could isolate either the pectoral or triceps muscles, respectively, at different intensities when given verbal technique instruction. Eleven male Division III football players performed 3 sets of bench press at 50% 1-repetition max (1RM) and 80% 1RM while electromyographic (EMG) activity was recorded from the pectoralis major (PM), anterior deltoid (AD), and triceps brachii (TB). In the first set, the subjects performed the exercise without instruction. In the second set, the subjects were given verbal instructions to use only chest muscles. In the third set, the subjects were instructed to use only triceps muscles. Mean normalized root mean square EMG activity was calculated during 3 repetitions in each condition. Repeated-measures analysis of variance was used to detect differences from the preinstruction condition, with significance set to p ≤ 0.017 as indicated by a Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons. During the 50% max lift with verbal instructions to focus on chest muscles, PM EMG activity increased by 22% over preinstruction activity (p = 0.005), whereas AD and TB activities were statistically unchanged. When the subjects were instructed to focus on only the triceps muscles, PM returned to baseline activity, whereas TB activity was increased by 26% (p = 0.005). When the lift was increased to 80% max, PM and AD activities were both increased with verbal instructions to use only chest muscles. The TB activity was unchanged during the 80% lifts, regardless of instructions. In conclusion, it is found that verbal technique instruction is effective in shifting muscle activity during a basic lift, but it may be less effective at higher intensities.

MeSH terms

  • Deltoid Muscle / physiology
  • Electromyography
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Pectoralis Muscles / physiology
  • Physical Education and Training*
  • Weight Lifting / physiology*