Purpose: This study evaluates whether focusing on using specific muscles during bench press can selectively activate these muscles.
Methods: Altogether 18 resistance-trained men participated. Subjects were familiarized with the procedure and performed one-maximum repetition (1RM) test during the first session. In the second session, 3 different bench press conditions were performed with intensities of 20, 40, 50, 60 and 80 % of the pre-determined 1RM: regular bench press, and bench press focusing on selectively using the pectoralis major and triceps brachii, respectively. Surface electromyography (EMG) signals were recorded for the triceps brachii and pectoralis major muscles. Subsequently, peak EMG of the filtered signals were normalized to maximum maximorum EMG of each muscle.
Results: In both muscles, focusing on using the respective muscles increased muscle activity at relative loads between 20 and 60 %, but not at 80 % of 1RM. Overall, a threshold between 60 and 80 % rather than a linear decrease in selective activation with increasing intensity appeared to exist. The increased activity did not occur at the expense of decreased activity of the other muscle, e.g. when focusing on activating the triceps muscle the activity of the pectoralis muscle did not decrease. On the contrary, focusing on using the triceps muscle also increased pectoralis EMG at 50 and 60 % of 1RM.
Conclusion: Resistance-trained individuals can increase triceps brachii or pectarilis major muscle activity during the bench press when focusing on using the specific muscle at intensities up to 60 % of 1RM. A threshold between 60 and 80 % appeared to exist.
Keywords: Bodybuilding; Internal focus; Muscle activation; Strength training.