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Commanding Muscles to do their Part in the Bench Press

Long believed to be the case for bodybuilders, researchers test the theory that a verbal reminder can cause a muscle to contract stronger.

Researchers wanted to find out if it was possible to command a muscle to contract harder actually caused a physiological change within the muscle and not just in the emotion of the athlete. Researchers from Shenandoah University in Virginia and the University of South Carolina worked together to determine if they could get trained athletes to contract one muscle more than the other on the Bench press exercise if given the command.

11 division III male football athletes were recruited to the study. They averaged 22 years of age and all had experience in the bench press. The objective was to determine if the activity of the pectoralis major (PM) would contract with more force if verbally commanded to. The triceps bracii (TB) was also measured for the same outcome. These two muscles were attached to an EMG to tract electrical activity during contraction. The anterior deltoid (AD) was also hooked up.

The procedure required the subjects to perform 3 sets of barbell bench press at 50%1RM and 3 sets at 80%1RM. The first set of each was used as a control; there were no instructions or commands given. For the second set, the command was given to the subjects to contract the PM to complete the lift. On the third set, the command was given to contract the TB.

Results from the EMG determined that during the 50% 1RM sets, they were able to increase contraction of the PM during the PM command by 22%, considered a significant increase over the first set. The TB showed an increase of 26% in the 50% 1RM precondition, also considered a significant increase.

At the condition of 80% 1RM, the PM and AD increased during the verbal instruction to do so. The TB instruction did not increase activity at this intensity.

The results show researchers that there is some connection to increasing contraction force with external instructions, even in higher level athletes. However the success of it is limited to lower intensities and may be used to train at higher reps to improve the contraction force of certain muscles.


Snyder, BJ and Fry, WR. "Effect of verbal instruction on muscle acivity during the bench press exercise." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26(9): 2394-2400. 2012.

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