If you are feeling soreness below your armpit after doing bench press, this is typically because the bench press activates the serratus anterior muscle in this area. Serratus soreness is often confused with lat soreness, which leads people to believe that the bench press gave them a lat workout. In reality, the lats receive only a minimal workout during bench press. Instead, the main muscles worked by the bench press are the pectorals, triceps, and front deltoids.
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What Muscles Does the Bench Press Work?
The bench press primarily works the chest muscles, specifically the pectoralis major and minor. It also targets the triceps, which are used to straighten your arms during the bench press. As secondary muscles, the anterior deltoids (front part of the shoulders) are involved too. When you are doing bench press, you will experience the most exhaustion in these muscle groups.
- Anterior deltoid
- Serratus anterior
In addition to the large muscles of the chest, arms, and shoulders, smaller muscles on your sides are recruited during bench press. The most notable of these muscles is the serratus anterior, which is located on your sides, below your armpits. In fact, the serratus anterior is the main reason bench press sometimes feels like a lat workout.
Why are Your Lats Sore After Bench Press?
If you feel soreness below your armpit after bench press on chest day, your first instinct may be to attribute this to sore lats. However, what you are feeling is actually sore serratus anterior muscles. These muscles start under your shoulder blade and attach to your ribs. They play a key role during bench press movements because they provide power to the “punching” movement of straightening your arms. Because the serratus anterior is a relatively small muscle, it is commonly sore after bench press.
- Sore lats feel very similar to sore serratus anterior muscles.
- The serratus anterior muscles are a secondary muscle worked by bench press.
- If you feel soreness below your armpits after bench, your serratus muscles are sore, not your lats.
It is easy to confuse serratus anterior soreness with lat soreness. This is because the serratus anterior attaches underneath the scapula, very close to the attachment point for your lats. So, you may feel soreness in very similar areas after working either of these muscles. Since the serratus anterior is a key muscle for bench press, it is the actual culprit of “sore lats” after you bench.
Do Lats Get Involved in Bench Press?
While the lats, or latissimus dorsi, do play a role in the bench press, they act as stabilizers rather than primary targets. Overall, the bench press focuses on the chest, triceps, and shoulders. It should never be considered a back exercise.
- Lats play a small role as stabilizers during bench press.
- Your lats activate to keep your shoulder stable as you lower the weight toward your chest.
- Bench press will not fully activate your lats or build significant lat strength.
The main purpose your lats serve during bench press is shoulder joint stabilization. This occurs when you are lowering the bar back to your chest after a successful rep. Your lats and the other muscles in your upper back control the way as it descends. Since gravity is doing a lot of the work during this motion, your lats don’t receive much of a workout.
Do Bench Press Variations Work Your Lats More?
There is no bench press variation that activates your lats enough to provide them with a meaningful workout. Incline bench focuses more load onto the upper pectorals and the anterior deltoids. Decline bench press targets your lower chest. Finally, close-grip bench press targets your triceps.
- No type of bench press works your lats.
- All bench press variations work the chest, shoulders, and triceps.
- Pushing movements do not work your lats.
- Exercises with pulling movements are more likely to work your lats.
To determine if a muscle may be a good lat workout, ask yourself “is it a pushing movement or a pulling movement?” Pushing movements, like bench press, work the muscles in the front of your body. Pulling movements work the muscles of your back, including your lats. So, do not expect a lat workout during “push” exercises like overhead press, push-ups, or any variation of bench press.
What Exercises Work Your Lats?
Exercises that effectively work your lats include pull-ups, chin-ups, and various rowing exercises. Pull-ups and chin-ups engage the lats as you pull your body up towards the bar. Rows—such as bent-over rows, seated cable rows, and single-arm dumbbell rows—also target the lats through pulling movements.
- Lat pulldowns
- Seated rows
- Dumbbell rows
- Barbell rows
Lat pulldowns isolate the lats as you pull the bar down towards your chest. Deadlifts, while primarily a lower body and back exercise, engage the lats as essential stabilizers. Incorporating these exercises in your workout routine helps strengthen and develop your latissimus dorsi muscles.
Can You Build Stronger Lats with Bench Press?
Bench press will not build strong lats. The reasons for this are:
- Bench press primarily works the pectorals and triceps.
- The deltoids (shoulder muscles) and serratus anterior (side of ribs) are secondary muscles worked by bench.
- If you feel like your lats are sore after bench, this is usually due to serratus anterior soreness.
- Your lats do minimal work as stabilizers during bench press.
- There is no variety of bench press that builds your lats.
- Perform pulling exercises—pull-ups, rows, and deadlifts—to build strong lats.
Although you won’t get a lat workout from bench press, you will still build excellent functional strength by benching. Just make sure to spend an equal amount of time and energy building your back muscles with targeted exercises. This will result in a balanced, healthy physique.