The bench press is most people’s go-to chest exercise. In fact, it’s a safe bet to say the barbell bench press is the most popular upper body exercise around. Not only is it part of almost every bodybuilder’s chest building routine, but it’s also a lift contested in the sport of powerlifting.
The bench press is also how a lot of “gym bros” rank one another and measure their performance; “Hey bro – how much can you bench?”
Just because the standard bench press is so popular doesn’t mean you have to always use the standard bar-to-mid-chest variation. In fact, if you always use that method, you may find your chest development and bench press performance stalls.
The good news is that a small technique tweak will turn the bench press into something called the guillotine press, also known as the neck press. This exercise is guaranteed to breathe new life into your chest building workouts.
Like the standard barbell bench press, the guillotine press mainly works your chest. But, also like the bench press, it involves several other important muscles. Here’s a breakdown of the main muscles involved in the guillotine press.
Pectoralis major– guillotine presses work your pecs but, because of the unique path of the bar and increased stretch, they emphasize the upper or clavicular fibers of the chest. The primary function of the pecs is horizontal flexion of the shoulder joint.
Anterior deltoids– this is your front shoulder muscle. Like the pecs, its main function is shoulder flexion. Pecs and anterior deltoids always work together.
Triceps brachii– located on the back of your upper arm, and usually just called the triceps, this is the main muscle responsible for elbow extension. You can’t do any type of pressing movement without extending your elbows and working your triceps.
How to Perform guillotine presses
There are two ways to perform most exercises; the right way and the wrong way. The right way emphasizes the target muscles, so you get the best possible results and keeps your risk of injury to a minimum. The wrong way often takes stress away from the target muscles and could actually increase your risk of injury. Needless to say, the right way is the best way!
Make sure you get the best possible results from the guillotine press by doing it correctly.
- With a barbell resting on the uprights, lie on the bench with your eyes directly under the bar. Plant your feet firmly on the floor, so your shins are vertical. Reach up and grab the bar with an overhand, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
- Lift your chest up toward the bar, arch your lower back slightly, and pull your shoulders down and back. Drive your feet into the floor and brace your core. This will provide you with a stable platform from which to lift the weight.
- Unrack the bar and hold it over your shoulders.
- Bend your elbows and lower the bar down to the front of your neck. Descend until the bar is about one inch above your throat. Your elbows should be flared outward and roughly level with your shoulders.
- Press the weight back up and repeat.
Also, please note that this bench press variation can be hard on your shoulders. Keeping your arms up and out to your side and the increased range of motion may aggravate existing shoulder injuries or even cause new ones. Proceed with caution and stop doing this exercise if you experience any shoulder pain.
The benefits of the guillotine press
The guillotine press has several benefits, especially when compared to the standard bench press.
- No need to use an incline bench to target your upper pecs– incline bench presses and flyes are the standard ways exercisers work their upper pecs. No incline bench? No problem; you can do guillotine presses instead.
- Increased workout variation– doing the same exercises over and over is a good way to get bored with training and dig yourself into a training rut. Unusual exercises like guillotine presses add variety to your workouts that will help ward off boredom and prevent performance plateaus.
- May increase shoulder mobility and chest flexibility – the guillotine press involves a much larger range of motion than the standard bench press. This will give your pecs a stretch, which may lead to increased flexibility and mobility.
Important guillotine press training tips
Get even more from this exercise with these useful tips!
1– Lower the bar slowly– a lot of gym rats like to bounce the bar off their chest during bench presses. Such a maneuver could have serious consequences during the guillotine press. Lower the bar slowly, so the bar doesn’t crash into your neck. Slow negatives also increase muscle activation for a more productive workout.
2– Go light – go heavy or go home might make for a great meme, but it’s not good advice for the guillotine press. Instead, use light to moderate weights and focus on using a full range of motion. The guillotine press is a great pumping exercise and doesn’t work well with very heavyweights.
3– Warm-up – you should warm-up before any workout, but it’s especially crucial for guillotine presses. The large range of motion means you could easily tear a pec or wrench a shoulder during this exercise. Warm-up your pecs and shoulders thoroughly before attempting this exercise.
4– Use a spotter – we’ve said this before, but it’s so vital that it’s worth repeating! Only do this exercise with a competent spotter on hand. Also, don’t go for that “maybe” rep that you aren’t 100% sure you’ll complete. A failed rep on the guillotine press could have deadly consequences.
Guillotine press variations
The guillotine press is a variation of the bench press, but there are additional variations of this exercise you can use to add even more variety to your workouts.
Dumbbell guillotine press
This variation is a little safer than the barbell guillotine press. Use the same movement path but holding dumbbells instead. That way, if you get into trouble, you won’t crush your neck. This variation is reasonably safe to do on your own.
Smith machine guillotine press
Use the safety hooks to stop the bar crushing your neck if you are unable to complete a rep. Be warned, though; this variation is especially hard on your shoulders. Use it with caution.
Incline guillotine press
Hit your upper pecs even harder by doing regular, dumbbell, or Smith machine guillotine presses on an incline bench. Shoot for 15-45 degrees of incline. Higher is not better, and going above 45 degrees turns this chest exercise into more of a shoulder exercise.
Common guillotine press mistakes
Avoid these common mistakes to ensure you get the most from guillotine presses.
Using too much weight– unlike regular bench presses, the guillotine press is not a competitive lift in powerlifting. It’s not really suitable for super-heavy training. For a start, it’s tough on your shoulders, and that problem gets worse the heavier you go. Also, dropping a heavy bar across your neck could prove fatal.
Instead, use light to moderate weights for sets of 8-15 reps to get a great pec pump. Save your heavy lifting for regular bench presses.
Using a fast tempo– this exercise requires a precise movement, both for safety and for optimal performance. Lowering the bar too fast could mean you hit yourself in the throat or strike your chin by accident. Use a slow eccentric to make sure you lower the bar to the right place and don’t inadvertently hit yourself.
Doing guillotine presses too often– while the guillotine press is a useful exercise, it’s also a tough one. Doing it too often or for too long without a break could lead to shoulder problems. Do this exercise just once a week and swap it out of your program every month or two so you avoid overuse injuries and boredom.
The whole bodybuilding world loves the bench press. It’s one of the big three, alongside squats and deadlifts. These exercises are all but sacred, and almost every gym exerciser does them.
However, if you always do the same exercises over and over again, you workouts can become boring. Your progress may even stall. That’s why smart trainers look for ways to change their workouts, using variations to avoid ruts and plateaus.
The guillotine press is a valuable alternative to the traditional barbell bench press. While it’s not for everyone, if you have healthy shoulders and a good spotter, it could be the exercise you’ve been looking for to trigger renewed muscle growth.