If you’ve followed me for a while, you might remember the days when I complained about a pec strain every other month—I sure as hell remember it because it SUCKED and put a major dent in my bench progress. Every single time the bar slowed down on bench, every single time my pec had to work, it would strain. I was terrified of benching heavy full range; I avoided it because there was no way I could train it without a pop, followed by feeling like someone lit a shoestring on fire and tugged it across my chest.

I first tore my left pec’s muscle belly in 2015. I bought into the “Triceps are the bench driver. Training pecs is not important. By training pecs, we teach them to do too much. When pecs do too much, they tear.” I thought it tore because I was doing too much pec work. Naturally, I thought the solution was to do less—to stop heavy full-range work, avoid direct pec work, and baby my pecs to protect them from injury.

RECENT: Fix Your Walkout

Once I had recovered from the original tear, the left pec kept tweaking. “Your pec is damaged. You’re still doing too much. You need to protect it more,” I thought to myself. As I did less, it took less and less to tweak it. Soon, I started having tweaks on the right side too.

It was insanely frustrating. I literally could not bench heavy below a 2-board. Every meet prep, I had to find a way to work around the strains.

Then, it hit me: working around the strains was avoiding the problem. I needed to work through the strains, albeit strategically, to stop them from happening.

The Real Problem

Injury risk is like a teetertotter: I had kindergartener pecs, and there was a 308 trying to press 500 on the other side. No shit my pecs were getting launched into the stratosphere.

The first pec tear WAS because I asked too much of my pec. Each strain afterward WAS because I was doing more than my pecs were ready to handle. I was doing too much compared to my preparedness, but I wasn’t doing anything to get my pecs more ready to bench. By avoiding my pecs, I was making them more vulnerable to tears and strains. By trying to protect them, I was making them weaker and weaker.

We need to consider how much work we do in each session. If we do too much, something can go wrong. If we exceed what we are prepared to handle, something can break. We need to be aware of that.

On the other side, we need to look at our level of preparedness. The less prepared we are, the lower the “too much” threshold. The higher our preparedness, the more work we can handle.

How do we elevate tissue tolerance?

We can increase our tissue’s preparedness by gradually asking our tissues to handle more. (See my previous article on training being protective against injury). We need to train our bodies to stand up to the demands we are placing upon them, but that can get tricky if the demand is lifting a heavy weight, and every time we lift a heavy weight, something pops.


So, we take advantage of the viscoelastic properties of our connective tissue.

WTF does viscoelasticity mean? Let’s break the word up. 


Think of those numbers and letters on the side of your car’s oil container. They refer to how the oil’s “thickness” reacts to changing pressures and temperatures. 


Elasticity refers to something’s ability to deform and spring back. Think of a rubber band. 

Viscoelasticity then describes how our connective tissue reacts differently to different rates of stress (the load placed on tissue) and degrees of strain (the amount the tissue deforms).

It’s not as simple as “pull on a tendon this hard, and you get this much deformation.” Our connective tissue is embedded with fluid, and as it gets stressed, the fluid is forced to flow around and through the tissue’s structural components. That resistance to flow changes with the rate and degree of stress/strain. A harder and faster pull generally means that our tissues will react with more stiffness. A slower and lighter pull means our tissues deform more readily, and more relative strain is placed on the structural components.

What does that mean for us? We can train with lighter loads and get as high, if not higher, degrees of tissue strain as we can with heavier weights. We can use those lighter loads and higher degrees of strain to create an adaptation in the structural components of our connective tissue that will carry back to heavy weights. We can train with lighter loads more frequently because the absolute demand placed on us is lower.

How do we apply this to our pecs?

When I was figuring this out for myself, I started with the movement that scared me the most: a dip.

I went with the assisted variety to scale the movement. It was kind of embarrassing to go to a commercial gym and use the entire assistance stack, but it allowed me to put a tremendous amount of stretch into my pecs, control the entire range, and get a ton of productive reps in.

I progressed with how low I was going. I progressed to less and less assistance. It was a matter of weeks, and I could run full-range bodyweight dips for the first time IN A DECADE. Soon, I was loading dips. My pecs had never felt better, and the confidence in my pressing was returning.

Dips aren’t the only tool we can use for this. Knowing what I know now, it’s rare that I start pec patients with dips. Instead, fly’s, full-range dumbbell presses, and hand-elevated-full-range push-ups can be simpler to progress. We can even think about adding things like wide-grip flared presses or buffalo bar presses as we can handle more and more load.

If we want to make our pecs more durable, all we need to do is start with a movement we can handle while placing strain on the pecs. Then, we progress things as our pecs can handle more.

As we gain ability, we’ll be able to handle more on bench press.

The best rehab is training.

write for elitefts

Seth Albersworth is a powerlifter with experience in and out of gear. His best totals are 2105 pounds raw and 2408 pounds multi-ply. Seth has completed his bachelor's degree in kinesiology from the University of Calgary and recently graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic's Florida Campus. He's in the process of acquiring licensure as a Doctor of Chiropractic.

quick ship equipment banner