It's a common problem: You hammer your pecs every which way but, like playing tennis with a drape, there's no response. You've probably already tried doing more sets, heavier benches, more reps, new exercises, even more sets, more push-ups and plain old trying harder, all with little success.
So rather than suggest you're missing some magical combination of moves and elbow grease, we're going to shake up your workout for the next six weeks by prioritizing it - giving it more work and attention than other bodyparts. You'll train chest twice a week while hitting the remainder of your bodyparts just once, and you'll employ two completely different full-throttle chest workouts designed to boost not just strength but also size. This isn't a beginner's schedule; instead, it's geared toward bodybuilders of at least an intermediate level who can follow the kind of priority program presented here.
Redoubling Your Efforts
Attacking a lagging muscle group with a more-is-better approach will work as long as you take into account certain other factors. "How you set up the program is critical so you don't overuse a particular muscle group," says former powerlifter David Sandler, MS, CSCS, director of the fitness consulting firm StrengthPro. "You could easily overtrain your pushing muscles (primarily chest, shoulders and triceps) if you work them on consecutive days."
Ernesto Osorio, CSCS, an amateur bodybuilder and personal trainer at One 2 One Training Center in Houston, says: "If you're going to train chest twice a week, you'll need 2-3 days of rest between workouts to allow for sufficient recuperation time, which will enable the muscle to grow bigger and stronger." Training your chest more frequently, especially with the intensity and volume prescribed here, could backfire and result in overtraining - meaning a lot of extra effort put forth and nothing to show for it. To avoid that pitfall, our sample training split (see "The Pecs Split") includes a rest day before each chest-training day to ensure you're fully recovered, as well as 2-3 days of rest between consecutive chest workouts.
Osorio, who says he has followed a similar split to bring up his own chest, suggests using this approach for no more than six weeks - enough time to make gains before your body either slips into an overtrained state or becomes accustomed to the routine. "This should be a short-term remedy to bring up your chest, but you'll want to ease up on trying to simultaneously maximize gains with other bodyparts - this is a time for chest-building," he explains. "Afterward, go back to your regular style of training; you can return to this chest-focused routine down the road if you choose."
Sandler confirms: "There's plenty of research to suggest that introducing change into a routine creates opportunity for improvement, but that doesn't continue indefinitely. In fact, it's well accepted by most strength coaches and scientists that 4-6 weeks is the max length of time for any one cycle. Neurological development and optimal muscle recruitment occurs within 2-4 weeks of adding new stimuli. After six weeks of an intensity program like Peak Pecs, you need a period in which you change the stimulus again for at least four weeks. This allows the whole body - its muscular and nervous systems - to recover from the six-week shock placed on it. The rule of thumb is to wait at least four weeks before trying a program like Peak Pecs again."
One inherent drawback to doubling up on your chest training is the resultant amount of work imposed on the front delts and triceps. Both assist in all chest pressing movements, so by upping your volume of pec training, the workload on the front delts and triceps is increased. If you were to train front delts and triceps on different days than your pecs, two things would happen.
1) These bodyparts would not be fully recovered from their chest exertions when it came time for their specific workouts, and 2) after being trained in their own specific workouts, they wouldn't recover in time for the next pec workout. And that means you wouldn't be able to recruit 100% power for your chest work. That's why the Peak Pecs Program instructs you to work delts and triceps on chest training days, delts on your first pec workout of the week and tri's on your second.
"I'd recommend that you not only work delts and triceps on the same day as chest but cut back on the volume for those bodyparts as well, so you can maximize on your pec work," Osorio adds. "Skip the front-delt work, since this area is already significantly overloaded with heavy presses, but keep the middle- and rear-delt moves to ensure that you're maintaining a balanced physique. I'd also eliminate compound triceps moves, like close-grip benches and dips, opting instead for pressdowns, lying triceps extensions and kickbacks. Your triceps are getting worked before you even do a single exercise dedicated to them, so limit volume to six sets at most for this small muscle group."
Sandler notes: "Shoulders and triceps are critical to chest training - they need to be fresh. Delts will often fail first in training, and you need them big time on chest day."
Because of the extra physiological demands of a priority-training program such as this, Sandler recommends paying extra attention to your diet and taking in plenty of calories and protein. For every pound you weigh, be sure to get 18-20 calories, 1 gram of protein and 2 grams of carbs daily. The added nutrients will facilitate growth by supplying essential amino acids and optimal replenishment of muscle glycogen to fuel hard training. He also advises supplementing with creatine, whey protein and glutamine, as well as drinking plenty of water.
Rather than hitting your chest with the same routine on both days, each workout concentrates on a different area of emphasis.