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When your workouts grow stale and your results stagnate, what’s the first area you look to change? The exercises you’re doing? Your volume? Your intensity? Your rep counts? From our observations, most people look for new exercises, because clearly the old ones aren’t working anymore. Right? Uh, no.
Truth is, the old moves work best—it’s just a matter of doing them differently to spark new muscle gains. Take chest, for example. There’s a very basic, effective workout template we believe in. It looks like this:
But the devil’s in the details, and there are too many of those to list here. For a brief sampling, we’re using the basic chest template of two presses and two flyes (one flat and one incline per movement) and offering three different workouts—one with all straight sets and a traditional exercise sequence of presses before flyes; another that sandwiches the presses with flat dumbbell flyes (pre- exhaust to start, post-exhaust to finish); and then a third workout that annihilates the pecs with a barrage of pre-exhaustion (flyes before presses).
Dumbbell versions of the four basic movements are demonstrated by Brandon Hendrickson. Focus on the template presented here, making regular changes in volume, intensity techniques, and rep schemes, and perhaps you’ll have a chest like Brandon’s in due time.
1. INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS
PURPOSE Upper-chest development
ACTION Lie faceup on an adjustable incline bench set to a 30- to a 45-degree angle holding a pair of dumbbells over your upper pecs with your arms extended. Slowly lower the dumbbells straight down until they’re just outside your shoulders, then press them straight up until your elbows are extended but not locked out.
TIP Don’t let the dumbbells come forward as you press them up. At the top of each rep, the weights should be directly above your collarbones.
ALTERNATIVES Incline barbell press, Hammer Strength incline press, selectorized machine incline press
2. FLAT-BENCH DUMBBELL PRESS
PURPOSE Overall chest development (“middle” chest)
ACTION Lie faceup on a flat bench holding a pair of dumbbells just outside your chest with your elbows bent and palms facing forward. Contract your pecs and extend your arms to press the dumbbells straight up and together over your chest, keeping your palms facing forward. Don’t lock out your elbows or bang the weights toegther at the top. Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the start position.
TIP For more power and to relieve undue strain on the shoulder joints, keep your upper arms at an angle with your torso—somewhere between perpendicular and flush with your sides. Your elbows should not be pointed straight out to the sides.
ALTERNATIVES Barbell bench press, Hammer Strength chest press, selectorized machine chest press
3. INCLINE DUMBBELL FLYE
PURPOSE Upper-and outer-chest development.
ACTION Lie back on an incline bench set to a 30- to 45-degree angle holding a pair of relatively light dumbbells. Begin with the weights held together over your face with your palms in and your elbows slightly bent. Maintaining the slight bend in your elbows, lower the weights down and out to the sides until you feel a stretch in your chest. Contract your pecs to return the dumbbells to the start position, squeezing the contraction at the top.
TIP ary the incline of the bench from workout to workout or even from set to set to stimulate the muscles from different angles while still emphasizing the upper pecs. For example, do your first set at 45 degrees, then lower the bench one notch each set. Stop when the bench is one notch above flat.
ALTERNATIVES* Incline cable flye, low-pulley cable crossover (Both of these exercises also target the inner pecs due to the constant tension provided by cables.)
*The “ALTERNATIVES” listed are variations that target the same areas of the chest as the standard exercise shown. These variations can be substituted for the pictured exercise or for one another in any given workout.
4. FLAT-BENCH DUMBBELL FLYE
PURPOSE Middle- and outer-chest development
ACTION Lie faceup on a flat bench holding a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip, and extend your arms above your chest, elbows slightly bent. Slowly lower the dumbbells in a wide arc out to the sides, keeping your elbows locked in this slightly bent position throughout the range of motion. Stop when you feel a stretch in your chest, then contract your pecs to reverse the motion and return to the start position.
TIP For a slightly more intense contraction in the inner pecs, rotate your wrists to turn your palms toward you (supination) at the top of each rep. Squeeze your pecs together in this position for 1–2 counts.
ALTERNATIVES Flat-bench cable flye, cable crossover, machine flye/pec deck (All of these exercises also target the inner pecs due to the constant tension provided by cables and machines.)
CHEST ROUTINE TRIO
Below are your next three chest workouts. Perform them in the order listed the next three times chest comes up in your training split. If you’d rather not do all three workouts, simply pick whichever you want and do only that one for your chest workout.
Any or all of the basic dumbbell exercises listed in the workouts can be swapped out for comparable variations using a barbell, cables, or machines. For suggestions, refer to the “Alternatives” entry for each exercise.
–BORING BUT BRUTALLY EFFECTIVE–
–PART PRE-EXHAUST, PART POST-EXHAUST–
–NOTHING BUT PRE-EXHAUST–
*Start with a weight that limits you to no more than 8–10 reps. Go to failure with that weight, then immediately put those dumbbells down and rep out to failure with the next lighter set. Continue “running the rack” in this fashion, resting only as long as it takes to switch weights, until you’re using 10– to 15-pound dumbbells to full exhaustion.