Chest Training with Victor Martinez

There was a time when Victor Martinez was considered the heir apparent to Ronnie Coleman’s eight-time Olympia reign, and rightfully so. He had the symmetry and proportion of a Dexter Jackson, yet with enough mass to compete with the likes of Coleman and Jay Cutler. His physique was a wonder, and 2007 was the year it all came together.

First, he roared to victory at the Arnold Classic in the spring, setting up a showdown at the Olympia against Cutler—who had dethroned Coleman the prior year—and the rest of a particularly loaded lineup, a who’s who of the era’s best. Yet, on that fateful night of Sept. 29, it was not to be, as Cutler edged him in a controversial decision by four points, all told. Victor would never come that close again.

Yet, for those who figured Martinez was finished as a force on the pro circuit, the Dominican Dominator had a surprise for the doubters. Facing down some intense, soul-crushing personal dramas—including the horrific murder of his sister in 2009, a seven-month immigration-related jail stint in 2011 in which his fate hung in the balance as to whether he could remain in the U.S., and the ongoing challenges of raising two autistic children—he continued to do the one thing he could control: He lifted.

After falling all the way to eighth at the 2010 O, he roared back to third at the 2011 Arnold Classic. He also earned his first win since ’07 by taking the Arnold Classic Europe and finished fourth at the Olympia. In 2013, he added a Toronto Pro championship, and in 2014, the Tampa Pro title.

In 2015 and 2016, he entered nine contests, and he shows no signs of slowing past his 43rd birthday as he looks ahead to 2017, with eyes on shoring up his legs and shoulders for his pursuit of his seventh career pro title.

On this day, chest training is on the agenda, and he’s at it with the intensity of a man still very much hungry for success.

 

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GONNA FLYE NOW

Martinez grabs a pair of 30s and lies back on the incline bench, pressing the weights up over his chest, his elbows nearly straight and his palms facing, ready for flyes. His cadence is a bit quick but not hurried, the weight obviously light as he works to push blood into his muscles. Fifteen clean reps later and he makes the switch to the other bench, pausing for about 20 seconds before lying back and positioning for 15 flat flyes.

Without missing a beat after four warmup rounds of the flye combo, going up 10 pounds per set, he returns to his previous  thought. “I’m counting on symmetry, because size isn’t always the key. I’m not going to be Big Ramy–size or anything like that,” he says, referring to the 300-plus-pound behemoth, Mamdouh Elssbiay, who earned the victory in front of his home crowd at the Kuwait Pro. “You got to work with what you have, so I’m going to continue working on my shape and fill out those areas that need the most attention.”

 

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45 DEGREES OF (SIZE AND) SEPARATION

After warming up his pecs, from the upper chest to the outer sweep, Martinez is ready to move on to pressing. First stop is the incline bench for four sets of barbell presses. “I’ll start with one plate per side for 15, then work up to two plates, then three by the fourth set,” he explains before doing just that. “In the off-season, I’ll do three sets if I’m doing two incline exercises in the workout, or four if I’m doing just one.”

While today he’s without a training partner, he notes the last set is sometimes a drop. “It depends on how I’m feeling, how the workout is going,” he says. “If on the last set I was aiming for 10 to 12 reps and I only get seven to eight, I’ll drop the weight and do those final reps.”

He’ll also usually add a second incline exercise in the off-season, whether it’s on the Smith machine, where he’ll change up the angle sometimes and do 25 to 30 degrees, the stack machine, or the Hammer Strength incline press. “If I’m just doing one incline, I’ll do four sets, and if I’m doing two, I’ll do three sets each,” Martinez adds.

 

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ON THE LEVEL

Flat-bench dumbbell presses follow the incline barbell press. He starts with the 60-pounders, placing them flat-side down on his mighty quads. Staring for a moment into the mirror reflecting the array of white-and-red equipment that stretches out behind him through the cavernous space, Martinez takes a deep breath and lies back, moving the weights into position right next to his outer pecs, elbows deep toward the floor.

With sweat running in drops down his brow, he presses the  dumbbells up powerfully, stopping them over his mid chest with elbows straight but not locked out, an inch or so away from touching each other. In this top position, you can see his pecs flex as they writhe beneath his tank before he reverses course. Over the next three sets, he goes to 80, then 100, then finally 120 pounds of iron in each clenched hand, while the reps descend from 15, to 12, to two sets of 10. Afterward, it’s on to one more press, on the nearby decline bench.

 

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THE LOWDOWN

“As you get older, those who tend to ignore the lower part of their pecs can start to get a little loose skin there,” Martinez says, revealing why declines are a mainstay of his chest regimen. “I’ll alternate between a barbell and a dumbbell decline from week to week, and I’ll also do pullovers, which help keep that area extra tight.”

The pullovers, in fact, are part of a superset with decline presses. He prefers them oldschool, lying crossways over a flat bench, holding a dumbbell in both hands, versus any machine version you’ll find today. “The machines don’t really help you hit the pecs along the top,” Martinez says. “Most people use pullovers as a lat move, but I’m using it more for chest, and I find the machines restrict your ability to squeeze at the very end of the move [compared with] the dumbbell.”

Fairly often, he’ll also pair declines with body-weight parallel-bar dips. “Just to stimulate the outer part of the pecs and get that squeeze at the bottom,” he says.

 

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PECS IN THE CROSSHAIRS

Every other workout, Martinez wraps his chest regimen with cable crossovers, from either the bottom or top pulley position, depending on which area of his pecs could use the extra work, the upper targeting the lower inner area of the pectoral muscle and the lower pulley emphasizing the upper inner ridge. “I’ll do four sets of 12 to 15 reps  to isolate and squeeze the muscle and bring in more blood flow to finish out the workout,” he explains. Like with his other exercises, he strives for fatigue. “You want to push out. You don’t want to finish a set knowing you had an extra few reps in you. That’s not gonna stimulate the muscle.” With the workout in the books, Martinez readies to head out, with some negotiations to handle for his new business venture—a gym in Manhattan that promises to welcome athletes and bodybuilders and anyone else who appreciates a hardworking, hardcore atmosphere. “Unlike some other gyms out there, this really will be no judgment. Overachievers are made to feel awkward at other clubs, but not this one.”

 

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 MARTINEZ' CHEST ROUTINE 

  • Incline Dumbbell Flye 4 10–15
    • superset with* Flat-bench Dumbbell Flye 4 10–15
  • Incline Barbell Press 3–4 10–15
  • Incline Dumbbell, Machine, or Smith Machine Press** 3–4 10–15
  • Flat-bench Dumbbell or Smith Machine Press 4 10–15
  • Decline Dumbbell Press 4 10–15
    • superset with Dumbbell Pullover or Parallel-bar Dip 4 15
  • Cable Crossover*** 4 12–15

*Unlike with a traditional superset, Martinez does rest in between the two flye variations for about 20 to 30 seconds, just enough to regain some strength and maintain proper form on the second exercise.

**If he does a second incline exercise, it’ll usually be one of these three options.

***He’ll do these every other workout during the off-season, and every workout pre-contest, switching it up between the high and low pulley versions.

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 TRAINING SPLIT 

  • DAY 1 // Shoulders
  • DAY 2 // Quads, hams, and calves
  • DAY 3 // Off
  • DAY 4 // Chest and biceps
  • DAY 5 // Back and triceps
  • DAY 6 // Off or repeat from Day 1

NOTE: Victor does cardio in the morning and weights in the afternoon or late evening, and hits abs twice per week.