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We’re talking about chest.
Simple enough, no need for any long-winded intros. So let’s jump right in. This is what I believe about chest training.
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First and foremost, the chest should be trained for mass — let’s say overall size — rather than cuts and detail. Consider other large muscle groups (i.e., back and legs) and it’s evident that the chest is the only one for which full, tight, swollen, spherical mass is more impressive than detailed cuts in individual muscles.
For legs and back, as well as smaller muscle groups, cuts are more important in competition, but the chest serves the unique purpose of bulging boldly far out in front of the body — cantilevering, in fact. It’s predominantly responsible for our three-dimensional effect; the bigger the chest, the more pronounced that effect.
Everyone knowsthe simple formula, but few are willing to believe it, because it’s too demanding. Nonetheless, here it is: to become your biggest, you must become your strongest. That’s a truism; the stronger the muscle, the heavier you can work it, and the faster and larger it can grow.
A corollary is the more you train for strength, the more durable your muscularity becomes. So, how do you train for strength? Go by the numbers, not the feel. Training must be driven by quantitative, not qualitative, goals. You don’t start a workout thinking you’ll have better aesthetics when you finish, you go into it with the intention of lifting a heavier weight than last time or of doing one more rep. You want to become stronger. Strength is also the most important motivator. Any increase in the weight you’re able to lift is like a shot of adrenaline, allowing you to train even harder, and the harder you train, the stronger you’ll become. And the stronger you become, the harder you’ll want to train. I challenge you to find that kind of motivation in “quality reps.”
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I still believein going heavy, really heavy, down to eight or even four reps for every set, depending on the exercise. In fact, it’s difficult for me to not train heavy. I simply have to do it. It’s automatic. I don’t know where that comes from; it’s always been like that, and I still put everything I can into every set.
I’m obviously still training as heavy as I can, in order to have done what I did to my vocal cords: I strained them by grunting and groaning so much that they swelled, and a polyp developed. The doctor told me I now have to avoid straining my throat when I breathe, but when I’m benching 500, I’m not thinking about breathing. I don’t care where it comes from — just give me some air.
Every year, though, I tell myself I’m not going to go crazy with poundage, but once I’m in the gym, as soon as I feel my strength, I’m going to use it. I do not feel light weights. People say, “Just go light, and work detail, detail, detail,” but you can work detail with 10 reps.
I’m so strong that I can easily do incline presses with 405 for 10-12 reps. Believe me, that’s going to give me detail, but detail is worthless without the mass to showcase it. Everyone knows what I mean. Just about anybody can look at someone’s muscularity and tell you whether he trains heavy or moderate.
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I believe in themaxim “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” In my training, nothing changes; at least, nothing fundamental. I made one basic modification two or three years ago — until then, I trained each bodypart every five days, now it’s once a week, except for abs and calves. I made that change to give my body more rest, in order to train even harder and heavier. It worked.
I’m a big believer in using only those weights that are heavy enough to strike fear in me. To put it another way, I want those weights to be so heavy that they’ll injure me if I’m not in awe of their power to turn on me with vengeance. Believe me, the stronger I get, the more thinking I do about gaining more control over my reps. I’m no longer in my 20s. With that in mind, my reps are now slower. I don’t use lighter weight, but I concentrate more on staying tighter. No more throwing the weight around with wild explosions of power. I respect the weight a lot more. I won’t say I won’t get injured, I’m just more aware of avoiding it.
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I firmly believe that there’s nothing complicated about building a massive chest. All it takes is an age-old time-proven basic workout, with a foundation of free weights. Mine is a total of 12 sets, either four exercises (which are described here) of three sets each or three exercises of four sets each.
Begin developing your chest with flat bench barbell presses, but once your center pecs are full, use incline barbell presses to bring out your upper-pec mass. That’s what I do now. I warm up with one plate on each side for 15 reps, then two on each side for another 15. I then start counting working sets, adding a plate to each side [90 pounds] for each one. If I’m doing four working sets, I go back to four plates per side for the last set; precontest, if I’m in four-set mode, I use three plates per side and do a last set of 15.
Sometimes, I load up a Smith machine and do partial reps — but getting a good squeeze at the top — for three drop sets of four to 12 reps.
These are a great mass builder if you go down to eight reps max for the last couple of sets, as I do. It places your pec/delt tie-ins in a vulnerable stretch, so it’s imperative that you keep it tight and slow. To make sure I hit the full top-to-bottom sweep of my pecs, I alternate between flat and incline from workout to workout.
I do one of these as the last exercise of my four-exercise/three-set scheme. Pullovers can be superheavy, with a weight that may allow you to get as few as four reps. I bend my elbows only slightly, and I keep them close, so my pecs are squeezed together at all times. Again, reps are slow, tight and powerful. No explosions.
Cable crossovers are performed either freestanding or stabilized against an angled or preacher bench. Using a bench to stabilize myself allows me to apply more squeezing power through the full range of motion. I believe in a big stretch, so it’s all the way back. I also cross my hands as far as they’ll go, and I alternate my hand position each rep — left over right, right over left. My techniques help me to fully contract my pecs.
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This is sufficiently safe to be a maximum-power exercise, but beware of the temptation to lapse into leveraging with your lats and shoulders. What you need are pec contractions, and you get those by using a full range of motion — bring the weight all the way back, then get an arms’-length squeeze to the front. Precontest, I do these on a decline, but still with a full range — and heavy — down to eight reps.
Even precontest,I don’t do higher sets or reps; that keeps me from losing weight unnecessarily. I may do some drop sets, but everything else is for straight sets and my usual low reps. If I changed my workout and did higher reps and supersets, I’d burn away muscle and lose too much mass. I try to keep my conditioning through cardio and diet, not by accelerating my workouts.
By staying big, I also don’t have to worry about huge gains in the offseason. I started at 285 pounds, went up to 300, then dropped down to 265 or 270, and that’s where my fine-tuning began. If I hadn’t been training for strength and mass all these years, I’d be a wisp at this point. FLEX