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My senior year, 1990, we were getting ready for the biggest wrestling tournament of the year, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I was sitting there, reading FLEX and I remember one friend saying, “Bill, aren’t you taking this bodybuilding thing a little too serious?” I’d been wrestling since I was five, so my biggest objective was to get a scholarship and go wrestle in college, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d lost interest in wrestling. 

That was my senior year in high school, and I was the only kid on my team that the coach didn’t want lifting weights anymore, because he said I was starting to lose mobility in my shoulders, chest and back. In wrestling, you have to be really flexible, especially in your shoulders, so you can get out of moves easier. I did notice certain things, such as when I got on my back, it was harder for me to get off it. Not that I got on my back that often, but with moves such as the half nelson, you need to put your arms straight back, and if your range of motion is limited, you can’t flip out of it, so your opponent will be able to turn you. And there I was, trying to get big, huge arms and chest, offering more of me for him to grab. So my coach said, “No, seriously, Bill, I want you to stop  lifting!”

FL07185T0_2007-3Did I? Nah. I kept training, and that same year, I won the Teenage Mr. Pennsylvania. 

After graduation, I moved to Hollywood, Florida, and, with wrestling behind me, I thought, Ya know, maybe I’ll try this bodybuilding thing again.  By the mid-’90s, my chest was pretty well along. I’m sure wrestling and sports helped — doing 500 million pushups a day and lifting people up — but also doing those bench presses all day, every day, had more to do with it than anything.

My chest workout in those days wasn’t much different from what it is today. If I have a weakness, I keep experimenting to see what works for me, but that was never the case with chest. The same old stuff has continued to work, so why change it? Always, it has been eight to 12 reps for four sets of five exercises in a sequence of incline-flat- incline-flat-dips. Strength gains over the years, however, forced me to make a fundamental change. 

Presses, Presses, & More Presses

When you’re young, your body can really take a beating. The maximum weight you can handle is less, so you can throw it around with less risk. However, you do a 315-pound bench press, and you want to keep pushing up that max.

Dumbbell flyes and presses are part of Wilmore’s chest regimen; he strives for at least eight reps a set, rather than going so heavy as to not really feel the muscles work through a full contraction.

I pulled my chest a couple of times doing that, so I decided the risk wasn’t worth it. Now, the only flat bench press I do is on a Smith machine. 

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An ideal chest workout for me starts with incline Smith machine presses. That exercise allows me to use a barbell, yet continue to get things warmed up while stabilized. Second, I do flat-bench dumbbell presses. Third up are incline barbell presses, fourth are flat-bench dumbbell flyes and fifth is a brutal finisher — dips superset with cable crossovers.

 

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By this time in my career, I’ve long stopped with the calculations. Most bodybuilders are meticulous about their sets and numbers; I like to just train. Just work out. If you’re feeling good that day, don’t say, “OK, we’ve counted our sets and reps, so we’re done for the day.” Don’t make it a math class. Just train. 

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The next workout could begin with incline dumbbell presses, followed by flat-bench Smith machine presses, incline barbell presses, flat dumbbell flyes, then the dreaded dips/cablecrossovers superset. 

Presses with dumbbells, a barbell or a Smith machine — each offers slightly different benefits, and all are valuable if your goal is maximum pectoral mass.

I have to confess another change over the years: I still train heavy, but I no longer sacrifice “feel” for weight. Your chest should have a certain feeling after a workout, and training heavy doesn’t guarantee that sensation. You need to create deep contractions in your pec muscles and fatigue them. I still train heavy — up to 150-pound dumbbells — but I’m not merely trying to push up as much weight as I can for three or four reps. I try to squeeze out at least eight, the objective being to build either a pump or a burn, and yes, I do distinguish between them. With inclines, I’m going for the pump, but if I’m doing an isolated movement such as cable crossovers, I really strive for the burn, in which case my reps might go a little higher, maybe 15.

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“Don’t say, ‘OK, we’ve counted our sets and reps, so we’re done for the day.’ Don’t make it a math class. Just train.”

Speed of movement is moderate and consistent, the same from the first rep to the last. The first couple of sets are not to failure, but the latter are — although the same pace holds. I want to feel the entire muscle complex working at all times. For the last couple of sets, I use forced reps, and when I’m in dieting mode, I include some drop sets. The purpose of all this is to fatigue your pec muscles in the same manner as for any other bodypart. Many guys think that a chest workout is their opportunity to simply push weight; furthermore, that it’s the only way to work the chest. But in my mind, that’s the “wussy” way out — and we don’t do it that way in the Steel City. It’s called a workout, after all . . . so make sure the muscle you’re targeting gets thoroughly worked out, hammered from every angle and primed for growth. 

FL07186T0_2007-11. PRIORITIZE YOUR TRAINING SPLIT

If your chest needs more size, relative to another bodypart or with your physique in general, train it twice a week. If you need two-a-weeks for your chest, make sure the first workout follows a day’s rest and that your chest is the only bodypart trained that day. In the second workout, train chest with a muscle group that does not need prioritizing.

2. START YOUR CHEST WORKOUTS WITH STRETCHING

I stretch before my workout and between every three or four sets. Also, warm up your shoulders — my warm-ups for a chest workout are two or three sets of high-rep dumbbell lateral raises. I then do two or three warm-up sets of my first exercise and pyramid the weight gradually.

3. DON’T BOUNCE THE BAR

When benching, don’t let the weight control you — make sure it’s not so heavy that you have to fight it on the descent. Instead, you should be able to bring it down under control, building up maximum potential energy so that, at the bottom, it can be elevated again with maximum power.

4. DUMBBELL FLYES ARE A MASS BUILDER

I’m not so much concerned with a peak contraction at the top of each rep as I am with constant tension, because I’m still trying to push a lot of weight. I do try to squeeze the muscles at the top, but there won’t be a pause and hold. Also, I don’t go for an extreme stretch on the downward motion, as to do so risks injury to the rotator cuff.

5. GENERATE ENERGY, DON’T CONSERVE IT

I may advocate training a lagging bodypart twice a week as opposed to babying it, but that predicates being on top of your game nutritionally and recuperatively. Do not, of course, overtrain your chest by doing so many heavy sets that you can’t repeat your second workout of the week with the same intensity. On the other hand, taking days off is not enough to help you repair. You need the right diet, and you need to push yourself to improve your conditioning. When I do two workouts a week for a muscle group, people may think that one session is hard and one is bullcrap. No, it’s two frickin’ hard workouts.

 WILMORE’S CHEST WORKOUT 

WORKOUT A

  • Incline Smith Machine Press | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Flat-Bench Dumbbell Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Incline Barbell Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Flat-Bench Dumbbell Flyes | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Dips | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
    • superset with Cable Crossovers | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-15 

WORKOUT B

  • Incline Dumbbell Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Flat-Bench Smith Machine Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Incline Barbell Presses | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Flat-Bench Dumbbell Flyes | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
  • Dips | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-12
    • superset with Cable Crossovers | SETS: 4 | REPS: 8-15

 FLEX