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Everyone who has ever hit the deck for a set of push-ups or cozied up to a barbell for a heavy set of bench presses—whether they admit or not—loves the idea of being able to hit a crazy, most-muscular pose where their chest fibers morph into a sick, striated mess of sinew. On international chest day (read: every Monday), we all take to the gym floor chasing it anew, looking for the best program to get us there.
This collection of chest workouts is our gift to you—a compendium of varied programs designed by our stable of experts that you can try out on your pec pieces, at your leisure…or on the next five Mondays.
Just because you want a bigger chest doesn’t mean you can ignore your back. In fact, this is one of the most common mistakes by chest trainers who have blinders on to the dangers of asymmetrical training. Going berserk on your pecs and ignoring your back is a sure-fire bet for injury but did you know that training the opposing muscle group (back) in the same workout has been shown to keep strength levels higher from set to set? Rob MacIntyre, CSCS, trainer to the athletes of the WWE does and he has you training thusly, with a healthy dose of supersets as a gut check.
This workout covers a few different aspects of chest training. You get to go a little heavy to start and you get your pump at the end. Because people often have a weak upper back in comparison to their chest there are a few exercises here to balance you out. The agonist-antagonist relationship between chest and back allow for intra-workout recovery, keeping your pecs stronger on each set.
Make sure on the flyes to really think about making your chest doing the work—don’t just try to complete the reps. Let the pecs bring your arms across your body. The standing cable press is best done on something similar to a Freemotion machine that will test your control of the weight. Drive the handles forward and slightly towards each other. It’s not a flye—let your shoulders and triceps assist with the press. The standing cable row takes a quick machine adjustment but you are pulling at chest level with your upper back—not your arms—and at full contraction, your arms should form a 90-degree angle. Your elbows stay high while you try to pull your scapula together and down. It is difficult and a very light weight exercise. Also, keep your chest up on machine flyes—don’t hunch forward trying to complete the reps. Watch rest periods and only do this workout maybe 3-4 weeks in a row before changing things up.
Every once in a while, you want to get one of those “leave no doubt” kinda workouts—one of those gym sessions that leaves you with a terrifyingly rapid onset of deep muscle soreness. This diabolical scheme by Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is one such workout. You who are about to train, we salute you.
Looking for a novel way to target your upper pecs? Science shows that the reverse-grip bench press targets the upper chest more effectively than inclines, removing some of the shoulder involvement and potentially allowing a heavier load to be handled. Doing a set of dumbbell pullovers after each exercise helps to fully develop the intercostal and serratus anterior muscles along your rib cage. The absence of pullovers is usually a reason for an underdeveloped chest. Smith-machine overloads provide another way to eccentrically overload your pecs; you are capable of handling up to 60% more on the negative portion of a rep. Weighted dips allow large loads to be used while targeting the lower chest. Be sure to lean forward slightly and use a full range of motion to fully stretch the pecs. Chain flyes, if available to you, give you the peak contraction of cables while decreasing the strain on shoulders that can occur with dumbbell flyes. The Juarez Valley complex gives you a t-shirt popping pump to finish off the workout but it has a very high level of difficulty.
If your bench press is not building your pecs like you want, try coaxing them along by increasing your focus on isolation. A big chest is built when you go full range of motion and train them the way you would train any other muscle that you want to pop—not by simply focusing on pressing bigger weight.
Most people burn out their support muscles too soon when bench pressing. They leave nothing in the tank for their chest as their triceps and anterior delts shouldered the load early on. By using pre-exhaust methodology but using a set, rep and rest scheme that screams hypertrophy, your pecs get the brunt of the load right from the get go. Add a wider than normal grip to your bench pressing movements, and you will fry your pecs from rep one. The key to success: don’t worry how much you bench. Focus instead on widening and thickening your pecs with this control-first-pounds-later program. Do this for 4-6 weeks and feel the difference.
When you hit the gym for chest day, you should press like a boss with challenging exercises, angles and rep schemes. But then, you need to give your body the TLC it needs to prevent injuries later down the road. Here’s a routine that includes some unique moves keep you growing and a traditional, but oft overlooked activity, to keep your pecs supple and healthy.
Know what build’s a great chest? A FULL RANGE OF MOTION. So on the dips, make sure the biceps touches the forearm. Also with dips you can stay upright and still hit the chest very hard—you don’t have to lean forward like most trainers say you do. On all exercises, use a three-second negative or before moving the weight or your body as quickly as possible during each contraction. This will recruit the optimal Type II muscle fibers. Remember, it’s not the velocity of the bar as much as it is the brain’s intent to move the object. So if you are contracting the muscle as hard as you possibly can—even if the weight is moving slowly—you still will recruit those growth-prone fibers. Most trainers oppose Swiss ball training but I still think it’s a tough move and very functional. The prowler sled push is an amazing finishing move for the chest. Simply get low to the sled with your hands near your chest and push the sled with your arms rather than your legs. Take a step forward and repeat. But my corrective exercise background led me to include the doorway stretch. Many guys already have postural problems. Adding pec strength can promote this. So do yourself a favor and after this chest-bashing routine, stand in a doorway with your arms out to your side and elbows at 90º (think a blocky letter “Y”) and lean into the doorway. You’ll get a great stretch through your pecs. Do this frequently to help your slouched, staring-down-at-Instagram-on-your-phone posture.
This killer chest routine will produce some serious results because not only are you punishing yourself with several compound movements, but you are also using the forced reps technique for the last two sets of each your pressing exercises. Compound movements are the quickest way to gain mass and strength over any isolation type exercises. You can add in a second chest day later in the week where you incorporate more isolation movements such as the flye or the pec deck. The forced reps on your heavy presses will greatly increase the intensity of the workout, breaking down far more muscle fiber across your upper body, helping you grow like crazy. On your forced reps, make sure your training partner is not doing more lifting than you are. If so, try using a little less weight.