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Whether that’s true is open to debate—but there’s no doubt that a strong, V-shaped torso with sculpted pecs is the foundation for a chiseled physique. Many lifters find the chest easier to train than other areas because just about any exercise where you grab a weight or a bar works the chest, at least to some degree. Even on days where there’s more of an emphasis on back, shoulders, biceps—yes, even your legs—your chest comes along for the ride.
The rising popularity of “core” training has placed more of an emphasis on chest exercises that mimic the movements of sport or everyday life. But guess what? Just about any pulling or pushing movement will do just that. However you define the core, there’s no denying it includes the chest.
Even so: Some exercises target the chest especially well, and we’ll focus on those in this beginner’s chest workout.
Just because this workout is for beginners doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. Limit it to twice a week to provide for adequate recovery.
Complete a 5- to 10-minute cardio warmup, then perform 2-3 rounds of this circuit. If you find your chest isn’t getting sore anymore and you’re not progressing, ratchet things up a bit and try one of our classic workouts for a stronger, more muscular chest.
Pete Williams is a N.A.S.M.-certified personal trainer, and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.
1. Pushup: So basic, yet so effective. The key is to keep your hips tall and your shoulder blades pushed together. Keep your body straight from ear to ankle throughout the movement. If you want to ensure proper form, place a broom handle or dowel rod along your spine. If it falls off, your form is off.
2. Pullup: Maybe you haven’t done these since failing the Presidential Physical Fitness Test in fifth grade. Guess what? You’ve hit puberty since. Though the pullup is more of a back or shoulder move, nothing’s better for creating that V-shaped torso. Plus, the pulling motion breaks up the push-heavy chest workout, enabling you to keep moving without rest, saving time and also giving you an aerobic benefit to your chest workout.
3. Dumbbell Flye: Another reliable chest standby since it challenges the pecs so well. Lying face-up on a flat bench, hold a pair of dumbbells over your chest with elbows slightly bent, palms facing each other. Separate the hands and lower the dumbbells to the sides until you feel a stretch in your chest. At the bottom of the movement, your palms should be facing the ceiling. Reverse the motion until you reach the starting point, a movement some liken to “hugging a barrel”. Since this is more of a push movement, take a 60-second break before launching into the next push move.
4. Dips: Here’s a simple exercise that’s tougher than it looks because you’re lifting your entire bodyweight, a heavier load than a typical isolation exercise. Lift yourself up on parallel bars, making sure your torso stays perpendicular to the ground. Maintain this posture throughout. Be sure to lower yourself as far as possible—better to do five good reps than 10 mediocre ones.
5. Dumbbell Bench Press: Unlike a barbell bench press, which requires a spotter, you can get away without a spotter on the dumbbell press. It also better challenges the shoulders. Lying faceup on a bench, holding dumbbells at the outside of your shoulders and with palms facing your thighs, lift both dumbbells over your chest. Lower the dumbbells to the outside of your shoulder, and push them back up.