Bench press, incline press, dip, and dumbbell flye. Those are the four moves that Arnold Schwarzenegger used to develop a chest that is considered one of the most perfectly built of all time. Chances are, you already knew this “secret,” and you’ve been following it. So why isn’t your chest more like Arnold’s? 

Mainly genetics. That aside, using a routine that was popularized a half-century ago while science and experience have revealed far better methods is, as Arnold would say, for “girly men.” If he were starting today, Arnold would likely take a much different approach. Since we assume you’re a regular guy with a job and only average muscle-building genes, we think you should, too. What follows is a scientific, superefficient chest workout akin to what some bodybuilding pros are doing today. It will give you every opportunity to build a set of pecs that emulate the ones that helped carry the Oak to seven Mr. Olympia titles.

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21st-century Chest Training

On paper, Arnold’s chest workout is fine. It attacks the pecs from all angles and lets you load heavy weights. But most guys have already used it for years and milked it dry. If you’re in that boat, it’s time for some dramatic changes. Here are some of the new routine’s specs. 

Do the bench press last. Benching first thing means you’ll always go heavy, and that forces your tendons and ligaments to take on much of the load. To maximize pec growth, you have to make these muscles do most of the work. By placing the bench press last in the workout, you’ll be fatigued by the time you get to it. You’ll have to use less weight, but the stimulus to your pecs will be greater. Use different angles. The incline and decline benches you commonly find in gyms are too steep, putting strain on your joints and rotator cuffs when pressing, as well as too much emphasis on your front delts. Instead of doing an incline press at a 45-degree angle as you’re used to, try working at 20 to 25 degrees. 

To prevent form from breaking down during such a long set, you’ll make use of the Smith machine. You’ll also employ dropsets on this move to take your muscle fibers to absolute failure.

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Training Explained

Split: Perform this chest workout once a week. Do not train shoulders or triceps the day before.

How to Do it: 

Perform the exercises marked A and B as a superset. Complete one set of A, then a set of B, and then rest. The remaining exercises are done as straight sets— complete all the prescribed sets for one move before going on to the next. Rest 90 to 120 seconds between sets.

The Workout

  • 1. Low-incline dumbbell press: sets – 4, reps 8-10
  • 2a. Pec minor drip: sets – 4, reps 8-10
  • 2b. Smith machine decline press: sets – 4, reps 8-10
  • 3. Bench press: sets – 5, reps 5
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