Workout Routines

Charles Donaldson's 5 Chest-Building Tips and Routine

Finance professional by day, IFBB classic physique pro at all times, Charles Donaldson shares his chest workout that he hopes leads to a bullish 2020 season.

Charles-Donaldson-Chest-Workout-IFBB-Pro-Physique
Dan Ray / M+F Magazine
Dan Ray / M+F Magazine
Equipment X

IFBB pro League classic physique competitor Charles Donaldson is doing a good job of not letting work get in the way of, well, work

In between weekday 6 a.m. fasted cardio and late-night weight-training sessions, the 2017 NPC Masters Universe Classic Physique winner spends his nine-to-five hours holding down a successful—and stressful—career in corporate finance.

Along with long hours come the innumerable client lunches and dinners at some of New York City’s top restaurants, which, if mismanaged, can wreak havoc on anyone’s waistline—especially treacherous if you’re an athlete hell-bent on qualifying for 2020’s Arnold Classic and Olympia.

Yet Donaldson manages to keep his diet in check nearly year-round, which in turns helps him maintain his microscopic waistline. (“Good genetics” is how Donaldson explains a waist that’s dipped to as small as 26 inches onstage.) 

A two-career lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and even the 38-year-old Donaldson can’t pinpoint why he put himself through two grueling careers. He just knows it’s what works best for him. 

“We all chose this life knowing what we were getting into,” says Donaldson, who was prepping for October’s IFBB Pro League Masters Baltimore Pro. “When you love what you do in all aspects of life, whether it’s working or competing, you appreciate and enjoy the process. There are no excuses.” 

Another plus to having a minuscule belt size is the illusion of a jacked upper body—but in Donaldson’s case, his torso is no optical illusion. “Chest has always been one of my favorite body parts to train,” he says. “When I first started training, it was the first muscle to develop for me. It actually became overly developed to the point where I had to stop training chest for almost four years and would only train it the last two weeks of my contest prep. 

His routine incorporates some unique moves (like the Hammer side chest press) that target portions of the chest that traditional routines may neglect.

“This workout allows you to hit all angles of your chest,” says Donaldson. “Having a strong chest is nice, but anyone can get under a bar, throw three to four plates on, and press away. However, having a strong chest with a great shape gives the illusion that it’s even bigger.”

It works for Donaldson.

1. Light Weight, Baby

When it comes to full chest development, Donaldson stresses the importance of not just hoisting heavy iron at all times. “From what I’ve learned and been doing, I’ve noticed the chest responds to slow and controlled movements,” he says. “Take your time to feel the movement and squeeze each rep.” 

2. Angling It In

Donaldson will often mix up his routines with variations to each exercise in order to tweak the angles. “The first thing I think about is what angles I’m going to hit versus what movements, machines, or exercises I’m going to do,” he says. “Once I decide on my angles, then I choose my exercises and movements.”

3. Gaining Side Control

“Side chest presses help round out your chest and give it that thickness from the side and the middle of your chest and help bring out striations,” Donaldson says. “This will give your chest a dramatic look when you hit the side pose.” 

4. No Flye-By-Night Chest Exercise

One of Donaldson’s more unique chest-move variants is a standing dumbbell flye, in which he stands holding a light dumbbell in one hand and makes a flye motion with his arm. “The trick to these is turning your hand from palm down to palm up when you get to the top, squeezing both the outer part and inner part of your chest,” Donaldson says. “Use weight you can comfortably squeeze throughout the movement.”

5. Finish the Job

To close out his chest training, Donaldson does a 20-rep burnout finisher. “When done properly, pullovers will allow you to stretch your chest and hit your serratus. They help give your chest that nice, clean separation from the bottom of your chest,” he says.

Donaldson's Chest Workout

Exercise 1

Bench Press You'll need: Barbell How to
Bench Press thumbnail
2 sets
20 reps
-- rest

Exercise 2

Bench Press You'll need: Barbell How to
Bench Press thumbnail
4 sets
20,15,12,12 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Guillotine Press
exercise image placeholder
1 sets
20 reps
-- rest

Exercise 4

Hammer Cheat Curl You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Fat Grip Hammer Curl thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 5A

Dumbbell Flye You'll need: Bench How to
Dumbbell Flye thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 5B

Dumbbell Flye You'll need: Bench How to
Dumbbell Flye thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest
*Perform single-arm

Exercise 6

Seated Pec Deck How to
Pec Deck Flye thumbnail
3 sets
20 reps
-- rest

Exercise 7

Dumbbell Pullover You'll need: Bench, Dumbbells How to
Dumbbell Pullover thumbnail
3 sets
10 reps
-- rest
Use Heavy Weight

Exercise 8

Dumbbell Pullover You'll need: Bench, Dumbbells How to
Dumbbell Pullover thumbnail
1 sets
20 reps
-- rest
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