So you want a killer chest? One that pushes your shirts to the limits?
One subject I’ve fielded a lot of Q&A on before are questions about my chest development. In the off-season, it’s always been the place I’ve seen the biggest gains, but it has taken a few years of trial-and-error on my part, tuning in what works. Happy to offer some pointers! You will make your own way forward; seasoned lifters will adapt the program to their own training for variety, but if you’re just starting out and a thick set of pectorals is one of your primary goals, read-on.
Principles before Routines
So one thing I’m not going to do is just throw a routine down and say “this is what you do”. There’s no one routine that gives you a big chest; if there were, that’s what everyone would do and we’d all have the pecs we want. Everyone’s body is different and will respond to training differently.
Right off the bat, let’s tackle that subject: your chest shape, like the rest of your look, is determined by genetics. The way your muscles insert on your rib cage and grow is something pretty predetermined. Myself, I’ve discovered that my chest has grown with a shape that gives it a full look and overhang without having to even focus very much on my lower pectoral muscles in training. But my “inner” chest and cleavage? Very little to shout about there. I’m not going to be one of those guys who gets to participate in the Pocky Day tradition any time soon: (But it’s okay, my idol Alexey Lesukov has the same problem…)
So you should definitely be aware you’ll be working with the blueprints of your muscle structure from the outset. If you haven’t got much chest development, it’ll be hard to tell, but once you grow and put on some size you’ll notice what shape you have. When I was skinny and flat-chested I had no notion of what my potential was. The development I have now seemed impossible to me then. With focus, you can bring any muscle group along to an exceptional level.
What I did along my journey was try a lot of different things, and I’ve found what works for me. My chest grew to a certain point, it would plateau, so I’d shake things up and try something else. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but I’ve nailed down some constants, some tips. My principles for anyone wanting to add size on their chest and have trouble buttoning up their shirts in future are as follows:
Range of Motion over everything else
The biggest difference to how my chest developed was when I truly learned to stop trying to add more and more weight and focused purely on the range of motion I could get from bench press movements. I know, we all want to bench 500lb. But unless you’re going down all the way and the bar touches your chest fully at the bottom of the movement, with a squeeze at the top, you are seriously hamstringing the effectiveness of your training. The chest pump from a proper range of motion is incredible. Don’t give in to the siren lure of trying to bench more. Exploit that range of motion for all you can, particularly if you have long arms like myself.
Start with pullovers.
I have always begun my chest workouts with a few warm-up sets of dumbbell pullovers. This is an exercise that was at once point considered old-school and ineffective, but it was promoted to me first in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding as an excellent way to widen one’s chest by stretching out the ribcage. It seems to be more popular now, and I don’t know anything behind the science of that, but I’ve always started with pullovers over the years and my chest indeed has gotten wider. It also gives the triceps a good stretch before benching as well.
Superset and Tri-set for victory
Nothing grants a better pump for your chest than combining a few exercises for an epic superset, or even a tri-set when you’re feeling advanced. If you’re serious about adding chest mass, make supersetting with your bench part of your weekly routine. One of my favorites is to tri-set Incline Barbell Bench, Dips, and Incline Dumbbell Press for my upper chest. Pushups are another good one to splash for a superset after you’ve done a set of benching.
It’s good to go heavy – sometimes
Despite what I said at the onset about focusing on range of motion, you DO want to push yourself and get in those heavy one or two rep maxes a couple times a month. Do it with a spotter, and I recommend pyramiding up to it, starting out with a warmup set, a few mid-weight sets, and then finally going for it with explosive force. Some of the best chests out there belong to powerlifters turned bodybuilders, and it’s not hard to see why. Even so, make sure you’re not going too heavy and cheating with a half-rep
Use the Priority Principle
One of the best lessons for my overall development in bodybuilding from the aforementioned Encyclopedia, was my understanding of the Priority Principle in training. It’s pretty intuitive; we tend to build our training over certain bodyparts that have our priority, our focus, and these tend to get the maximal results from the fact that we’ll tend to train them first or more often than others. Using it consciously is a great way to bring a lagging area up to scratch. For me, one of the most dramatic periods of chest gains was when I would train my pecs on consecutive days in the week. (Admittedly this is while taking steroids, so I didn’t have to worry about overtraining). I’d train chest light on a Monday, then go and train chest heavy on a Tuesday. Best results, I have to say, but even that my chest got used to. Now I’m using the priority principle for my legs instead!
So there you have it. My little go at offering folks advice for the chest. As I said before; its something that takes time. I’ve worked with countless routines, working one way until that stopped showing results, then tackling it in a different way to shock the pecs into new phases of hypertrophy. That being said, if you’re really interested in what worked for me in the two-day a week training which is what I was doing recently, have at it:
- 2 x Dumbbell Pullover (12 reps)
- 5 x Barbell Bench Press (12-8 reps)
- 3 x Triset: Incline Bench Press, Dips, Incline Dumbbell Bench (12-8 reps each)
- 4 x Decline Dumbell Bench (10-12 reps)
- 4 x Pec Dec Machine (12-10 reps)
- 2 x Dumbbell Pullover (12 reps)
- 6 x Barbell Bench Press (20 rep warmup, 2 x 10-12 rep sets, then 2 sets at 1 or 2 rep maxes with spotter, then take off weight and do another 8 rep set to finish)
- 5 x Smith Machine Incline Bench Press (6-8 reps)
- 4 x Decline Dumbbell Fly (6-8 reps)
- 4 x Cable Crossovers (8-10 reps)
Enjoy your training everyone!
– The Beastpup
This article was originally published on “A Beast Exists To Serve” on Tumblr.