The experts know that chest training must be planned Failure to structure your chest routine towards overall pectorals development, as well as failure to work on weak points in your pectorals can lead to noticeable imbalances.
In the previous two issues, we discussed maximizing the development of the arms and midsection. It seems right that next on our priority list of "showable" summer body parts would be the chest. There should be method in training those pectorals muscles. The overall shape and development of the chest is a product of the exercises you choose and how those exercises are incorporated into your overall chest workout. Ignoring certain exercises or concentrating solely on one type of chest exercise can lead you to pectorals imbalances.
The most common type of "imbalance" with the chest is deficient upper pectorals development. This is common in those individuals who fail to incorporate incline bench presses into their training or save them until the end of their chest workout, when the clock has struck twelve and their chest has turned into a pumpkin.
The pectoralis muscle originates on the sternum, upper 6 rib cartilages, and medial aspect of the clavicle, and inserts on the lateral lip of the greater tubercle of the humerus. Great, what good is that you ask. Well, knowing where the muscle originates and inserts helps you to better understand the movements the pectoralis muscle is responsible for.
For practical reasons, you should know that the pectoralis adducts (brings towards mid-line) the upper arm and elbow (think of performing pectorals deck or fly exercises), forward flexes the upper arm (as in the bench press movements), as well as assists with internal rotation of the upper arm (as in cable crossovers).
There are 3 distinct regions within the muscle that will develop depending upon the exercises you perform. It is important that you train the upper, middle and lower regions of the pectoralis muscle, as well as begin with the exercise which focuses on the weakest area of your chest. For most people that's the upper chest. And for this reason, we begin our workout with the incline movement.
As you've probably guessed, our workout will consist of 3 exercises in which each focuses on a different region of the chest. We begin with incline bench press, then go to decline bench press, and end our training with flat bench flys. Begin the workout with 5 minutes of stretching using 5-10 pound weights in each hand.
With weights in hand, lie on a flat bench and allow your fully extended arms to dip down to the floor. This stretches out the pectorals and prepares your chest for the workout ahead. Then, for each exercise perform 1-2 light warm-up sets of 15 repetitions using a light weight which allows you to effectively warm up the muscles for that particular movement without causing premature fatigue.
After the warm-up, perform 4 sets of the exercise with the following repetitions: 12, 10, 8, 6. Gradually increase the weight with each set. The weight you choose should allow you to complete the desired number of repetitions for each set, but the weight should also be sufficient so that the final few reps demand the most out of your pectorals Having a spotter for safety as well as assisting in a forced rep or two is a definite advantage.
Exercise 1 - Incline Bench Press
This exercise will help you develop the weakest area of your chest, at least with most of us... the upper chest. Beginning your workout with this exercise will allow you to use maximum power from your upper chest to force that chest to grow!
Keep the movement slow and controlled while getting full movement, bringing the bar or dumbbells all the way down, then all the way to the top. While you press the weight up your primary focus should be on squeezing your chest.
Exercise 2 - Decline Bench Press
This exercise is excellent for developing the lower aspect of your chest. This exercise has a tendency to really work those triceps too so remember to focus on squeezing the chest. Avoiding complete lockout of your elbows will also decrease your triceps involvement.
Exercise 3 - Flat Dumbbell Flys
This is an excellent exercise to finish off your chest workout. It is an isolation movement which places complete focus on the pectoralis muscles. This is because it consists of pure arm adduction which is the primary movement performed by the pectoralis muscles.
Start by lying on a flat bench with your arms fully extended above your chest with your palms facing each other and elbows slightly bent. Bring the weights down towards the floor while maintaining the slight elbow flexion. Stop when you feel your arms are close to locking out. Then squeeze your pectorals as you bring the weights back to the starting position.
The entire movement should be 100% focused on squeezing the pectorals together... as if you had an egg between your pectorals and you were attempting to crack the shell as you squeezed those pectorals together.
You won't be able to help but notice that the incline and decline presses also effectively work the middle chest. Thus, performing these two exercises and finishing with the flat flys not only blasts your upper and lower chest, it also provides the mid pectorals region with an incredible workout. You should also note that I have not specified barbell or dumbbell for the incline or decline presses. This is because you should change between barbells and dumbbells every 1-2 months, or whenever you feel your gains have slowed down or halted. This is the most effective means of getting continual gains out of your chest, or any other body part.
If you have a workout partner some of the time, it would be wise to save the barbell training for the times your partner can spot you. This way you won't get caught alone in pectoralis failure while the barbell is still on your chest. Safety first!
- Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze the chest and nothing else. On every repetition of your chest routine you must focus on squeezing the chest... do this and the weight will go in the appropriate direction.
- Be sure to perform a full motion but don't over do it. Getting a good stretch with each exercise is important... however, when you're handling heavier weights don't completely lock out your joints in the down position as this places a great deal of stress on ligaments, joint capsules and other supporting structures.
- Push-ups are good if you can't make it to the gym or if you're out of town and can't get to a gym. They work the pectorals but they are definitely no replacement for the real thing. They simply do not provide the quality and quantity of resistance that free weights give.
- Never attempt to "max out" or try a new heavier weight without a spotter.Remember this cardinal rule especially when using barbells to prevent a potentially serious injury.
Workout 1 - Chest & Biceps
Workout 2 - Shoulders & Traps & Abs
Workout 3 - Back & Triceps
Workout 4 - Legs & Abs