Back in 1980 when I first started training, there were two pictures that really reached out and grabbed my attention. They were the picture of Arnold on the original cover of Education of a Bodybuilder and Arnold's classic side chest shot, taken at his prime, around 1974. His pecs were so big you could stand a glass of water on his upper pec and it wouldn't fall over! Both of those pictures were motivating to say the least and in both shots his chest was a stand out body part even the book cover was a biceps shot. In bodybuilding, having good, balanced chest development is critical to success. If you compete, you cannot afford to have a weak upper chest a very common problem. You also cannot afford to have a chest that is small and out of balance with the rest of your physique. I am often told by trainees that they feel nothing in their chest when they train, and this is a common problem as well. Before we address these and other problems that can cause a weak chest, let's look at the anatomy of the area.
Knowing the anatomy of the muscle you're training is critical to understanding how it works, once you understand how the chest muscles function you will find it easier to visualize how your chest works during your training. This in turn can help you better feel the muscle.
The chest is made up of two muscles:
- The pectoralis major
- The pectoralis minor
The pecs are attached to the humerus of the arm, right near where the shoulder joint is. They then run across the front of the body and originate on the breastbone.
The pectoralis major is attached to the front of the body on the rib cage. The pectoralis minor is found underneath the pectoralis major. It originates on the ribs and attaches up to the scapula, specifically at the coracoid process.
The pectoralis major brings the humerus across the body while the pectoralis minor moves theshoulders forward. Together, you get the bench press movement. Bringing the arm across the body only gives you the fly movement.
The chest may seem simple, but in reality it is a large, complicated area. When training the chest, you have to insure complete development: overall chest mass, adequate upper chest development and adequate outer and inner chest development. The middle and lower areas are usually not a problem as the flat bench hits these areas pretty hard, but otherwise, no one exercise will completely work the entire muscle evenly.
Of course, everybody wants to do the bench press, and everyone wants to know how much you can bench. While the flat bench press is a critical exercise, it cannot be the only exercise in your chest routine. Yes, you want to lift heavy for reps to build overall mass and the bench should always be one of the core mass movements in your routines but you have to include a number of other movements and techniques to bring up a weak chest. Going back to feeling the muscle work, many people don't feel the chest muscle at all, this is largely a result of poor form and poor rep performance as well as not knowing what the chest muscles are supposed to be doing during the exercise. When setting up to do a bench press, you must stick your chest out and push your shoulders back into the bench. Feet on the floor and stay on the bench, none of this twisting and arching stuff! Squeeze the chest muscles at the start, and do a slow, controlled rep not some super fast rep that's all momentum and no muscle action! Grip width and elbow angle in relation to the bar is important: you want a grip that's around shoulder width and elbows straight out at a 90 degree angle. However, play with both of these if it helps find a way to feel the muscles easier. I would also suggest putting your hand on your chest and, taking your other hand, slowly mimic pushing and fly movements to better feel how your chest muscles respond. Additionally you can flex and tense the chest while you train, this helps establish the mind-muscle connection. Weight used is important as well. I believe if feeling a muscle working is a big issue, you learn by using the techniques I've been suggesting and using a light to moderate weight on the bar for higher rps, in the 10-12 range. Pick a weight that will tax the muscle but that will also allow complete control. You want to be mentally focused on the chest not on whether or not you can handle the weight.
As far as the routines, I suggest the use of varying rep ranges and different intensity techniques to get the most out of a weak point program,which really means you'll be shocking the muscle with new and different training ideas, these will be presented in the routine options below.
Remember to work chest first or on it's own day for best results. If you do chest by itself, do deltoids and triceps on their own day, not to close to chest day to insure recovery. Since these are your pushing muscles they are functionally intertwined and will be involved in all exercises for those areas, so allowing time for recovery for each from it's own workout as well as each other's workout is important.
Concerning nutrition and supplements: you'll want adequateprotein intake meaning 1 to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, divided over 6-7 feedings, including the critical post workout shake, adequate carbs leading into the workout for training energy, simple carbs as part of the post workout shake ( waxi maize or a malto/dextrose combo works best here) and using supplements like creatine, no, glutamine to enhance muscle growth and to take advantage of the cell volumization idea. There are quite a few recovery drinks out there now that take the place of the simple whey protein/fast carb blender shake but I still like to use the blender shake after a workout. I also like the newer idea of an intra workout drink, keeping you in an anabolic state despite the catabolic effects of training and really, jump starting recovery. You can add any number of products to this basic stack, dependent on your goals. I do think you could add a multi vitamin and joint product to the above stack, you don't want to ignore basic nutrition and joint protection.
Let's detail the routines:
Routine # 1
- Bench press 3 warm up sets of 15, 12 and 10 reps, adding weight with each set. These sets should be easy and should also be used to focus on how the muscle is working. Concentrate on how the chest feels, and make adjustments in your form now as opposed to when the weight gets heavier.
- 3 working sets of 6-8 reps. This will be our core exercise, we'll want to add weight to the bar every 1-2 workouts. On your 3rd set, do 1 and reps, the half rep is from halfway back up, stop for a 3 count and then push the bar back up. Take your sets to failure.
- Low incline dumbbell flyes into low incline dumbbell presses 3 sets of 8-10 reps on the flys, to failure on the presses. These are done as a way to extend the set, you should fail on the flys and then change the angle of the bells to press style to bring in help from the triceps and front delts, and keep repping to failure. Keep the incline low, as in about 30 degrees, to minimize front delt involvement.
- Low incline bench press negatives 1 set of 5 reps. Here, add 20% more weight to your heaviest flat bench, and using a spotter or power rack, un-rack the bar and hold as long as possible, lowering slowly., enlist help to get the bar back up. This should feel brutal, like you're fighting to avoid being crushed by the weight. If this seems in any way easy, add weight.
Routine # 2
- Flat bench press 3 warm up sets as in routine # 1.
- Pre-exhaust super set: flat dumbbell flys with flat bench press, rest pause on the bench, 3 sets each, 8 reps on flys, 8 reps on bench, then rest pause 2-3 times to failure. By rest pause, I mean do as many reps as you can, rack the bar and count to 10, un-rack the bar and do as many reps as possible, rack it one more time for a 10 count, un-rack and knock out a final 2-3 brutal reps.
- Low incline flys superset with low incline bench press, 3 sets each, 8 reps on flys, 8 reps on the bench press, rest pause 2-3 times to failure. Use a 30 degree angle on the incline.
- Dips 2 sets of 15, if need be, rest pause to 15.
Routine # 3
- Flat bench press 3 warm up sets as in routine # 1.
- Pause flat bench press 3 working sets of 6-8 reps, pausing at the midway point for a 10 count, or as close to 10 as possible.
- Incline flys 3 sets of 10, focus more on the stretch and less on the weight used, use a slow rep speed here, hold at the bottom full stretch position for a 2 count.
- Straight arm dumbbell pullovers 2 sets of 12
Rep performance: presses explosive up, slow and controlled down, don't just drop it. No pausing unless indicated in the routine.
Flys continuous tension, slow and controlled.
I'm using rest pause variations instead of drop sets because with drops, your triceps and front delts tend to burn more and give out first. Your chest muscles therefore are deprived of full stimulation. Rest pause solves this problem and yet is a similar technique. As well, drops require a couple of spotters, rest pause really just requires a power rack.
Grip: you can focus in on certain areas by changing your grip. If your outer chest seems weak, widen your grip, you'll feel it much more in the outer chest that way. Don't come in with to close of a grip, while a close grip seems to hit the inner chest more it also heavily involves the triceps.
These are intense routines that, like any routine should be changed once you have adapted to it, about 4 weeks. After using this approach it makes sense to focus on increasing strength on basic moves such as the flat and incline press.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or comments.
By: Jim Brewster