Let’s talk about everyone’s favourite body part to train – chest. I have always thought about why we love to train chest. I think it is due to the bragging rights attained from your bench press maximum weight.
Typically, when someone asks a bodybuilder or weight trainer about the subject of weights – the first question that always comes up is “What weight do you bench press?”. Yes – I know we often exaggerate the answer. Sometimes we provide details of our max weight benched for 1 rep when we were at our peak. We then answer as if it we benched it yesterday.
Besides the bragging rights, a well-developed chest looks incredible with a shirt on or off. No-one can see if you have a ripped mid-section when you wear a suit to work but a huge chest is immediately noticeable.
Tell me – How do I develop my chest to rival the BEST?
Like any body part, consistent overload to the muscle will – over time – result in the desired strength and mass gains. The use of compound exercises is always best. Isolation exercises, or any use of fixed weight machines should be minimised. Over the past 30 years of training I have read up, seen, and sometimes tried a variety of around 100 different chest exercises. So, what would I recommend for maximum gains? These 5 exercises should be included in every bodybuilder’s chest exercise repertoire.
1) Barbell Bench Press
The Bench Press is the single best exercise for building a fully developed pectoral muscle. The movement is very simple and can be mastered quickly.
Make sure you keep your feet flat on the floor while performing the lift. Lift the weight off from the supports while extending your arms. Slowly lower the weight so that the bar is in line with your lower chest. Gently touch the bar to your chest before lifting the weight so your arms are once again extended.
Simple to master – however 90% of weight trainers seem to get it wrong.
In the pursuit of pushing the heaviest weight possible, they either only lower the bar halfway or lower the bar all the way and then proceed to lift the weight halfway. Let me be straight with you – this is not a bench press! If you don’t perform the full range of motion, then you will not get the full benefit of the exercise.
You should also ALWAYS use a spotter – no exception. A spotter will allow you to push to failure as well as assisting should anything go wrong during the set.
How many sets/reps should I do?
As this is your first chest exercise, you should warm up by doing 4 sets of 3 reps while increasing weight. I recommend 3 working sets of 6-8 reps. Anything lower then 6 reps can put too much strain on your joints.
A great way to monitor my progress is by comparing my bench press to the table found on https://exrx.net/Testing/WeightLifting/BenchStandardsKg.
As I prefer to not try a 1 rep max I first calculate my 1 rep max by using this calculator https://exrx.net/Calculators/OneRepMax.
The table from erx.net can be seen below.
2) Incline Barbell Press
The incline Barbell Press is performed in the same way as the flat bench barbell press. The difference is the bench is set at a low incline of around 30 degrees. The incline should be set much higher as then the shoulders would come into action a lot more reducing tension on the chest.
One should be able to keep the weight to around 70%-80% of the weight used during flat bench.
Once again, a spotter is ALWAYS required with this movement.
Make sure to lower the bar all the way down to the lower chest and then raise it until the arms are straight but not locked.
3 sets of 6-8 reps would be enough for this exercise. There shouldn’t be a need for any warm up if performed after flat bench.
3) Incline Dumbbell Press
The third exercise I recommend performing, following the Incline Barbell Press, is the Dumbbell Press. This exercise is an excellent compound movement. It uses different muscle stabilisers to the bench press. These stabilisers keep your arms in the right position during the movement.
It allows a greater stretch at the bottom of the press. Any dumbbell exercise should also address any difference between the right and left pectoral muscle. Dumbells allows both left and rights sides to gain strength at the same speed.
For this exercise a spotter is not required. If you are pressing very heavy weights then you may need someone to help you get them up to start the exercise. No warm is required. I would recommend 3 sets of 8 reps.
4) Dumbbell Flyes
Dumbbell flyes are a great isolation exercise. It creates an immense pectoral stretch at the bottom of the movement. Be careful not to start your first rep stretching too far as you could land up straining your pectoral tendon.
The exercise should be preformed on a standard flat bench. The weight must start from the top above your chest. Slowly lower the weight beside your chest while keeping your arms in a slightly bent position throughout.
Some trainers refer to this movement as “hug the tree” due to the movement being like hugging. No warm up is required and no spotter is required.
I would recommend performing 3 sets of 10 reps. Each rep should be performed slowly while trying to squeeze the chest as tight as possible at the top of the movement. A light to medium weight should be used as this is an isolation exercise and not a heavy compound exercise.
5) Standing Cable Crossovers
To finish off the workout I have chosen one of my favourite isolation exercises. This is also the only exercise that requires a machine in the workout.
You would need a cable crossover machine which you are able to adjust the pully to start from the top.
Standing between the two pulleys you would grab the handles and step slightly forward. The movement should be very similar to dumbbell flyes whereby your arms are slightly bent. The great advantage of using a cable crossover machine is that you can maintain tension on the chest muscles throughout the movement unlike Dumbbell Flyes.
I recommend performing 3 sets of 12-15 reps per set with light weights. While performing this exercise you should concentrate on the chest contraction and hold for 2 seconds when contracting your chest.
To summarise – your chest workout would look as follows:
Barbell Bench Press 3 sets 6-8 reps
Incline Barbell Press 3 sets 6-8 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press 3 sets 8 reps
Dumbbell Flyes 3 sets 10 reps
Standing Cable Crossovers 3 sets 12-15 reps
Your chest should be completely fatigued if done correctly. I remember the days before cars had power steering. I used to struggle to turn the steering wheel following this intense workout.
Please comment or let me know your thoughts below: