Hitting a huge one rep max bench press has always carried a certain prestige among the lifting community.
However, it is a profoundly flawed way of building muscular pecs.
If you’re looking to build a broad, thick chest, then you’re in luck.
In this column, I’ll provide the necessary advice which will guide you in building an impressive chest!
1. Decline Bench Press
The traditional heavy bench press done on a flat bench tends to recruit the triceps and anterior deltoids, which won’t aid in building mass in your chest. When decline pressing, it’s easier to get a better contraction through the chest with less shoulder engagement.
Contrary to popular belief, the decline press doesn’t solely hit the lower portion of the pectorals; it allows you to contract the mid and even upper portions provided you reach the higher point of the range of motion. Six-time Mr. Olympia, Dorian Yates, championed this exercise, and that man knows how to build muscle!
To stimulate growth, use a rep range of 8-12 with 3-second eccentrics to put the pecs under a lot of mechanical tension. On the concentric, explode upwards while squeezing the pecs to stimulate as much muscle fiber recruitment as possible via the high threshold motor units. This is a great exercise to use over a long training block with the sole intention of building strength.
2. Handleless Incline Cable Flyes
Flyes are a great pec builder. When performed with cables, the tension is highly targeted on the chest, and because of this, you're able to produce more hypertrophy. Going one step further by foregoing handles and using wrist straps instead, isolates this exercise even more.
Keep in mind that your strength will be slightly lower as you’ve removed the factor of using a dominant grip from the exercise, so don’t be alarmed if you need to use less weight than you normally have on cable flyes. The important factor is the fact that the work will be solely concentrated in the pecs, making it incredibly effective.
For an exercise requiring this level of precision and the fact that the weight used will be slightly lower, I’d recommend using a repetition range of 15-20. This will allow you to build plenty of tension in the pecs and stress the slow twitch muscle fibers.
3. Isometric Pec Deck
The pec deck is an undisputed staple of chest training. It works brilliantly when your form is flawless, and you lift with the muscle and not your ego. What transforms this exercise from good to great is utilizing isometric holds on every repetition - the level of muscle tension you experience is profoundly exaggerated with this strategy.
Initiate the exercise by squeezing the pecs, using a controlled tempo through the concentric phase. At the peak, hold the contraction for two seconds while tensing the chest as hard as you can, then go into a three second eccentric - that is just one repetition!
Due to the fact that each rep will take longer than your usual reps, perform 10-12 reps in each set. This exercise will quickly fry your chest, so prepare yourself for the fatigue.
4. Weighted Dips
In the same way that pull-ups are a largely under-utilized back building exercise, not enough people appreciate how effective dips are - especially when you add extra resistance. Often, people allow other muscles, such as the triceps and anterior delts, to take over when performing dips, leading them to overlook it as a chest exercise.
Use a slightly wider grip to reduce triceps recruitment and tilt forward to help isolate the pecs specifically. Punch out 8-12 repetitions without using momentum.
5. Incline Dumbbell Press with Rotation
Dumbbell pressing outshines the barbell alternative when trying to generate isolated muscle tension in the chest. With dumbbells, you can move through a larger range of motion as there is no fixed bar dictating your depth, and your upper body isn’t locked into one set position.
Incline dumbbell pressing is a great way to hit the upper pecs, but if you reduce the weight slightly and add some internal rotation to each rep, it becomes far more focused and comprehensive. As you press upwards, rotate your hands inwards, so your palms are facing each other.
This is not an exercise to set a new one rep max with. Technique is paramount for this, which is why I recommend going for 12-15 repetitions using a controlled rep tempo. Take your time to learn how to perform this exercise properly - it takes practice.
6. Decline Push-Ups
This exercise is great to finish off a chest workout, or to superset with another exercise. Push-ups can be challenging on their own, but putting your feet up on a bench to create a decline angle makes it much more focused on the lower pecs, and adds a new degree of difficulty.
Even if you're strong at push-ups, you’ll be surprised by how difficult the decline variant is. Pump out five sets to failure to finish your workout.
BONUS Chest Building Information
Although I have provided six game-changing exercises for your chest workouts, I cannot leave you without at least discussing some fundamental aspects which will accelerate progress at a much faster rate when applied properly.
Ego comes alive in the gym, especially in men who want to show off. This seems to be even more evident on chest day. Only lift what you can handle for the prescribed rep range while sustaining the rep tempo and range of motion required.
Effective training is about stimulating the muscle to grow rather than “lifting weight” - you need to appreciate the difference between the two endeavors. Chest training improves when your posture remains upright with your chest lifted, shoulders back, and scapulas pulled together.
Finally, if you cannot feel an exercise in your chest, slow your tempo down and mentally focus on the chest performing the work - you shouldn’t have a bigger pump in your deltoids and triceps than the pecs! That advice can be applied to any exercise; your neuro pathways need to learn the movement patterns involved so it can recruit muscle fibers effectively - repetition, repetition, and more repetition is the secret.
Within a matter of weeks, I’m confident that these tips will enhance your chest workouts significantly.
Of course, the emphasis is on you to apply this correctly and with enough intensity.
Be sure that your diet and supplement regimen is also supportive of your goal to build muscle, and you’ll be well on your way to a larger, stronger chest.