You can go to any bodybuilding or fitness event in the world or step foot in any gym and ask a fan to name the five greatest bodybuilders of all time.
Obviously the first name that you will hear is Arnold’s.
For many of those same people, the second name you hear will be that of the man that broke his record for most Mr. Olympia titles, Lee Haney!
Known not only for his amazing physique but also for his kindness and professionalism,
Haney has impacted many people around the world since breaking onto the scene in the early 1980’s.
One of his signature body parts that got a lot of attention was his chest which was massive and striated from top to bottom.
25 years after he retired, fans and fellow bodybuilders still ask him about how he trained.
Fortunately, M&S got to talk chest day with the man himself.
Haney’s Chest Training Philosophy
More weight training machines were coming out in the 80’s and making their way into all of the top gyms but for Lee, the basics were still best.
“I did what the guys I looked up to did like Robby Robinson, Arnold, Mike Katz, and the guys from that era. What worked for them was the big, basic, free weight movements like the bench, incline, dips, etc. I figured if it worked for them, it would work for me and it did.”
Flat Barbell Bench Press
How many bodybuilders nowadays do you see benching? Haney discussed how it was “the” movement to do for chest back in his era and before that. “Arnold, Franco, Lou, Robby Robinson, all of those guys did the bench. You also saw guys from my era like myself, Lee Labrada, Rich Gaspari, and others who used it as a foundation move to build a big chest.
I would do 4-5 work sets and progressively increase the weight each set. My rep range was around 8 reps for the first two sets and then I would do 6 for the other two. If I had a partner, I would occasionally do a fifth set of 4.”
Four was as low as he would go on the reps because he didn’t want to risk injury. I wasn’t a powerlifter and going that heavy posed a risk of injury. I rarely would test my max and at one point I got 500 but never did it again after that. I thought 4 was as low as I needed to go to develop the chest and I didn’t do that all the time.”
Incline Barbell Press
Many bodybuilders would tell you that the incline bench is great for the upper pecs but you should use a lower incline to avoid recruitment of the front delts. Lee has the exact opposite philosophy.
“I wanted to target that upper pec, front delt tie in area. That was important to me as a bodybuilder because when you go to perform the side chest pose, that is the most prominent part of the pecs to see. So to have that area fully developed made the pose that much more beautiful and appealing.”
Lee would also go for four sets of 8,8,6,6 here and add weight each set.
Flat Dumbbell Fly
After the heavy compound movements were finished, Lee would move on to focus on isolation which started with dumbbell flys. “I always caution athletes or bodybuilders to not go further than the body was meant to go. Don’t lower the weights or arms so much that you risk an injury.
You want to get a good stretch in the chest but at a certain point, the stress is on the joints and not the muscles. I also kept a bend in my elbows as opposed to locking them out. I wanted that tension on the chest without affecting my shoulders or elbows.” He would do three or four progressive sets of 10 reps here.
When it comes to the lower chest, Lee loves his chest dips. “Lowering yourself down to get that stretch and pressing yourself back up with a belt and weights hanging from it. I loved doing them and found nothing better for the lower part of the chest for that."
When he was asked about decline, he didn’t mince words. “I think the decline is a waste of time. You can load up the bar and lifti it but you’re really not doing anything for the chest. Dips have been and still are the best for the lower chest.” Lee recommends three progressive heavy sets of 10 reps.
There are still some stars of the sport today that use pullovers but they include it with their back training. For Lee, pullovers have always been a chest favorite. “It not only helped me stretch and build my chest but it also helped me with the vacuum pose.
When you’re lying across the bench and you take that deep breath in while you’re lowering the weight, I found that helped me with my vacuum when I wanted to do the front double bicep pose, front lat spread, or any pose I included it in during my routine. Besides that, the stretch and contraction of the chest when doing pullovers helped me with density.”
As with the flyes and dips, Lee calls for three increasing sets of 10 reps.
Once he was 8 weeks out from competing, Haney would add crossovers after dips as another isolation move.
“I didn’t feel I needed it in the offseason but as I got closer to the show, I would add these as another way to target the pecs and pump more blood into the area so it had that full look. My partner and I would go back and forth on these, resting while the other man did his set, and then it was my turn again.”
For this movement, Lee would perform three sets of 15 reps. “There was no need to go real heavy here so I never went lower than 15 or so.”
Lee Haney’s Physique and Fitness Games
For the second year, Lee and his team are hosting the Lee Haney Physique and Fitness Games in Atlanta, Georgia. Although he’s a former Mr. Olympia winner, the event is far more than a bodybuilding show. They wanted an inclusive atmosphere that presented many different disciplines of fitness.
“We have powerlifting this year, we have a NPC National Qualifier for bodybuilding, bikini, and figure, there will be strongman, and arm wrestling along with an expo. Our goals are to make everyone feel invited and let them know they can be a part of our fitness culture. We enjoy and appreciate all aspects of fitness.”
When asked what he personally was excited about seeing at his event this year, he didn’t hesitate in answering.
“I really like the Classic Physique division. It gives an opportunity for more guys who want to compete but may not want to try open bodybuilding. There were some of those guys who tried Men’s Physique but they were too big and the judges had a hard time sorting out where to place them.
With this new division, it’s another great option for the athletes to be a part of our sport and the judges have a clear criteria on how to judge their physiques. I’m really excited to see it this year.”
Haney’s event is also a fundraiser for “Haney’s Harvest House”, his organization that he founded to help mentor young boys and men so they can succeed into adulthood. If you’re interested in competing or attending the Lee Haney Games this year, go to www.leehaneygames.com or look up #leehaneygames on social media.