3 Workout Strategies to Build a Bigger, Stronger Chest
When one muscle group is lagging the cause is often a lack of training frequency and effort.
But this is rarely the case when it comes to a lagging chest.
Most gym goers never miss a bench press or chest training session, but few display impressive pec development. If that’s you, read on for some possible solutions.
Strategy 1: Emphasise the bottom portion of the range of motion
Many lifters avoid the bottom portion of the range of motion when training the chest.
They’ll give excuses such as protecting the shoulders or keeping constant tension.
But the real reason is the bottom portion of the range is the hardest and avoiding it allows for greater loads to be used.
To fully develop the chest, don’t neglect the bottom range; do the opposite. Emphasise the bottom position with special exercises and techniques.
Bottom Position Isometronics Press
To perform this exercise you’ll need a power rack and two sets of safety pins. Put the first set of pins at chest height and the second set about six inches higher.
You’re going to press the bar into the top set of pins for 3-5 seconds. Don’t just hold the bar against the top pins. Press as if you’re trying to drive through them, contracting your pecs the whole time. Stay in the 5-10 rep range with this exercise.
Cambered Bar Bench Press
The cambered bar is specifically designed with a 2-4-inch curve in the centre for adding range of motion to the bench press. Like the guillotine press, stay in the 8-15 rep range.
This bench press variation was a favourite of the Iron Guru, Vince Gironda. Take a wide grip, flare the elbows, and lower the bar towards the neck rather than the chest. This exercise places a huge stretch on the pecs. This is not an exercise for going heavy. Stay in the 8-15 rep range, and you’ll need to use far less weight than you would for a normal bench press.
1 ¼ Press
To perform this technique lower the weight to your chest, press back up for the first ¼ of the range of motion, lower the weight back to your chest, then press through the full range of motion. This sequence equals one rep.
Using the 1 ¼ technique increases time under tension and the amount of work done in the bottom position, which is where you’re weakest. You can use a barbell or dumbbells, and can be done on an incline, flat, or decline bench.
1 ¼ Dumbbell Fly
This exercise uses the same concept and execution as the press.
Bottom 3/4 Fly
This exercise is performed just like a standard fly, only the top 1/4 of the range is eliminated. Use a smooth and controlled tempo; 2020 or 3030 work well. This version places a high amount of tension on the pecs for the full duration of the set.
Strategy 2: Prioritise the incline bench press
The pectoralis major has two heads, the sternal head and the clavicular head. Bodybuilders typically refer to the clavicular head as the 'upper chest'.
If you’re like most lifters, the flat barbell bench press is your go-to exercise for chest development. This is a great chest exercise. But if you’re looking to build more upper chest, develop the clavicular head with more work on the incline bench press.
Try the following progression:
Microcycles 1-4: 15-degree Incline Bench Press with Chains – 3-4 x 8-10 reps
When the bar is on your chest more links of the chain will be on the floor, lightening the weight in the weakest position. And as you press, the bar links will come off the floor making the weight heavier at the top, your strongest position.
Be sure to attempt to accelerate the bar through the entire concentric range. This technique creates a great deal of intramuscular tension.
You can also perform this exercise with a flat bench.
Microcycles 5-8: 30-degree Incline Bench Press from Pins – 4-5 x 6-8 reps
Set the safety pins in a power rack so the bar rests just slightly above your chest in the bottom position. Start each rep from a dead stop, pausing on the pins for 3-4 seconds before each rep. This technique reduces the amount of elastic energy used in lifting the weight, and is a great way to build 'starting strength'.
Microcycles 9-12: 45-degree Incline Bench Press – 5-6 x 4-6 reps
Nothing fancy about this one. By the end of this cycle your incline press strength and upper chest development should come a long way.
Strategy 3: Use a tri-set with dips, decline press and dumbbell fly
Many lifters with a lagging chest report having a tough time feeling their pecs work during chest exercises. This try set should remedy that problem.
For the dips, lean forward slightly to emphasise the chest. An upright torso is great for triceps development, but in this case we’re looking to build the pecs.
For the decline press, use a wide grip on the barbell and flare the elbows slightly.
For the dumbbell fly, use a flat bench and a pronated grip. Emphasise a full stretch.
You’re going to do 10-12 reps of each exercise without resting. Move quickly between stations, and then take a two-minute break after the flyes. Repeat for a total of 3-4 tri-sets.
You should be feeling your chest by the end of this, and you’ll definitely be feeling the soreness for a few days afterwards.
Every lifter is after a muscular chest. Try these strategies and you may just get there.
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