Building a bigger chest is probably the number one goal for most gym goers, especially if you're just getting started in building your perfect body. Getting your chest workout right is the highest priority, and this article will provide you with the perfect program. First, we will look at the chest muscles themselves, then we will give a run-down of which chest exercises are most effective, before putting them all into a simple and easy to follow chest workout for men.
The Chest Muscles
The main muscle of the chest is the pectoralis major, a fan-shaped muscle that extends from the sternum (breastbone) to the deltoid muscles (shoulders). Beneath the pectoralis major is a thin triangle shaped muscle known as the pectoralis minor, this muscle attaches from the ribs to the scapula.
A common misconception is that there are separate upper and lower chest muscles and that the pectoralis minor is the upper part of the chest. As mentioned earlier the pectoralis minor is situated behind the pectoralis major and is not visible. The pectoralis major is a huge muscle and is technically not separated into upper or lower parts.
Now that we've got that misconception out of the way, let's break it apart. Whilst the pectoralis major is one muscle, it actually has two portions that have slightly different actions. There is the clavicular head of the pecs, which is near the top (near your clavicle, which runs along the top of your torso). And the sternal head which attaches to the breastbone (sternum) and consists of the lower part of your chest. Whilst it is not as simple as targeting one part of the chest over the other, it is possible to put more emphasis on one part of the chest over the other.
Other Muscles that are involved
During a chest workout, you will also be using a number of additional muscles, for example, a bench press will work the chest, but also shoulders, triceps, and to some extent even your abdominals, quadriceps, upper back etc. … We will mention some of the main muscles worked during each exercise to get you an idea of what is going on.
Exercise One: Push Up
A simple exercise to perform, place hands flat on floor slightly wider than shoulders and in line with your chest. Straighten legs, keep back flat and push the upper body into the air until arms are fully extended, pause and then lower yourself back down. Congratulations you've just nailed a push up, welcome to the club. You can transform this exercise by bringing your hands wider (to increase chest activation) or closer to increase the emphasis on your triceps. You can also perform plyometric push-ups to improve your power.
Exercise Two: Bench Press
There are two variations of the flat bench press, the dumbbell bench press and the barbell bench press. They are very similar, work the same muscles and you could use either or both and get excellent results. In this article, we will look at the barbell bench press.
Lie on your bench and bring the bar over your chest, your hands should be around shoulder width apart (there are variations here too but we will discuss them later). Make sure your head isn't raised off the bench and that your feet are planted firmly on the ground.
Pause with the bar over your chest and then slowly lower the bar until it touches your chest. Pause again, and then powerfully drive the bar straight back up until your arms are almost (but not quite) fully extended. Repeat for the required reps and then place the bar back on the stops.
You should probably have a spotter standing near you when benching as being stuck under a bar that your fatigued muscles can no longer lift is nobody’s idea of a good time.
Widening your grip is one way to change this exercise, just like press ups a wider grip will work the chest more, whilst a close grip will work the triceps more. Lower the weight for this exercise as it is tough!
Exercise Three: Incline Bench Press
This exercise is exactly the same as the last one, except you are on an incline bench instead. This will bring your shoulders more into the exercise and the 'upper' part of your pectorals. This makes the exercise a lot more difficult so pick your weight accordingly.
Lie on an incline bench (set to 45 degrees) with a barbell held in an overhand grip. Your arms should be shoulder width apart and fully extended. The bar will be slightly higher than a regular bench press and will be hovering over the upper part of the chest (known as the Clavicular head of the Pectoralis Major). Bring the bar down so that it touches the chest, and then explosively drive it back up so that your arms are fully extended again.
Exercise Four: Dips
This is a difficult exercise, especially for heavier guys. You will need a dip bar (two parallel bars that you hold onto). Grab the bars, and hold yourself upright with your feet tucked up so that your lower legs are 45 degrees away from your body. Slowly lower yourself down until you feel a stretch in your chest, you should be leaning forward slightly (around 30-40 degrees). Pause, and then push yourself back up.
Once you find that you can perform quite a few reps of this relatively easily, you can start to add weight. To do this you can either buy a weighted belt (you can also use this for pull ups), which allows you to suspend weighted plates from your waist. Or you can place a dumbbell between your feet.
Exercise Five: Chest Flies
There are many variations for chest flies, you can do them on a bench with dumbbells, use cables, or even use a chest fly machine (if your gym has one). We will be going into the dumbbell version. Grab a bench and place it on a slight incline (it can also be performed on a flat bench), place a dumbbell in each hand and hold both weights above your chest with your palms facing inwards.
Now you are going to pull your arms apart and bring your arms out until you feel a stretch in your chest, pause, and then pull your arms back together. Make sure that you aren't stretching your chest too much during this exercise as this can cause shoulder pain or injury.
To make this exercise even more difficult you can try performing 1.5 rep movements. What this means is that you spread your arms wide whilst holding the weights (as usual) and then when you pull your arms back together, you pause halfway and then return them to the stretched out position before finally bringing your arms fully back together again. So you are performing the exercise one full time plus a half rep. This technique can actually be used for a lot of exercises (try it with the bench press) but works especially well with dumbbell flies.
Exercise Six: Total Triceps
This is a chest workout, and as such the majority of exercises here are designed to activate the pectoralis major. But many of the exercises will also be affecting the triceps, so any chest workout worth its salt should include at least a couple of triceps-specific exercises. In this workout, these will be the cable triceps pulldown.
To perform this exercise you will need a cable station, grab a rope attachment place it on the high setting so that when you pull it the cable is travelling down. Hold both rope handles, tuck your elbows into your sides, and then pull the rope attachment down and towards you. Once your arms are straight you should have the handles around waist height and close to your body. Pause, and then raise the rope back up whilst keeping your elbows tucked in throughout.
The Ultimate Chest Workout
Get yourself warmed up with a 500m row, or 3-5 minutes on a cardio machine. This workout will require you to be in a gym with benches, parallel dip bars, a bench press, and a set of dumbbells. If your gym doesn't have this equipment … then you should probably find yourself a better gym!
- Press Ups 3 sets 10 reps
- Plyometric press ups 1 set of 8-10 reps
- Bench Press 2-3 warm up sets of 6 reps followed by 3 sets of 6-8 reps
- Incline Bench Press 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps
- Chest Dips 2-3 sets of AMRAP (As Many Reps as Possible)
- Chest Flies 2-3 sets of 15 reps
- Triceps Press down 3 sets of 8-10 reps followed by a triple drop set.
A triple drop set is where you start on a particular weight, for example, 36kg. Then you perform as many reps as possible, once you can perform no more reps you lower the weight. Let's say you lower the weight to 24kg, you then perform as many reps as possible. Once you have exhausted your arms you immediately lower the weight for the second time to 12kg and complete the exercise for the last time.
There should be no rest in between weight changes as the whole action is continuous. It works best if you have a friend who will change the weights for you, and who is strict enough to monitor your time between weights.
Upgrading Your Workout
While this article is talking about the ultimate chest workout, we need to discuss your training program as a whole. Training each body part on separate days may not be the best way to get results. Instead, many gym-goers now follow a full body split. This way you can train chest 2 or 3 times per week rather than just once. Here is a sample workout so you can see what it would look like.
- Barbell Squats
- Romanian Deadlifts
- Pull Ups
- Bicep Curls
- Leg Press
- Walking Lunges
- Bench Press
- Triceps Press down
- Leg Curls
- Lat Pulldown
- Bent Over Row
- Front Squats
- Leg Extensions
- Incline Bench Press
- Chest Flies
- Close Grip Press Ups
Do you see how the chest is actually getting worked twice in the week rather than once? This will lead to better results as you will be able to increase the weekly volume without risking injury.
So there you have it, a hardcore chest workout for all of you old-school bodybuilders out there. Plus, the thinking man's full body workout for those of you who prefer to follow the science of lifting. Enjoy!
Notes: Always make sure to warm up properly before a workout, a great exercise to perform as a warm-up is the face pull. This exercise uses a rope pulley to warm up the rear delts, trapezius muscles, and the Teres Major and Minor. These muscles are all prone to injury when exercising the chest, so this warm up is essential.
To perform the face pull, place a rope attachment on a high-pulley cable station. Stand back and pull the rope so that each end finishes near your ears. The centre of the rope should be travelling towards your face (hence the name) and your elbows should be raised high.
Only pull the rope until you feel the stretch on the rear delt muscles (on the back of your shoulders). A lot of gym-goers have a poor range of motion in the shoulder, and whilst this exercise will improve your ROM over time, it should not be forced. Doing so could actually harm the muscles you are trying to help!
Performing around 3 or 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps should be sufficient, and you can do this exercise every couple of days. It should also help improve your posture, so don't skip it!
Also, remember to stay hydrated throughout your workout, and perform some foam rolling on the areas you have trained afterwards.