Your complete strategy for designing a full-body training program that fulfills and exceeds your aspirations for building bigger pecs.
Whether you’re an aspiring bodybuilder, a hopeful sportsman looking to bump up the power in your hand-offs or just an average dude who wants to get bigger and leaner, then building a bigger chest is probably high up in the list of your top priorities. Is chest training really as complicated as some make it sound, though? I certainly don’t think so. At the end of the day, the same basic exercises and techniques work for almost everyone – especially for this particular body part.
Here’s how you should plan a training program to achieve this so you fill out your favorite T-shirt in all the right places.
The bench press
Unless you’re already an advanced bodybuilder, you can ignore all the nonsense about the bench press not being a great chest exercise. Just look at the lifters from Arnold’s time. They all had great chests and they all hammered away at the flat barbell bench press.
Of course, there are certainly better or worse ways to bench press for chest development. A narrower grip with tucked elbows on the descent is always going to emphasize the triceps more, for instance. However, if you want your benching to benefit your pecs as much as possible, take the widest grip you can without hurting your shoulders (this width will be different for each person). And while you do need to tuck your elbows in a little bit to keep your shoulders healthy and move more weight, don’t be excessive about it. You want your elbows to flare out at the end of the press so that your pecs are doing almost all of the work.
What about sets and reps? As usual, it’s best not to get too fancy – at least not with a basic movement. Bench once a week, at the start of your workout while you’re strong, and do three to five sets of about five reps at the same weight. Warm-ups don’t count. Once you can get five sets of five with the same weight, not failing any reps, add 5-10lb and start again.
For bench pressing, having a training partner to hand is invaluable, especially for the final reps of a set. And while most people hit the bench press on a Monday, leading time conscious exercisers to shun working this body part at the start of the week, this can be a smart time to train because you’ll definitely have a fellow lifter nearby who you can ask for a spot. If you’re not failing on the final reps of the sets then you could probably be pushing yourself a little more.
Specialise your training
Aside from selecting the right exercises and rep schemes for your chest workouts, you’ll want to tailor your other training days accordingly. In particular, your shoulder and arm workouts need to emphasize the chest.
What does this look like? Simply put, pick the exercises for shoulders and triceps that also recruit the pecs to move massive weight. For shoulders, this includes high incline presses, military presses and just about every type of press. For arms, you’ll want to make dips and close-grip bench presses the cornerstones of your routine. Not only are these the best overall mass builders for the triceps – they’re also excellent ways to add training volume for your chest.
You might do wide-grip benches and dips on chest day, and then close-grip benches and narrow dips on arm day.
Combine legs and back day
As for legs and back, there’s not much you can do differently that will actually stimulate and grow your chest any better. These tend to be the most taxing body parts to train, however. So if you’re looking to maximize your chest development for a period of time, you might want to back off a bit so you’re fresh.
Take note, this doesn’t mean you can skip your back and leg days. In fact, failing to train your biggest body parts will just make it more difficult to gain mass anywhere else on your body. You might not need to complete brutal, high-volume leg sessions while you’re on a chest-centric program but you need to keep squatting, deadlifting and rowing.
The best approach is to combine legs and back into one workout. Hit up the heavy basics, and make sure you’re progressing from week to week as always, but don’t worry so much about adding all sorts of extra for additional stimulation. Save that energy for your chest workouts, which you should be doing twice per week.
One session should focus on the bench press as the main movement, the other on either incline benches or dips. Combined with arm and shoulders days designed around more dips and close-grip presses, these sessions are sure to blow your chest up in no time.
As great as the bench press is, it shouldn’t be your only chest exercise – at least not if you’re trying to make more progress on your pecs than other body parts. Some of the best moves include:
- Incline Bench Press – This is most people’s second-favorite chest exercise. The barbell still lets you use more weight than dumbbells, but the inclined angle hits the upper pecs more than the flat bench. You can also get quite a bit of shoulder development from heavy incline pressing – something to take into consideration when you’re backing off other body parts for the time being.
- Dips – Another old-school bodybuilder favorite, dips will blow up your chest like almost no other exercise. Some lifters have even called the dip the ‘upper-body squat’ because it’s so indispensable to a good training program. As with the bench, you’ll want to do dips with as wide a grip as your shoulders will allow. A narrower grip will only emphasize the triceps more, and that’s not what we’re going for.
- Dumbbell Press – Dumbbells are ideal for a second or third movement in a workout, after you’ve already hoisted heavy weight on the bench and incline bench. You don’t need to go super light like some people advise, but don’t use such heavy weights that you waste energy getting them into position. The magical 8-10 rep rage is usually the sweet spot.