Building up a strong, well-defined chest is a common workout goal for guys. It’s not hard to see why. Muscular development in this area projects tremendous power. If you’d like to grow a big chest, the exercises and training concepts reviewed here are going to help.
Training the chest relies primarily on two exercise families: the flys and the presses. Presses simply involve pushing hand-held weights away from your chest. Flys involve pulling the arms backward through a smooth arc, stretching the pectorals. The pectoral muscles themselves are divided into the upper and lower group, but a good chest routine also splits its attention between the inner and outer chest. That produces four areas to concentrate on.
Flat Bench Press (Barbell/Dumbbell)
The bench press and chest development go together like chocolate and peanut butter. The flat bench is an exercise designed expressly for building upper chest mass. You can handle very heavy weights as you build up these muscles, and increasing the weight you press on a weekly basis is a good idea. Barbell presses can work multiple muscle groups and areas if you change your grip. With a close grip, you’re working the inner chest and triceps. The medium grip works the middle of the chest. A wide grip stretches the chest’s outer muscles. Of the three, the medium grip is the “default” and it does the most mass-building work.
Pressing a barbell does limit your range of motion. Certain body types are especially prone to problems – if your arms are short, you may not get full value out of flat barbell presses. Dumbells are the perfect way to solve the problem. With dumbbells, you get access to your full range of motion; the separate weights also exercise your stabilizing muscles. The wider motion delivers extra attention to the middle and outer pecs.
Don’t specialize exclusively in one form of benching or the other; using both increases the variety (and therefore the effectiveness) of your workouts.
Incline Bench Press (Barbell/Dumbbell)
By resting your body on an inclined plane while pressing, you’re altering the muscle groups that the exercise targets. The incline press is particularly helpful for building up the front deltoids and upper pectorals. At the limits of muscle development, incline benching sharpens the definition of the two pectoral muscles. Your weight limit for incline benching is always going to be lower than that for flat benching. This is a natural consequence of bringing the deltoids into play.
Decline Bench Press (Barbell/Dumbbell)
The decline bench is designed to work the middle of the chest and the lower pectorals in particular. This exercise is a favorite among a lot of bodybuilders, but personally, I’ve never gotten much out of it. Feel free to rack up lots of reps if the decline bench works for you, though! This is an exercise that can be overdone, though. If the lower pectorals are allowed to develop too much, the resulting look can be saggy and unappealing. I would advise cautious use. If you love decline benching, pay attention to proportional development and make sure you don’t start to sag.
Dumbbell Flys (Flat/Incline)
Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lower them down and to the side in a smooth arc. Push this motion until you feel your pectorals reach full stretch. When you pull the dumbbells back up, keep your elbows bent. You should try to keep your chest flexed for the whole rep. It’s important to start off with light weights when you begin doing flys; your first priority should be mastering the form and getting a good first-hand understanding of how the muscles work. Even as you build mass and strength, exercise care in setting your weight for flys. This exercise puts a lot of stress on the shoulder joint. Flat flys work the middle-outer chest; inclined flys work the top-outer chest.
You have a range of position options for cable chest exercises. They can be done standing, on a flat bench, or bent forward. The standing cable crossover is a lot like a fly, and it works the inner chest. The arms are pulled upwards (again, like a fly) in bent-forward crossovers. Bent-forward crossovers work the inner parts of the mid and lower pectorals. Doing crossovers on a flat bench conditions the inner and middle pecs. Here too, it’s important to contract the muscles fully at the top of the motion. Cable crossovers make an excellent finish to a chest workout, delivering a quality pump.
It will only take you a few weeks to master this range of basic chest exercises. As mentioned above, you need variety in your workouts to keep them effective. Vary the intensity of your exercises and change up your rep ranges.
For further complexity, try combining chest and back workouts. There are many exercises (e.g. chin-ups) that engage the chest and back muscles simultaneously. A combined chest/back workout can give you a really excellent pump.
Train rigorously (but consistently!) with increasing amounts of weight and you should have no problem creating a formidable chest.