Your chest plays a huge part in the appearance of your torso and how the upper-half of your physique looks. It’s important when using weight training for hypertrophy, to stress the exercise form in the attempt to create a well-balanced and symmetrical physique.
Throwing around heavy weight with bad form on the bench press, and looking for a magical-twisty-push-movement are only signs of impatience. Building muscle mass takes time and if you haven’t learned that by now, you should take a second to notice that those within the fitness industry whom we may look up to with admirable physiques have been painting their canvases for years and years, continuously, consistently and persistently training and using their nutrition to achieve their desired physique goals.
However, there are exercises which are less commonly used that can have some very good benefits in terms of muscle mass building for your chest.
Chest | Anatomy
Let’s cover the basics. Your chest is split into two main muscles; these are called:
✓ Pectoral Major
✓ Pectoral Minor
Your pec-major combines the middle and lower part of your chest, while your pec-minor includes the upper chest.
As the chest has an upper and lower region, it is possible to use a number of angles to target specific areas of the chest and in turn use hypertrophy to build muscle mass in the areas you wish to improve.
Bench-Presses | Angles and Muscle Connections
As you’ll most likely be aware of, there are 3 main types of bench-press; incline, flat and decline.
This exercises helps to focus more on pec-minor and less specifically helps to build muscle in the upper chest.
This the middle-ground which incorporates both pec-minor and pec-major, however doesn’t particularly focus hypertrophy to a specific part of the chest.
This exercise targets pec-major, and helps to improve the lower chest. In terms of free-weight benches which you can adjust yourself, the higher the bench is standing, the more you’ll incorporate your pec-minor and deltoids; it’s important not to set the bench up too high, otherwise you’ll end up shoulder-pressing. A sensible angle would be between 20° and 30°. As for doing bench-press on a declined angle, use the same angle in a negative direction.
Now that you know what each angle of the bench press helps to focus on, we’ll get stuck into a solid chest routine which will help incorporate each area of the chest and maximise muscle stimulation!
Exercise 1: Decline Barbell Bench-Press
Starting with a strong compound movement is a great way to get the blood pumping into your muscles at the beginning of a workout; this is why I choose to start my chest workout with the decline bench-press.
In order to make sure you have correct form and get the blood rushing to your lower chest, you should always perform a form-set and a warm-up set. Your form-set should be using the bar only, and your warm-up set should be carried out at a weight you feel comfortable performing 20 repetitions with.
a) Retract your shoulder blades, create a slight arch in your lower back but don’t take your bottom off the bench.
b) Take hold of the bar, so that your arms are at shoulder-width apart; bring the bar to touch just below the middle of your chest and press back upwards.
c) Keep your elbows tucked in, breathe out when performing the concentric part of the contraction and breathe in when performing the eccentric.
Once your form feels comfortable, carry out your warm-up set to fill your chest with blood and focus on using mind-muscle connection with your lower chest.
After you have performed your warm-up set, you’re ready to move onto your working sets.
✓ Perform 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions using a weight you cannot perform more than 12 repetitions with. Hold eccentric contractions for 2-3 seconds and then explode on the concentric. *
✓ Rest periods of 60-90 seconds between each working set. *
✓ * – Use these guidelines for each of the following exercises.
Exercise 2: Incline Bar-Press
Now that we’ve got the blood rushing through the pec-major, we want to involve the pec-minor so that the whole of the chest experiences a workload and forces more blood into the upper chest in order to help bring a ‘pump’ to the entire chest.
Using the incline bar-press is a unique way to directly focus on the pec-minor; this also involves some use of the deltoids.
If your gym does not have a barbell floor mount which stops the bar from rolling when you pick up one end, you can place the bar into a corner of a room in order to perform this exercise.
a) As previous, a form-set and warm-up set are necessary because the pec-minor hasn’t been subject to a direct workload yet.
b) Position yourself onto your knees and take hold of the top end of the bar with both hands.
c) Keep your back straight, head facing forwards and press the bar upwards, focusing on squeezing your chest at the top of the contraction.
After performing your form and warm-up sets, you’ll be ready to move onto your working sets.
✓ Perform 4 sets of 12-15 repetitions. Increase weight if you can reach 15 repetitions on all 4 sets.
✓ Lower the weight to tap the top of your chest.
✓ Explode up and squeeze your chest at the top of the contraction.
Exercise 3: Incline Dumbbell Bench-Press
Moving into an exercise that allows you to lift more weight, the incline dumbbell bench-press will now also allow us to get a good stretch and incorporate each area of the pec-minor.
a) Position the bench at a 30° angle (or whichever is most comfortable without involving too much deltoid).
b) Retract shoulder blades and explode upwards and begin the eccentric part of the contraction just before your elbows lock (do not lock out elbows.)
c) Keep constant tension on the pec-minor.
d) At the bottom of the movement be sure to lower the dumbbells in line with the top of your chest at the height of your chin, and explode back upwards.
This exercise should be performed with a weight you can carry out 8-12 repetitions with. On the first two sets, aim for 12 and then 10-12 reps. On the second two sets, you should only be able to perform 8-10 reps*. If you are still able to perform 10+ repetition, apply progressive overload by increasing the weight slightly (E.G; + 2.5kg each hand).
✓ Perform 4 sets of 8-12 repetitions. Apply progressive overload where necessary.
✓ Lower weight slowly and make sure to bring the dumbbells in line with your upper chest and chin.
✓ Explode upwards and do not lock out at the top of the movement; keep constant tension.
Exercise 4: Low-Pulley Cable-Flyes
A fantastic finisher is a variation of the cable-flyes from the low-pulley setting. This allows you to force the weight and tension up through your pec major and into your pec minor; thus finishing your workout with a big chest pump.
a) Stand with feet shoulder with apart. Bring cables from your sides, up in front of you to the front of your face.
b) Squeeze the contraction at the top of the movement. Take time on the eccentric contraction and lower the weight slowly.
c) Finisher – As Many reps As Possible* (AMRAP)
✓ Perform 4 sets of 12-15 reps.
✓ After the final set, reduce the weight by 50% and perform AMRAP* drop-set (Without rest).
Take Home Message
Always remember that there are no magical exercises which will independently account for all of your muscle mass gains. Perform the exercises which you feel work the best for you on a consistent basis and apply progressive overload to achieve the results you want.
‘Form > Weight’ – is a formula I insist on people train using. Drop the ego and perform your exercises effectively for optimal results.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your mass won’t be either!