The ideal of a massive, muscular chest is a throwback to a distant era, when Arnold Schwarzenegger stalked bodybuilding stages and the big screen.
Today, although we appreciate Arnold's 58-inch chest, full-body function is more often the desired outcome of our efforts in the gym. That means we favor multifunctional, dynamic exercises that blend strength, agility, and flexibility. Alas, the pectorals have faded in overall importance, becoming just one cog in the upper-body machinery.
This transference from aesthetics to performance begs the obvious question: Why the hell can't we have both? Why can't we have powerful, muscular pecs that can kick ass when called upon?
The short answer is: We can.
Even better, there are two athletes who want to show you just how to accomplish that feat. Abel Albonetti and Kizzito Ejam are established fitness models who demand more than pure aesthetics from their physiques. Ejam is a martial arts instructor; Albonetti is a personal trainer, fitness model, RSP Nutrition athlete, and amateur bodybuilding competitor.
Their jobs demand show and go. Here's how they've hacked the standard bodybuilding chest workouts from Arnold's heyday for today's functional fitness generation.
READY AND ABEL CRAFTING PERFECT PECS THAT WORK
Name: Abel Albonetti
Weight: 178 lb.
Current Residence: Hernando, MS
Occupation: Fitness model, personal trainer, RSP Nutrition Athlete
Inspired by a man some might call the "Arnold" of Generation Y, Vin Diesel, Abel Albonetti has drafted a chest workout that promotes power and stamina through sheer volume and intensity.
"I was just starting to work out right around the time I saw Vin Diesel in 'The Fast and the Furious' in 2001," says Albonetti. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, I want my chest and triceps to be that big!' So, like most teenagers, I trained chest every chance I got."
These days, Albonetti's workouts are more diversified—and certainly more strategic—while including that same primal element: Press as much weight as you can with maximum intensity and precision form.
The difference between his approach and that of most of his peers? About 45 degrees. "I believe incline pressing is where I really made the most improvements in my chest," Albonetti says. "When everyone else was flat pressing, I was always incline pressing. I feel like that works the entire chest a lot more."
"My chest workout is anything but normal," Albonetti admits. "I use just about every technique I can think of: dropsets, rest-pause, supersets, partials... anything that brings up the intensity." To boost his energy for this added effort, Abel takes DyNO from RSP Nutrition before his workouts. "It gives me great energy and an awesome pump," he says.
Incline Dumbbell Press
Before proposing his program to gym-goers, Albonetti offers a warning: "I wouldn't recommend this to someone new to training. You could end up injured because of the sheer volume." But for those who have been working out seriously for at least six months, this eight-exercise gauntlet is a potent blend of presses and flyes guaranteed to rectify any weak points.
For everyone, beginner or advanced, Albonetti stresses one final point: "Learn how to properly do a flat and incline press," he says. "I see too many people using the wrong muscles to help lift the weight instead of allowing for a full pectoral contraction. Remember, you're trying to build muscle, not just trying to press the heaviest weight you can."
THE ART OF CHEST TRAINING
Name: Kizzito Ejam
Weight: 195 lb.
Current Residence: Orlando, FL
Occupation: Fitness model and writer; martial arts instructor; owner of MVP360 Fitness in Oviedo, FL
Kizzito Ejam may display what's considered today's bodybuilding ideal. His lean and proportioned physique has landed him a number of prominent fitness modeling gigs. But he didn't start training with that aim in mind.
As a high schooler in Florida, he started training in taekwondo. The agility, physical stamina, and mental discipline necessary to succeed in that endeavor naturally pointed him toward weights, which could help him improve all those key attributes.
Because his workouts must produce multiple effects, Ejam can't just spend his chest days benching for max weight. Instead, the third-degree black belt and certified Krav Maga instructor strives to lift as much as he can in a short period of time while employing a range of exercises.
"Nothing can be more detrimental to your athletic performance than puny pecs," Ejam says. "Being a martial artist for over 13 years now, I've learned that the best results come from a combination of power and endurance."
Much like Albonetti, Ejam trains his chest with a focus on supersets and reaching momentary muscle failure. The first and second supersets include low reps of incline barbell presses and weighted dips to failure. "These sets target power and strength," Ejam explains. "In martial arts, generating that power is obviously important."
Later in the workout, the reps increase, going up to 12 for cable crossovers in the third superset and 20 for the dumbbell presses he uses as a finisher. Meanwhile, each of the three superset combinations is back-ended with various push-up variations to failure. Those higher-rep endeavors are all about building functional muscular endurance.
"Once you've fatigued the muscle, it's time to push it past its limits," Ejam says. "When you're sparring, rounds may go longer than expected, so it's important to train your muscles to become accustomed to an exhausted state. Because your mind has already felt and adapted to that pain in training, you can focus on the fight at hand instead of the fatigue."