Arnold Schwarzenegger's peak physique has often been called the best of all time, and there's no argument here. Melding the best of aesthetics and mass, his development set him apart from his peers, many of them bodybuilding legends in their own right. Not lacking for signature body parts, perhaps the most iconic imagery of the seven-time Mr. Olympia champion involves his side chest pose, with his 58-inch pectorals billowing out like tall-ship sails tight to the winds.
None of it was by accident. The Austrian Oak was meticulous, and while some of his exploits in the gym could be considered "overtraining" in light of scientific discoveries since his 1970s heyday, it'd be foolish to shrug off his methods. When it came to chest, two exercises in Arnold's arsenal—or, more importantly, how he performed those moves—stand out as a lesson for anyone striving for huge, defined pecs today.
The exercises themselves are basics, and anyone who has trained for any length of time has surely done them both: the incline barbell press and the dumbbell fly. The thing is, a lot of people do these moves incorrectly without even realizing it, compromising their chances of building a lot more muscle mass in the pecs.
Where do these exercises go wrong? Often at the extremes of the range of motion. Far too often, I see trainees shorting their reps at the top and bottom of an incline press. They'll stop prematurely at the apex of a rep, not going to full extension, and then fail to tap the upper chest when lowering the weight.
Anyone wondering why he's not getting results in his chest should first take a close look at his form on the incline press, noting specifically if he's training through a full range of motion (ROM) with a high touch point on his pecs.
In reality, this change is simple, but too often, ego intervenes. People pile on the weight, and suddenly you see guys lowering to a point 4-5 inches off the chest, then pushing the bar only halfway up at best. The shorter the ROM, of course, the more weight one can "lift." But that compromised ROM does nothing for real gains.
To fix your press, the first step is to back off on the poundage. Practice performing reps with a full range of motion; heck, start with the bar, if you must. It's way more productive to do less weight correctly than to load up plates you can't handle. You'll also find that, if you're hitting that high spot on your chest at the bottom of each rep with a controlled touchdown—never bouncing off your pecs—it better engages those harder-to-reach upper-pec fibers.
This classic video of Schwarzenegger, culled from outtakes of "Pumping Iron" filmed in 1975 and released two years later, shows what a perfect incline looks like.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Barbell Incline Form
Watch the video - 0:35
Fly Low And Grow
One of the common themes I've seen in Arnold footage is that he loved doing heavy dumbbell flyes. Check out this footage, and note how deep he went on every rep, with his upper arms nearly going perpendicular to the floor at the bottom.
Arnold Schwarzenegger Chest FLY Form
Watch the video - 0:55
There's no doubt in my mind that, over time, people have drifted away from this crucial exercise and now rely too much on machines, notably the pec-deck fly and cable cross-over station. As a big fan of bodybuilding's Golden Era—brutally deep and taxing chest flyes are certainly one reason why—I strongly suggest reintroducing deep dumbbell flyes into your workout if you've mostly abandoned the movement.
You probably also noticed in the video that Schwarzenegger did his flyes with his (bare) feet up off the floor, knees bent and elevated. You'll likely want to wear athletic shoes these days, but you can sure as hell emulate the knees-up position, which helps to isolate the pecs just a bit more.
I've always taught the motion to new trainees with feet up, as practiced by Arnold. There's certainly nothing wrong with keeping your feet planted, and it's the technically safer approach, but elevating the feet makes you engage your core and helps you better focus on making the pecs do the work during the move.
As for bottoming out, you'll want to concentrate on that during each repetition, getting a quality stretch in your pecs. I coach people to imagine the elbows as arrows aimed toward the floor—leaving your arms nearly or fully extended puts undue stress on the shoulder area.
To be frank, during most chest flyes I've observed from a distance, I see ill-advised angles in the elbows, which in turn reduces the overall effectiveness of the exercise. At a certain point, if the elbows are too straight, all you're doing is risking harm to the shoulder joints.
Prioritize Your Pecs
When done properly, chest presses and flyes can help elevate your chest to another level of development. The key when doing them is to make sure you're using the technique that Schwarzenegger established as his pectoral foundation more than four decades ago.
If you want to put these moves into practice, try this traditional workout Arnold used, one that employed both incline presses and flat-bench flyes, among other favorites. For even more on Arnold's chest training, check out "Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mammoth Chest and Back Workout."