Chest day is too short to spend it waiting for someone else to move off of your favorite bench press station or a machine—and then hopefully wipe it down afterward.
Cellucor athlete Scott Mathison knows this. It's one reason why he's constantly scouting—and creating—movements that maximally hit the big muscle groups with minimum equipment needed.
Mathison's recipe for a solid, short, and serious chest workout is one that any lifter could learn from:
Step 1. Start with a big, powerful movement to activate and strengthen every muscle fiber in the chest.
Step 2. Wring the life out of those fibers with a couple of solid accessories: one for the upper chest, one for the lower.
No, you don't need 20 sets on chest day to do this! Just 12 targeted, intense sets will make it happen. And what's even better, all you need is a single pair of weights and a decline bench. Pretty sure you can manage that.
You can work any of these movements into your regularly scheduled chest day, but a better approach is to try the three in a series and make that your entire chest day for a few weeks. Yes, it'll probably be quicker than what you're doing now. But it'll also be every bit as good, and the first time around, make you every bit as sore.
1. For Whole-Chest Power and Strength: Falling Knee Push-Up
Mathison is known for his high-flying 360 push-ups, falling push-ups, and other bodyweight feats. But you can't even sniff at, say, a superman push-up until you're a seasoned vet at explosive upper-body work like this falling knee push-up.
But aside from the show-off moves you can maybe do someday, if you want to show off pecs that can truly pop at a moment's notice—and not after 15 minutes of pumping them up like a flat bike tire—you need push-ups like this in your arsenal.
Why it works: Nothing turns on your fast-twitch, type-II muscle fibers as effectively as explosive power training. It trains your muscles to generate maximum force out of each rep, helping boost your strength ceiling. And lucky you, these are also the muscle fibers with the greatest potential for growth.
Falling knee push-ups move your chest muscles through a significant range of motion, with plenty of intensity, but without the risk of dropping a barbell on your grill or jacking up your shoulder by trying to bench press as quickly as possible. Yes, ending up face-down on the ground is a possibility, but that's why you should cut each set right when the reps start slowing down.
- Really push hard and explode off the floor. Yes, this will carry over to your bench!
- Really emphasize the negative on the way down. Let your chest touch and lightly break your "fall."
- If you are doing this on hard ground, use a pad for your knees!
The perfect dose: Build up to 4 sets of 15 reps, with a solid 2-3-minute rest between each set. But seriously: Stop each set while you're still moving fast. And if you can't do even one rep—no shame there—you have options. Try doing them to a stable step or low bench, or with a band looped around your torso from an overhead pull-up bar.
2. For the Upper Chest: Reverse-Grip Push-Up
You're done with the power, now it's time to grind. Sure, you could hit the bench or dumbbells, but after seriously taxing your chest with your first move, you're in a perfect position to get maximum benefit out of a movement that may seem too easy otherwise—like push-ups.
But you're not just doing any push-up here. Scott recommends you turn your hands around and try them with a reverse-grip. Yes, it'll take some getting used to, but the payoff is worth it.
Why it works: Bodybuilders have been saying for years that reverse-grip presses are exceptional for targeting the upper chest. A Canadian study from 2005 backed it up, determining that a reverse-grip bench press hits the clavicular (upper) portion of the pecs 30 percent more than a flat bench does. Compare that with the incline bench press, which a number of studies have shown doesn't increase clavicular activation at all—or just by a measly few percentage points.
The problem with the reverse-grip bench, of course, is that it just feels sketchy as hell with any significant weight. These feel strong, and after a solid 4 sets, you'll be a believer. Oh, and they absolutely destroy the triceps, too.
- Stretch your wrists prior to this exercise to help you get as close to a true reverse-facing grip.
- Keep your elbows close to you body throughout the rep to keep form strict and hammer the triceps.
- Flex the chest at the top of each rep. After 15-20 reps, you should feel these burning like crazy.
The perfect dose: Build up to 4 sets of 20 reps.
3. For the Lower Chest: Decline Fly with Crunch
After the first two moves, you're probably all pressed out. So it's time to focus on the stretch and shred with Scott's combo move of choice, the decline dumbbell fly and crunch.
Why it works: The decline fly mimics the high-to-low cable cross-over, a classic movement to work the pecs while cutting out the shoulders almost entirely.
Why the crunch? For one, it forces you to pause and squeeze the dumbbells together for a solid second or two on each rep. But contracting your abs hard, like you have to do in order to do a weighted decline crunch, is also a great way to make every other muscle in your upper body co-contract harder along with them.
And finally, because abs. You needed to work them anyway, didn't you? And if you've tried any of Scott's other workouts on Bodybuilding.com, you know they tend to make the abs work seriously hard, even if they aren't pure "abs" workouts.
- Try to use your chest as much as possible for each rep, not your arms. Have to use light weights? Do it.
- Pause and squeeze your chest muscles together at the top of each rep. Doing these from a decline can help to "feel" this.
- If your ab endurance is keeping you from being able to adequately work your chest, split the moves up. Do flies, then abs. Or if you struggle with the chest fly, just do the overhead dumbbell crunch to train abs. It'll hit your shoulders and chest, too.
The perfect dose: 4 sets of 10 reps.
- Lehman, G. J. (2005). The influence of grip width and forearm pronation/supination on upper-body myoelectric activity during the flat bench press. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 19(3), 587-591.
- Barnett, C., Kippers, V., & Turner, P. (1995). Effects of variations of the bench press exercise on the EMG activity of five shoulder muscles. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 9(4), 222-227.