When it comes to the behavior of mammals—including men—the chest seems to have symbolic importance beyond its mere function. Male sage grouse puff up their chests to appear more menacing and attract mates. Silverback gorillas pound their chests to warn off would-be trespassers. It's no wonder we present-day humans equate a powerful set of pecs with virility and rugged masculinity.
In my companion article, "Your Blueprint for Building Bigger Arms," I showed you how to add inches to your biceps and triceps. Now it's time we took care of your chest!
Make Chest Training Your Job
The best way to improve a specific muscle group is to give it priority in your training for a limited time. I've found that 10 weeks is long enough to produce gains, yet not so long that you risk overtraining.
The following weekly split is designed so you can train your chest twice a week, while hitting all the other muscle groups once. This approach can really grow your pecs as long as you use it for a limited amount of time. Do it too long, and you risk overtraining and the persistent fatigue and soreness that comes with it.
Chest Prioritization Split
- Day 1: Chest (Heavy, free weights)
- Day 2: Back and Biceps
- Day 3: Shoulders and Triceps
- Day 4: Legs
- Day 5: Rest
- Day 6: Chest (Pumping, machines and cables)
- Day 7: Rest
The first chest workout of the week follows a complete day of rest. Be sure to eat plenty of quality food on your rest day, including a healthy amount of carbohydrates. And for this program, take the name "rest day" to heart; make sure to get plenty of rest to prepare you for the day ahead.
The first chest session of the week is a heavier workout composed of straight sets of 8-10 reps, so the damage done to the muscle fibers isn't too severe. We save the real damage for the second chest workout, made up of higher reps, dropsets, and supersets. This second session is the more demanding workout in terms of demands placed on both the muscles and the central nervous system, which is why it's sandwiched between complete rest days.
We also use more machines on the second workout to give you a chance to get through the intensity techniques you'll be doing. Give these workouts 100 percent of your effort, and your work will pay off.
Okay, you've had a rest day before today, and you'll have one after, so don't be afraid to hit this workout hard!
1. It's Not About "How Much Ya Bench"
If I had to identify one reason most guys don't get the chests they want, it's the relentless obsession with high reps on the flat barbell bench press. The only way lots of reps help you build size is if you keep the target muscle under tension long enough to stimulate a growth response.
For most people, the 8-12 rep is the ideal range to build size. People who are more into strength load up and live in the 3-5 range, with a few 1RM attempts thrown in. Yes, you'll move some big weights, but you aren't going to build your chest to its maximum dimensions. If you want to get big up top, train more like a bodybuilder and less like a powerlifter.
2. Learn to Press With Your Pectorals
You can do a complete chest workout without engaging your pectorals very much. Some lifters rely on their triceps and front delts to push the weight, then wonder why their chests don't grow. You have to learn how to press with your chest—how to engage your pecs. This isn't hard to learn. It's all about setting yourself up with the correct body mechanics.
To begin, pinch together your shoulder blades. Next, roll your shoulders down and back toward your waist as you put a small arch in your lower back. Your chest should now be "popped up" off the bench and ready to do the work.
You should be able to feel your pecs contracting every inch of the way as you press up the weight, and then stretching as you lower it back down. If you notice that the load shifts from your chest to your triceps when you lock out fully, stop an inch or two short of full extension to maintain that precious tension on your pecs. That's what makes them grow!
3. Lift the Weight Yourself
Forced reps are the most overused and abused of all the intensity techniques. Who among us hasn't relied on generous help from a spotter to hoist up a weight we had no business using, and which we were hardly capable of budging with our own power? We're all guilty.
When the weight is that heavy, there's no way you're going to achieve any type of meaningful contraction in the target muscle: You're too busy struggling, by any means necessary, to move that bar. And, if your spotter is taking a large portion of the load, how will you track your own progress? Spotters are a good thing to have for safety purposes, and to help you with a forced rep every now and then. But don't allow them to do your work.
4. Train With Intensity and Focus
As you progress through these 10 weeks, stay on task and train hard. Put your phone away until you finish each session so you won't be distracted by texts, Snaps, and Facebook updates. Take this program seriously and put your heart into it. If you do, you're guaranteed to see a bigger chest when you finish the program.
Ten weeks with two chest workouts a week means you're only doing 20 workouts, so every set and every rep matters. Take that attitude and apply yourself, and you'll be very pleased with the results.
To get the most out of any demanding workout program, your nutrition must be on point. Give your body everything it needs to fuel up before your workouts and then to recover, repair, and grow damaged muscle tissue between workouts. Every 2-3 hours of your waking day, eat a solid meal that includes a high-protein source such as chicken, eggs, turkey, red meat, or fish; as well as a complex carbohydrate such as rice, potatoes, or oatmeal.
Several key supplements can help you make it through this grueling 10-week schedule. These include a pre-workout formula that includes a stimulant along with nitric oxide (NO) boosters to enhance energy, focus, and the pump. Right after your workout, you should also immediately drink a post-workout shake that contains whey protein isolate and a fast-acting carb source like cyclic dextrin. If you can't always get in your scheduled meals, protein or meal replacement shakes can be a lifesaver.
Finally, be sure to drink plenty of water every day, and especially before and during your workouts. Our muscles are made up mostly of water, so being properly hydrated is essential for optimal performance.