A bigger, better chest was a goal of barbell for the first time. Broad, powerful-looking pectorals signify that you indeed “lift bro.” But what if your current routine has fallen stale? What if you’ve tried all sorts of tricks and techniques to get your pecs growing again with no substantial amount of success?
There are many ways to gain strength and increase your bench press numbers. Variable resistance including bands and chains, rest break training, low rep protocol, partial reps, lockouts, board presses and many others all lead to a stronger bench press, however, this article will focus on building the chest muscle tissue. Hypertrophy, muscle growth, takes a completely different approach than that of gaining strength and throwing up some big bench numbers.
Although there is a link between gaining strength and muscle growth, each is still independent of its focus and training practices. Yes, a stronger muscle will be larger and vice versa, but only to a certain extent. Many powerlifters do not exactly have massive, muscular pecs and most bodybuilders are not breaking records in the bench press, but all have larger pecs than the average man.
Olympic and powerlifters attempt to move a certain amount of weight over a specific distance, period. Muscle mass is nowhere in the equation and performance is the singular goal of lifting more weight. Training is then replete with heavy lifts, and a close eye on fatigue.
Bodybuilding, on the other hand, is the practice of building muscle tissue. Increasing mass with little eyes to absolute strength involves a whole new perspective as opposed to strength. Building muscle mass is more about tiredness, frequency and time under tension.
Here’s the kicker. Knowing the specific needs of each goal you would think that every gym-goer was training to be a powerlifter. Look in your local gym and watch people bench press weighting they have no business lifting, spending tons of time on the barbell bench press and focusing every ounce of effort focusing on low rep training, maxing out every week in hopes of a larger chest.
The fact is people are simply training the wrong way. They have a goal of bigger pecs but their training reflects that of strength. So, the first thing to do is to shift your mindset from that of pure strength to muscle building. Sure, strength will be a welcome side effect but we will focus on some techniques to help build muscle tissue.
8 chest-building tips
Below are 8 unique chest-building tips and techniques to get you growing again. No, I am not talking about adding in training volume, performing higher reps, drop sets or other commonly written and practiced techniques. As those do help with progress, they are talked about ad nauseam and easily applied.
These also aren’t one-time fixes that result in little to no benefits to your physique. These will be long-term fixes to give your pecs the real-world boost for results you will actually see. Fixes and protocols that you may never had considered before or were afraid to try. Put a few into practice and see how your chest will expand, change and grow.
Chest Builder #1 – Get fatigue-minded
First and foremost, get your head on the back of the body. If you want more muscle mass then you will need your new goal. Do not worry about numbers, personal records or impressing your friends, it’s time to get down to the law and get focused on fatigue.
This is not to say that you should not be concerned with progress, however. Progress is still important in resistance training for mass; just do not be driven by this one. Recruiting more muscle fibers and fatiguing those fibers should be your goal. Performing sets of triples, doubles and singles will do little to properly fatigue your muscle fibers and grow a muscular chest.
Your concern should focus on proper technique, form, function, stretching and contracting. This is where the old mind-muscle mentality comes into play in a big way. By targeting your muscle instead of worrying about the weight of your bodybuilding. I always like to say that you should not go to the gym to lift weights; you should go to work your muscles. Have complete control of the weight, do not let it control you.
Chest Builder #2 – High frequency
I have a great friend of mine who has some pretty massive pecs and triceps. Even to this day, with these little training, those said muscle groups. He once told me his “secret” without even knowing it was the real key to his success.
When he was a teenager he would perform hundreds of push-ups and dips every single night. He thought this was going to be a huge problem in his life – in reality, this early training and later on. Since performing all these sets for his chest and triceps he has created an incredible network of efficient nervous system activity for those body parts. His pecs and triceps were easily stimulated because of their muscles. By training them at such a high frequency
Do you ever see who’s who, how often do they work, have huge thighs? They train them every single day. You too can benefit from this increase of frequency. Training your chest twice or even three times a week (with lower volume per workout, of course) will be unlike any technique you have ever tried. Pumping blood and stimulating your nervous system more often will force your pecs into new growth.
Chest Builder #3 – Bodyweight training
Before you read and write this article, read on Bodyweight training has its rightful place in any training program. The ability to manipulate your body in such a way as to add appreciable muscle to a side of strength should be apart from everyone’s arsenal. Also, combined with high frequency training, such moves are an indispensable tool.
Floor, inclined and feet-elevated push-ups and parallel dips can be challenging and great finishers to your current routine. By taking control of your body instead of a barbell or dumbbells makes the pecs function in a totally different way. Instead of balancing the weight you need to stabilize your shoulder girdle, midsection, glutes and legs all the while stretching and contracting your pecs properly.
To execute the push-up, you need to be sure that your position should be one of your own. Go down to the floor with your elbows about your torso, or touch your chest or stop it. This simple action will focus the stress on your pecs and away from your shoulders.
Chest Builder #4 – Chest ladder
The chest ladder is more a general term with many options to choose from. One of the most effective is the isometric hold ladder. Start with a manageable number of reps such as six and perform six perfect push-up reps: slow descend and then flex the pecs as described above. After six reps, hold the contracted position for six seconds by trying to force your hands together without moving them. This will help flex the pecs for the isometric hold. Immediately after, perform five reps with a five second isometric hold. Then go to four reps, three reps, two reps and finally one rep with a one second hold.
Sounds easy? Wait until you try it. If you are practicing good form and technique and squeezing with everything you have, you will be screaming from the intense burn this will produce. This will also help build that coveted mind-muscle connection I talked about earlier. Either as part of high frequency training or tacked onto your current routine, isometric holds will ramp up any program and create not only a new training stimulus but also add a little variety and challenge.
Chest Builder #5 – Correct set-up
You’ve heard a million times from my articles: Proper form is a must. This is never more important than when talking chest training. Too many people are trying to overcome their contagion and convulsing their bodies in Kama Sutra positions in life and limb (literally). Locking out the loaded bar becomes priority one.
As mentioned before, when talking about building muscle pectoral having the powerlifter mindset will do little for sculpting your physique. Pressing egotistical weight just for the sake of getting rid of your chest still takes proper technique – not only for better performance but for safety and well being.
Properly executing a press, fly, push-up or any other form of punisher requires correct form if maximum results are your goal. A common tip for most chest moves would be to have a certain way to reduce chest contract and minimize deltoid involvement. To do this on a flat bench press, for example, shift your shoulders down to the floor and down to your waistline. This should help you expand your organization and create a small gap under your back from the bench. With your upper back and glutes making contact with the bench and your feet firmly on the ground, tense your thighs as if you want to push off but without actually moving your upper body. Now you’re ready to take advantage of pectoral.
Chest Builder #6 – Nonlinear resistance
Are you still lifting the same amount of weight with the same number of reps at the same rate of speed? Can you look at any day of the year? If so, are you surprised at your lack of progress? No, I am talking about all the advantages of muscle confusion, I am talking about the use of linear versus nonlinear muscle growth.
Numerous studies have increased in muscle growth and strength with respect to nonlinear load variation. When subject used this type of protocol they simply built more muscle. To explain, a linear protocol would have you shift your percentage loads (i.e. weight) higher or lower as the program progressed. A nonlinear type plan would have you undulate or shift the load up and down the plan progressed.
For example, if you trained in the first day would be 8-12 reps, the second day 4-6 reps and the last day 15-20 reps. There is no gradual pattern that fits neatly on a bar graph – the loads are variable day to day and week to week. Of course it’s going to be a little fun and you’re going to have a good time in your stale training program.
Chest Builder #7 – Giant circuits
Right along with bodyweight training, giant sets / circuits often get a bad rap when it comes to packing on the mass. Remember my friend with the big chest and triceps? He basically went nonstop in the fashion circuit, attacking those body parts over and over again. There is nothing to refute that would not apply to weight training as well. Remember, tiredness is the goal
Giant set is just one of the many exercises done back-to-back with little to no rest for a certain number of rounds or for time. They can be referred to as supersets, giant sets, complex gold circuits. Muscle mass, muscle endurance and some cardiovascular advantages as well. The trick to structuring such a program would be to pay close attention to when to place compound moves, isolation moves, high stability moves and weight versus body weight exercises.
For example, under normal circumstances, you should be able to use a high level of stability and a technical degree, and you need to be sure that you need to use it. It will also help to improve the performance of the technology and to reduce the need for it.
Chest Builder #8 – Clean up your training
Don’t fall victim to the old regimen of bench press, incline press, fly and cable crossover. I pretty much summed up most Mondays for everyone. Let me ask you this: Has it worked? Are you really progressing or do you just get a good pump and go home? If that works for you, I am sorry you have read this far and to have wasted your time. But if you are like the rest of the 99% of the population that struggles to see results then you may need to heed all of these points listed and do a little house cleaning with your current program.
Do you find yourself on the pec deck a lot, doing set after set? Flys? Cable crossovers and any other new contraption supposedly promising yourself it will isolate your pecs and grow a big chest? Your chest training program may need some cutting and trimming. The big, multi-joint exercises (the ones that give you the most bang for your buck) are the best to focus on. Flys, cable work and other machines are all fine and good but are only good if you already have a big piece of mass to carve up. You can’t sculpt a pebble.
Clean up your training. Take out the useless stuff and dead weight and focus on things like barbell and dumbbell presses, different angles of push-ups and dips. Once you master those key exercises and build an impressive set of pecs will you then benefit from a few isolation moves to help refine and shape your chest.
Wait and see
Some of the above may seem like no-brainer pieces of advice, but take stock of your current routine, be honest with yourself and adjust things the right way sans ego. If more muscle growth is your goal forget the personal records and start training toward your goal instead of trying to impress your buddies. There is no way around hard work so stay patient, consistent and self-disciplined and the results you seek will be yours.