What kind of person who weight trains wants or needs a chest workout routine? Powerlifters get big chests naturally by training the Bench Press movement in different ways. Olympic powerlifters, however, are more concerned about getting the barbell up over their heads rather than pushing it out in front of them. Bodybuilders are obviously known to develop their chests to make all their muscles large and proportional.
It’s not just male or female fitness models who have a reason to develop their chest muscles. How else do you exhibit to others that you have done a fair amount of training? Is it the size of the arms? How about when you take off your shirt and they see some sizable horizontal bands of pectoral muscles undulating underneath chest skin? That would do it.
It is not necessary to be an expert in physiology to be able to name exactly the primary and secondary muscle mechanics of the chest muscles. It is sufficient to say that just about any movement in which you are forcefully bringing your hands or arms together out towards the center of your body will work your chest muscles.
To develop chest muscles thoroughly for bodybuilding purposes, both compound and isolation chest exercises should be done. Two of the all time best compound chest exercises are Bench Press and weighted Dips. Heavy to moderate weights are done for compounds. Reps for these should be within the 6 to 10 rep range. The advantage of doing compound exercises is that they work not only your chest muscles but also your shoulders and triceps. Exercises such as dumbbell Flyes or Pec Dec fit into the category of isolation exercises. The recommended number of reps for isolation type chest movements can be rather high. You should plan on doing between 8 and 15 reps for isolation movements.
The three main chest exercises:
1) Bench Press
2) Weight Dips
3) An isolation movement such as dumbbell Flyes or Pec Dec.
Think of the Bench Press as an upside-down push up. There are different kinds of weight machines in gyms that allow you to perform variations of the bench press movement but the exercise described here is done with a barbell. Technique is of the utmost importance in the Bench Press. If you are new to the exercise or have not performed it in a while, it is best to begin with a very light weight.
1) Lie on the weight bench. Keep your feet flat on the floor. There should be a slight arch in your lower back. Grasp the bar with both hands about shoulder width or more apart. Your thumbs should wrap around the bar.
2) Inhale, activate your lats and disengage the bar from the rack. Lower the bar slowly to your chest. Try to keep your elbows in.
3) The bar should touch your chest at or slightly above nipple level. Pause briefly at the bottom.
4) Push or rather, drive the weight up and exhale. You’ll find that the bar will usually arc upwards from your chest to an area over your neck. Do not fully lock your arms.
Take a look at a demonstration of the Bench press:
This exercise is not only good for the chest but many consider it the “king” of triceps exercises. Dips are considered a closed chain or bodyweight exercise but with a weight attached it is fantastic for developing not only the chest, shoulder and triceps but also balance as well. Add these to your routine if you have not already done so.
1) Hoist yourself up between two parallel bars with your arms straight.
2) Slowly lower yourself bending your elbows until your elbows form a 90 degree angle or less.
3) Pause briefly at the bottom and then push or drive yourself up. You’ll find that if you lean forward
a bit in the exercise, the chest muscles will get a better workout.
4) If you are new to doing this exercise, use only bodyweight first. After you can do 10 to 15 reps, add
ten pounds to the exercise by tying plates around your waist. Every time you can do 10 reps, add another ten pounds.
Here is a demonstration of Weighted Dips:
This is a machine exercise that isolates the pecs. There is a far greater range of motion than either the Bench Press or weighted Dips. Depending on the machine you are using, you elbows may be either straight out or bent at a 90 degree angle.
1) Whatever machine you are using, your palms will be facing forwards, If using bars or cables, extend your arms making sure you keep a slight bend in them. If you are using a Pec Dec with pads, place your elbows against the pads.
2) Squeeze the pads or bars or cable handles together to directly in front of you. Slowly allow back to starting position and repeat.
Here is a how to do the Pec Dec:
These are much more difficult than using the Pec Dec because you are using more stabilizer muscles. The machine has predefined lines to follow whereas in this free weight exercise, you create your own.
1) Lie on a flat weight bench on your back. The dumbbells are in your hands, palms together, arms are straight.
2) Lower the dumbbells out to your sides bending your elbows as you do so. The heavier the dumbbells you use, the greater the bend in your elbows. Pause slightly at the bottom.
3) Return the dumbbells to the straightened arm position overhead by using a hugging arm motion. The idea is to squeeze your chest muscles to together during this lift.
A demonstration of Dumbbell Flyes:
A Typical Chest Workout Routine:
Warm up with a couple sets of push-ups and bodyweight dips. Don’t do too many reps. This is just for blood flow and sensing if there are any injury issues.
1) Do Bench Press first. Use a weight heavy enough to do 6 reps. Perform one set to momentary muscular failure doing a High Intensity Training type of protocol or else do 2 or 3 sets of near failure. When you can do 10 reps, increase the weight by about ten pounds.
2) Do Weighted Dips. Tie a weight around your waist that’s heavy enough to do 6 reps. Same protocol as Bench Press. (Please note that it is okay to do Dips before Bench Press. It’s also okay to train to failure for one exercise but not for the other).
3) Do Pec Dec or DB Flyes last. Same protocol as other exercises except you perform at least 10 reps and work up to 15.
You should try to push yourself on every set. It is okay for beginners who are new to these exercises to workout 3 times a week because the beginning weights you are using are not usually very heavy. As you get stronger however, you should not be doing these exercises in your chest workout routine any more than once or twice a week.
And if you are looking to increase your bench press, the folks at Critical Bench put out a fairly comprehensive instructive guide with their The Critical Bench Program 2.0. Every little bit helps, just remember, increasing weight is a process and so it doesn’t all happen overnight. There’s a lot of work to it.