Everyone loves a big chest
The Warm up
Before we get started – here’s my own personal experience with this issue: while I’ve never had a ‘sunken’ chest per se, I am also not genetically blessed with massive pecs - so for years I lay under that barbell bench, and worked myself up to a sizeable weight. I also performed flys, both with dumbbells and with cables, but still my chest and posture was lagging. Like many other people, the outermost portion near my armpits was thickly muscled, but as you moved towards my body’s centerline, the muscle thinned out noticeably.
It’s fair to say that the pectorals are of the most obvious symbols of your physique, and for many men (and women) they are the muscles that single-handedly can make or break “your look”. So I made a concious effort to rectify this error and save my spine and self-respect before it was too late.
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So here’s what I figured out. For one, I ditched the barbell and went to a dumbbell-only routine with all my presses. Not only do they provide a greater, more natural range of motion, but they also develop stability, as they require you balance and control the weights in your hands. I mean if you just look at the movement, it’s obvious the chest muscles work through a more complete range.
The bench press involves way too much shoulders and triceps for you to effectively isolate the pecs and get the most bang for your buck. I am not recommending to completely remove it from your training, but certainly do not rely on it as your #1 exercise on chest day, as most people do.
And for my posture, I focus on strengthening my Latissimus dorsi muscles (that’s your Lats…), so worked on weighted renegade rows and inverse rows using TRX cables:
You have to remember, however, that there’s a fine line between using appropriate weight to train your chest, and too much that will force you to use your triceps and shoulders to lift the weight. Think about it, how many of you finish a set of bench presses and say “I felt that in my shoulders”? So, I reduced the weight and focused solely on squeezing the chest through the full range of motion, and I slowed the speed of the exercise down as well.
Another interesting change I made was eliminating flat position pressing as I get a better squeeze and pump in the chest muscles while on a slight incline. This really made a huge difference. I know some of you love the opposite position – the decline press – but this is nothing more then a modified, inverted dip if you really look at it. So I suggest you go with inclines instead.
Unfortunately, going into the gym and doing some bench pressing, dumbbell pressing, and finishing off with chest flyes is not the answer most chest-laggers require. You have to learn to punish the chest!
Getting a bigger chest requires absolute chest obliteration, with exercises that help make sure your chest is the most dominant and least inhibited muscle group during the movement. It requires a mix of some heavy lifting, and light superset work. Let’s take a look:
The Warm up
Exercise #1: Chest Dips – if you haven’t been doing them, start immediately. Here’s the difference, however. Instead of facing the machine when doing dips, do them with your back turned towards it. This means that you can’t bend at the knees because the machine will obstruct you, so instead you keep your legs straight and go all the way down until you’re an inch or so off of actually standing on the ground. Then go back up, completing a rep. On regular chest dips, it is recommended that you lean forward to make sure your triceps aren’t doing a majority of the work, however, when doing this variation leaning slightly forward helps but is not necessary. That little detail is entirely up to what you wind up feeling more in your chest, remember it is all about the mind-muscle connection at work. Some will feel the chest more with a slight lean, others can be rather straight on this variation and feel the chest perfectly isolated.
The reason this variation is a better alternative is because it takes more of the shoulders out of the movement, placing more emphasis between the chest and the triceps. With focus on the chest, you can make sure the triceps have minimal involvement as well. As always when performing dips, make sure the handle bars are on the outside as opposed to the inside. Wider grip focuses more on chest. As a final note, your elbows do not have to be in when performing this exercise. They can, and probably will, be flaring due to the circumstances you are working with doing the movement in this manner.
Shoot for a 5×5 opening act on chest day (with weights, if necessary). If you are not proficient at these yet, warm up by doing the regular chest dips facing the machine and using the pad before turning around and moving on to your heavy sets. For those who are proficient, do a bodyweight set or 2 to warm up (up to 20 reps).
Exercise #2: Incline DB Press – Nothing stands out more on the pecs as does a dominating upper chest. Make sure to do this movement on a slight incline, no more than a 2 or 3 on an adjustable bench. We don’t want shoulders to come too much into the mix. Go all the way down till your dumbbells are at the side of your chest, and for extra intensity, don’t lockout at the top of the rep (don’t make your arms go straight, stop short of that and automatically began going back down for your next rep). This will keep the chest under tension the entire time, not allowing it to rest with each rep. Leave your ego at the door, don’t perform half-reps like most people in the gym when they are chest-pressing dumbbells. They go half-way down and then back up, trying to be heroes. If you’re trying to work your triceps, go ahead and do that. Otherwise, it is the bottom half of the movement that is the most important for a chest workout.
Shoot for a 3×8 (3 sets, 8 reps), followed by a finishing set of 21s (grab a lower weight, and do: 7 reps half way down, 7 reps half way up, 7 full reps – all without stopping). You’re going to be screaming at the end of this. But we’re not done.
Exercise #3/4: Chest Flyes + Push Ups – We’re going to do this in a superset manner, and there are two ways you can do this.
1) You can use the pec-dec machine for doing chest flyes, and immediately after finishing your set, drop down and do push ups till failure.
2) You can use cables to do cross-over chest flyes, and immediately after finishing your set, drop down and do push ups till failure.
For added variety, do decline or incline push ups by using a bench to either place your feet on it and do push ups on the ground (decline) or placing your feet on the ground and your hands on the bench (incline). Aim for 3×12 on the flys, and 3x failure on the push ups.
Remember, at all times you need to make sure that you are eating enough calories to feed your body what it needs to grow from your training and to fill out that chest – just make sure it’s not bird seed!