Building Chest With Bench Press Workouts, your typical chest day probably consists of a barbell bench press and then some other “stuff.” Most likely biceps curls and some abs. (How did he know that!?) This works for many of you. That’s if you just want to build some mass on your chest.
However, if you want to turn your chest into Mount Everpecs, you need to understand the structure and function of the muscles that make up the chest and how to use movements that fully target the chest musculature.
Let’s start with the big fish first. The biggest and most well-known muscle of the chest is the pectoralis major, or in some circles, “the chesticles”.
The pectoralis major has two different heads, the clavicular (collarbone) and the sternal (chestbone) heads. The pec major acts on the shoulder joint to bring the shoulder into flexion, horizontal adduction and internal rotation (i.e. moving the upper arm upward in front of you, inward towards he midline of your torso, and spiralling inwards towards the body).
The smaller muscle that makes up the chest is aptly called the pectoralis minor. The pec minor works to protract the scapula (bringing your shoulder blade forward), depress the scapula (shoulder blade into back pocket) and downwardly rotate the scapula (rotating the shoulder blade towards the spine). You must know the actions of the muscles that make up the chest so you can understand the exercises you’re doing and how you can best target the chest for shirt-ripping growth.
Multiple angles will leave your chest mangled (in a good way of course). With all the flack bodybuilders get these days in strength and conditioning circles for their pseudoscience, this is something that many of the classic bodybuilders got correct. There is a scientific term for why targeting muscle groups at different angles help them grow: compartmentalisation of muscle. If you look at an anatomical picture of the chest, you will see that the fibres of the chest run mostly horizontally.
Compartmentalisation indicates that there are numerous different anatomical areas of muscle that have their own primary nerve branches. This means that certain angles will target specific areas of a muscle to a different effect. This is why those bodybuilders were actually correct when using the incline bench press to target the “upper chest.” It is important to note though that you CANNOT only contract a certain part of a muscle. When it does contract however, it contracts as a whole with varying degrees of activity within the fibres based on the angle.
For American Sniper-like targeting of the chest, you want to take the pec muscles through their full range of motion (ROM). This is what many people get wrong. For many gym-goers, our first love as a teen was the bench press. Then we got into fixed-plane machine movements (i.e. Hammer Strength training equipment) which I’m hardly discounting. In most of these movements, however, the scapulae can’t move as you are pressing – re-read the part about pec minor above – which means you aren’t bringing the shoulder into full horizontal adduction (inward toward the mid-line of the torso). In addition, there are a few ways to manipulate your hand position throughout movements to make sure that you are taking the pecs from a fully stretched position to a fully contracted position.
Here’s how you build a bigger, stronger chest: attack it at different angles, use a full range of motion, allow the shoulder blades to move properly from time to time, and alternate with different grip widths and grip styles.
Exercise – Reps x Sets
Barbell Bench Press – 5×5
Incline Dumbbell Press – 3×8
Push-ups with protraction – 3×12
In this workout, start out with the standard barbell bench press. Aim for strength here, using only 5 reps – the pump will come later. Follow that with the incline dumbbell press for accessory work to attack the upper chest, and finish off with push-ups. These push-ups should have a protraction emphasis, so think about pushing up and away from the floor. This will encourage a greater ROM by allowing the shoulder blades to move.
Incline Barbell Bench Press – 4×5
Foam Roller Supported Dumbbell Press – 4×10
Decline dumbbell fly – 3×15
Things do not get any easier here. The incline barbell bench tends to be way more difficult than its flat bench brother, but who said building the chest was going to be easy?
Follow that up with a foam roller supported dumbbell press, which allows you to use a greater range of motion and also encourages scapular protraction and retraction – something that’s missing when you’re on a bench. Finish off on a decline bench and hit flyes to create that deep sternal line that happens when you squeeze your pecs together (“man-cleavage” or “he-vage”).
Decline Barbell Bench Press – 4×8
Rotating Dumbbell Bench Press (supinated to pronated) – 3×10
Cable Fly (low position) – 3×15
This workout offers a slight reprieve from the first two. Of the three main angles, the decline is probably the easiest of them, so we’ll be hitting that for 4 sets of 8. Follow that up with a Rotating Dumbbell Bench Press. Here, we emphasise going from a supinated to a pronated hand position. Do you remember the Perfect Push-up? They were on to something there. Allowing the hands, and by extension, the arms, to rotate naturally as you press up keeps the shoulder joints healthy. In the bottom position of this bench press, your palms should be facing you, and at the top, your palms should be facing away. Finish it up with cable fly in a low position, making sure to feel a pec stretch at the bottom of the fly and a squeeze at the top.
Close-grip Bench Press – 4×6
Dumbbell Floor Press – 3×10
Cable Fly (high position) – 3×15
What good is a big chest, without a big bench? That’s what the close-grip bench and dumbbell floor press are for. Powerlifters use them to work on locking out their bench press, and there is also a little more tricep involvement here. Let’s face it, a big chest without the arms to match is also a bit of an anomaly, so we’re looking to correct that here. The increased range of motion on the close-grip bench compared to other barbell variations will be challenging. Pausing at the floor in the floor press will be, too, as you are increasing your time under tension. That itself is another mechanism for muscle growth. Here again, we finish with flyes – this time in the high position
Rotate these workouts with two full days of rest between each – in other words, one full round of these workouts should take ten days. At the end of three months you might notice you’ve grown a rather nice pair of chesticles.