This guide will help you get the most out of your chest sessions and teach you some of the tips and tricks that I use myself and with my clients in the gym in order to help them build a strong, defined chest.
First of all if you haven't read my article on muscle building mistakes you need to check that out. It will give you the first steps on building muscle, so check that out and make sure you're getting the basics. You can read it HERE.
Secondly its good to understand a little about the anatomy of the chest muscles or pectorals....
The primary function of the chest muscle is to press the arms out in front of the body, this is why the bench press is such a popular exercise to develop the chest. The pectoralis major is the larger of the chest muscle. Any chest exercise will use the entire chest muscle, but by varying the angle of an exercise you can target certain areas of the chest - the upper, middle and lower pecs.
The pectoralis minor sits behind the pectoralis major and helps perform movements such as ones that hinge the arm inwards towards the centre of the body from the shoulder (e.g. chest flyes).
Training both of the pectoral muscles is important to develop a well rounded looking chest.
1. Warm The Chest Up Before Going Heavy
Like any training session you should always begin with a warm up, if for nothing else than to decrease the risk of injury. I normally like to start my chest session with the bench press, so I'll usually throw out a couple of sets of 20 reps with just the bar before I stack any weight on it. Another of my favourite ways to warm the chest up is by performing a few sets of plate presses. Grab a single weight plate, lie back on a flat bench, hold the plate by placing it between the palms of your hands and SQUEEZING both hands together to keep the plate in place. From there press it above you as you would do in a normal bench press whilst maintaining the squeeze. This type of exercise helps engage both of the pectoral muscles.
2. Hit It Hard At Every Angle
As mentioned above the pectoralis major roughly divides into upper, middle and lower. This is why you hear a lot of people saying they want to work on their lower chest for example. Although you cant really isolate these individual areas, you can modify the exercises so they hit a certain area more prominently. The upper chest muscle fibres will be hit harder during exercise that place them on an incline. Raising the bench during a barbell or dumbbell press would therefore hit that area. The chest then pretty much follows that pattern. Incline to hit the upper muscle fibres, decline to hit the lower fibres. The middle portion is hit hardest during flat pressing exercises.
3. Don't Just Press
Include some chest fly exercises which will also hit the pectoralis minor as well as the major. Dumbbell flyes, cable chest flies or even machine flyes. A great way to perform cable flyes is to do a few sets on a high cable, then middle cable and finally low cable, this not only targets both pectoral muscles but also goes back to the previous point of targeting the different areas of the pectoralis major for an all over developed look.
4. Get A Grip
When bench pressing I always encourage my clients to REALLY squeeze the bar - as if you're trying to pull it apart. The increased grip really helps engage all the muscles being used during the press and will recruit more of the chest muscle fibres to really boost your gains during your bench press.
5. Slow Things Down
Try reducing your weight on bench press or dumbbell press and aiming for a 4-5 second eccentric (lowering) contraction. So press the bar up as usual but take extra time to carefully lower the bar back down toward your chest. The extra time under tension will create a whole new type of intensity and I guarantee you'll feel a burn. You can even do this on bodyweight exercises like dips and push ups. Just take extra time to lower yourself back down to the ground after each push up for example.
6. Try Some Plyo
Speaking of push ups try plyometric push ups. In other words as you push up from the ground explode up off the floor so that your hands actually leave the ground, make sure you land back into the push up and not too hard on your elbows and be careful not to hit your face on the floor (it does hurt - a lot).
7. Change Your Grip
Try swapping your grip on bench press for an underhand grip rather than the standard overhand. You'll probably need to reduce the weight but you'll also recruit around a quarter more of the chest muscle fibres.
Don't forget the triceps! Although not part of the chest muscle, they do assist in the majority of chest exercises, especially any pressing ones. Developing a strong set of triceps will help assist your chest muscle with any big movements, so I like to finish my chest sessions with some tricep isolation work, things like tricep push downs/pull downs etc.