Ever See A World-Class Bench Presser With Small Pecs? Didn't Think So.
Although a powerlifter may be bulkier than you want to be, we can certainly learn a lot about the power and size in their chest muscles. They tend to produce more force per unit of fiber and if you were to “peel back the onion” per say, you would see some of the thickest, most well developed pecs on the planet.
The classic exercise that is used as a foundation to building a thick chest is of course the bench press. No doubt the bench press requires considerable contribution from the pecs, but it also needs help from the anterior deltoids (the muscles on the front of your shoulders) and triceps (the muscles on the back of the arms). This is where bench press technique makes all the difference in the world when looking to build pec size. Rather than focus on a big bench, if you focus on big size, you will get the best of both worlds.
But even great bench press technique alone won’t build the kind of pecs that rival the like of top professional bodybuilders. In fact, many of the top bench pressers in the world would likely say their monster chests came from everything else they did on bench day. That’s right, the assistance exercises you choose will be your defining factor on adding the size you have been looking for. With all of this in mind, let’s dive into some key success factors.
The Anatomy of The Pectoralis Major
If you have been struggling to add critical mass and definition to your chest, it is because you’ve probably been overlooking some very important things. First, trying to pinpoint the lower and middle/sternal portions of the pecs by using specific exercises is simply not going help. The anatomical shape of your pecs and its fiber’s line of pull dictate how your pecs will develop, and that is genetically decided.
The chest muscles are best stimulated by hitting numerous angles.
While the fibers originate from the collar bone, sternum, and your first six ribs, due to the single insertion point on the Humerus (upper arm), the muscles' line of pull changes as you move your arm upward from waist to overhead. But interestingly enough, the angle doesn’t change much at the sternum and rib portions of the pecs. In other words, the line of pull stays relatively the same in those areas. That means that while the intent may be to hit the lower pecs, or increase the size of the valley between your pecs, no single exercise can truly do that.
This has been confirmed by electromyography studies (EMG) that have examined various angles and exercises. However, as you do change your arm position from below parallel to the ground to above your head, the upper pectoral activation changes as well as your entire pectoralis muscle. This means you need to build your pecs through angle variation, and that decline press and its variations may not officially target the lower pecs, but they will help build overall size to the entire pectoralis.
For those who insist they need help building lower or inner pecs, you will… If you build a bigger, thicker chest overall. And you do that by making sure you isolate various movements.
Isolate Your Pecs For Big Gains
Big benching builds big pecs, no doubt! However, to get that shape and ultimate thickness, you need to isolate and attack your pecs with angles creating lines that force your pecs to stretch way back at the beginning of the lift and get squeezed tight at the end of the movement. The best way to do this is to lighten the load slightly, hit a few more reps, and do no less than four sets of each exercise.
The following are the 5 "Must-Do" Exercises to increase chest size. Add these weapons to your arsenal, and your chest will be thanking you in a few short weeks.
1. Isolated Standing Cable Flyes—The modified more upright and arms position of the cable cross is one of, if not the, best exercises to increase overall chest mass. While the weight used is not very much, the range of motion is extreme, and with regular training, there is not an exercise that works more pectoral fibers.
Step out far enough from the machine so you get maximal stretch across your chest. Start with your arms abducted out from your sides, so they are parallel to the ground (making a 90-degree angle at your armpit). With elbows slightly bent, pull across your body at chest height until your hands meet. The motion should be similar to hugging with an exaggerated arc. You can do this exercise seated if your pec flye machine has adequate range of motion.
2. Dumbbell Incline Flyes—This only works well to improve pec size if you use moderate weight and increase the range of motion. Make sure your arms are almost fully extended. This exercise hits the clavicular/collar bone head (upper fibers) of the pecs, which improves overall thickness. Lying against the bench, the motion is the same as the standing cable flye. Go for maximal range of motion with the same hugging action.
3. Wide-Grip Bench Press—Since range of motion is the name of the game, this exercise will nail your chest with a super-stretch if you take your time and lighten the load from your normal bench press weight. If your shoulders can handle the stress, take a grip outside the deep knurls on the bar. Bring the bar all the way down to your chest, pause for a moment, and then fire it up. Hitting solid reps of this exercise on pec day will not only help improve your bench but add thickness to your chest.
4. Single-Arm Cable Cross—Nothing beats a good isolation exercise that focuses on one side of the body at a time. Take a good step or two away from the stack and maximize your range. Stand almost upright with your arm abducted out to the side, above shoulder height, to create about a 120-degree angle at the armpit. Pull down toward your waist and come completely across the front of your body.
5. Underhand Cable Cross (from low-pulley position)—This is one of the toughest exercises, but it zeroes in on the whole chest to maximize fiber recruitment. Start with your arms fully extended down at your sides with a 30-degree armpit angle. Pull upward, extending your arms out in front of you, following an arc pattern. Your arms should finish at shoulder height with arms fully extended. You can bend your elbows slightly during this movement.
Dial in Your Training
To cut to the chase, a chest-building plan requires two philosophies: strength and volume. A chest-defining plan has two elements: lots of isolated moves and lots of variation on both the angle of attack, and the exercises being utilized. Hit some big mass exercises with a pile of lean cutting rep combinations, and you are well on your way to turning your moobs into a jacked rack! You will need to train your chest twice per week if you want this program to pay off. The first workout of the week will be your strength or bench day, while the second workout of the week will be your size and isolation day. Exercise order, set, and rep scheme are important if you want to maximize your training; however, if you need to switch things up, don’t be afraid to. Just make sure you get every exercise completed for every set and rep as prescribed—remember, volume is king for adding size!
Persuade Your Pecs to Pop
If your bench press has not been building your pecs like you want, try coaxing them along by featuring them through isolation. A big chest is built when you go full range of motion and train them the way you would train any other muscle you want to pop.
The following two-day-a-week training plan is designed to maximize pec development. Be aware that your anterior deltoids will take a beating here, especially with exaggerated range of motion. Be careful adding too much shoulder work to this program, and if you do want to hit your shoulders hard, they should be done on one of these days to maximize recovery.
Day 1 Workout
|Barbell Bench Press Wide Grip||4||8||150|
|Incline Barbell Bench Press Wide Grip||4||10||150|
|Standing/Seated Pec Flye||4||10||120|
|Incline Dumbbell Pec Flye||4||8||120|
Day 2 Workout
|Standing Cable Pec Flye||4||12||90|
|Underhand Cable Cross||4||12||90|
|Incline Dumbbell Pec Flye||4||12||90|
|Wide-Grip Bench Press||4||10||120|
|Single-Arm Cable Cross||4||15||120|
Why It Works
Most people burn out their support muscles too soon when bench pressing. They leave nothing in the tank for their chest as their triceps and anterior delts shouldered the load. By using an alternating strength and hypertrophy workout each week and providing a rep and rest scheme that screams hypertrophy, your pecs get the load right from the get go. Adding the wider than normal grip to your bench pressing movements will help fry your pecs from rep one. The key to success: don’t worry how much you bench—focus on widening and thickening your pecs. Do this for six to eight weeks and watch your upper body grow like it never has before.
Recover and Grow Faster
When you place maximum stress on a large muscle group like the pecs, you also need maximum recovery especially when you are training them twice a week.