How to Get a Bigger Chest: The Intermediate’s Guide
Chest development is arguably the most sought-after item on the average gym-goers “to-do” list. Whether you’re a “functional trainer” or not, the quest for a bigger chest is ages old and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
Related: 3 Workouts For Pecs of Steel
With countless hours toiling away on the bench press, incline bench and various machines and cable apparatuses building a big, powerful, strong chest is the ultimate goal and reason for many to ever touch a barbell to begin with. But do you continue to struggle with the task of building more pec mass?
The Argument For a Bigger Chest
So, why build a big chest to begin with? Is it the bragging rights, the feeling of power when you walk into a room or the fact that you can be proud of what you’ve built? Or maybe it’s simply the desire to round-out a muscular, proportioned physique.
The chest works in concert with so many other body parts and functions of the body that it would behoove anyone to build more mass and strength in that area. For example, the lungs and diaphragm work together with the pecs to generate upper body power and strength giving you the advantage of overall stability.
The chest also works synergistically and antagonistically with the back to develop more strength and control. This will enhance muscle balance and shoulder stability providing for better posture.
It’s easy to see the advantages of a better, stronger chest, but some of us also want the muscle mass to go with it so we can finish off our own physiques of greatness.
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The Real Story Behind a Bigger Chest
Countless sets of bench presses and flys will only get you so far especially if you consider yourself a “hardgainer” in those areas. Not everyone is built to take full advantage of presses, gain immense strength and subsequently more pec mass.
During desperate times you may find yourself performing sets of triples, doubles, and singles on the flat bench press only to find your efforts produce little-to-no results. What is the solution? More sets? Even more weight?
As the laws of overload would have you think, all you theoretically need to do is progress through weight lifted in order to grow larger but you may need a completely different approach to training your chest. The big-chested dude at your local gym will surprisingly have little advice to offer if they so happen to be a great responder to the tried and true traditional lifts. In other words, if Joe Bench Press has always been great at building his chest what can he teach you – the troubled, frustrated trainee needing a different approach?
Yes, your focus should still be on the big, multi-joint, compound lifts like presses but you may need to start and conduct your chest training a bit different than Joe Bench Press. You may need some specialization and a reorder of exercises to take full advantage of retraining your pecs to start growing again.
Those who possess special talents in certain areas of the body have a unique advantage unknown to many. They have developed intense nerve pathways to their best body parts. The more numerous and efficient nerve activity (innervation) you have the better you will perform. This is normally accomplished due to genetics (you can’t control) or long periods of high rep training (you can control).
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For example, if someone has performed high-rep push-ups their whole life will they have a keen connection to their pecs able to pump blood and nutrients to that area with little effort? You bet. The point is that you may not have that relationship with your pecs – yet. You may need to get “back in touch” with your chest and make it a priority to feel those muscle fibers contracting intensely without wreaking your shoulders.
Your War Chest Arsenal
The following is a short list of categories of different types of chest exercises. Although this isn’t an exhaustive list it does break down the types and their subsequent movement variations.
Barbell presses: The barbell bench press is considered the big kahuna of chest exercises. Your ability to load up big weight and lift in the multi-joint mode gives you many advantages such as training multiple muscle groups at once, lifting the most amount of weight for overloading and, unlike dumbbells, focus on mostly pushing instead of balancing. Barbell presses come in many forms including flat, incline and decline variations as well as many grip widths and intensity techniques.
Dumbbell presses: The advantages of dumbbell press work are numerous. Unlike barbell work dumbbells allow you to manipulate the weight in such a way as to contract the pecs more thoroughly by bringing them together at the top of the movement. And, since you are trying to balance individual weights with each arm, your pecs have to work overtime to stay on track and perform the exercise correctly and effectively. As with barbell presses dumbbell work can be performed on a flat, inclined or declined bench.
Flys: Whether you’re using dumbbell, machine or cable versions of the exercise flys have the undeniable ability to isolate the pecs like no press can. But that’s where the similarities end. There are significant differences in each fly exercise.
For example, dumbbell flys require the most balance and lack stress to the pecs in the finish position. Machine flys accomplish a major amount of stress to the pecs all the way through the movement and little shoulder stability on your part. Finally, cable flys provide continuous stress much like the machine version but you have to pay a bit more attention to shoulder stability and position.
Machine exercises: When it comes to machines every gym is a little different regarding types, models and availability. Traditional machine presses, Hammer Strength equipment and other weight-loaded options have the unique advantage of allowing you to give pressing all of your attention without much thought given to balance and coordination. Some will scoff at the mere mention of machines but they do have a place in programs for those who struggle with pec development.
Bodyweight exercises: Bodyweight chest exercises round-out this must-do list. Push-ups, suspension trainer push-ups, feet-elevated push-ups, plyo push-ups and depth push-ups all require little-to-no equipment and can be done virtually anywhere. Great for being used as finishers or as part of a compound set (two sets done back-to-back for the same body part) bodyweight chest exercises are the underrated and underutilized heroes for a bigger chest.
Chest Angles of Attack
As an intermediate trainer looking for more ways to stimulate your chest development you may need to look at your chest training in a new way and put away the bench press ego for a while. As stated earlier, you will need to reacquaint yourself with all of those untapped muscle fibers so you can finally see some progress in the muscle mass department.
Traditional mass builders: These are the big pec mass builders that stimulate the most muscle and take full advantage of your strength curve. They enable you to lift the most weight possible. Go with all barbell and dumbbell press work using various angles and benches.
Stretch angles: These exercises place a great deal of stretch on the pecs. You won’t be able to load up on the weight as with other exercises but the stretch takes center stage here. Look to all flys that highlight the stretch position. Remember to use moderate amounts of weight as to not stress your joints too much with heavy weight.
Contraction angles: These exercises put the pecs in the best position for maximum contraction. Again, certain flys fit the bill here such as machine and cable flys where the tension is never lost or reduced throughout the motion. Slow and controlled is the name of the game here.
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Finally, you will want to take full advantage of pre-exhaustion when rebooting your pec assault. Simply put, this technique involves placing an isolation exercise before a multi-joint exercise. his will allow your pecs to be properly stimulated without worrying about shoulder or triceps strain. Once you move on to the rest of the program your pecs are guaranteed to take the brunt of the stress. Over time you will achieve greater nerve activation from your pecs and the results will follow.
The Chest Workouts
Below are three uniquely different chest routines built for any training situation. One for the traditional gym-goer, one for the home trainer and the last is for bodyweight only enthusiasts. Use one, two or all three for each chest session and get ready for new growth in your pecs.
Perform three to four sets of eight to 12 reps of each exercise. Rest one minute between sets.
Gym chest workout
- Shoulder-level cable crossover
- Incline bench barbell press
- Machine or Hammer Strength press
- Machine fly
Home gym chest workout
- Incline bench dumbbell fly
- Flat bench dumbbell press
- Decline bench dumbbell press
- Close-grip push with 3-second top contraction
Bodyweight chest workout
- Suspension trainer chest fly
- Feet-elevated push-up
- Floor push-up
- Suspension trainer press with 3-second top contraction