The chest is one of those areas that a lot of us have trouble developing – myself included.
You can put it right up there with calves and traps as the most frustrating muscles for a lot of us. Some of it is genetics. Everyone has their strong points and their weak-points. My calves are diamond-cutters. They’re tiny, and only within the last couple of years have I really ever put any size on them.
Chest is something I’ve learned to really excel at using a few simple techniques, and a number of classic exercises with a few isolation exercises sprinkled in.
You need to stretch the muscle, then contract
Decline bench press is one of the best exercises for developing big pectoral muscles because it allows you to stretch the muscle in a way that a conventional bench press doesn’t. Some think that the decline bench press is only for the lower portion of the chest. Not true.
It actually works the entire muscle and opens it up in a way that is hard to replicate otherwise.
Also try using dumbbells for your bench presses. You can go lower and open up the muscle more-so than you can with a barbell. I love using a barbell, but switch things up every couple of weeks for some variety.
On every rep, make sure you’re feeling a good stretch in the muscle before pressing. As you reach the top of the lift, hold for 1-2 seconds and squeeze of flex the muscle, then continue on with the lift.
To get the most out of your workouts, and to see results with a muscle that you normally wouldn’t, you have to focus on the quality of each rep, not simply focusing on a quality “set”.
Eccentric is easily as important as concentric
The concentric movement on a bench press get’s all of the glory. It’s the press. The “I’m this strong” movement. However, what’s often neglected is a movement that is easily as important: the eccentric contraction, which is the ‘way down’ of the exercise.
Do not neglect the eccentric phase of the bench press. Start off with a 3 second count on the way down as you resist the force of gravity. Try increasing that count by 2 seconds ever 4 weeks while maintaining an “as fast as possible press, or concentric contraction.
Neglecting the eccentric contraction of any exercise is like missing out on more than 50% of the lift.
3 exercises that isolate the chest
1. neck press
To stretch the muscle than usual, bring the bar down to your neck rather than your chest. This will isolate the chest more than a conventional bench press. You’ll also be able to press a lot less weight. So don’t stack your max on and expect to be able to complete a rep – especially since you’re coming down to your neck, not a good idea if you can’t get the weight back up.
2. med-ball push-up (sides of the med ball)
Place your hands on the sides of the medicine ball and complete a push-up. In order to keep from falling on your stomach, you have to exert a lot of force on either side of the ball, much like a vice. Plus you have to do the push-up.
This will help you hit the chesticles from two angles and you’re really going to isolate the muscle in a way that most conventional chest exercises don’t allow. As you progress, think about putting a plate or two on your back, or try using a weighted vest if you have access to one.
Often used for the triceps – and it remains one of my favorite exercises for the tri’s – dips can also be great for the chest, and improving your strength for the bench press.
Make sure you’re really stretching the muscle by dipping down low enough. As you progress with your strength, you need to be adding weight, don’t simply complete as many bodyweight reps as possible. If you have access to a belt where you can attach a plate to, then use it. If you don’t, try holding a dumbbell between your feet.
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