Weak Point: Chest
Most lifters neglect their legs and backs, focusing all their attention on the “mirror” muscles – but not all. Are you different? Are you one of those guys who’s got great legs, a decent back, but hardly a chest to speak of? Are you strong on the heaviest lifts, but weak as all hell on the bench?
If so, there’s no need to worry. You already know how to strain hard on the heaviest lifts. Now you’ve just got to apply some smart training to the smaller muscles. Here are a few key tips for pumping up your pecs and getting a massive bench!
Stick to the Basics
In lifting – and in life – it’s common for people to neglect what they suck at, and focus most on their strengths. While this mindset may work sometimes, it’s not going to help you build overall strength or a fully-developed physique. Nope, if you want to get strong on the bench, you have to actually bench! Quit telling yourself that dumbbell presses, dips, and other pressing movements are going to somehow help you gain strength on the money movements.
Am I saying you shouldn’t do other types of pressing? Not at all! But if your pecs are small, and your presses are weak, the flat barbell bench will probably be the fastest way to bring up those weaknesses. Even if you’re not a powerlifter, it’s imperative that you don’t ignore this lift. Oh, and don’t listen to the naysayers who claim the bench isn’t really a good pec exercise. I dare you to find a great bencher who doesn’t have a wide, thick chest.
You may have noticed that high reps work incredibly well for legs and back. When you squat, you can just keep going and going – even with heavy weights. When you’re doing rows or pull-ups, you can put some swing into the movement and still feel most of it in your lats. Ultimately, your pain tolerance determines how much growth you’ll be able to get.
Unfortunately, things don’t quite work the same on the bench and other pressing movements. Your pecs, shoulders, and triceps are far smaller than your quads, hamstrings, and lats, and when they’re done – they’re DONE. You can extend a set of squats for a long-ass time, but you’ve only got so much strength in tank when you bench.
You’ll therefore need to focus on (relatively) heavy weights when you’re doing bench presses, inclines, or any other pressing exercise. Sets of twelve or more reps may give you a great pump, but the loads have to be so small that they’re hardly worth the effort! Stay around five reps for your main movements, and save the pump work for the end of your workout.
Some guys can make progress benching once a week, or even every other week – but not you! Frequency is the name of the game when it comes to improving your weak points, and your chest is no exception. If you want a big bench and powerful pecs, you’ll need to hit ’em heavy and hard, two or three times per week.
That being said, don’t start “maxing” your bench every day like a moron. That’s a good way to test your strength, but a horrible way to actually improve. When you’re performing a lift that often, you need to vary the loads and levels of exertion. You might use a 5 x 5 rep scheme on your first bench day, 4 x 6 the second, and 6 x 4 the third. This kind of template allows you to vary the weights, avoid stagnation, and consistently hit personal records. And remember, making those PRs is what’s really going to make your chest grow!
I know, I know, this is supposed to be a chest training article – and it is! But for most people, getting stronger on the overhead press is one of the best ways to improve the bench. There are plenty of decent benchers who can’t military press 135, but the inverse is rarely true. Just about anyone who can put big weights overhead can do the same on the bench.
Believe it or not, the strict, STANDING military press is also a fantastic upper chest-builder. There are quite a few bodybuilders who slave away on incline presses and never build that thick, shelf-like upper chest. On the other hand, pretty much everyone with impressive bench and overhead numbers has an impressive, fully-developed chest.
Pump it Up
I did say you should focus on benching, but that doesn’t mean you can’t throw in some pump work, as well. Combined with hard stretching, the higher-volume stuff can actually make a big difference in the way your chest looks. Once you’re done with your benches, incline presses, and dips, do a few high-rep sets of flies or crossovers. In between sets, stretch your chest as hard as possible. If you do this consistently, you may even notice your chest looking fuller in just a few weeks!