On one hand we’ve got so-called fitness “experts” overcomplicating chest training and making it seem far more complex that is really is. On the other hand, however, more and more minimalist trainers have gone the other route: claiming that building a bigger chest is as simple as bench pressing frequently and getting progressively stronger.
The truth, however, lies somewhere in the middle. Sure, there are those genetically gifted individuals whose chest would grow from nothing more than a few pushups each night before bed, but they’re the exception.
You see, building a solid, well-rounded chest doesn’t have to be this elaborate process where you hit the chest from all different angles; likewise, it’s usually not as simple as bench pressing every day.
If you want to build bigger pecs, there are two things that have to happen: For starters, you’ve got to understand the anatomy and physiology of the chest. Once you understand what muscles are involved and, more importantly, what function they’re responsible for, choosing the right exercises and how to perform them more effectively becomes obvious.
Second, once you’ve got your 2-3 key movements, focus on progression. If you’re performing the right exercises using proper form—this ensures that the pecs are doing the majority of the work rather than the secondary muscles bearing the load—and gradually increasing the load (i.e. increasing reps without sacrificing weight or increasing weight without sacrificing reps), your chest will grow.
In this article I want to, briefly, go over the basic anatomy of the chest and it’s functions, and then I want to go over what are, in my opinion, the only 3 chest exercises you need for building well-rounded pecs.
The Anatomy of the Chest
Contrary to popular belief, the chest is actually only made up of two main muscles: the pec major—this is basically the entire mid and lower pec—and the upper clavicular (or the upper-chest).
That said, it’s not hard to see why targeting the “mid chest” or “lower pecs” is a waste of time. The pec major is one muscle responsible for the same few functions: horizontal adduction, internal rotation, and shoulder extension.
The big difference between whether we’re targeting the pec major or the upper-chest comes down to shoulder involvement. You see, although the upper-chest is, to a lesser degree, responsible for horizontal adduction, the shortest contraction comes when we perform shoulder flexion.
Now that you understand what muscles you’re targeting and what movement they’re involved in, it’s time to go over the best exercises for training these functions effectively.
1. Primary Pushing Movement
The focal point of your chest training should do a few things. First, this exercise should focus on the primary function of the pecs: horizontal adduction. Second, it should be a big heavy compound exercise that allows you to load the pecs. And lastly, rather than focusing on one portion of the pecs, it should target the chest as a whole.
That said, the Bench Press is the obvious choice.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re already bench pressing, getting stronger, but your chest isn’t responding—am I right?
This is where understanding the physiology comes into play.
Watch the video below to get a better understand as to why your chest isn’t being effectively stimulated during your bench press.
If you’re already bench pressing frequently, using proper form, and getting stronger, fear not. There are still two more movements you should be implementing.
2. Shoulder Flexion
Although the bench press does a great job at distributing tension among the entire chest, the majority of the stress is still placed on the pec major. This is why I recommend that everyone include an exercise that prioritizes shoulder flexion when pushing—to ensure you’re stimulating the upper-chest sufficiently.
This exercises should:
- Focus primarily on the upper-chest
- Include a good deal of horizontal adduction (getting the humerus across the body)
For most, I’d recommend an incline dumbbell press. Using dumbbells will allow more freedom to bring the humerus across the body (horizontal adduction) while still allowing you to load the upper-chest to a great degree.
Another alternative would be the low-to-high cable fly. When we’re bringing the pulley up (shoulder extension) and together (horizontal adduction) we’re really focusing our efforts on the upper-chest. Not to mention, the cables allow for a much better—and safer—stretch than the dumbbells.
3. Deep Stretch, Short Contraction
Last but certainly not least, I recommend performing an exercise that (1) targets the chest as a whole, allows for a nice stretch, and allows for the greatest “feel” of the muscle. In my opinion, there is no better way to end a chest workout than a chest fly.
Whether it’s done with cables or dumbbells, the amount of stretch you can achieve, safely, with a chest fly is second to none. Not to mention, the further we get your upper-arm across our body, the shorter we can get the pec.
Want to maximize your contraction with the chest fly? Give this a shot!
Make the bench press the focal point of your chest training. Load the bar up and aim to get strong as hell. Include some upper-chest work to ensure you’re providing enough volume for growth. Then finish off your workout with a fly that allows for a good stretch, strong contraction, and an insane pump.
Want to take your chest training to the next level? Download my free chest training DVD series HERE!