Building a Bigger Chest: A 12-week Program for Guaranteed Success

As an ALLMAX Nutrition consumer it’s clear that quality is important to you. As such, the physique you diligently work to craft is, in all probability, pretty impressive. But, as with all things worth striving for, there’s always room for improvement. The chest is one muscle group most of us feel we could use a little help with. Though many are blessed with massive arms and legs and wide shoulders and lats, just as many seem to display incomplete pec development.

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The Chest Challenge

Ben Pakulski Chest

Narrow, misshapen, bottom heavy or lacking depth, a poorly built chest can ruin an otherwise phenomenal shape. So why does the chest so often lag behind the rest of one’s physique? Rather than being a case of poor genetics or a particular stubbornness unique to pectoral muscle tissue, a person’s inability to build dense chest musculature can usually be traced back to inferior training form, improper program structure, and poor exercise selection. By better rounding out their chest training program, working this complex muscle grouping more consistently, and targeting it with perfect form, these lifters are more likely to experience superior chest development.

Those who seem permanently attached to the bench press and who power up the bar as if at a power lifting meet often exhibit a massive lower chest, but lack the aesthetic flow more complete development conveys.

As one of five muscle groupings (among which are the latissimus dorsi, deltoids, trapezius, rotator cuff muscles and serratus anterior) which work to move the complex, multi-directional shoulder joint, the chest, when fully built, is much more than a wide, thick and jutting centerpiece for well-balanced upper body development. In fact, when it comes to pushing one’s weight around, the muscles of the chest (comprised of the two-headed pectoralis major – which forms the bulk of chest mass from upper to lower – and three-headed pectoralis minor – situated beneath the pec major on the outer chest) quite literally rise to the occasion, assisting upper arm extension and flexion though the involvement of the scapula, clavicle and humerus bones and associated muscles.

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A prime mover (along with the anterior deltoids) in mass-building movements such as the bench press, the chest is best stimulated, and thus developed, when fully stretched and flexed and targeted through movements designed to maximize development across its upper, lower, middle and outer muscle fibers. Though it can be adequately worked with several well-chosen multi-joint movements (the aforementioned bench presses along with dumbbell presses – flat-bench and incline – and dips, which, indeed, should form the basis of any good chest mass gaining program), the chest, given its structure, should be worked with a broad range of both isolation and compound exercises to ensure full, complete development.

The following article will provide a chest-building program based on the most effective pec movements around, both isolation and mass-building. Should you precisely follow it, you will soon be sporting chest development to rival the best, and no longer will you be covering up when the hot weather beckons.

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Dumbell Press

Along with the complete execution of each of the movements below, and a willingness to train to failure on each set, there is little else to stipulate regarding the following program. What is essential, however, is an ability to complete this program to the letter. When addressing bodybuilding nutrition for impressive muscle-building results you would not compromise your diet by gorging on fast foods or by taking inferior supplements.

You must at all times aim for quality which, duly acquired, will be reflected in the size and shape of your muscles.

This same philosophy holds true when hoisting heavy iron. From rest between sets to number of sets and reps prescribed, it is important to not overlook a single step in your quest to build the kind of muscle that makes Ronnie Coleman do a double take. Experience shows that a single missed step can lead to a degree of trainee complacency, which may ultimately establish poor training habits and, in turn, encourage subpar results.

Needless to say, proper nutrition and adequate rest are important mitigating factors against overtraining; as is correct training form and consistency of effort. The following program is hard, but with sufficient recovery from each session, a well-balanced diet comprised of 35 percent proteins, 50 percent complex and fibrous carbohydrates and 15 percent essential fats, a good selection of quality supplements, a mental attitude conducive to pushing through all pain barriers and limitations to success and a willingness to train with volcanic fury, your results will be most impressive. Guaranteed.

The movements

Flat Bench Barbell Press

A movement responsible for adding more chest mass than any other, the flat bench barbell press is often called the king of the upper body movements, and for good reason: because of its angle of execution and involvement of more assisting muscle groups, it allows massive amounts of weight to be lifted. And when done correctly it serves to isolate the entire pec region, stimulating maximum muscle fiber recruitment.

Muscles worked: entire chest region

Advantages: ultra-heavy loads can be lifted and can be used to generate optimal bulk and power.

Execution

Upon lowering the bar to mid-pec level (just above the nipple line) – using a medium-spaced grip – press weight (without pausing) to a full contraction (flexing the chest upon completion).

Dumbbell Bench Press

Like the bench press, the dumbbell version activates maximum muscle fiber engagement, but with a muscle-building twist: it allows a slightly deeper range of motion and, because each arm works independently, the chest muscles are presented with a greater challenge and must work harder to stabilize the arms through their full range of motion. Furthermore, because the arms are not clamped into a fixed plane (as when using a bar), the shoulder joints freely navigate their own natural angle of ascent and descent; this may activate more muscle fibers while ensuring fewer injuries.

Muscles worked: entire chest region

Advantages: allows a greater range of motion and is safer (compared to bench presses).

Execution

Beginning movement with dumbbells pressed together (with arms fully extended and palms facing feet), slowly lower weights until each dumbbell slightly touches the outer-middle portion of the chest before (without resting) pressing back to the starting position.

Weighted Chest Dip

An excellent movement for creating lower-chest depth, the dip will help to carve deep separation in this region to achieve that squared-off look so important for total pec shape and proportionality. Initially use bodyweight as resistance until 12 reps can be performed with perfect technique; then add weight, increasing training load in progressive resistance fashion from session to session.

Muscles worked: lower pecs

Advantages: a great lower pec shaping movement, which also adds plenty of size.

Execution

Place hands on dipping bars (holding upper body static and tensing triceps); slowly lower upper body – with knees bent – until arms are bent to a 90 degree angle. Upon complete descent press upper body to starting position, ensuring shoulders are locked into place to avoid a rotator cuff injury.

Incline Dumbbell Press

Emphasizing upper chest development is the incline dumbbell press, probably the best movement of its kind in existence. Allowing a greater range of motion compared to the straight-bar version, this exercise will help to add that all-important ridge just below the clavicle to balance out chest development from top to bottom. As with their flat bench counterpart, this movement must be controlled and deliberate, possibly more so considering the precarious positioning of the dumbbells (above the head) and the limiting factor of relatively weaker upper pec involvement.

Muscles worked: upper chest

Advantages: provides a full range of motion and allows for complete development of the upper pecs.

Execution

Set incline bench at 30-degrees. Complete movement following flat-bench protocols, with the exception of lowering the dumbbells to the front deltoids instead of the outer pecs.

Flat Bench Fly

A variation of the dumbbell bench press in that it allows a complete contraction of the pectoralis major fibers, the flat bench flye – and this applies to its incline version also – is, however, and for two main reasons, a trickier chest-training proposition. Firstly, your elbow joints, throughout the duration of this movement, remain at a fixed angle, which restricts range of motion. Secondly, because of its lack of elbow-joint assistance and its fixed plane of resistance, the amount of weight that can be lifted will be limited and, thus, the execution of this movement must be slow and considered. It’s not a simple case of controlled lowering, then pressing; the weights must be guided into position in a safe manner, before they are squeezed to completion through pure pec power. Flyes are known to more effectively work the inner chest compared with pressing movements.

Muscles worked: entire chest region with an emphasis on the inner fibers.

Advantages: works inner chest and ensures a greater peak contraction (compared to its dumbbell counterpart).

Execution

Lying on a flat bench, and keeping the elbow joints at a fixed angle, slowly lower dumbbells until palms are almost parallel with the outer chest; press dumbbells together and squeeze pecs.

Incline Fly

Along with incline dumbbell presses, this movement effectively targets the upper pecs; unlike its dumbbell version, and due to less deltoid activation at the top of the movement, a greater peak contraction can be accomplished.

Muscles worked: upper chest

Advantages: greater focus can be placed upon the upper pecs and a tighter squeeze can be achieved upon completion.

Execution

Replicate flat bench flye form, with one variation: the dumbbells must be angled (on a 30-degree incline bench) above the head, rather than at chest-level, and lowered to the frontal deltoids rather than the outer chest.

The Program

The following program is designed to emphasize specific areas of the chest through targeted, twice-weekly training. Weeks one and two – which, when repeated for 12 weeks, form the entirety of the program – will respectively target, along with complete chest development, mass and shape/definition through lighter and heavier sessions modulated via high and low rep sets and staggered rest periods.

Note: program to be completed over 12 weeks, followed by one week of rest before (if necessary or desirable) completing the same program with ongoing modifications to training load.

RBS = Rest Between Sets: rest periods will alternate between higher reps (8-12 – to target muscle hypertrophy via a flushing effect which shuttles nutrients into the muscles and removes waste products, and which results in profound muscle pumping) and lower reps (4-6 – to stimulate fast twitch fibers, which have the greatest potential for growth). By combining these rep ranges (with lower reps placed first in a sequence of sets and higher reps saved until last) more muscle mass can be built sequentially through fast twitch muscle fiber activation and increased blood flow to the working muscles.

Note on movement execution: on all exercises ensure that weights are taken through a full range of motion and that no resting occurs at any given point during each set. All sets must be completed as fluidly as possible and muscular failure must be reached on each.

Note on cardio: depending on your training goals cardio can be done 3 (when mass building) to 6 (when cutting) times per week. For muscle preservation it is advised that 1-2 sessions are of a high intensity, short duration nature (following HIT protocols) with the remaining sessions consisting of steady state aerobic work (30-45 minutes at 80 percent of maximal heart rate). Cardio is to be done, wherever possible, during the morning period so as to more effectively target stubborn fat cells.

Week one

Monday - Chest and triceps

Note: 2 minute RBS between first and second set (of each exercise) and 40 seconds RBS between final sets

Sets: 18

  1. Bench Press (medium-width grip) – 1 set of 4-6, 2 sets of 8-12
  2. Incline Flys – 1 set of 4-6, 3 sets of 8-12
  3. Flat Bench Flys – 1 set of 4-6, 2 sets of 8-12
  4. Chest Dips – 1 set of 4-6, 3 sets of 8-12
  5. Dumbbell Bench Press – 1 set of 4-6, 3 sets of 8-12
  6. Triceps (3 sets): Routine of your choosing

Tuesday - Back & Biceps

Routine of your choosing

Wednesday - Legs

Routine of your choosing

Thursday

Rest Day

 Friday - Chest: Power & Size Day

Note: 2 minutes RBS for all sets (of each exercise)

Sets: 12

  1. Incline Dumbbell Press – 4 sets of 4-6
  2. Bench Press – 4 sets of 4-6
  3. Chest Dips – 4 sets of 4-6 (add weight)

Saturday

Rest Day

Sunday

Rest Day

Week two

Monday - Chest & Triceps

Note: 2 minute RBS between first and second set (of each exercise) and 40 seconds RBS between final sets

Sets: 15

  1. Incline Flys – 1 set of 4-6, 3 sets of 8-12
  2. Dumbbell Bench Press – 1 set of 4-6, 3 sets of 8-12
  3. Bench Press (wide grip for outer chest development) – 1 set of 4-6, 2 sets of 8-12
  4. Chest Dips – 1 set of 4-6, 3 sets of 8-12
  5. Triceps (3 sets): Routine of your choosing

Tuesday - Back & Biceps

Routine of your choosing

Wednesday - Legs

Routine of your choosing

Thursday

Rest Day

 Friday - Chest: Power & Size Day

Note: 2 minutes RBS for all sets (of each exercise)

Sets: 12

  • Bench Press (wide grip for outer pec development) – 4 sets of 4-6
  • Incline Dumbbell Press – 4 sets of 4-6
  • Chest Dips – 4 sets of 4-6

Saturday

Rest Day

Sunday

Rest Day

Weeks 3 to 12

Week three: repeat week one…

Week four: repeat week two… and so on (repeating weeks one and two) for 12 weeks

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Conclusion

The specialized chest training routine featured above is designed to maximize the benefits of both the shaping and mass building approaches to size building while progressively ensuring thick slabs of upper torso muscle are, over the course of the program, added. In combining low and high rep ranges, twice weekly training and an ideal selection of the best chest-building movements available, this program will, if followed correctly, produce some of the best results you will ever experience. Be sure, however, to always increase training load in line with strength improvements. Should 15 reps with 200 lbs, for example, be achievable, it is then time to increase this load to 210 lbs to ensure failure is again reached on the 12th rep.

References

  • Delavier, F. (2006). Strength Training Anatomy (2nd ed). Human Kinetics: USA
  • Inner Body: Your Guide to Human Anatomy Online. Online at http://www.innerbody.com/htm/body.html
  • King, I. (2003). The Book of Muscle: The World’s Most Authoritative Guide to building Your Body. Rodale Inc. USA
David Robson

A respected health and fitness writer, David has been published in industry publications such as Status Fitness Magazine, Muscle & Fitness and Bodybuilding.com. With 20 years in the personal training trenches, the insights he has gained through practical experience, alongside degrees in psychology and sports science, have enabled him to go beyond the surface to provide educational articles that have informed thousands of health and fitness devotees the world over. Contact David at: davidrobson19@hotmail.co.nz and at davidrobsonelite.com

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