Chances are you don’t know any guys who don’t give it 100% on chest day – after all, it’s everyone’s favorite muscle to train. They always do plenty of sets, a variety of exercises and do their best to break through plateaus using techniques like drop sets, negatives and super sets.
Having said that, just because you have been making steady chest gains doesn’t mean you are necessarily maximizing your potential gains. In fact, a lot of guys don’t even realize they are doing things that are seriously holding them back.
Given that most guys are determined to build an amazing chest it makes sense to spend some time looking at your system and trying to identify areas for improvement.
9 Tips For Maximum Chest Gains
Stop Turning Cable Flys into Bench Press
Obviously bench press and dips are the big chest builders, but isolation exercises have their place when it comes to sculpting a godlike set of pecs. Having said that, way too many guys like to turn one of the most popular isolation exercise – cable crossovers – into another form of bench press.
In order to do these properly you need to keep the elbows slightly bent and in a locked position. If you do this correctly you shouldn’t be able to handle nearly as much weight as you can on the bench press.
However, most guys overestimate just how much weight they can handle and as a result the form goes to shit so that they can move the weight. Not only does this screw up your gains and bring other muscles into the exercise but it also skyrockets your chances of getting injured.
Now we aren’t saying that presses are bad – it’s just that cable crossovers are not the time to be setting new PRs. Your body doesn’t have a firm, stable bench supporting it and chances are it’s late in the workout when your muscles aren’t fresh.
Next time you do crossovers reduce the weight and focus on form – you will notice a huge boost in chest involvement and way less chance of injury.
If you have a hard time holding the correct position then try using the pec deck machine – it holds your arms in the proper position for you making it easier to get used to the movement.
Strengthen the Shoulder Muscles
If you want to build a huge chest you need to have strong shoulders – particularly the front deltoids. They are relied upon heavily during the bench press and dips and if they are lagging you better believe you are going to get exposed.
If you think your shoulders are weak then try doing more shoulder presses with the barbell in front of your head. Also, separate your chest and shoulder workouts by at least a few days so they have time to recover. When training them on the same day make sure you train chest first as having shoulders that are already weakened will cause all your chest exercises to suffer.
Strengthen your Triceps
Besides the pec muscles and shoulder muscles what other group gets hit hard on chest day? The triceps! It’s quite common for triceps to be the weak link when it comes to bench press. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can address this.
Dips and close-grip bench press are solid exercises for emphasizing the triceps at heavy weights. As always, make sure you don’t train triceps immediately before chest as it will limit your pressing strength.
If you currently train triceps on the same day as chest try working them on a separate day (with at least 2 days break after the chest workout) to give them more attention.
Stop Relying on the Bench Press
We aren’t here to tell you the bench press isn’t an effective exercise for building a massive chest – it certainly is. However, most guys tend to train bench press first every chest workout. As a result they hit a plateau and growing becomes a lot more difficult. Remember that your body adapts to exercises over time and they become less effective. Therefore, every once in awhile you need to make some changes to your routine to shock the muscles and encourage further growth.
If you currently train barbell bench press and have been doing it for a long time try switching to dumbbell press. This allows you to work each side independently which helps prevent building an unbalanced chest. Also, dumbbell press allows for a greater range of motion and recruits more stabilizer muscles.
If you think your chest is becoming unbalanced try doing incline press first. This will allow you to move more weight on incline and lead to further upper chest growth. You can aren’t limited to just dumbbells or barbells – you can use dumbbells on the incline and barbells on the flat bench or vice versa. Machines can also help overload the targeted muscle without having to worry about balancing the heavy weights.
Don’t Always use the same Bench Angle
You’ve probably noticed your bench has many different angles you can set it at. Nevertheless, most guys have a default incline and decline setting they like. A really effective and underutilized way to change things up is to modify the angle of the bench slightly. You can go from a slight incline to a very steep one – each of these exercises emphasize different muscle groups.
If you have been training with the same angle for years try changing it up.
Train Your Back
Yes this is still an article about chest workouts but it’s important to mention just how crucial it is to make sure you are training back. A lot of guys totally skip back workouts yet they go crazy on chest day. The result is a slouching, unaesthetic physique that won’t impress anyone.
There’s a reason that Arnold emphasized the importance of good posture in Pumping Iron. Remember when he was talking to the shorter bodybuilder and told him that most short guys tend to hunch forward which hides their physique.
Arnold definitely had a great chest but don’t think he ever skipped back day!
Mix Up the Grip
Most guys have one grip style they like to use on bench press and they stick to it. While this might be effective for a while, you are missing out on the benefits of repositioning your hands. By moving your hands closer together for example you shift the emphases to the inner chest muscles and triceps. If you place your hands farther apart you work the shoulders and outer pecs more.
This is also a great way to work through a plateau. If you have weaker triceps try doing more close grip bench pressing. Similarly if your shoulders are lagging try doing more wide-grip. Over time you will see a more balanced chest when you mix up the grip width.
Retract the Shoulders
When you are in the middle of benching some seriously heavy weight it can be hard to think about retracting your shoulder blades. However, doing so can actually make the exercise a lot easier.
When you lower the bar down to your chest focus on retracting the shoulder blades and swelling your chest outwards. When you explode upwards for the positive portion of the rep you will have far more strength and you will feel it in the pec muscles!
Use the Full Range of Motion
Every part of the bench press benefits your chest in a different way. This is why it’s painful to watch guys bench a weight halfway down before returning to the top. Similarly a lot of guys only bench halfway up before returning the bar to their chest.
While you might complete the “rep” (if you can even call it that) you are seriously limiting your growth potential. If you constantly ignore the top part of the movement for example then you won’t get stronger at it and it will become a major weakness down the road.
If you are going to do partial rep training do it at the end when you can no longer complete a full rep to take your muscles past failure.