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Various Exercises To Build a Powerful Chest

Updated on September 22, 2012

Building A Sexy Chest

Pectoralis major, better known as “the pecs”, is one of the most coveted muscle groups second only to the abs. However, the chest moves and therefore grows in multiple directions, so building a well-rounded set of pecs is a little more complicated than you might think. Below are some good exercises to target the chest effectively from multiple angles to illicit maximum muscle growth.

There are two primary movements the chest engages in: the push and the squeeze. Pushing exercises are quite common and include the bench press, dumbbell press, push-ups, and dips. These exercises work the thickness of the pecs. The squeeze movement is basically designed by bodybuilders to work the chest length-wise, or from breastbone to humerus (upper arm). This squeeze and stretch movement is seen in the chest fly.

Bench Press

This is probably the most common exercise for targeting the chest muscles. It’s important to remember to start out with a moderate amount of weight to ensure proper form and safety. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you’re not benching 350 pounds that you’re not working your chest right. The most important thing to remember is keeping proper form, and then add weight as you grow stronger.

Start with your back on the bench, face up and hands gripping the barbell. The elbows should be kept relatively close to the body throughout the movement with the hands usually slightly farther than shoulder-width apart, although this can be altered depending on how you want to target the chest. Remember that your chest should be “puffed out” slightly throughout the movement. It helps some people to think of pinching their shoulder blades together before and during the exercise.

Slowly lower the bar to within an inch of your breastbone and then explode up quickly to the starting position. Never lower the bar quickly or “bounce” it off your chest. Remember: “lower slower, explode up”. Unfortunately, it is common practice to “drop” the bar onto the chest and struggle to lift it back up over the course of several seconds. This is not only dangerous but also yanks and jerks on the tendons in the arms, chest and shoulder joints; the precursor to inevitable injury.

Dumbbell Press

The dumbbell press is very similar to the bench press, however it engages the stabilizer muscles in a different fashion because you have to lift two weights simultaneously. Do not be surprised if you cannot dumbbell press nearly as much as you can bench press. Many of the same rules apply for bench and dumbbell: prioritize form and only move up in weight unless you can maintain proper form.

You should always keep the dumbbells close to your body as you lay back on the bench, if there is no spotter available. Start on your back and lift the weights from the chest to the starting position above your head. Same as bench press, slowly lower the weight in a uniform fashion down to your chest and shoulders, and then explode up, still keeping the weights even and the movement fluid. If you can lift the dumbbells with tremendous swiftness, you’re probably not using enough weight.

Push-ups

Push-ups are an excellent exercise for all-around upper body strength however, proper form should be followed to avoid injury and maximize muscle gain. The great thing about push-ups is that there’s much variety in how you can perform them: hands spread, hands close, feet elevated; diamond push-ups, etc. Form, as always, is key. Remember to keep your back straight and hips slightly up to keep the tension on your upper body muscle groups. The neck should not sag; instead try to look ahead with the chin slightly up. This prevents shortening the movement and bruising the nose or forehead!

Dips

While dips definitely involve a pushing motion, they double as a good way to incorporate a stretch-like action into your chest routine. The farther you lower your body during the dip, the wider your pecs are forced to stretch. Wide-grip dips are an excellent way to provide your chest with a high-resistance, deep stretching exercise without neglecting that vital pushing motion. Just remember to keep your elbows slightly in towards your body, and avoid rocking back and forth or thrusting the neck and head up. Now you can perform dips four different ways: tricep dips, deep isolation, shallow isolation, and full range. Tricep dips isolate the very top of the exercise and involve only a slight lowering of the body, followed by a quick upward thrust to lock out the arms at the very top of the movement. Deep isolation dips are the polar opposite of tricep dips; you lower yourself completely to the bottom of the movement and lift up slightly, only a few inches, then lower back down slowly, Isolating the lowest portion of the movement. Shallow isolation keeps a tremendous amount of tension on the pecs because you never lock out the arms at the top of the movement or descend completely to the bottom. However, you stay in the middle. First, you lower yourself down to within about 3 inches of of the very bottom of the movement, in other words, you should be able to lower your body further, but don't. Then push up a few inches, probable 6-8 inches higher without reaching the top of the movement (at this point, your arms should still be bent slightly). Then lower back down to within 3 inches of the bottom. The final technique, the full range dip involves lowering the body down all the way, and then thrusting back up to the very top, locking the arms out completely.

I recommend performing full range dips until you can do them comfortably (without awkwardness), and then incorporating the other variations into your workout. I would like to point out that tricep dips will not target the pectoral muscles adequately. They work the triceps pretty much exclusively, and are therefore not a compound exercise, and should not be relied on heavily.


Chest Flies

Chest flies are predominantly a squeeze-and-stretch chest exercise. It may be referred to as a compound exercise, due to the fact that it recruits muscle from the biceps and deltoids, however I view the chest fly as more of an isolation exercise because it doesn't incorporate any other big muscle groups (other than the chest of course) and fails to involve a pushing motion, leaving the shoulders very much unattended. I do, on the other hand perform the chest fly regularly due to its amazing ability to stretch the pecs out and work the muscle length-wise (even wider than dips). You can accomplish this exercise either laying face-up on a bench using dumbbells for resistance or standing up (and slightly bent at the waist) while employing a cable system. Whether you are lying on a bench or standing at the cable system, focus on isolating the movement of the arms. Think of giving a big hug to an enormous tree. The arms should move simultaneously coming together directly in front of (or over) the torso. It should be a smooth, sweeping motion. Don't let the angle your elbows create change dramatically throughout the movement; that would recruit way too much bicep and not enough inner chest. It may take time to perfect your form, but the chest fly can really help create a wider, fuller looking chest.

Well that's a solid basis for building a consistent, yet varied chest routine. Below I've given a sample chest routine for two weeks. Remember when you make out your routine, to apply methods of variation among exercises. This will help to avoid plateau.

Week 1 (performed 3 times a week on non-consecutive days)

Bench press 3 sets, 8-10 reps (pushing exercise)

Push-ups 3 sets, to failure (pushing exercise)

Cable Chest fly 3 sets, 10-12 reps (squeeze-stretch exercise)

Week 2 (performed 3 times a week on non-consecutive days)

Dumbbell Press 3 sets, 8-10 reps (pushing exercise)

Dips, 3 sets 8-12 reps (or failure if less) [pushing/squeeze-stretch exercise]

Dumbbell Chest fly 3 sets, 10-12 reps (squeeze-stretch exercise)


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