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Ultimate Chest Training

The chest represents one of the main areas that beginning bodybuilders are particularly interested in developing; its basically a 'show' bodypart, in common with the arm muscles. Training the chest also involves an exercise with which the general public is quite well aware of, i.e. the bench press. If somebody realises you work-out with weights and want to know how strong you are, chances are that they'll ask you how much you can bench. However, there is a lot more to obtaining good chest development than just benching on a flat bench, as we will see…..

Muscle Size and Strength….

It is important for a beginner to develop a good strength foundation through the use of barbell and/or dumbbell flat/decline and incline bench presses. These are basically 'compound' movements that bring into play many different muscles in the performance of the exercise, and allow large poundages to be used, relative to the strength of the trainee, leading to the greatest possible growth stimulation of the targeted muscles. Compound movements also have the advantage of strengthening many of the muscles involved in stabilising the body during the execution of a movement, in addition to the 'prime mover' muscles. . In general terms, you should realise that in terms of basic mass training, a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. The performance of isolation movements, in which a muscle or muscle group is exercised in isolation, simply are not effective in building large amounts of lean body mass; the training load is simply not great enough. In a nutshell, you can't build a big chest, or any other area of your body, with isolation movements alone.

The Muscles of the Chest.......

The muscles of the chest, the pectorals, can be thought of as consisting of two main areas for the purposes of training, i.e. the upper and lower chest comprising the pectoralis minor and pectoralis major, respectively. Also involved in many of the pressing movements for the chest are the front deltoid muscles of the shoulder and the triceps of the upper arm. Stabilising muscles and muscles which rotate the scapulae (shoulder blades) are also involved. The upper chest is mainly targeted via movements done on an incline bench, while the lower chest is worked through flat or decline bench and parallel bar dip-type movements.

What Makes a Good Chest?

Good chest development has three main qualities, aside from competition requirements such as striations, separation etc. These attributes are:

1) A great rib cage.

2) Thickly developed pectoral muscles.

3) Harmonious development of all aspects of the upper and lower chest in order that a pleasing effect is achieved, rather than just 'big pecs'.

How are these qualities attained?

A great rib cage ideally needs to be developed in order to showcase the pectoral muscles in the best possible way. It is not aesthetically pleasing, or probably realistic, to develop large pectorals on a small underdeveloped rib cage. The rib cage can be expanded by doing a lot of dumbbell and/or barbell pullovers with increasingly heavy weight, but at a weight which will allow eight to twelve repetitions in good form. The best time to really achieve rib cage expansion is during the teenage years, during which time the cartilaginous growth regions of the rib cage have not hardened, and are amenable to stretching and expansion. However, through anecdotal accounts, it is not impossible to achieve rib cage expansion long after the growth regions have hardened through the use of these stretching pullover-type movements. It should be noted that the greatest effects are realised using free weights, and not pullover machines. These machines have their uses in refining the musculature surrounding the rib cage, rather than expanding the bony structure of the rib-cage itself. It should also be noted that heavy leg-training, especially the squat, will help to greatly expand the rib-cage over time, particularly the high-rep 'breathing-squat'. This is basically a high-rep squatting technique, whereby very deep breathing between each rep (two or three breaths) is employed. The set of squats may then be followed by a set of dumbbell pullovers with a light weight and very deep breathing to really stretch the rib cage and surrounding structures.

Well-developed pectorals and harmonious development should really go 'hand-in-hand' within your training philosophy i.e. you should be conscious of training for balance while also training for mass. This means that you should not develop astounding weak points in an area of your chest that will take a very long time to correct. Such a deficiency happens in upper chest development for many people.

Chest Workouts

A good mass building workout for the chest, which also incorporates rib cage expansion, could look something like this:

Remember: always warm up thoroughly before you begin an exercise by doing a couple of sets using a light weight, relative to your strength level. Only when you are fully warmed up should you go 'all-out'.

Barbell/dumbbell incline press 3x8-10 (i.e. 3 sets of 8-10 reps each)
Parallel bar-dip 3x8-10 (with weight added on a dipping belt, if
Barbell decline press 3x8-10
Dumbbell pullover 3x10-12

Note that the above sets are 'worksets' and not warm-ups; the worksets involve a maximum effort to reach the rep target. Also the number of sets shown may be too much for some individuals, and should be cut back accordingly to avoid overtraining. Remember that in bodybuilding, you must ultimately find out what works best for you as an individual. The chest workout should not be performed more than once per week in order to allow for recuperation and growth, and always strive to add weight to the bar as you progress.

Good Luck!

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