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
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
What Makes a Good Chest?
Good chest development has three main qualities, aside from competition
requirements such as striations, separation etc. These attributes
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
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.
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.
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