One body part that has always been a struggle for me to build is a thick and developed chest. One of the major factors regarding the chest (pectorals) is that it is a very tough body part to engage and also execute the motion properly to help stimulate the muscles. Some lifters when they get into the gym think they can only rely on a bench press, a pec dec, and a cable fly to build a chest, this is where they are mis-informed.
Relying on a few movements is not the key to proper stimulation. Attacking a body part from all angles is key for maximum stimulation and also trying to target the muscle to the fullest degree. One will start to learn once form is in check, they have proper range of motion, and slight modifications in their workout ranges, volume, and intensity methods they will soon find some extra progress.
Let me get this off my chest
Before we get into the exercises lets first address proper benching and utilizing the pectorals. The key thing about the pecs is that their function in pulling the upper arm across your body towards the midline is the execution of a basic cable cross, fly, or pec dec training.
Think about using an adduction machine for your legs and utilizing this movement with your arms to engage or stimulate your chest with those fly motions. The thing people do not realize is that benching is not just about pushing the bar up and down or dumbbells up and down, you are slowly going to pull them across your body towards the top of the motion to help engage the pectorals and stimulate your chest. Due to the elbows bending and extending in multiple fashions on an exercise (especially with a heavier load where it is harder to control them) this could be a reason why during a heavier exercise it is tougher to feel proper mind muscle connection on your chest.
Two key tricks that I tell people all the time when benching involve keeping your shoulders blades pinned back, and also extending with your elbow. The reasoning behind the shoulder blades is to help your upper back round and take less stress off your delts and triceps when performing the motion. The reasoning at extending at your elbow is because this is where you want to push through the motion. Utilizing your elbow drive can help surpass sticking points and also motion your arms to help bring the weight inward towards your chest and stimulate the muscle properly.
Back to the Chest-icles
Now that we have some background on stimulating the pectorals I want to address that utilizing new movements and trying different things can help address hitting the muscle from multiple angles as I addressed earlier. This can help attack a portion of the muscle that may have been neglected before and therefore placing stress on a weakness to make it a strength.
These exercises I am going to list may be some you have never heard of before, but could make an impact in your training if you are executing them right and throwing them into the mix with a good training routine.
This exercise is more delt and triceps dominant, but I find this has tremendous carry over into the bench press for those who hit a lot of sticking points. Most of the time when you hear the word “Floor Press” you start to think more powerlifting than average gym goer this is not always the case. The reasoning behind the execution of the lift is that your back is forced flat on the ground throughout the movement so you prevent any way of cheating your form of the movement. Secondly it’s a shorter range of motion and will take less stress off your other bodyparts that a full range of motion bench would engage. Thirdly, Delts and Triceps are a part of overlap that bench or any chest movement will utilize, therefore building up smaller areas will only help increase your chest over time as it is a carryover movement for your compounds and isolations. I would suggest doing this in a power rack and setting up the bar close to the ground so you do not have to reach very far to unrack the bar or it may become unstable as you rack up the weight. Another way to perform this is with dumbbells as it may seem awkward to kick them up, but will allow you to understand proper “Elbow flexation” as described earlier. I typically like to train this exercise as an accessory movement in the 8-12 rep range for around 3-4 sets.
This may sound off but John meadows really made this famous when he introduced his mountain dog training. I first saw john perform these on a youtube video and gave them a whirl myself and found incredible mind muscle connection and started utilizing these from multiple angles. What you will do is start like a normal dumbbell bench press and then start to bring the weights upward with proper elbow flexation, as you start to get about half way through the motion this is where you will utilize your pinkies and drive them inward towards your palm. Doing so will rotate the DB’s a bit, but also help get a tighter tension on your inner pecs and create an incredible squeeze. This helps a ton for myself and many others after seeing john perform this exercise on getting the pecs warmed up. I really like to do these in a higher rep range, with a quick lifting tempo as a pre-exhaust exercise to get my chest warmed up.
Another good exercise that I want to talk about that many use for back is a Dumbbell pullover. The key thing about using a pullover for chest is going to be the range of motion and how you set up your elbows during the motion. When one performs a DB pullover for back they really twist their elbows outward and make sure they are taking the DB way behind their head and stopping short of coming up to their chest. When trying to engage the chest your arms should be straight, not locked out, and should not be flared elbow wise. When you bring this back up you will exaggerate bring this forward to above the pecs so there is some lat overlap, but still this will help keep the chest engaged with straighter arms, not flexing your elbows outward, and utilizing the proper range of motion more over the chest than focusing on stopping short and hitting the lats. I use this towards the end as an accessory that could pair well with any kind of fly or pec dec to torch the chest as a finisher exercise. I usually will perform this exercise (pullover) in the 10-15 rep range for a few sets.
A guillotine press may be well known for bringing the bar (especially on an incline press) more towards your upper pec or even closer to your neck to execute the movement. This was made famous by Vince Gironda from the 1950’s. The thing with this exercise is it can be dangerous especially with using free weights, so when doing this I like to utilize the smith machine and make sure I am in complete control of the action of the bar path. You will grip the bar like normal (setting up for an incline bench press) and keep your hands straight with a slight elbow flex, and make sure you control the eccentric (lowering of the weight). I like to pause about an inch above my upper pecs or around the neck and then explode up. A tempo I like to utilize is around 2-3 seconds on the eccentric phase, a one second pause and then explode on the way up. This is a good secondary movement after a bench press or a compound movement to still activate the upper chest, and also keep tension on the muscle you are targeting in your chest
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
The last exercise I am going to mention that is not seen much is a decline dumbbell or bench press. While it may seem like a common exercise to utilize mostly people are doing flat and incline bench press. The thing with decline is that is actually activates the chest to the largest degree if you ever used an EMG device to track the activation of the pectorals. The decline is great to help target the lower pecs. The continuous tension of a decline DB or barbell press has a great stretch and also is a great way to start your workout. I prefer to do the Decline DB or barbell press in a 3-8 rep range and utilize anywhere from 3 to 8 sets depending on my progression or volume I will be using in my workout routine. Remember when doing your Decline bench do not grip too wide because this is where your delts and triceps will take over and take the tension off your chest.
Take these five exercises and give them a try, implement them into your chest routine and see how they feel and also utilize the tips on activating your pecs. Variety is good, and sometimes using a different exercise can be a way to activate the muscle from a different angle to spark growth. If you have never tried some variation in your rep, set, or progression scheme now may be the time to try it out and see how this works for you!