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Bodybuilders Guide to Developing a Perfect Chest E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

A well-developed chest muscle involves good upper and lower pectoral development, and also inner anbodybuilders chestd outer chest muscle (pecs) development. In my personal opinion, I believe the following points are crucial for developing a complete chest:

Intelligent use of a myriad of exercises performed from various angles. By performing a variety of exercises from various angles, and using various pieces of equipment, in addition to barbell and dumbbell work, you will be able to equally target the upper, middle, lower and outer parts of your chest. By hitting the muscles from different angles using different chest exercises you will also achieve maximum growth of all muscle fibers in the shortest time possible which is conducive to maximizing growth. Using a variety of exercises from different angles will also allow you to fine tune your training to focus on any lagging areas as well. For instance, if your upper chest was to lag behind, you would add more movements and angles that would concentrate more on your upper chest, such as adding incline bench press, incline flyes, weighted dips, just to name a few.

Here is an example of a basic chest workout hitting the chest from 3 different angles. It also provides toning and effectively works the other supporting muscles mentioned above. All exercises should be performed using medium-heavy weights and the target number of reps for each set is listed in brackets (warm-up set doesn't count):

  • Incline Bench Press 4 Sets (12, 10, 8, 8, 8)

  • Dumbbell Bench Press 4 Sets (12, 10, 8, 8, 8)

  • Flyes 2 Sets (12, 10, 10, 8)

  • Decline Bench Press 4 Sets (12, 10, 8, 8, 6)

  • Dips. 4 sets to failure.

  • Deep Breathing Barbell pullovers, 4 sets of 15. Deep breathing pullovers can help stretch the rib cage. It also works the triceps and the lats. Many people believe you cannot stretch the rib cage and yet other people believe you can. From my personal experience I believe you can stretch your rib cage. This creates depth in your chest, so that when you turn sideways you won't automatically disappear. One of my biggest strengths when I competed was not only my overall chest development side to side, but also my chest thickness, as seen in my competition side chest poses. Remember, for the pullovers, just try and take as deep a breath in-between each rep as you possibly can, and with the pullovers don't lock your elbows, you want your arms straight, just don't lock your arms out. Form is paramount. This chest routine will provide you with a solid base on which to develop a thick powerful chest. I would recommend you use a workout log to record your progress so you know what you have to beat each time you set foot in the gym.

Compound lifts over isolation movements - compound chest exercises such as bench press (and variations of), pushups, and dips will always help you develop a better chest than isolation movements such as dumbbell flyes, pec dec, cable crossover and dumbbell pullover. This does not mean the isolation exercises should be thrown to the curb. They are great finishing exercises and can help build overall shape to the chest. What I am saying however is the quickest way to build strength and mass is by emphasizing compound movements.

Use of dumbbells. Compound exercises performed with dumbbells are very effective for developing a great chest. This is because they allow each side of the body to work independently through the full range of movement.

Heavy weights, low reps over light weights, high reps
- no matter what you do, lifting heavy with lower number of reps will always develop a better pectoral muscle than light weights with high reps. Provide the right stimulus, through heavy weights, and your chest will respond. Always alternate your chest muscle workout routine - there's no point to doing the same chest routine week in, week out, using the same weights. You body and your muscles adapt.

Strict control of the weight. The execution of all my chest movements is very strict. It usually takes me three seconds to lower the weight before I bring it up again in an equally controlled fashion but slightly faster. This technique has worked extremely well for me. Don't try to put up a heavier weight than you really ought to be ignoring the negative part of the rep and arching your back.

Squeeze. Always squeeze your chest muscles hard at every top of each movement to get a good pump and to elicit more muscle fibers (deeper) for more muscle growth.

Intense workouts.
This does NOT mean just going heavy. The three basic ways to maximize intensity within your workout is:

1. Increase the number of reps, as well as the number of sets
2. Decrease the rest periods
3. Increase the amount of weight you lift

My Chest Workouts

In as far as my workouts, I like to alternate between light, medium and heavy days, however during each workout I keep the intensity high, so on the light days I would be doing more sets in the same amount of time. Typically I would do that by incorporating supersets, Giants sets, drop sets, etc.

On heavy days I would increase my rest between sets to about 2 to 3 minutes. The workout would typically last 90 minutes as opposed to my normal 45-minute workout.

On moderate days I would rest about 1 minute between sets.

To maximize growth I also like to keep my body guessing by switching out the exercises and rep range regularly. I also use several different training techniques to maximize intensity and create muscle confusion, which results in better gains.

These three training techniques I use occasionally:

  • Forced reps. Forced reps training are an advanced training method, which is employed at the end of an exercise when you are unable to lift the weight on your own. At this point a training partner gives a small extra push while providing a spot so that you can overload the muscle by getting reps that you could not get on your own if you did not have the extra help, and a spot.

  • Forced Negatives. To accomplish this technique you would choose a heavier weight and your partner would help you lift the weight and you would slowly control the weight during the downward movement. For instance if you normally would use 225 pounds for 8 reps on a bench press, you would instead use 350 pounds and slowly lower the weight after receiving help lifting it off. Your partner would also assist you with during the upward pressing movement by pulling the weight off your chest while you are pressing the weight up. I rarely use this technique anymore because it plays havoc on your joints, but if used no more than once a month, it can provide benefits and can help you break through plateaus.

  • Slow Negatives. Slow negatives is a technique typically used at the end of a set when your muscles are failing but you want to get more out of the set in order to drive it into the critical "growth phase." How it is performed is that you simply slow down the eccentric portion of the exercise (the eccentric portion of the exercise is the portion in which the muscle is lengthening under tension). To illustrate this point, if you were to do a slow negative with a barbell curl, you would slow the rep as you lower the bar towards your upper thigh; would constitute the negative or eccentric portion of the exercise.

Techniques I use more regularly include:

  • Pyramiding the weight until I find a weight where I can only do 4 to 6 reps. I will then get 3 good sets at that weight, and pyramid down, reducing the weight each time. On each pyramid down set I will push to failure.

Every third workout I incorporate one of the following techniques into my workout:

  • Drop Sets. Drop Sets, AKA Descending Sets, is the most basic and yet one of the best techniques to maximize intensity. You begin by reaching failure with a weight, as soon as you hit failure, lessen the weight, and then continue the set until failure is reached again. Lets say you were to bench 225. If you reached failure at 12 reps, you would strip the weight down to 185 pounds and continue. A single drop or descending set is when you lower the weight once. A double drop or descending set is when you lower the weight twice (for instance from 225 - 185, then from 185 - 135 pounds).

  • Supersets. A Superset is a technique where two or more exercises are performed back to back. When three exercises are performed in succession it is referred two as a triset superset. Supersets can be in two ways. One way is doing two different exercises - for bodybuilding routines - in a row that hit the same muscles. Other way is doing two exercises - for bodybuilding routines - in a row hitting two different muscle groups. Supersets work best when targeting opposing muscle groups. Performing them this way allows for a better pump, as well as more reps.

When trying to build mass on a specific body part one out of every three workouts I focus on heavier weights, take more rest between sets, but I still will always finish the workout with reps to finish with a great pump.

To get that great chest it is also important that you get good rest and good nutrition so that you can fully recover. Remember to develop big and full muscles you work them hard and break them down, than feed and rest them so that they grow back bigger and stronger.

And always remember that REST is the most important factor in muscle growth! Always be aware of signs of overtraining. Symptoms of overtraining include lethargy (tiredness), aches, and pains for extended periods of time, reduced strength, reduced stamina and reduced immunity. If you experience these symptoms, stop working out, take rest and start back with a new routine. Also remember that proper nutrition, especially immediately following a workout, and for the several hours post workout is an important component to getting the most out of a workout. Training hard, without feeding the muscle aggressively will result in minimal gains. Additionally, failure to get enough calories and proper nutrition can also result in overtraining.

Examples of Chest Exercises

Incline Bench Press

Use a slightly wider than shoulder width grip. Let your partner unrack the weight. Steady the weight above your chest and bring it slowly down. Let it touch your chest and then push it back up. I don't believe you should lock your elbows at the top of the movement--it allows your muscles to rest.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals, secondary emphasis on triceps and front deltoids. I feel this movement places more stress on the deltoids then the flat bench press because of the angle it's performed at.

I usually do this movement first in my workout to ensure mass in my upper pecs.

Incline Bench/Dumbbell Press

With dumbbells, the only difference between this movement and the flat dumbbell press is way you start the exercise and the muscles it stresses. Sit on an inclined bench with the dumbbells resting on your quads. You want to bring them up so that your hands are just above shoulder height. With heavier weight, this is not easy. The way I do it is by kicking one leg and then the other up. This throws the weight up and back so that I can bring it to rest near my front delts and upper pecs. From there I slowly push the weight up and squeeze the dumbbells closer together along the way. Lower the weight slowly and repeat. I sometimes pause at the top of the movement and consciously try to flex my pecs to maximize the stress.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals, secondary emphasis on triceps and front deltoids. I feel this movement places more stress on the deltoids then the flat bench press because of the angle it's performed at.

I usually do this movement (or the barbell version) first in my workout to ensure mass in my upper pecs.

Flat Bench/Dumbbell Press

For dumbbell press, start seated on a bench with the weights resting up and down on your quads. Lay back and swing the weights back to the point where the corners of each dumbbell is just touching your outer pecs. Push the weight up, bringing them slightly closer together at the top of the movement. Lower the weight back down slowly--two seconds on the way down for every second on the way up is a good rule. Repeat.

For barbell press, first make sure you have a spotter. Lay the bench so that the racked weight is just a tad behind your shoulders. Use a wider than shoulder width grip, but don't go too wide or you'll reduce your range of motion too much. Have your partner break it for you by lifting it up off the rack. Lower the weight slowly down till it touches your chest. Bring it back up with just as much control. I don't like to lock my elbows at the top of the movement, because it takes some of the stress off your muscles and puts it on your skeletal structure, which is not the point of the movement.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals, secondary emphasis on triceps and front deltoids.

Incline Dumbbell Flyes

You'll need to use lighter weight for this chest exercise than the pressing movements. I'm actually able to use slightly heavier poundage for incline flies than I am for flat flies. As with the other dumbbell movements, you'll need to kick the weights up from your legs to get them in position--especially with the incline flies.

Press the weight up as with any other pressing movement to get started. With your elbows bent a little farther out than 90° lower the weight down. Slow down a lot towards the bottom of the movement so that when you switch directions to squeeze the weight back up you don't tear anything. Keep the elbows bent at the same angle as you move the weights up over your chest in an arc. Stop just short of touching the weights together.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals particularly upper and outer pecs, secondary emphasis on triceps and front deltoids.

Flat Dumbbell Flies

For this chest exercise you will need a flat bench and a set of dumbbells. Sit down on the edge of a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Lie back, keeping the dumbbells close to your chest. Then lift the dumbbells over your chest by extending your arms. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows. Keep your hips and shoulders flat on the bench and your feet planted firmly on the floor.

Your arms should be lightly bent and slightly wider than shoulders and your palms should be facing each other. Keeping a slight bend in the arms, slowly lower the dumbbells to the sides of your body in an arc-like motion. At the lowest point, your bent elbows should be on a horizontal plane, even with the bench. Slowly bring the weights back up over your chest in an arc. Imagine that you are circling your arm just like hugging a tree trunk. The bend in your elbows should remain constant throughout the exercise. As with the other exercises, remember to squeeze your chest muscles hard and focus on your pecs doing most of the work instead of your biceps, triceps and deltoids.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals particularly outer pecs, secondary emphasis on triceps and front deltoids. Incline variety places more stress on upper pecs.


The important point to remember here is you need to feel the stretch. This means going all the way down to see the full benefit of the exercise. If you're getting sets of 10 and 15 without straining too hard then you probably need to add some more resistance, using a weight belt or by simply cradling a dumbbell between your legs.

To increase the role the pecs play in this movement, point your elbows outward. Keeping them tucked in and pointed back forces your triceps to bear the brunt of the load--not necessarily bad, but you need to decide whether you're doing it for your chest or your triceps.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals particularly outer pecs, strong emphasis on triceps.

Decline Bench Press

Note: I don't feel decline movements are essential. Most bodybuilders have a much harder time developing the upper pecs compared to the lower pecs. Occasionally, I throw these in to a workout as a substitute for incline or flat presses just to add some variety. Variety is good up to a point because it prevents your muscles from getting to used to the same routine and stagnating.

For this exercise, you need a special bench with a place to hook your legs so that you don't slide down off the bench. If your gym doesn't have one, you can still do decline dumbbell presses using a decline sit-up board.

From that point, the execution is the same as any other pressing motion.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals particularly lower part of the pecs, secondary emphasis on triceps.

Decline Dumbbell Bench Press

If you're working with heavy dumbbells, you'll probably have to have help getting them up for the first rep because it's a real bear to try and curl them up off the ground onto your chest. If you're using a barbell then just have your partner unrack the weight and stabilize it for you.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals particularly lower pecs, secondary emphasis on triceps.

Cable Cross-Overs

Stand in between the pulleys of an adjustable-pulley-rack. Move the pulleys so that they are at or above shoulder height--you may have to experiment to decide what you like best. Adjust both sides to be the same weight and grab one of the handles. Pull yourself over to the other side and grab the opposite handle. Move back to the center and let the weight pull your arms out so that they are extended nearly straight out. Bend your elbows slightly and lean forward at about a 60 degree angle. Pull your hands across your body so that they meet in front of you. For an even greater squeeze, cross one hand under the other and alternate which hand goes on top each rep. Note: do not to let the weight jerk your arms back to the starting position.
Muscles Worked: Pectorals particularly inner pecs.

Additional Tips/Suggestions for Developing a Perfect Chest:

Warm up. Your chest workout should include at least two warm up sets, some light stretching and some heavy poundage on the work sets. My routine is almost always three sets of three different exercises--all of which are done to complete failure except perhaps the very first set which I consider sort of the tail-end of my warm up.

Isolate the chest. To get maximum development it is important to isolate the resistance on the chest as much as possible with strict training technique. Such technique requires the controlled movement of the weight over the chest with your back and shoulders planted firmly on a flat or incline workout bench. It is also important to lift your ribcage and move your shoulders back, so that you can remove your lats from the lift, allowing you to focus and concentrate the force on the chest. Using the lats occasionally to handle big lifts is fine, but know that you are "cheating" . Unfortunately, many beginning bodybuilders have more enthusiasm than knowledge when it comes to properly performing isolation workouts for their chest. As a result, too many beginners start out working with weight that is too heavy to handle without cheating on their chest training technique.

Use a weight you can handle. Never work with more weight than you can lift naturally and with proper training technique; unless you have a spotter and you are using advanced techniques to shock the muscle. These rules particularly apply with flat bench and incline dumbbell flyes. Both of these exercises require careful, deliberate movement to get the most from your isolation chest training. So don't blow it by trying to impress or keep up with anybody else - especially if you're just starting out. Use safe amounts of weight with proper technique and you'll soon build the big, muscular chest that you desire! Always rep out on the last set of the exercise.

Always attack your chest from various angles. It's my feeling that a good chest workout should have three parts to it. One exercise needs to be a mass builder--a compound movement where you use as much weight as you can and still do 6-10 controlled reps. I usually do flay barbell or incline dumbbell presses for this.

Do not forget to work the entire chest. Every chest routine needs an exercise for the upper chest. Incline flies, incline dumbbell press or incline barbell press all work well. I use dumbbell presses. Finally, to carve out the valley between your pecs, you need some sort of cross-over movement. Dumbbell flies work best here. Dips also work well. Advanced bodybuilders who already have a good base of mass can go into cable movements, pec dec, etc. Decline presses can be thrown in occasionally. My personal feeling is if you have a great upper and medial chest you will have a good lower chest as well. Therefore I spend most of my time focusing on the upper and mid chest areas.

Summary for Developing a Perfect Chest

To build the chest muscles fast:

  • Emphasize compound movements, like the press. Compound movements build mass better, especially because you can go heavier.

  • Vary the angle of the exercises. Each different angle you use with any chest muscle exercises will reach into various different fibers in your chest muscles. You need to use a variety of chest muscle exercises to hit your pecs at various angles to effectively stimulate massive muscle growth.

  • Employ muscle confusion principles. This means varying the modality, the weight, the number of sets and the number of reps.

  • Vary the exercises. All chest exercises work your chest muscle but from different angles which places different stress on your chest. You need to use a variety of chest muscle exercises to hit your pecs at various angles to effectively stimulate massive muscle growth.

  • Use free weights; especially dumbbells instead of machines. Chest workouts that use any chest machines should be avoided as it has many disadvantages like it will not only produce the desired results may also cause injuries because of its narrow range of movements. Your chest muscles will also not grow fast because machine exercises lack the involvement of synergistic muscles or supporting muscles. Work up to using heavy weights for the flyes.

  • Use full range of motion. Always work on the full range of motion and squeeze your chest muscles hard at every top of each movement.

  • Control the weight. Always lower your weight slowly and deliberately fighting gravity to provide more resistance to your chest muscles and therefore elicit more muscle fibers for more muscle growth.

  • Do not overtrain. Work the chest muscles once every five to seven days.

  • Work supporting muscles. Include shoulder-saving rotator cuff exercises because no one can train while injured.

  • Follow proper form. Do not forget the importance of proper form. Failure to follow proper form can slow results and can also increase your risk for injuries.

  • Eat right. Be sure to follow a well-balanced nutrition plan.

  • Do not forget intensity. If you want to see improvements you must train hard!

About Jeff Behar

Jeff BeharJeff Behar, MS, MBA is a recognized health, fitness and nutrition expert, regularly writing about hot topics in the areas of health, fitness, disease prevention, nutrition, anti aging and alternative medicine. Jeff Behar's work often appears in several of the major health and fitness newsletters, health and fitness magazines, and on  major health, and fitness websites. Jeff Behar is also a well sought after personal trainer, motivational speaker and weight loss expert.
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