The pectoral muscles are a subject I have mixed enthusiasm about. I haven’t done a survey but I bet if you asked a thousand average gym-going guys what muscle group they put the most emphasis on, the majority would say the chest, followed closely by the abs and biceps.
The Bench Press is one of the muscle-mass trifecta, along with Dead Lifts and Squats, but often you’ll see people walking around the gym with massive chests, but pipe cleaners for legs. That’s why even talking about exercising the pecs makes me a bit jittery, because in a way it’s a waste of time: most men have got it down. Surely we should be focusing more on the areas we neglect than the ones we pummel constantly.
That said, I know the pecs are important – more for whole body balance and aesthetics than true applicable use like the muscles built from dead lifts and squats – but still. An impressive chest is what it is. Let’s be honest: chest, abs and guns; that’s what a lot of young men believe will attract girls (who are into that sort of thing of course), and they aren’t really wrong. After all, it’s not Wolverine’s strong spinal erectors that make the girls swoon.
So, (sigh), I’d better include a piece about the pecs, not to overemphasize their importance, but to give novices and people who dilly-dally around spending hours working their chest, a guide to getting it done, so they can move on, and work on the core or something actually useful.
Chest Workout Frequency
If you haven’t got at least a simple timetable as to when you work different muscle groups out, you should get one. I’ll say the word “balance” until I’m out of oxygen if it helps, but getting the concept is more of a doing thing than an understanding. Most fellas know they should be working all the muscle groups regularly to achieve whole-body balance, but theory and practice have never been best buds so why would they start being so for resistance training.
In the context of exercise, people invariably then to do what they enjoy doing, and neglect what they don’t. That’s OK if you want to be a runner, and enjoy running, because guess what…running takes up a bunch of your training volume. It’s not ok if you go to the gym to achieve a strong, healthy, aesthetic physique. You have to do the stuff you don’t like too!!! OKAY!
With that, let’s look at training frequency of the chest. You can read any other muscle group where I write chest, because achieving balance is as simple as treating all areas with the same attention.
Twice in Eight
Like I said, if you want to start on a basic training routine and don’t know where to start with portioning out time, try this. Around 72 hours between working out the same muscle group (as the primary target) is ideal for repair and growth.
Day 1 – Push Muscles (those that require straight arms when muscle under load is contracted)
Chest: bench press, inclined press, dumbbell flyes and dips (details further down)
Shoulders: military press, raises etc.
Delts: shrugs, mil press etc.
Triceps: extensions, kickbacks etc.
Core: plank, situps and crunches etc.
Day 2 – Leg day
Glutes: Squats, lunges
Hams: Squats, lunges, straight leg dead lifts
Calves: calf raises
Observation: I personally ‘effing hate isolating the hamstrings with hamstring curls. Do it at your own risk if you’re masochistic I just know it feels the opposite of good for several days afterwards. Unless you are a bodybuilder and doing it for competitive reasons, ask yourself why you need to separately isolate your hamstrings on top of squats, lunges and dead lifts.
Observation #2: there’s no Core on Leg Day because you use it so heavily anyway as an isometric stabilizer.
Day 3 – Pull Muscles (those that require bent arms when muscle under load is contracted)
Lats: Pull downs, chin ups etc.
Traps: Rows, shrugs, bent-over rows/raises etc.
Biceps: Curls, hammers, preachers, isolation curls etc.
Lower Back: Dead lifts, good mornings etc.
Core: plank, situps, crunches etc.
Day 4 – Light Cardio and Rest
So, you see that gives you a rough idea of ONE WAY to arrange your workouts. I like the push/pull system a lot because of its simplicity and effectiveness. And you get to hit each muscle group inside 8 days, hence TWICE in EIGHT.
Erm..you were talking about the Chest?
Right, we were talking about the pectorals and I went off on one as per usual.
There’s four basic movements you can do for the rest of time which will ensure your pecs are in good order, have the breadth and shape you want, and are equal parts strong and prominent. Mixing up quantities of sets and reps will help the muscles to keep guessing, so they don’t peak/reach a sticking point too early, but I’ll get to that.
Chest Workout Movements
1. Bench Press: Barbell or Machine is fine. Barbell (“free weight”) will help you build minor balance muscles and core stability.
2. Dumbbell Press: A slight incline is good, not so much that you are working the shoulders too much though because you will get to kill your shoulders later.
3. Dips: I favour these over the decline bench press because you are really getting the bottom of the pecs with dips, and that’s an area some guys are a bit loose in. You can do weighted dips if bodyweight isn’t enough (and well done, if that’s the case)
4. Dumbbell flyes: you can go inclined or flat, or a mixture of both. Leave this until last though, and don’t go too big on the weight: it’s an isolation exercise to ‘finish off’ the chest and add more growth stimulus. It’s not an exercise to start daring yourself to lift big and impress people. Besides, if you can do massive weight at this point then you clearly haven’t fatigued your chest enough with the first 3 movements.
Keeping your Chest on its Toes
So as not to stagnate your growth or limit your strength improvements, it’s good to mess around with the rep count and weight every couple of times you repeat any muscle.
Start by completing one 8 day run (2 x each muscle group) with one rep/set/weight combination and change it twice again before repeating the lot. Like this:
First 8 day block: Hypertrophy – 3-4 sets x 8-12 reps. Pick your weight by making sure the last 2 or 3 reps of each set is tough to get through, like you might need a spotter tough! Hypertrophy builds size and you’ll look swole!
Second 8 day block: Strength – 4-6 sets x 3-6 reps. This will be heavier weight than the hypertrophic stuff. Don’t forget you can use machines if no-one can spot you.
Third 8 day block: Endurance, stamina, density, muscle tone – 2-3 sets x 15-20 reps. Lighter weight than hypertrophy and try and feel the burn on the last 5 reps.
Other Things to Think About
The first three of the chest exercises will work the triceps pretty heavily as the main secondary muscle. Make sure you leave Triceps until the last thing before your Core and Cardio work.
Drop sets* are a good way to build a big chest. I like machines for drop sets because you can just whip the stack pin out and back in making for a quick set.
What about push-ups? you ask. You can use them as both warm-ups and finishers in the gym but if you are doing a drop set, they are ideal to really go to failure at the end without any risk…well, unless you drop on your face, but don’t do that!
Big chest muscles aren’t everything, but they look good, and that’s the only thing a lot of men care about. Building your pecs and doing a lot of cardio is the best way to get rid of flabby moobs as well.
Make sure you balance your body, focus on the important but boring things as well as flashy muscles like pecs, abs and biceps.
Hopefully, the basic things I’ve covered about schedule and movement, as well as changing your rep/set counts should help you along if you are starting out or not sure where to go. It’s a good platform to go from anyway.
Take care, and lift safely, no matter what.
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