It’s the most popular training day of the week.
Most trainers schedule chest for Mondays, because they want to start their week off with a muscle group they like training.
For men, having a large and powerful chest with striations can make a powerful statement. Obviously, many women like training chest too and want to have a strong upper body.
Regardless of your reasons for doing it, chest day is a big day in the training week.
Now this appears to be the start of a workout article and it is, but not one with a workout plan. Muscle & Strength has many great chest programs for you to find and take to the gym with you.
The purpose of this feature is to help you maximize the quality of that workout.
Whether you like the flat barbell bench press or hate it, if you train for strength, hypertrophy, or fat loss, keep these tips in mind on your next chest workout and you’ll reap the benefits of a much greater workout.
1. Warm Up Thoroughly
No, don’t skip this. Keep reading. You have read and heard about the importance of warming up but do you actually take it seriously? I don’t mean walking on the treadmill, doing a few stretches, and lifting the bar for a few reps. Take that few minutes of walking or pedaling to visualize what you plan on doing that day.
Stretch out the entire body with extra emphasis on the pecs to maximize flexibility and make sure you perform quality reps with some light weight to give those fibers proper notice that they are in for a struggle. If this process doesn’t take you at least 10 minutes, then you’re not taking it seriously enough.
15 minutes would be better and this would include 5 minutes for an aerobic warm up, 5 minutes for stretching, and 5 more for light resistance warm-up sets.
2. Prepare with Pre-Exhaust
Compound exercises, or exercises that use multiple joints like the elbows and shoulders, are paramount for chest training. So by all means keep your presses in your plan. However, if your goal is to focus on the chest, as opposed to pushing, then you should consider pre-exhausting the pecs with an isolation movement like pec-deck or crossovers.
Committing your first couple of sets to an isolation movement specifically focused on your chest can help you establish a mind-muscle connection which can help improve the effectiveness of the sets that follow. Don’t just go light on these either. Add some resistance and make the pecs work.
3. Execute Effectively
Notice how the next tip is worded. It doesn’t mention form but rather to execute. Yes, learning the basic form of all exercises is very important for beginners so they have an understanding of how the exercise works and can learn how the muscles feel while being placed under stress.
If you’ve been in the game for a while then you should understand that you might need to tweak the form to help improve the quality of the muscle contractions. Let’s take the incline dumbbell press as an example. The basic form is to hold the dumbbells with your palms facing away from you so they are horizontal.
Perhaps you found that if you hold them at a slight angle then you can feel the pecs working harder. If that is what you found works then do it. How other guys perform exercises won’t help you. If you found doing something a little different helps you then do it.
Before we go on, let’s be clear. This is NOT an excuse for you to use sloppy form. You still need to use a decent range of motion and you can’t ignore the basics.
4. Use All of the Tools of the Trade
Some guys will tell you that dumbbells are best. Others might say barbells and others will advocate for machines. Who says you can only use one? Most of the programs I develop emphasize the benefits of all the tools of the trade. I open with barbells because both sides are working together to push one object so that means I can use more weight.
Then I use dumbbells because it forces each side of the chest to work on its own. After that, I incorporate a machine. Due to the fixed pattern of travel, I can maximize the contraction and stretch of each rep while minimizing the chances of injury. Finally, I either use another machine or a bodyweight exercise like dips or pushups, because I feel that bodyweight exercises make for a great finisher.
Now you can follow that pattern or use one of your own, but the point is that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on one type of resistance. Reap the benefits that each offer so you can give yourself as many options as possible to have a successful workout.
Imagine Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson screaming that at you while you’re between sets. When you’re in the gym or weight room you have two choices. You can try to be popular and have everyone talk to you or you can focus on the job of training, make crazy gains, and have everyone talking about how freaking jacked you are!
Now don’t be a jerk and just ignore people. If someone says hey to you or ask for a spot, it’s cool to reply or help a fellow lifter out. Just don’t use that as an excuse to take a ten minute break which doesn’t help anyone. That means your muscles will lose their pump and you will have to warm back up. Get in, train, and if you have the time after the workout is over, chat it up while sipping on your recovery drink.
6. Pay Attention to Speed
Lifting isn’t like NASCAR. You’re not trying to get through the sets as fast as you can. If you are, you’re doing it wrong. Each aspect of the rep has its benefits and to have the best workout possible, you need to take advantage of all of them.
Obviously, the contraction is when you press or lift the weight up. At this point you’re squeezing the muscle. When you’re doing this you should make sure you control the weight and that the weight doesn’t control you. Once the weight is lifted, take that moment to squeeze the pecs. Bodybuilders do this to add density and hardness.
Next comes the most challenging part of the lift, the negative. Fighting gravity and controlling the speed of how you lower the weight will tear down the fibers more than just letting them drop. This is necessary so the chest can grow while you’re recovering.
Finally, when the weight is at the bottom, you should feel a stretch for a second. This helps stretch the fascia around the muscle fibers producing more room to pump additional blood into them. If each rep takes around five or six seconds, you’re going to have a tough but positive set.
7. Low Reps, High Reps
This debate is similar to the debate about what equipment to use. There are some guys that will advocate for lower reps and others who say you need to go higher. Again, why not do both?
Reps in the 4-7 range can help you improve strength. Sets of 8-12 reps can lead to hypertrophy benefits. Finally, sets of higher rep ranges like 20, 25, or even 50 reps can improve muscular endurance and also provide an aerobic challenge.
There are programs that include all these types of rep ranges over the course of a few weeks. There are also programs that use them all over the course of the workout. Try both strategies out and see which is best for you.
8. Intensity is Important
I’m willing to bet that the thought that went through your head when you read the word “intensity” is something like a big guy screaming, slapping himself, and grunting with each rep. However, that’s not what I’m talking about.
I mean training strategies like drop sets, rest-pause, and supersets. If you’re not challenging yourself, then you won’t see progress. It’s that simple. If you finish a set and you feel you have something left in the tank, add one of these boosters to push yourself. Your chest will benefit from this extra intensity.
9. The More Angles the Better
For far too long people have associated training chest at three angles: incline, decline, and flat. Just because the exercise might call for you to perform it at an incline, you don’t have to be at a 45 degree angle.
Try to perform incline barbell presses by placing a flat bench in a squat rack and sitting the head of it on a plate. This might only be a 5 degree angle but it can still be effective. You can do the same thing with machines. Adjust how you sit or where you place the handles if it’s an adjustable machine.
10. Recovery is Crucial
Just because you finish the last rep doesn’t mean you should just forget about chest day. For far too long now, there has been more attention paid to the beginning of the workout thanks to pre-workout supplements and having insane energy when you’re preparing to lift.
Make that same commitment to recovery by taking your protein, carbs, creatine, and glutamine as soon as the training is over. Commit to more stretching out so the chest has the best opportunity to grow and recover. The goal is to improve and recovery is vital for that to happen.