Give a man a workout, he’ll gain for a day; but give a man the tools to program, and he’ll gain for a lifetime. Sounds like Aristotle, but we’ll probably never know.
In all seriousness, information will be your most prominent ally in the battle for human performance. That meat vehicle we as homo sapiens walk around in is a complex and fascinating organism; however, the more complexity, the more understanding is required. In the spirit of learning something today, we’ll begin this pectoralis seminar with some framework.
What Do You Want?
That phrase isn’t just something you repeatedly ask women, rather it is the first obstacle to tackle when one is programming. It’s plain to see Powerlifters train much differently than physique competitors and so on. The two options covered here will be maximal strength performance (powerlifting), and simply aesthetics (bodybuilding). Followed up by a personal favorite — a blending of the two.
What Are We Working With?
The chest is made up primarily of the Pectoralis Major and the Pectoralis Minor. These muscles are responsible for flexion and rotation of the Humerus, and adduction of the Humerus. During a movement such as the Bench Press, the pecs (with the aid of the Anterior Deltoids and various muscles of the rotator cuff) move the load away from the body. I’m sure everyone knows that the pecs and shoulders are worked during pressing, however, the moral of the story is: take care of your muscles.
Any halfway decent program designed to improve your chest’s strength or aesthetics should involve a warm up, more than two or three stretches, and some mobility work. The muscles of the rotator cuff are an absolute nightmare to injure, so take care to get them warm before pressing, and strengthen them with internal and external rotations on an off day.
This is an excellent video for shoulder and arm mobility:
Detailed techniques on the next page…
Developing Maximal Strength
Aside from longer rest periods between sets and lower rep schemes, powerlifters employ a few techniques that the classic “bodybuilder” crowd don’t pay much attention to. Accessory lifts such as “rolling dumbbells” or “speed benching” are found alongside these strength building bench press variations.
Chains — Besides making you look like a savage gain-Viking, adding chains to the bar will significantly develop one’s lockout portion of the rep, and overall balance of the bar.
Board Benching — Also aiding with lockout, the number of boards you stack on your chest lends to the specificity of depth while repping that sh*t out. Therefore, the more boards, the more tricep-dominant that lift will be.
Pause Reps — Yes, there’s some pausing involved. Converse to the previous two techniques, pausing for a full second at the bottom of the rep will develop strength in that commonly weak portion of the lift. They’re especially effective at eliminating that “b*tch stuck with the bar on his chest” syndrome.
To make things slightly less complicated, a great way to organize these techniques is to select a different one weekly for your first heavy sets of flat bench press. Any of these variations fit well into 5×5‘s or working up to a max triple or single. Be sure to warm those shoulders up. However, after that, give it 100%. The best way to increase maximal strength is flipping that animal switch in the back of your brain.
Shaping Up and Filling Out
Who doesn’t want an impressive looking chest, like some marble Greek effigy? The quest for aesthetics will require a slight mentality shift when stepping into the weight room, as opposed to max weight, leading with the dick powerlifting.
To be perfectly basic, take a look at Arnold’s training. Aside from the obvious chemistry involved, high volume, pump inducing training routines are your path to shaping and filling out the pecs. We’ll spare you the obvious techniques like dropsets, and rest-pause sets to get straight to the lesser know, but game changing bodybuilding movements.
The Crush Grip — It sounds like it feels. Position yourself as you would when performing a dumbbell press. However, now proceed to crush the weights together until you have some real noticeable neck veins showing up. The key is to keep your elbows in and maintain steady pressure while moving through the concentric and eccentric portions of the press.
Bands — If you’ve never trained with bands, you may very well have never reached full pump capacity. Free weights are life, a staple of every gym rat across the globe, however, they have a downside; while moving through ranges of motion, the tension can vary, most often diminishing. Bands hold constant tension, even increasing it at the peak contraction, therefore, making a world of difference in the squeeze and lending more efficacy to “time under tension” techniques.
Similar to the implementation of the before mentioned powerlifting tactics, work these into your hypertrophy-specific chest programs. Bands work well when wrapped around the bar during flat, decline, or incline bench press, or even with classic push-ups. The crush grip does its best work as a finisher and is known for being one of the safest movements for chest (protecting the shoulder joint especially). Remember to move slowly while repping out crush grip sets, a lengthy negative is your friend in this situation.
Let’s bring it all together on the next page…
In The Spirit of Diversity
If you’re anything like all the gym bros we know, you want both worlds — Titanic strength coupled with the aesthetics of Frank Zane. Lucky for all us impatient bastards, blending the two worlds isn’t as difficult as some play it up to be.
The term “Powerbuilder” has been used to describe lifters who love to powerlift, but also take the time to garner some freaky aesthetic gains on the side. The most determinant factor here would be nutrition, and stepping up to the plate when it’s time to lift heavy. It’s well within reach of a natural, healthy lifter to gain strength while keeping body fat low, or in some cases, even reducing it; however, it’s far from easy.
Our recommendation — Train like a Viking, eat like a slightly smaller Viking. Honestly, the singular problem with many powerlifters is a negligence of portioning when it comes to calories. More doesn’t always mean better, and there are times to feast and times to fast.
Limiting yourself to maintenance calories while moving hellacious amounts of weight should lead to a shift in body composition, instead of a detrimental “dirty bulk” that most lifters looking to gain strength and size fall into.
Kick off your new chest routines with a heavy strength builder, i.e. a 5×5 of Bench Press with chains, employing longer rest periods (2-3 minutes) between sets, followed by various bodybuilding exercises. Another route could involve a powerlifting style pressing day, accompanied by a lighter “pump” chest day later in the week to facilitate recovery and blood flow. The options are out there, keep your shoulders mobile and go move some weight.