“How do I get a big chest?” It’s the number one question we all ask ourselves when we first begin our journey in the IRON GAME. It’s the first body part we concern ourselves with (along with arms) when we initially start off in the gym.
A big chest is at the top of the list for every guy in the gym. Everyone wants to know how to get a big chest. Anytime anyone ever starts at the gym, what is the first thing they want to do? They want to learn how to get a big chest. As a result, they start off every chest workout by making a bee line for the flat bench.
However, not everyone gets there. In fact, many gym regulars fail to grow their chest to its full potential because they do not know how to train it. In most instances, they simply stick with the same game plan.
When they first start out, Monday is chest day. They start off chest day with flat bench press. Then they do another type of pressing movement. Then they might do some flies. Then pec deck. All straight sets with 10-12 reps. All unfocused form. Standard procedure (and that’s me being generous assuming that they use that much volume). Three years later, they’re doing the exact same thing. And they’re wondering why they never improve.
The “how to get a big chest article” has been a long time coming. Many of you have been asking for it ever since I wrote the article on back training. It’s definitely something I have a lot of insight on since it started off as my weakest body part.
I’ve been lifting consistently for almost 10 years. That’s a lot of experience. More importantly, that’s a lot experimenting and relentless faith in the trial/error process.
Here are the most important aspects you need to know on how to get a big chest.
1. There are 3 types of movements for chest.
I’m going to make things real simple for you. Chest exercises can be grouped in to 3 different types of movements. Here they are:
1. Pressing movements (in which you exert force away from your body in a straight line)
These include: barbell presses, dumbbell presses, machine presses, dips, push ups
2. Hugging Movements (in which your arms go through a hugging motion)
These include: dumbbell flies, cable flies/crossovers, pec deck
These include: dumbbell pullovers, barbell pullovers, machine pullovers
2. The chest is unlike any other body part because of its relationship with “feel” and experimentation.
When I first started bodybuilding in 2006, my chest was definitely a weak point for me. Pretty much all my other parts grew like weeds with any amount of resistance.
This was not the case for my chest. It lagged far behind because I was very delt dominant. I remained this way until about 2011. This means that on any type of press, my shoulders would take over the majority of the work. It’s simply how my body is structured.
Here is the typical routine I was using to work chest in my early years:
Flat Bench Press: 3*10-12
Incline Machine Press: 3*10-12
Decline Machine Press: 3*10-12
Cable Flies: 3*10-12
Pec Deck Machine: 3*10-12
It wasn’t necessarily a bad routine. The problem with this though was that it was “routine” and generic too (anybody could think that up). Most importantly, it wasn’t specialized for what I needed. This combination of exercises was simply not conducive to me developing “feel”. It also lacked creativity. I did this same routine on days I worked chest and nothing new happened. The gains came by at a very slow rate because I wasn’t working the muscle in the best way possible.
Over time, I slowly learned that I needed to learn my unique build and find the exercises that worked for me. This entailed a weekly discovery process characterized by massive experimentation. I tried everything imaginable in order to find that magic formula that “just felt right”.
Different exercises. Straight sets. Super sets. Drop sets. FST-7 sets. Altering the angles. Changing the rep speed. Adjusting the form… You name it I’ve done it.
Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about… you must discover the exercises (and lifting style) that you can feel working the muscle. That’s the number 1 rule in bodybuilding in a nutshell.
3. Hammer the incline movements.
The goal of chest training is to build a big chest with a balanced look (equally developed upper and lower portions). It’s very rare that a guy starts off in the gym with a balanced chest. In most instances, a guy begins his journey in the iron game with a “droopy” look to his chest with some lower pec development and a flat upper pec area.
As a result, you should absolutely emphasize the movements that specifically target the upper chest. This means hammering the incline movements. Do this early in your workouts (while you are still fresh) when you are first starting off. After a while, it won’t matter as much.
In reality, you can never get enough upper pec mass. The upper pec region is what gives your chest that “popping out” 3-D look. Thus, any type of incline presses or incline flies should become your best friends on chest day.
4. Volume is king.
You know I’m a volume guy. When someone tells me they are having trouble with a certain body part, my first question is: “What are you doing now?” I ask this because I want to see how much volume they are using.
In most instances, they are not using enough volume to hammer the body part. The solution lies with hammering that lagging body part with volume.
Enter supersets. Summer 2011 was a turning point for me. I took my physique to the next level by changing my entire game plan in the gym. I took a page out of the old school playbook and made the decision to superset all of my workouts.
My entire physique became more 3-D. This is included my chest, which was still lagging at the beginning of the summer.
I no longer did cookie cutter workouts filled with straight sets of presses and flies. I embraced my creativity as a bodybuilder and gave in to experimentation.
A typical “exercise” looked like this:
Incline DB Press superset with Incline DB Fly: 5*20-25 each
Pyramid Up on the Incline DB Press to using 120 lb. DB’s/Pyramid Up on Incline DB Fly to 70 lb. DB’s
These are not light pumping exercises that you would expect for such high reps… it’s all out 100% training.
Hitting 20 reps with the 120s on Inc. DB Press and then immediately hitting another 20 reps with the 70s on incline fly requires a lot of strength… when you get to the point where you can do this, your chest will definitely be growing.
Imagine an entire workout like this 🙂
5. Slow, controlled machine isolation movements are great for learning “feel.”
I started to learn “feel” four years ago when I was training at a gym in Washington DC. They had an amazing chest press machine that I still have not seen anywhere else. It was perfect for me.
It was set at the perfect incline angle. The handles were set at the perfect position. The range of motion was perfect for my arms. I learned “feel” by going super slow on the form and focusing all of my efforts on contracting the pectorals.
I truly believe that this activated my muscle fibers and enabled me to learn “feel” on more traditional exercises such as dumbbell and barbell presses. This helped me learn how to get a big chest.
Save the machine isolation movements for the end of your workout. This is when your muscle fibers are already activated from the heavier compound movements done at the beginning of the workout.
Furthermore, by this point in the workout, this is when your stabilizer muscles are fatigued. You will be forced to focus your mind 100 % on the contraction. This is when you dig deep.
… Or if you’re feeling brave, tack on these types of movements as the second set in your supersets.
6. Supersetted bodyweight exercises are an amazing way to finish your workout.
If you do it right, the tail end of a workout (for any body part) is an interesting time. It’s a time of emotional and mental discovery.
You’re gassed. You got nothing left in the tank. You’re running on willpower. You’re going to find out what you’re made of. Are you a bitch? Are you going to let up and coast to the finish line? Or do you have some guts? Maybe you have a dark place you can revisit that will energize you until the end?
In all fairness, you’re stabilizing muscles are fatigued and your grip is not what is was at the beginning. Free weight presses are likely out.
Bodyweight exercises will do the job. Bodyweight exercises are valuable because they work the muscle in ways that the other tools (free weights, machines, cables) simply cannot match. They are simple but challenging.
You want to end your workout with a challenge. That way you can leave it all in the gym without any regrets. When you find yourself unable to do a simple push up or dip, YOU ARE DONE!!!
Concluding Thoughts on How to Get a Big Chest
Trying to build your chest can be one of the most challenging (even frustrating) things you deal with in the gym.
It was for me… If you are delt dominant like me, you will absolutely deal with this same problem.
The best advice I can give you is to embrace creativity and experimentation.
Try everything you can imagine until you find your magic formula and develop genuine “feel”.
One way to think of your overall journey in the iron game is this:
You’re not just a bodybuilder.
You are an artist.
You are a strategist.
And most importantly, if you stick with it day after day… week after week… year after year… You are a winner.