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The best science-based chest training program for building impressive chest muscles

Das beste wissenschaftlich basierte Brusttrainingsprogramm für den Aufbau einer beeindruckenden Brustmuskulatur

Here is a brief summary:

  1. The pectoralis major, also known as the chest muscle, consists of an upper and lower portion, and most exercisers need to emphasize the upper portion in particular.
  2. Pushing exercises that allow you to target the upper and lower chest equally, that allow you to move heavy weights safely and that best increase your strength are the best exercises for the chest.
  3. The best way to build your chest is to get as strong as possible on a handful of key exercises such as barbell and dumbbell bench presses, reverse grip bench presses and close grip bench presses.

Biceps and pecs

The two muscle groups that guys never miss...and the two muscle groups that cause the most problems when building.

There are good reasons for this.

For most exercisers, the biceps are small, stubborn muscles that take a ton of work and time to develop.

The pecs are bigger and stronger than the biceps, but since most exercisers start from scratch, developing the pecs also takes time.

Women, on the other hand, often don't train their chest seriously because they don't want to develop a muscular chest. What these women overlook, however, is that a muscular chest looks very different on a woman than on a man. In a woman, well-developed chest muscles support the shape and appearance of the entire chest area, which most women find very welcome.

The good news is that no matter how weak and thin your chest feels, you can build the muscular, defined superhero chest you've always wanted.

By the end of this article, you'll know the key principles of chest training and both how to put together an effective chest training program and which exercises are best for building big pecs.

In addition to this, I will provide you with a ready-made chest training program that you can use immediately.

Let's start with a quick look at the anatomy of the pecs:

The anatomy of the pectoral muscles

The primary muscle of the chest is the pectoralis major. Its main function is to move the upper arm across the body. The pectoralis major has several muscle heads that are connected to the skeleton by tendons

There is the sternocostal muscle head, which attaches to the sternum, rib cage and upper arm, and there is the clavicular muscle head, which attaches to the clavicle and upper arm.

Why is this important?

The way a muscle attaches to the skeleton affects how it responds to different types of exercise.

For example, certain exercises such as flat bench presses and reverse incline bench presses emphasize the sternocostal muscle head of the pecs more, while exercises such as incline bench presses and reverse grip bench presses, which involve moving the arm up and away from the chest, emphasize the smaller calvicular muscle head.

We'll look in detail at how best to train the upper and lower regions of the chest shortly.

In addition to the pectoralis major, there is also the pectoralis minor - a small muscle that attaches to the top of the shoulder blade and the upper ribs. It lies below the pectoralis major and its job is to pull the shoulder blade forward and towards the center of the chest.

Many of the exercises that effectively train the pectoralis major also involve the pectoralis minor, which is why it is typically not necessary to perform specific exercises for the pectoralis minor.

However, it makes sense to include exercises to specifically train the clavicular muscle head of the pectoralis (the upper muscle head that attaches to the shoulder blade) in your training. Here's why.

Why you don't just want a massive chest...

"Help, my chest is too small!" This is one of the most common complaints I hear from exercisers all over the world. All they want for Christmas is a big chest.

However, while building a bigger chest is a goal worth pursuing, simply adding mass to the pecs won't necessarily give you the look you want.

Often the lower and outer areas of the chest look well developed, while the upper and inner areas look sunken and small. This is an extremely common problem and the direct result of training mistakes, which are fortunately correctable.

Before we move on to chest exercises and workouts, I want to debunk some of the most common myths that prevent exercisers from achieving the chest development they desire.

The 3 biggest mistakes when training chest muscles

The three biggest mistakes exercisers make in their chest training sessions are as follows:

  1. They focus on the wrong exercises
  2. They focus on training with a high number of repetitions
  3. They neglect progressive overload

Let's look at each of these mistakes in detail:

Mistake #1: Focusing on the wrong exercises

Many exercisers focus too much on isolation exercises and training machines, which are only of secondary importance in building strong, defined chest muscles.

Studies show that while isolation exercises such as cable crossovers, dumbbell flyes and butterflies can activate as much as multi-joint exercises such as bench presses, this does not mean that they are as good as multi-joint exercises for developing the chest (1, 2).

Without going into too much detail, it should be mentioned that the degree of muscle activation is not a perfect predictor of muscle growth. It is merely an indication that an exercise is likely to be suitable for training a muscle - provided you can increase the weight over time.

And the last point - increasing the weight over time - is exactly what makes isolation exercises inferior to multi-joint exercises when it comes to building strength and muscle mass in the pecs.

Because of the way your body is built, you simply can't safely move as much weight on an isolation exercise like flying movements or butterflies as you can on a multi-joint exercise like bench presses with a barbell or dumbbells.

For example, it is not unusual for an absolute beginner in bench press training to start with just the empty bar and then increase to 100 kilos with multiple repetitions over the course of a year or two. On the other hand, it is almost impossible for the same trainee to increase their weight by 90 kilos in the same amount of time with crossover cable pulls.

Scientific research also shows that even though isolation exercises can activate the pecs just as much as multi-joint exercises in absolute terms, multi-joint exercises activate the muscles over a longer period of time (and thus produce a stronger stimulus) (1).

Unfortunately, I don't know of any studies that have directly compared the muscle-building effects of isolation exercises and multi-joint exercises on the pecs, but we can probably get a good idea of the likely results by looking at bench press studies.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Tokyo and found that in young men with strength training experience, improvements in muscle thickness after 24 weeks of heavy bench press training correlated almost perfectly with increases in bench press strength (3).

Bench press training every Monday, Wednesday and Friday - with no other isolation exercises for the pecs - increased both pec thickness and one-repetition maximum weight (1RM weight) by an average of 50%.

The key message from this study is that the subjects' muscle growth was directly reflected in their strength gains, and I don't think anyone would argue that chest isolation exercises are better than bench presses for making strength gains.

Interestingly, no such correlation was observed with the triceps, which grew larger but not as fast as the pecs. For this reason, I recommend that exercisers train their triceps directly if they want their arms to grow as quickly as possible.

Anecdotal evidence is consistent with these study results. And even though I've worked with thousands of exercisers over the years, I've never seen anyone achieve good chest muscle development with isolation exercises alone. Impressive chest development always involves heavy pressing.

Nevertheless, isolation exercises such as cable crossovers and butterflies have their place in a good chest training program. However, they should never replace multi-joint exercises such as bench presses, overhead presses or incline bench presses.

Mistake #2: A focus on pump training with high repetitions

This mistake will slow the growth of any major muscle group in the body and is especially devastating for smaller muscle groups like the pecs.

The reason for this is that one of the best ways to get the pecs (and other muscles) to grow is to use heavier weights (4).

A study by researchers at Lehman College divided 24 physically active subjects with weight training experience into two groups (5):

  1. Group 1 performed 3 training sessions per week consisting of 21 sets per training session with a repetition range of 8 to 12 repetitions and 70 to 80% of 1RM weight.
  2. Group 2 performed 3 training sessions per week consisting of 21 sets per training session with a repetition range of 25 to 35 repetitions and 30 to 50% of the 1RM weight.

Both groups performed the same exercises, which included bench press, overhead barbell press, wide lat pulldown, seated cable row, classic barbell squat, leg press and leg extension. Both groups were also encouraged to maintain their normal eating habits and keep a food diary.

After 8 weeks of training, the researchers found that although both groups had built approximately the same amount of muscle, the first group had built significantly more strength than the second group.

Group 1 was able to increase their 1RM weight on the bench press by 10 pounds - good progress for somewhat advanced exercisers - while the second group was not able to significantly increase their strength.

As mentioned earlier, muscle gains were more or less equal over the 8 weeks, but it is very likely that the first group would have built more muscle over time as its members continued to get stronger.

This is due to the fact that strength gains become increasingly important for building new muscle mass the closer a trainee gets to their genetic limit.

Furthermore, if you want to build significant amounts of muscle mass with higher repetitions, you need to perform each set to muscle failure (the point at which you can no longer move the weight) or at least get very close to it. This is of course possible, but it is extremely difficult.

If you want to get an idea of what this feels like, perform a set of barbell bench presses with 20 repetitions, ending one or two repetitions before reaching muscle failure. And then imagine that you have to do a few more sets like this and that you have to do it again in a few days, and then imagine that you have to do this for many months without a break.

Fortunately, you don't have to do this, as you can easily train with heavier weights, which is just as effective (if not more effective) for building muscle, while being significantly less grueling.

So if you're currently performing most of your sets in the 15+ repetition range, focus instead on lower repetition ranges (e.g. 4 to 6 or 8 to 10 reps) and you'll make significant gains in strength and muscle mass.

Mistake #3: Neglecting progressive overload

The first, second and third rule when it comes to getting more muscular and stronger is this: You must progressively overload your muscles.

If you don't get this right, then you will always struggle with your pec development (and the development of every other muscle group).

Progressive overload refers to increasing the amount of tension your muscles produce over time and the most effective way to do this is by progressively increasing the weight you move.

In other words, the key to building strength and muscle mass is not to perform different exercises, balance on a BOSU ball or see how much you can sweat up the gym, but to make your muscles work harder (6). And this is exactly what you do when you make your muscles move heavier and heavier weights.

For this reason, your most important and primary goal as a strength athlete should be to increase your total body strength over time. At the end of this article series, you will find a chest muscle training program designed to do just that.

The bottom line on chest training mistakes

If these three points contradict a lot of what you've heard or assumed about chest muscle training, then I can well understand that.

I used to use every chest machine in the gym myself, thinking that smaller muscle groups responded better to lower weights and higher reps.

Well, one of the most important lessons I've learned about training with weights and building muscle is that the more you prioritize heavy multi-joint exercises, the better results you'll get.

In the second part of this article series, we'll look at the science behind effective chest training and take a look at the first of the 10 most effective chest exercises.




By Michael Matthews

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