Chest. The beach muscle that is the pride of all bodybuilders. All over the world, Monday evenings herald in the hordes of bench press buddies looking to get swole pecs. Everybody likes training their chest. The pump is incredible, and the gains are noticeable early on. However, whenever the majority of people act in a certain way, it always pays to question if they are doing it right.
Is most chest training fully optimized? Or are a lot of people overlooking some important factors about chest training that could maximize their gains and keep them injury free? Let’s take a look. First we will look at chest anatomy, then function, and see how that can tie in to chest training.
The chest muscles are split up into 4 sections, pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and the Serratus Anterior and Subclavius. We will focus on the first two of these, the pectoralis major and minor. These are the ones that will be looked at in detail when it comes to direct chest training.
The pec major has 4 functions.
1) Humerus flexion. This can be illustrated by throwing a ball from the side of your body
2) Adducting the humerus. Imagine flapping your arms like a bird.
3) Rotation. Imagine the movement in arm wrestling.
4) Keeping the arm attached to the trunk. This one probably doesn’t need too much explanation!
The pectoralis minor, since it is far smaller has less to do. It draws the scapula inferior, towards the thorax. These muscles are also called the “breast stroke” muscles. What does this mean? Well, if you think of a swimmer performing breast stroke. The arms start from close in to the chest, and end up wide at the side. This name merely shows that the motion of the arms during a breast stroke is the motion that the pectoral muscles are the best at doing.
This is all well and good, but what can this tell us about weightlifting? Well, a combined look at all the movements in the pectoral region shows that the motion that seems to be the most well suited to the pectoral functioning is a flye motion. Hang on! Doesn’t bench press build the chest better than anything else? Let’s discuss this now.
How This Affects Training
If you analyse the movement of a bench press, it is clear to see that the pectoral muscles are functioning. However, compare this movement to that of a pec flye, or even better, to the movement of a dumbbell chest press. The movement whereby the arms start out wide to the side and track inwards, ending up close together uses the pectoral muscles the most. Let’s examine now, the hallowed bench press, should you be doing it?
The Bench Press
Don’t worry, no one is going to tell you to stop benching. Some may, but not this article. It would be crazy to say that the bench press isn’t a good chest builder, it is. However, big benchers always have big chests, but guys with big chests don’t always have a big bench.
The Barbell Bench Press
You can load the bar up with huge amounts of weight. Thanks to the prowess of powerlfiting, we have seen just how much weight human beings are capable of bench pressing. (The current world record without a benching shirt is 330kg) Good luck pushing those same number with two dumbbells.
The logic goes as follows. Since you can load the bar up with so much weight, the pecs are getting far more weight going through them than with any other chest movement. This makes sense, and benching big will make your chest grow.
If you are into benching, then go for it, you will grow from it. What is you’d like to bench, but find it taxing on your shoulders then try some of these variations:
• Keep your elbows tucked in, making sure they don’t “flare out”. This will initially be harder, but the pressure will be alleviated from your shoulder, and your inner chest and triceps will pick up the slack.
• Try the 3 degree decline. This tip of legendary coach Christian Thibaudeau says to put a 15 or 20kg plate under the front legs of the bench. This will take the pressure off your front deltoid and more on to your chest. It actually mimics the large back arch that some powerlifters use to heave huge numbers.
For Those (not) About To Bench
There are many coaches who, if their clients are interested purely on a muscular and symmetrical chest would prescribe ditching the barbell bench press in favor of her dumbbell cousins.
As we mentioned, the dumbbell movements allow for a more natural movement, therefore the muscle is stimulated more. If you are a beginner, try both and see what works for you.
Upper, Lower, & Flyes.
So let’s get into the type of pressing and flye-ing (?) you have to do to activate the difference parts of the chest.
The rule is that if you are looking to develop your upper chest, do as many incline variations as possible. The standard angle is 45 degree, but you should adjust it to what you feel gives you the biggest growth. Some exercises to consider are:
– Incline dumbbell press
– Incline Dumbbell flyes
– Incline cable flyes
– Incline bench press
It is important that you are feeling the stretch in the upper pec, and then the contraction at the top of the movement.
– Flat Bench (or 3 degree decline)
– Dumbbell Bench Press
– Dumbbell Flyes
– Cable Flyes
– Pec Deck/machine flyes
These movements are pretty much identical to the upper chest, but the angles make all the difference. Again, the stretch and the squeeze are important for optimal hypertrophy.
– Decline Bench Press
-Decline Dumbbell Press (Don’t drop them on your head)
-Low Cable Chest Flye
–Pec Minor Dips (check out the video if you aren’t familiar with them)
So there we have it, an examination into the workings of the pectoral muscles and how to properly stimulate it for some serious growth. So next time you burst into the gym on “international bench day” you will be equipped to create some serious slabs of muscle. If you can actually find a damn bench that is.