1. More so than any other muscle, training the chest effectively is all about manipulating angles to preferentially stimulate different fibers.
2. Learning to shut off your anterior delts, and triceps, or at least minimize their recruitment, is absolutely essential if chest hypertrophy is your end goal.
3. Here are the top chest training tips, taking functional anatomy into consideration, to help you improve your physique AND mind muscle connection.
We’re back for more with the Structure and Function for Maximum Hypertrophy series here at JRx, and boy do we have a good one. This week, we’ll be talking about optimizing your programming for chest hypertrophy. Before we get started, make sure you’ve given Part 1 (need links) and Part 2 (need links) a look first.
If you’re like most gym-goers, a bigger chest is one of the things at or near the top of the list of “why you got into lifting”. Fortunately, your wish is my command!
I won’t lie; I used to bench a lot, like every day a lot. But that was when I was 17 and didn’t know any better. Six years later, I have reached several conclusions about effectively training the musculature of the chest, and I plan on sharing them all with you in this very article. Thank me later.
The chest is composed of two muscles, the Pectoralis Major and Minor. Pec Major can then be further broken down into the clavicular and sternal heads, named for the point of origin of each head’s constituent muscle fibers. The clavicular head runs from the medial half of the clavicle (collarbone) and inserts on the bicipital groove of the humerus and deltoid tuberosity, while the sternal head originates from the lateral edge of the manubrium (part of the sternum), costal cartilage of Ribs 1-6 and the aponeurosis of the obliques and inserts on the same landmarks as the clavicular head. Pec Major functions in flexion, internal rotation, and Adduction of the shoulder. Why? Because is crosses the shoulder is right! Great job team, you learn so well.
Depending on the individual, Pec Minor originates on the anterior surface of ribs 3-5 and inserts to the medial portion of the coracoid process (structure of the scapula). This muscle’s actions include protraction, and downward rotation of the scapula. A common misconception is that Pec Minor makes up the “upper chest”. This is not true, the clavicular head of Pec Major does. Now you know.
Here’s a picture, look at it:
Perhaps more so than any other body part, I have accumulated all kinds of cues and coaching tips to preferentially activate the chest musculature. I think that it can be traced back to the fact that I used to have no chest whatsoever, until I finally decided to do something about it. Once I educated myself on the actual structure and function of the chest, my progress exploded. Go figure. Thank goodness for this series, I’m saving you guys all kinds of time! I accept monetary and culinary gifts btw. Anyway, I digress, here is a list of the most effective cues I have picked up over the past few years.
Tip #1: Check Your Ego at the Door
For whatever reason, the barbell bench press and all the bullshit that comes with it has somehow become a paradoxical method for guys to measure the size of their balls. They can keep doing that, because we know that it’s all about the size of those pecs. If you are struggling to build your chest, here is what you need to do in three easy steps. Lighten the weight, learn how to contract your chest properly (using the next few pointers), and repeat. It really is that easy.
Tip #2: It’s All About the Angles
Revisit the anatomy image above and take note of the fiber orientation. Remember, it’s your job to pair exercises that compliment fiber orientation. With that in mind, it is obvious that you will have to hit your pecs from a variety of angles in order to optimally stimulate hypertrophy in ALL fibers.
Tip #3: Drive with Your Elbows
IFBB Pro Ben Pakulski suggests acting like you don’t have forearms/hands while training your chest. This may sound strange, but man is it effective. If you focus on driving your elbows as closely as possible on each repetition, you will enjoy a more powerful contraction and more effective stretch. This holds true for pressing and fly movements, and will reduce tricep and shoulder activation.
Tip #4: Ditch the Barbell Work
I might take some flak for this, but I’ll stand by this one forever and ever, even if 5.7 million research studies indicate otherwise (but they won’t). Here is my logic…the pecs bring your humerus across your body, it’s what they do. They can do so at a variety of angles and are capable of producing minor movements in several planes; HOWEVER, the main movement is flexion of the shoulder in the transverse plane. Just look at the fiber orientation! Yes you can increase your pec activation with cues on barbell work like trying to shorten the bar, and adding tempo work, but quite frankly, barbells suck for isolating the fibers in the chest. Dumbbells and cables reign supreme in the world of chest training for several reasons. Here they are, in no particular order
A more natural and dynamic range of motion for the shoulder girdle
Ability to fully shorten the muscle fibers
Symmetrical muscle and strength development in a movement pattern (horizontal pressing) that is seldom equivalent bilaterally
OK, now it’s time for the good stuff. Actually, that was the good stuff. Here’s the fun stuff. Take this one to the gym next time you train chest, and let us know what you think.
1. Flat Bench Cable Fly to Dynamic Squeeze
3xFailure (shoot for 6-8)
2. Incline Dumbbell Press (15 Degree Bench)
Pyramid 15, 12, 10, 8, 8 (last set 5 second stretch on bottom each rep)
3. Hammer Strength Flat Bench w/ Half Foam Roller
3×12 (Introduces Full Scapular Retraction, Setup Below)
4. Pec Deck w/ Half Foam Roller
2x Triple Drop (Setup Below)
And there we have it team. Thanks again for tuning in; we truly appreciate every single one of you. Keep the questions and comments coming, be sure to share this article and the things you learn, and stay tuned for the next edition on building a pair of boulder shoulders!
About The Author
Ian Padron is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin’s Exercise Science Program and an ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, currently residing in Seattle, WA. Ian’s mission is to revolutionize the health and fitness industry by combining science and education to evoke sustainable change in his clients and readers. He preaches the importance of a holistic approach to training, taking into account the mind AND the body. Ian also walks the walk as a natural competitive bodybuilder.