Building thick pecs when combined with a solid back workout is one of the best ways to help create a thicker torso and should be a top priority for any bean pole looking to morph into an oak tree.
Let’s get started.
First, What Muscles Are We Hitting Exactly?
The pecs are not broken up into upper and lower.. that is just a layman expression for the outward appearance of a fully developed pectoral major vs an under-developed or partially developed pectoral major. Pecs are actually broken down into Pectoralis Major and Pectoralis Minor.
The minor lays underneath the major and connects the ribs to the coracoid process of the scapula, which is situated on the front of your chest just under your front deltoid. The major is that huge slab that stretches across your chest and lays on top of the minor.
This bad boy can be broken down into two parts, the sternal head which is the big chunk of steak looking piece, and the clavicular head, which is located above the sternal head.
So now that you know what exactly it is you are attacking. Try to feel these muscles with your fingers while flexing at home. Identify them, locate them, understand how they stretch and how they contract, get to know them intimately because this well help you totally and utterly destroy them.
Do a Pec-Specific Warm Up
With any muscle group you are preparing to obliterate into hypertrophy heaven you have to take necessary precautions to make sure the muscle is primed and ready for assault.
The difference between warming up and not can be the difference between a punch to the stomach with tightened abs vs resting abs. Essentially, preparation can mean the difference between a killer chest session and injury.
Injury must be avoided at all costs, not because of the pain (we can all handle that) but because it will keep you out of the gym for an extended time and cause the injured muscle group to wither and lag behind the rest of your body.
Think about it, when a 5 minute warmup session could save you from 1-3 months of no-gym time, there’s really no reason not to do it.
*Note: If you’re between the ages of 16 and 20 warming up isn’t as critical to you as your body is still rubbery as fuck. Still, getting in the habit now will make sure you’re injury free when you get older. At the very least, make sure to do a warm-up set with light weight before diving head first into heavy lifting.
Some great pec-specific warm ups:
1. A BRIEF 5-10 MINUTE WALK OR BIKE RIDE.
This gets the heart pumping and blood circulating throughout the body. If you live by your gym try walking or biking there instead of driving as this can count as your warm-up so you’re all ready to go once you walk in the gym!
2. USE A DOORWAY, A WALL OR A SQUAT RACK TO PERFORM STANDING PEC STRETCHES.
Use a fixed edge to open it up and connect with the muscles. Consider this muscle wake-up and roll call. Do 3 sets of 30 second stretches (holding for 30 seconds, releasing and then continuing).
3. DO A BODY WEIGHT PEC ACTIVATION EXERCISE TO CONNECT MIND TO MUSCLE.
Bring your nervous system online and start activating the muscle with stretches and contractions.
Personally, I find supersetting weight assisted pull-ups with dips a great pre-workout pec activator as it also brings my supporting back muscles online. Try 3-4 sets of 15-20 pull ups followed immediately by 15-20 dips.
Focus on going slow and contracting your back and chest muscles. Since these are weight assisted they’re more about connecting with the muscle groups than they are actually building them. That comes in the next part..
Pec Pearl Harbor: Attacking Your Pecs From All Angles
The key to growing a big huge chest is a brutal attack from all different angles giving them no opportunity to anticipate. Here’s my current chest routine. Remember though that it is important to mix up your routine to keep your muscles guessing so that they don’t develop weaknesses.
EXERCISE 1: SLIGHT INCLINE DUMBELL PRESS:
Set the bench on an incline only 2 or 3 notches above parallel. The incline angle should be half way between a flat bench and a fixed incline bench. Doing this hits them from an incline not provided by any other machine by utilizing the flexibility of the recliner bench.
Do a simple drop set for 4 sets. Your starting weight should be about 60-70% of your 10 rep dumbbell press max. This means if you can pump out 70LBS 10 times your set might then proceed 40LBS,45LBS,50LBS,55LBS. The % will vary on the individual and how long they’ve been training. The ultimate goal is to barely be able to complete your last set of 10 reps.
For example my workout might look like this:
- 50LBS X 16 (1 minute rest)
- 55LBS X 14 (1 minute rest)
- 60LBS X 12 (2 minute rest)
- 65LBS X 10
EXERCISE 2: FLAT BARBELL BENCHPRESS
Exercise 2 is the original, the flat barbell bench. A staple in locker rooms the world over, it is used as a direct measurement of your manliness (after penis length). The flat bench is great, hitting your whole chest and incorporating your arms and back muscles as well to support.
Same as above, drop set these. Make sure you’re choosing a weight that will allow you to complete 4 sets. An example run will look like:
- 145LBS X 15 (1 minute rest)
- 165LBS X 10 (1 minute rest)
- 185LBS X 8 (2 minute rest)
- 205LBS X 5
EXERCISE 3: BOTTOM-TO-TOP CABLE FLYES
This is not only allowing you to hit your chest from yet a completely different angle, it’s also using another new medium (dumbbells, barbell and now cables) which is sure to confused the f*ck out of your muscles and keep stimulating them gains.
The key to good cable flyes, or any type of fly for that matter is focusing on A. form and B. time under tension.
Disregarding time under tension (TUT) and ego lifting with the cable machine, which occurs all too often, won’t really impress anyone and won’t grow your pecs either.
Using too much weight sacrifices both form and time under tension as people tend to rock, cave shoulders and push with their legs. Target the pecs, keep your chest up and out, looking forward and moving the weight in a smooth, controlled manner.
Since these are all form you’ll be going light and since you’re going light you’ll be doing high volume. Try 10reps for 5 sets.
Doing drop sets with this motion can be challenging as increasing the weight by 5 plates on a low cable fly is much more noticeable then other compound pressing movements.
Scott Herman at Scott Herman Fitness has a great little explainer video on this completely under-utilized exercise.
EXERCISE 4: SINGLE ARM HIGH CABLE FLYES
The fourth exercise brings a 4th twist to this chest routine by asymmetrically isolating one slab of pec at a time, and again from a different angle as you’ll be sliding the pully to the top/highest setting.
You’ll then do one side at a time, alternating between left and right pecs.
A few useful twists and techniques: First, doing this with a straight back but leaning slightly forward seems to stimulate a harder contraction in combination with various twisting motions of the wrist at the end part of the movement.
Second, try placing your free hand palm side down over the pec you are working on. With your open hand covering the entire muscle you can really feel how it tightens up during the movement and you can use that feedback to tweak your motion to optimize your contractions.
This is the closest video available on youtube demonstrating these. Again, try leaning into the motion a little by bending forward while maintaining a straight back. Also, while this video doesn’t show clearly, make sure you keep a slight bend in your elbow, use a similar angle to regular flat bench dumbbell flyes.
Just like the low cable flyes these are also going to be lighter, so again you’ll look for a higher volume to maximize the benefits of this exercise. 10X5 is a good target.
EXERCISE 5: DUMBBELL PULLOVERS
Dumbbell pullovers are hardcore old-school motions you don’t often see in modern gyms, and that’s a shame because they are perfect openers/closers in how they really stretch and open up the chest in a way not done by many other exercises.
Find a fair weight to use. Find something you can pullover for 4-5 sets of 20-12 reps without compromising form.
This is a opener/finisher because it stretches the chest in a vertical motion as opposed to a lateral motion found in most types of flyes.
That’s it. 5 Different Exercises hitting the chest from 5 different angles in 5 different ways. Try this routine next chest day and see how it feels. Everyone has a slightly different anatomy so what works for some might not work for others.
At the end of the day, frequency, focus and determination will lead to pushing more weight and ultimately more weight gain.