Workout of the Week: Power Pecs

This powerbuilding workout will add shape and size to your chest.

June 8, 2014

By Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS

Arm and leg development of bodybuilders from the 1960s and ’70s pales in comparison to the development in the modern era. Over the same span of decades, in spite of the introduction of space age drugs that make Dianabol look benign, chest development has digressed.

The hubris of modern-day gurus who are promoting gimmicks and abandoning the use of bench press for chest development is frightening. How is it possible that modern-day bodybuilders weighing 50 pounds more than their classical counterparts and carrying less body fat, have weaker chest development?

We’re going to buck the establishment and build the chest with this powerbuilding routine with the bench press at its nucleus. If it’s good enough for Arnold Schwarzenegger it’s good enough for you and me.

Don’t Bench the Bench

Anyone with a shred of muscular development from weight training commonly gets asked, “How much ya bench?” A big bench press serves as a test of your manhood in high school, it’s part of the NFL combine test, and in the 1970s it was used as an initiation tool into prison gangs.

But “functional” training advocates love to rag on the bench press—for transference to sport and even hypertrophy. Generally, people with this attitude, pardon the syntax, suck at the lift and carry about as much muscle as the average tin can.

These armchair academics need to realize the words of the existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte, “Only the guy who isn’t rowing has time to rock the boat.” In other words, put down the damn test tubes and start lifting some barbells.
The greatest bodybuilder of all-time, Ronnie Coleman, kept the bench press at the nucleus of his chest training routine. Countless times I’ve seen Ronnie toy with five plates for multiple reps on the bench press.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, who arguably had the greatest chest development of all-time, like Ronnie, started as a powerlifter. Furthermore, before personal training was a recognized profession “The Austrian Oak” hired Lone Star Powerlifting Legend Doug Young as a mass-building consultant. Young held the bench press world record for decades.

We discussed already why the bench press has gotten a bad rap from the functional crowd—the other reason is the bench press–shirted sideshows. Some powerlifters compete in contests that allow bench press shirts that can add up to 500 pounds to “their” lift—to each his own, but this completely robs the musculature of work and the physique of development.

“Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac,” said Henry Kissinger, this is undoubtedly true; in the weight room training for power seduces the chest to grow and gain that dense grainy look.

The Workout

Ronnie never sacrificed shape for mass. This program has the best of both worlds. We’re going to train to get stronger but, of course, we’re also going to put those bodybuilding finishing touches on the powerlifts lacks with this powerbuilding routine. This routine has a mix of compound and isolation movements for balanced development.

Chest Workout

Bench Press

Control the negative and perform the positive as explosively as possible. Each set should be as heavy as possible without sacrificing form. Take a three-minute rest interval between sets.

Reverse-Grip Bench Press

EMG studies show that the reverse-grip bench press activates the upper pec region better than incline presses while reducing shoulder involvement. Control the negative and perform the positive as explosively as possible. Each set should be as heavy as possible without sacrificing form. Take a two-minute rest interval between sets.

Decline Dumbbell Press

Perform a three-second negative and then perform the positive as explosively as possible. Pick a weight you can do 12–14 reps with, and then do as many reps as possible for 60 seconds. Once you reach failure continue with partials. DO NOT DROP THE DUMBBELLS, even if the weight is moving a millimeter, for the second set reduce the weight by a third. Take a two-minute rest interval between sets.

Cable Flyes —superset with — Push-Up

Perform the cable flyes on a flat bench, using a three-second negative and holding the contracted position for one second, bend your elbows 10 degrees and keep this angle constantly through the entire movement. Focus on the stretch at the bottom of the movement and feeling the pecs working. After 12 reps of cable flyes, immediately perform push-ups to failure. Rest two minutes between superset.

Final Thoughts

Maximizing muscle hypertrophy requires going heavy, doing a variety rep ranges and tempos. Our objective with powerbuilding is to make you strong but also look the part.
We are leaving no stone unturned.
Time to hit the pig iron!

Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world in person at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon # 1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit