In Pursuit of Perfect Pecs - Muscle & Performance

In Pursuit of Perfect Pecs

Long-time IFBB pro and 212 competitor Stan McQuay chases the aesthetic bodybuilding ideal with zeal — here, he takes us through his incline-heavy chest routine.
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Is there any room in bodybuilding for aesthetics? If you took a sampling of today’s IFBB pro events, you may be inclined to think not. The era of the 240-plus pound behemoth is in, while the golden era of Sergio Oliva, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Zane, Lee Haney, and Lee Labrada is long gone.

Or is it?

In 2007, recognizing an outnumbered yet fervent contingent of the fan base yearning for throwback physiques and acknowledging the need for a modicum of mainstream appeal, the IFBB introduced the 202-pound division, later to become the 212 class. Finally, guys like David Henry, James “Flex” Lewis, Kevin English and Stan McQuay had a stage all their own.

Seven years later, the Olympia has held six weight-limit contests, and they’ve become a more common addition to the mid-tier IFBB-calendar events as well. It’s what drew McQuay back into the competitive fray this past February after a three-year absence from the stage, at the inaugural Arnold Classic 212, where he notched a ninth-place finish.

McQuay — who had been following a gymnastics- and bodyweight-based regimen for two years prior — embraced a reignited passion for the heavy iron. He bunkered down at home, doing his training at cavernous Powerhouse Gym in Chatsworth, California, a sun-soaked enclave on the northwest fringe of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, in the months leading up to the show. That’s where MuscleMag caught up to him, tailing him during a particularly hard-charging chest workout.

First on the docket on this day — his early morning personal training clients and some paperwork related to his recently launched venture with former NPC judge Erik Mara, Physique Inc., a business aimed at helping competitors with their training, diet and marketing efforts.

Throughout his 7 a.m. session, McQuay multitasks, walking his client through her paces while warming himself up with push-ups, dumbbell raises to the front, side and rear, and a barrage of weighted arm rotations to lubricate his rotator cuffs.

To him, that warm-up is essential. “Knock on wood, I’ve never had an injury in all my years of training,” he says. “Before bodybuilding, I was a martial artist, and that’s all about warm-up and stretching. I also studied kinesiology in college, so I understand the importance of getting the body ready.”

By the time the clock strikes 8 a.m., McQuay’s ready to roll into his opening chest salvo, the incline dumbbell press. Here’s how he gets the most out of that exercise and the rest of the moves that make up his routine.

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No. 1: Incline Dumbbell Press

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Stan’s Plan: 4 sets, 6–8 reps (plus 2 warm-up sets)

How-To: Lying back on an incline bench set to 45 degrees, McQuay brings the dumbbells into starting position alongside his pecs. His elbows are bent to 90-degree angles and pointed down toward the floor. Taking a deep breath, he shifts into motion. One second, two seconds, three seconds, four, he deliberately pushes the weights upward, stopping before they arc together at the top; from their stopping point an inch apart, he lowers them in the same slow, methodical cadence, pausing for a beat at the bottom before repeating.

No. 2: Hammer Strength Incline Press

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Stan’s Plan: 4 sets, 6–8 reps (note that McQuay switches his rep scheme every three weeks on all his exercises, from a heavier 6–8 to a lighter 12–15)

How-To: Loading two plates on each side of the Hammer Strength incline press, McQuay settles into the seat. But instead of placing his glutes and lower back flush against the pad, he shifts his hips forward about six inches. “The Hammer Strength places your body upright, so I cheat my hips to get into a more direct pushing position and place more emphasis on my upper chest,” he says. “But you have to keep your core tight to protect your lower back.” His elbows and wrists are aligned directly behind the handles as he presses the handles forward to full elbow extension (without locking them out), then returns to a point just before the handles touch down to the rubber stops before going into the next rep.

No. 3: Incline Dumbbell Flye

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Stan’s Plan: 4 sets, 6–8 reps

How-To: Lying on an adjustable bench with an angle set to 45 degrees, McQuay selects a pair of 45- to 70-pound dumbbells and lies back, hoisting them overhead with palms facing and elbows slightly bent. His eyes fixed on the ceiling, he pauses for a moment in that position, gathering his thoughts and tensing for what’s to come. McQuay lowers the weights out to each side, maintaining that same wide angle in his elbows as his arms go parallel to the floor, the deep stretch noticeably elongating the pecs, the tendons coming into sharp relief at his armpits. From that fully stretched-out position, he strongly engages the muscles to reverse the motion, a three-second concentric contraction bringing the dumbbells to within an inch of each other at the top. “When I do it, I’m picturing a big-ass barrel on my chest, and I’m putting my arms around it.”

No. 4: Dumbbell Flat-Bench Press 

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Stan’s Plan: 4 sets, 6–8 reps

How-To: With a dumbbell in each hand, McQuay lies back, his feet firmly planted on the floor and the dumbbells at each flank, elbows fully bent and pointed down. His approach is straightforward, extending his arms as his pectorals contract, pushing the dumbbells directly upward toward the ceiling. At the top, they’ve arced slightly closer together, but he’s careful not to let them clang into one another (which instantly decreases the tension and lessens the effectiveness of the movement, he notes). After a brief one-second pause at the top, he returns to the start position, then launches into the next rep.

No. 5: Parallel-Bar Dip

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Stan’s Plan: 4 sets, 6–8 reps

How-To: “I like to finish every bodypart with some sort of calisthenics,” he says of his last exercise in his routine, dips. “Actually, the last 18 months or so, before I decided to do the Arnold 212, my workouts were really built around calisthenics exercises. You can build a pretty good body just from that — dips, pushups, pull-ups, squats, lunges.” With that, McQuay extends his arms and holds his body aloft in the starting position of a dip and begins to crank out reps, bending deep at the elbows, keeping said elbows tucked in and his head in a neutral and relaxed position throughout.

New Priorities, New Challenges

“I used to train in the evening,” McQuay says. “I’m a night guy. I liked to train when the crowd was heavy, but things are different now.”

As for those things? They include his business, as well as his three young children and a wife of three years, Michelle. “I’m 40 now, and with my schedule, everything I do has to be efficient,” the former Navy brat explains. “If I’m going to put this much emphasis on working out, it has to be calculated. Doing my training before noon every day means I can fit in four to five meals through the rest of the day to fuel growth.”

As for what’s next, he has plenty of irons in the fire. “Really, what motivates me now is my future, not so much stepping onstage anymore, but competing keeps my name out there. I’d like to develop a supplement line and follow through with some other fitness opportunities I’m pursuing.”

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