For years, your pecs have dined like kings on endless buffets of flat-bench presses. Now, years (perhaps decades) into your training career, you are finding them altogether underwhelming in every way — victims of their own myopic gluttony.
The reality is flat-bench exercises are great for beginners, but as you become stronger and more experienced, you need to take advantage of different angles, stimuli and weight loads available. Don’t get us wrong, the flat-bench barbell press is still one of the best indicators of upper-body strength, but if you want a chest that looks strong from top to bottom, it’s time to start mixing it up with these tips from David Sandler, MS, CSCS*D, president and co-founder of StrengthPro (strengthpro.com).
1.Start at the top
With just about any hard-training male, the first area that jumps out as “undertrained” is the upper chest. “Most guys start their chest routine with the flat-bench press,” Sandler says. “But since upper chest is a weak area for most guys, it would be a good idea to attack this area first, when you’re strongest, with heavy incline barbell or dumbbell presses.” Building a thick upper chest, Sandler says, can be a huge overall physique upgrade — you just have to train for it.
2.Rethink the flat bench
The basic job of the pectorals is to bring the humerus — the upper-arm bone — toward the midline of the body. But if your grip is too close, the shoulders and triceps carry a lot of the load. To avoid this, try doing your usual flat benches with a slightly wider grip. “Take a grip outside the deep knurls on the bar, bring the bar all the way down to your chest, pause for a moment, then fire it back up,” Sandler says. Four sets of 10 to 12 reps on pec day not only will help improve your bench but also will add thickness to your chest, he adds. Ideally, these should follow your heavy incline presses.
3.Go low to go high
Once you have blasted your chest with two plate-laden compound moves, it’s time to get precise. Sandler suggests going back at your upper pecs with low-pulley cable crossovers. This flip-flopped version of the standard cable crossover pours some constant tension into your now-flushed upper pecs. “This is one of the toughest chest exercises, but it zeroes in on that upper-chest region,” he says.
4.Master the dip
“I’ve seen guys who can dip all day with their bodyweight, but the goal with any movement should always be to make it more difficult,” Sandler says. “When you can complete 12 reps or so, it’s time to add weight.” You can do this, Sandler says, by wearing a dipping belt or by holding a dumbbell between your feet. “Keep your elbows flared out and lean slightly forward to emphasize your chest,” he adds.
Presses and dips build a solid canvas of muscle, Sandler says, but the finishing touches come through a variety of flyes. “These bring out more detail and help you make sure you’ve fried every last fiber in your chest,” he says. But standard dumbbell flyes shouldn’t always be your go-to — again, variety is key. Sandler recommends standing cable flyes, dumbbell incline flyes and single-arm cable or pec-deck flyes to keep your pecs guessing.
>> David Sandler is a strength-and-conditioning coach and consultant with nearly two decades of experience. He is co-founder of StrengthPro and is on the board of directors for the recently founded International Physique Professionals Association, which can be found at theippa.org.