How To Build A Head-Turning Chest

There are few muscle groups that get more focus than chest. The first thing most guys moderately concerned with aesthetics assess in the morning is the prominent or perhaps inconspicuous chest staring back at him in the mirror. Few aspects of a physique set you apart from the average gym goer than an exceptionally constructed chest – full depth at clavicular attachment while spanning wide from sternum to humerus.

I’m intimately familiar with this commonly lagging body part, both personally and through interactions with clients. For years my upper chest was nonexistent. Random and inconsistent effort to elicit change fell short at best, leaving me frustrated and seemingly helpless. But with the strategies below, I was able to turn weaknesses into strengths. A framework I leverage across all body parts, but particularly those lacking the aesthetic characteristics consistent with my overall vision.

How To Build A Head-Turning Chest

FUNDAMENTALS OF GROWTH

First, it’s always important to start by identifying the primary drivers of physical transformation within the context of your goals. Science clearly identifies volume as the largest driver of hypertrophy and strength, consistent with decades of anecdotal experience from bodybuilders and powerlifting athletes alike. Although exercise selection and intensity techniques (dropsets, supersets, etc.) will certainly help optimize growth, we need to recognize the hierarchy of importance on this transformational pursuit.

There are countless ways of manipulating volume in your training block, a good place to start is with two fundamental measures of volume:

#1: Training Frequency

This can be representative of the number of times you train a given body part over one micro-cycle or weekly split. This is one of my favorite ways to ensure progressive overload/volume, because rather than cramming a superfluous amount of volume into one training session, you can hit reasonable thresholds of intrasession volume that are followed by increasingly limited, but still sufficient, periods of recovery. This could range from hours (two a day sessions) to days, depending on your schedule, lifestyle and training status. What this enables us to do: if we compared the same amount of volume, spread over two sessions versus four sessions, it’s reasonable to assume the latter would be performed with considerably more intensity across a larger percentage of the total work. This would have an ancillary impact on our other measure of volume, work capacity.

#2: Work Capacity

This is simply the amount of total work you do over a given time period. Typically these calculations are isolated to particular movements being prioritized in one training block.  The formula is straightforward: Load/Weight x Reps x Sets. Clearly there are three variables that influence one’s achievable capacity – increasing any of them will directly influence the total. The importance of developing strength should be evident, as we are capable of moving heavier weight for more repetitions over more sets (sets) – we’re increasing the achievable volume, mechanical stress and time under tension the muscle is ultimately experiencing. Eliciting an extreme demand and stimulus that should encourage growth.

One very important aspect of making gains is to track your progress. Keeping a record of your training program and performance is critical. Take a moment to plan your week out, clearly identifying the days you’re going to focus on Chest. Then tracking loads, reps and sets used during those sessions.

Now just because volume is our focal point, that doesn’t mean there’s necessarily a linear relationship at infinitely increasing degrees. One of the most critical factors to ensure sustainable progression is to have the courage to do less when necessary. We want to capture maximum change with minimum stimulus, gradually increasing that stimulus over time to ensure we’re sufficiently progressing and attenuating plateaus. If we go all out from the jump, not only are you leaving “easy gains” on the table, you’re wasting valuable variables prematurely that could be detrimental over the long run. After all, we all have a relative maximum volume, above which we experience diminishing marginal returns with an increased potentiality for injury and unfavorable physiologic adaptation (i.e. “overtraining”).

THE PROGRAM

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals, here is an example split and workout design for developing a massive and chiseled chest.

We’re going to utilize an undulating weekly split in an effort to enhance hypertrophic response and strength adaptations, setting the stage for immediate and long term growth. We must also stress the importance of shoulder health and preventative mobility work when engaging in a training block with chest as the priority variable. Shoulders can be particularly vulnerable under persistent mechanical stress, it’s the most common driver of gym related injuries. Ultimately how are we going to optimize development if you’re spending time on the sidelines, take care of the little things – the best athletes, are healthy ones.

DAY 1: Strength Chest Day

Intensity:  Strength (maximum weight/load to achieve prescribed rep counts, controlled but fast tempo, reach/near failure)

Exercises

  • Mobility Work & Warm-up: (rotator cuff, external and internal rotation, stability work, muscle specific neurologic activation, push-ups)
  • Dumbbell Flat Chest Press: 5 sets x 8, 5, 5, 4, 3 reps (increasing weight)
  • Incline Barbell Chest Press: 5 sets x 5, 5, 5, 4, 3 reps (increasing weight)
  • Decline Chest Press: (DB, Hammer Strength or Smith Machine) : 5 sets x 5, 5, 5, 4, 3 reps (increasing weight)
  • 3 minute Push-Up Challenge: Maximum number of full range push-ups within 3 minutes.  Attempt to increase this number each workout.

DUMBBELL FLAT CHEST PRESS

Day 2 (at least one day between day 1): Explosive/Power Chest Day

Note: Rest at least one day between workouts

Intensity: Explosive concentric movement (light/moderate weight/load to achieve prescribed rep counts, controlled but fast tempo, stop 1-2 reps short of failure)(Superset corresponding alphabetic characters)

Exercises

  • Mobility Work & Warm-up: (rotator cuff, external and internal rotation, stability work, muscle specific neurologic activation, push-ups)
  • Wide to Narrow Push-Ups (explode off the ground each rep): 3 sets x 20 reps (10 at each width)
  • Flat Barbell Chest Press: 3 sets x 15 reps (tempo:  1-2 sec eccentric, max concentric)

Superset with

  • Stability Ball Push-Ups (hands on ball): 3 sets x 20 reps
  • Incline Smith Machine Press: 3 sets x 15 reps (tempo:  1-2 sec eccentric, max concentric)

Superset with

  • TRX or Deficit push-ups: 3 sets x 12-15 reps (tempo: 1-2 sec eccentric, max concentric)

STABILITY BALL PUSHPUS

Day 3: Hypertrophy Chest Day

Note: Rest at least one day between workouts

Intensity: (maximum weight/load to achieve prescribed rep counts, varied tempo, reach failure)(Superset corresponding alphabetic characters)

Exercises

  • Mobility Work & Warm-up: (rotator cuff, external and internal rotation, stability work, muscle specific neurologic activation, push-ups)
  • Dumbbell Incline Chest Press: 3 Monster Drop sets x 6/10/20 reps (decrease weight intra-drop)
  • Decline Cable Flye (use modifications): 4 Drop sets x 8/15 reps
  • Dumbbell Flat Chest Press: 4 Drop sets x 8/20 reps (decrease weight intra-drop)(utilize a neutral grip bi-weekly)

Superset with

  • Pull-Overs (focus on chest to initiate movement): 4 sets x 12 reps
  • Decline Chest Press: (DB, Hammer Strength or Smith Machine) : 4 sets x 12 reps

Superset with

  • Pec Deck Fly (keep shoulders retracted, out of movement): 4 sets x 12 reps alternating
  • 2 minute Push-Up Challenge:  Maximum number of full range push-ups within 3 minutes.  Attempt to increase this number each workout.

DECLINE CABLE FLYE

This approach will provide you a systematic way to design your own program, enabling you to leverage all the responses critical to achieving the optimally sculpted chest. But remember, it’s important you adjust this framework appropriately for your training status, weekly schedule and fitness goals – start low and work your way up as you see development markers beginning to plateau. It’s imperative not to completely exclude other muscle groups in an effort to maintain this level of volume on chest, a well balanced physique requires a well balanced approach over the long run.

Until next time, check out ShyAcademy.com for more detailed and specific guidance to achieving the ideal physique. As always, train hard and train smart. Get One Percent Better everyday, in every way.

Evan Shy

Evan Shy is an Optimum Nutrition Sponsored Athlete, National Physique Competitor and owner of ShyTown Fitness, Inc. Currently a MS student at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign studying Exercise Physiology prior to his candidacy for a PhD. Beyond studies, Evan has been leading his team of highly specialized trainers and physical therapists in global interactions with clients from the company’s founding in 2010. His team leverages a unique approach by taking advantage of their collective expertise in all programming requirements, focusing primarily on nutrition and training paradigms for athletes, or anyone aspiring to be their best self.

Find out more about Evan at the links below:

website: www.shyacademy.com
Facebook: Evan Shy
Instagram: @evanshy
Twitter: @evanshy

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