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Stretch to Etch Muscle Detail

One problem may be fat in the area. Adipose tissue covering the pecs blurs or negates any detail. You need to be fairly lean to see the chest-muscle division, or cleavage, from top to bottom.


Q: I’m trying to get a crisp division between my pecs. I want to be able to see my inner-chest muscles from the lower part up to the collarbone. I do lots of cable crossovers, and I really squeeze at the bottom of each rep, but I’m only seeing my lower chest.  Any suggestions?

A: One problem may be fat in the area. Adipose tissue covering the pecs blurs or negates any detail. You need to be fairly lean to see the chest-muscle division, or cleavage, from top to bottom.

If you’re fairly lean and simply lack development, cable crossovers aren’t the best exercise. A move that stretches your pecs against resistance, like dumbbell flyes or cable flyes, will provide more stress down the center—but on either you need to focus on the stretch, not the contraction. Don’t try to exaggerate the stretch, however, or you could injure your shoulder joints. 

End-of-set X-Rep partials in the part of the stroke where you feel a distinct pull on the pecs can help too—on those two exercises and even on bench presses. Respected muscle-science researcher Jacob Wilson verifies that: “Partial-range reps in the lower range of a muscle can actually add sarcomeres to a muscle fiber, which would fill out the area of a muscle where it is inserted.”

The inner pec consists of the insertion points of the pectoralis major, so you see how short-stroke X Reps in the stretch or semistretch position can add to development there. I believe that’s especially true on stretch-position exercises, like flyes for the pecs. It has to do with the stress and pull on the muscle at the insertion point. Even on a big, midrange exercise like squats, though, if you stop your reps above parallel, you don’t get a lot of stretch in the quads, and you can end up with turnip thighs—that is, not a lot of development down near the knee, where the muscles insert.

So elongating the target muscle against resistance is important on most exercises. That’s why the answer for your particular problem is dumbbell flyes or cable flyes, done with a variety of stretch-amplifying techniques, like X Reps at the stretch point at the end of a set; Double-X Overload, which is an X-Rep partial in the bottom (stretch) position after each full rep; StatS, a static hold in the stretch position for 30 to 60 seconds (slight pulses are recommended). 

Cable crossovers can give you pretty good occlusion, or blood-flow blockage, if you don’t let the handles move up past shoulder height—that’s where you can lose tension on the pecs; however, because of the angle of pull, they’re not very good at pec stretch. Dumbbell flyes are your best bet, with specific stretch-to-etch tactics like X Reps, DXO and StatS.

Q: My upper pecs suck, and my lower chest is okay. Should I always lead off my chest workout with an upper-pec exercise, like incline presses, to prioritize?

A: My training partner Jonathan Lawson and I adopted that upper-pec-priority principle—always work upper pecs first, usually with Smith-machine incline presses. Then we reread our first e-book, the Ultimate Mass Workout. In it we analyze and provide the ultimate exercise for each body-part. For chest that movement is decline presses or wide-grip dips done with a forward lean—which simulate decline presses. Why are those two exercises in the ultimate category? Because a decline-pressing position better synchronizes the working muscles with more priority on the pectoral muscles and less on the front delts. But here’s the kicker from page 31 of that e-book:

“Studies also show that declines hit the upper chest as well as the lower, but most bodybuilders will want to do some type of incline press or incline flye, preferably with cables to get continuous tension, to augment decline work. The pecs, after all, are fan-shaped muscles, so angle training is important if you want to stress as many fibers as possible; however, many trainees can get good overall chest development using only dips or declines.”

We’ve got to start rereading our stuff more often. That flipped on the memory banks, and we recalled the study that showed that a decline-pressing motion has significant effects on the upper pecs as well as the lower. In other words, if we use decline presses or wide-grip dips first, we’re still prioritizing upper chest.

So instead of always starting with inclines, we’re alternating the chest section we train first. The variety alone is making a big difference. We train upper chest first at one pec workout, with middle and lower last; then middle and lower chest to start the next workout, with upper last:
 
Workout 1

Upper-pec midrange: Smith-machine incline presses
Upper-pec stretch and contracted: High cable flyes
Lower/middle-pec midrange: Wide-grip dips
Lower/middle-pec stretch and contracted: 
Middle cable flyes

Workout 2

Lower/middle-pec midrange: Wide-grip dips
Lower/middle-pec stretch and contracted: 
Middle cable flyes
Upper-pec midrange: Smith-machine incline presses
Upper-pec stretch and contracted: High cable flyes

Just remember that the first exercise in your lower-and-middle-chest workout should be decline presses or wide-grip dips. What about flat-bench presses? Most trainees get too much front-delt activation from them; however, if you must do them, add them after declines or dips. If your ego insists on benching first so you can use more weight, create a third workout with bench presses at the top of the list and add it to the chest-workout rotation—a heavy flat-bench day every third chest workout. 

Editor’s note: Steve Holman is the author of many bodybuilding best-sellers and the creator of Positions-of-Flexion muscle training. For information on the POF videos and Size Surge programs, see the ad sections beginning on page 220 and 264, respectively. Also visit www.X-Rep.com for information on X-Rep and 3D POF methods and e-books.  IM

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