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Beef Up and Chisel Your Chest

Q: I’ve been looking at the new photos from IRON MAN that you posted on your Facebook pages. Your chest is so freakin’ chiseled! How do you achieve that level of detail, separation and size? You must have a secret, so please share.

A: Yes, those photos really came out great. I flew to Los Angeles for that photo shoot just a few days after competing in the ’10 Europa Super Show in August. To be honest, while we were shooting over the course of two days, I didn’t feel that I looked as good as I had during our ’08 and ’09 photo shoots. So you can imagine how excited I was when I saw the pictures. Michael Neveux is a photographic genius, and I suppose I looked better than I thought, as the outdoor photos were every bit as good as the studio shots.

So, getting to your question, what do I do to etch the striations and separation into my pecs? Well, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but there are no secrets. There are truths:

1) You have to build adequate size throughout the whole chest area.

2) You have to reduce your bodyfat way down so that your skin is very thin.

3) You have to maintain your pec size while you reduce your bodyfat.

4) You have to practice posing to have the muscle control to bring out all of the muscular detail when you’re in front of a camera or onstage.

My approach to training chest is very basic. For pecs it’s bench presses and incline presses, using barbell or dumbbells, followed by a peak-contraction exercise, such as cable crossovers or machine flyes. Sometimes I’ll cap off the chest workout with a max-reps set of pushups—or if everything is feeling really good and I’m feeling daring, I do a couple of sets of clap pushups to get a high-speed, explosive contraction in the pecs.

Some experts say that you don’t need to do bench presses to build great pecs, and others advise that if you’re going to bench, you shouldn’t lower the weight to the point where your elbows descend below your shoulders—I’ve seen that in a number of personal-trainer manuals. The problem is that many trainers try to perform bench presses in a manner that “isolates” the pecs.

First of all, bench pressing is not an isolation exercise. Bench pressing with the back flat and with elbows perpendicular to the torso—to “isolate” the pecs—puts a great deal of strain on the shoulder capsule. I recommend keeping your feet on the floor and arching your back. Shoulders should be pulled back and down, and you need to remain in that position throughout the set. The bar should travel to the bottom of the pecs with the elbows at about a 45 degree angle from the torso. At the top of the movement your arms should be just short of lockout, your shoulders should not move forward, and your pecs should be consciously flexed. Performing the bench press in that manner works your pectoralis muscles through a greater range of motion while minimizing strain on the shoulder capsule.

After fatiguing my entire chest with bench presses, I move to an incline movement to put more stress on the upper pecs. Typically, I do my incline presses with a barbell so that I can handle more weight. For a number of years I used dumbbells, but I got to the point where I was using so much weight that I was incurring shoulder or elbow injuries while setting the dumbbells down at the end of a set. With barbell inclines I can handle a heavier weight, putting more stress on the upper pecs, and get it safely racked at the end of my hard sets. Again, you should perform the movement with your chest up and shoulders pulled back and down. Naturally the bar will touch your upper pecs at the bottom of the movement. Don’t forget to flex your pecs at the top of each rep.

For a peak-contraction exercise I prefer doing flyes on a pec machine because you can stress your pecs in both the stretch and contracted positions. Keep your elbows slightly bent as you lower the weight, and stop at the point where your hands are even with your shoulders. Don’t try to overstretch, or you’ll put a lot of undue strain on the shoulder capsule. A key point in the execution of flyes is to keep your chest up and your shoulders back and down as you move into the fully contracted position. To get the most contraction, extend your arms as you squeeze the handles together and pause and flex your pecs when your hands touch. Keep the movement smooth and controlled in both the eccentric and concentric phases of the rep. If you have anything left after the pec flyes, burn out with some good, old-fashioned pushups or some high-speed clap pushups.

Once you’ve built a full, solid chest, you’ll need to get your bodyfat extremely low if you want to show off your separation, striations and vascularity. That will require a combination of proper diet and adding some cardiovascular work. Be patient with bodyfat loss. I usually encourage my clients to shoot for losing about one pound per week. A good place to begin your cutting process is to start each day with 20 to 30 minutes of cardio. Yes, it’s going to entail getting up about 45 minutes earlier. Trust me, though: The effects of doing cardio first thing in the morning are almost magical when it comes to dropping bodyfat.

You’re also going to need a proper nutrition plan if you expect to drop bodyfat so that your skin is superthin. While individual metabolisms can differ rather dramatically, here’s a good starting point. Mulitply your bodyweight by 1.5 to get the number of grams of protein and carbohydrates you should take in each day. Multiply your bodyweight by 0.3 to determine the number of grams of fat you should take in daily. For example, a 180-pound man would want to eat about 270 grams of protein and 270 grams of carb per day: 180 x 1.5 = 270. He’d aim for 54 grams of fat per day: 180 x .3 = 54. So the starting point for calories would be 2,646 per day, consisting of about 40 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrate and 20 percent fat. Remember, that’s just a starting point. Monitor your bodyweight weekly.

If you’re losing more than two pounds per week, you’ll need to add more calories to your diet in the form of carbs and/or fat. If you’re not losing weight or if you gain weight, you may need to reduce the total number of calories. If you do have to drop calories, I recommend—at least initially—reducing each of the macronutrients proportionally.

Here’s another important thing to take into account: If possible you should have your bodyfat measured on a weekly basis, preferably by the skin-fold method. If you’re doing everything perfectly, it’s sometimes possible to maintain the same bodyweight while actually losing bodyfat. That’s happened to me, and it’s the best-case scenario. Without monitoring your bodyfat, however, it can be difficult to tell whether you’re walking that fine line properly. At any rate, if you’re patient and stick with slow weight loss—one pound per week—you can maintain all of the muscle you’ve built.

The last thing you have to do to show off that chiseled chest is to practice posing. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks. If done properly—whether you’re onstage or posing for photos—making all that pec detail pop appears fun and effortless. It takes practice, however, not only to gain control of the muscle but also to flex and smile at the same time. When I was preparing for my first competition, I spent 20 to 30 minutes every evening posing for two months before the show.

Train hard and eat clean.

Please check out my Web site,, and keep an eye out for my new contest-prep DVD, the Shredderbuilt Radio Show, and the ’11 NPC Texas Shredder Classic.

Editor’s Note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at Click on the blog selection in the top menu bar.
To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to [email protected]. IM




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