A well-developed chest’on men and women’is arguably the most universally admired bodypart that we as a species possess. Women are concerned with ways to increase their busts, and men are concerned with increasing their pecs. That desire is particularly strong among teenage males, who, in their unbridled desire to develop their chests, so overtrain those muscles (among others) that growth, if it comes at all, proceeds at a snail’s pace. Frustration ensues, and they eventually give up in despair. That needn’t be the case, however, if they use the correct exercises and training principles.
There are, in effect, three chest muscles: the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor and serratus anterior, or serratus magnus. You must fully stimulate each of them in your workouts if your goal is complete chest development. Here’s how the three muscles move: If you raise your arm, the pectoralis major, acting with the latissimus dorsi and the teres major, draws it down to the side of your chest. Acting alone, the pec major adducts and draws the arm across the chest, also rotating the arm inward.
The pectoralis minor depresses the shoulder and rotates the scapula downward. When you breathe in, the pectoral muscles help in drawing the ribs upward and expanding the chest. The serratus anterior carries the scapula forward and raises the vertebral border of the bone, as in pushing. It also assists the trapezius in raising the acromion process’a projection located on the scapula where it meets the clavicle’and in supporting weights on the shoulder. It also assists the deltoid in raising the arm.
Given that the action of the pectoralis major is to draw the arm across the chest, the exercise that most closely parallels that function is dumbbell flyes, with cable crossovers and machine flyes also being excellent choices. Since the primary action of the pectoralis minor is to lower the shoulders, decline-bench presses are the best way to activate its fibers. The serratus anterior carries the scapula forward, and, consequently, the best way to train it is with pullover bench presses. Ergo, those three exercises are the core of this month’s chest-specialization routine.
The most important factor in training is intensity of effort. If you want to grow, you must give your body a reason to grow. You can’t induce muscle growth by merely repeating that which is already well within your body’s capabilities. You can only induce muscle growth beyond normal levels by putting forth a maximum effort. You must perform every repetition of every set in perfect style. That is to say, you must raise the weight in two seconds, hold in the position of full muscular contraction for an additional two seconds and then lower it back to the starting position in four seconds.
A properly performed set of eight repetitions plus two forced reps should take a total of 80 seconds. This month’s specialization routine is a three-days-a-week program; for example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Once again, you’ll be using the principle of descending sets’performing an isolation exercise first to the point of momentary contractile inability’that is, positive failure’and then, after reducing the resistance approximately 10 to 20 percent, immediately performing the same isolation movement again to the point of positive failure.
In addition, you should do negative-only sets during the Friday workouts, using approximately 40 percent more weight than you would normally be handling on your exercises. Have your training partner (or partners, depending on your strength level) lift the weight for you while you concentrate exclusively on lowering the resistance in eight seconds. Use the same repetition protocol that you would in a regular workout; that is, do as many repetitions on each exercise as your Individual Specific Repetitions (ISR) formula calls for. In Monday’s workout you use forced reps and negatives, but in Wednesday’s workout you should take your sets to positive failure only. As has been the rule during all types of specialization programs discussed in this series, you train the specialized bodypart first in each workout with a maximum of five sets. Then you cover the rest of the bodyparts with one set each, taking all sets to absolute muscular failure (save for those in Wednesday’s workout).
(descending set) 1 x ISR
(descending set) 1 x ISR
Pullover bench presses 2 x ISR
Leg extensions 1 x ISR
Lunges 1 x ISR
Standing calf raises 1 x ISR
Seated cable rows 1 x ISR
Deadlifts 1 x ISR
dumbbell curls 1 x ISR
Bench dips 1 x ISR ALL The Routine Explained
Dumbbell flyes. To begin, grab two dumbbells and lie back on a flat bench. Hold the dumbbells over your chest with your arms fully extended and your palms facing each other. Slowly lower your elbows out to the sides while keeping a slight bend in your arms. It should take you all of four seconds to completely lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest. Hold that stretched position for a two count before raising the dumbbells back up to the starting position. Repeat until you hit positive failure, which should occur at your ISR. Immediately reduce the weight by 20 percent and perform a second set to positive failure. (See page 265 for instructions on how to calculate your ISR.)
Decline-bench presses. You’ll need a decline bench for these. Take the bar off the uprights, or have your partner hand it to you. Hold it for a moment at arm’s length, and then slowly lower it’making a conscious effort to keep your elbows wide’to your collarbone. Pause there for a second or two, and then press the resistance back up to the starting position. Repeat for your ISR, and, depending on what day of the week it is, have your partner assist by giving you two forced repetitions and two negative repetitions. Immediately reduce the weight by 20 percent and perform a second set for your ISR.
Pullover bench presses. This is a tremendous upper-body developer in addition to working very directly the often ignored serratus anterior muscles just below the pecs. Place a weighted barbell on the floor at the end of a flat bench, then lie on the bench, with your head resting at that end of the bench. Grab the barbell, extending your arms behind you so that your biceps are seemingly plugged into your ears. (If you don’t have access to a low flat bench, your partner will have to hand you the weight.) From that position of full stretch, slowly raise the barbell, making sure to keep a slight bend in your elbows, from behind your head, bringing it over your head to where it’s on top of your sternum. Once the bar is resting across your chest, immediately press it to arm’s length, as you would in a regular bench press. Slowly lower the barbell back to your sternum, and from there bring it back over your head, lowering it back down to the floor in four seconds. Pause briefly in the position of full stretch before beginning the next rep. Repeat until you hit momentary muscular failure, which should occur at your ISR, and then, after a brief rest, perform a second set.
Leg extensions. As you indubitably know, this movement is unparalleled for isolating the quadriceps. Other exercises can work the quads as thoroughly, but none do it as efficiently. The reason is that there are no weak links. Leg extensions are powered solely by the strength of your quadriceps. Remember to hold the position of full contraction for a two count before lowering back to the starting position in four seconds. Repeat for your ISR.
Lunges. Place a moderately weighted barbell across your shoulders as if you were about to squat. Instead, step forward with your right leg as far as you can, lowering your left knee until it touches the ground. Pause briefly in that position before pushing up with your right leg to return to the starting position. Repeat the movement right away, but this time step forward with your left leg. Continue performing alternating lunges until you complete your ISR for each leg. Lunges work your entire leg, but the lower you go, the more you activate the gluteal and biceps femoris fibers. Standing calf raises. Step underneath the shoulder pads of a standing calf machine, and position your feet so that your heels are hanging off the block and almost touching the ground. From that position of full stretch slowly contract your calves until you’re completely up on your toes. Hold that position for a two count before lowering in four seconds back to the starting position. Repeat for your ISR.
Seated cable rows. You need a floor pulley with a V-handle attachment to perform these. Grasp the handle and lean forward at the waist so you start the movement from a position of full extension. Slowly, contract your lats, drawing your elbows behind your torso. When you have drawn your elbows as far as you as you possibly can, hold that position of full contraction for a two count, and then return the resistance slowly, in four seconds, back to the starting position. Repeat for your ISR.
Deadlifts. As I said last month, this is an excellent developer of the lower-back muscles. Its muscle-building abilities don’t stop there, however. Deadlifts work almost every muscle in the body and stimulate phenomenal overall muscle growth. Squat down and grasp a relatively heavy barbell with an over-and-under grip; that is, one hand over the bar and the other under it. Your hands should be approximately shoulder width apart. With your hands tightly clenching the bar, drive your torso to an upright position, keeping our back flat and your head up. Hold the top position for a two count before returning the weight back to the floor in four seconds. Repeat for your ISR.
Standing supinating dumbbell curls. This exercise uses the primary function of the biceps muscle, supination. Pick up a pair of moderately weighted dumbbells and hold them at your sides with your palms facing your sides. Slowly curl both of them up toward your shoulders, twisting your hands to the palms-up position and beyond. When the dumbbells reach your shoulders, your palms should be facing away from each other’or at least as supinated as physiologically possible. From that position of full contraction slowly lower the dumbbells in four seconds under control back down to your sides. Repeat for your ISR.
Bench dips. This is actually an excellent upper-body developer, but the majority of focus is on the triceps. You’ll need two benches, one to place your hands on and another for your feet. The bench for your arms should be just slightly behind your back so that the secondary function of the triceps’to draw the arm down and behind the midline of the body’is recruited. (Ideally, the bench for your feet should be higher than your hips.) With the bench for your feet in front of you, place your feet on it and your arms in a locked-out position on the bench behind you. Slowly break the lock in your arms and lower yourself in four seconds to a position of full stretch, where your hands are almost in contact with your armpits. Then push yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat for your ISR.
Remember that the stronger you become, the greater your ability to make inroads into your recovery ability becomes and, consequently, the easier it is to overtrain. That’s the reason intermediates shouldn’t schedule only 48 hours of rest between workouts (i.e., on Monday, Wednesday and Friday) but rather 72 hours, training every third day.
If your chest development has been less than impressive, give this month’s specialization routine a try, and watch your under-par pecs become a problem of the past.
Editor’s note: John Little is a leading innovator of bodybuilding training. His latest book, Fast Mass: The Max Contraction System, is now available. See page 194. IM
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