All chest workouts are not created equal.
For a complete program, you need to attack the pecs from a variety of angles and with a multitude of training methods. Simply doing three different kinds of presses is not going to cut it if you want to create a truly eye-popping chest.
This chest workout features a handful of unique training approaches, designed to target every aspect of chest development from multiple angles, without repeating the training stimulus. Rep schemes for power, classic hypertrophy, and constant tension are used to engage every single muscle fiber in your chest. The coveted inner chest is targeted (controversially, I know) with an unorthodox but exhausting exercise. Lastly, a relatively high-rep chest/abs finisher concludes the workout, which has been proven to induce greater levels of hypertrophy when combined with lower-rep exercises, such as the first two moves of this workout.
Exercise Sets Reps Rest
Bottom-Start Incline Barbell Bench Press 3 3-5 120 seconds
In-Set Superset: Dumbbell Bench Press and Flyes 2 8-10 (each) 90 seconds
Low Pulley Push-Ups 3 AMRAP* 60 seconds
Shifting-Grip Bench Press 2 10-15 reps 90 seconds
Back-Off Bench Press 2 10-15 reps 90 seconds
* As Many Reps As Possible
Bottom-Start Incline Barbell Bench Press
Why Do It: This “bottom start” approach has several big advantages over a normal press. First, you’ll be able to reset your body into the perfect pressing position on every single rep (expanded chest, arched lower back, shoulder blades pulled together, knees bent about 80 degrees, and feet dug in and ready to drive with the legs). This allows you to maximize the weight you’re using for the exercise, which is what you want in a strength-focused exercise. In a normal heavy incline press, the weight of the bar tends to flatten out your torso, especially at the top of the lift, shifting the focus off the upper pecs and onto the anterior delts and triceps.
Second, starting at the bottom from a dead stop removes all elastic tension from the exercise, forcing your muscles to do all the work. Since there is no rebound out of the bottom to help you, you’re forced to build great starting strength at the beginning of each rep.
How To Do It: This exercise is done using an incline bench and a power rack. The incline bench should be at about 30 to 40 degrees. Set the safety rails to a height so the bar starts a few inches off your chest. This will minimize stress on your shoulder joints while keeping the focus on your upper pecs. To begin, simply press the bar off the rails, setting the bar back down on the rails on every rep while fully relaxing your muscles. Then reset your body and repeat. When doing this exercise, use a powerful movement, accelerating the weight all the way to the top. Lower under control, rest the bar on the rails, reset your body position, then press again.
Pro Tip: If you wish to start with the bar closer down your chest, that is acceptable. However, I’ve found starting a little higher to be much easier on your shoulders while still allowing for excellent upper-pec stimulation
In-Set Superset: Dumbbell Bench Press and Flyes
Why Do It: This is a two-exercise combination of dumbbell presses and dumbbell flyes. You’ll be alternating reps of each exercise without rest (press, flye, press, flye). This continuous tension gives you a localized blood flow restriction growth effect by slowing outgoing circulation. Your pecs will be screaming for mercy by the end of the set.
How To Do It: Choose a weight you can get least 13 to 15 reps with for flyes, since it’s the weaker exercise. The focus of this method should be on continuous tension for muscle growth. There should be no pausing between reps. Go straight from one rep/exercise directly into the next without relaxing the muscle. This is especially critical at the top of the press and the flye. Don’t bring the dumbbells all the way in until they’re touching each other and the muscle relaxes. Instead, bring them in only until your arms are almost directly over the shoulder joint. Make a mental effort to keep the pecs engaged, rotate your grip, then begin the next rep with the other exercise.
Shifting-Grip Bench Press
Why Do It: Working the “inner chest” is a controversial strategy. While it’s true that you can’t fully isolate the inner aspect of the chest, you can shift tension and focus to that area via specific techniques. This exercise is going to use a grip shift while under load to change how tension is applied to the pecs. Each change in grip shifts the focus from outer to inner chest for complete pectoral growth stimulation over a variety of muscle fibers.
How To Do It: Start in your normal bench-press grip position and lower the weight to your chest. Then, at the bottom, rest the bar on your chest, but not fully. Keep some tension in your upper body so the weight doesn’t crush down on you, then shift your grip inward about an inch on the bar. Do this by opening your hands, flaring your elbows out wide, shifting your hands on the bar to move them in closer, then tucking your elbows back in again. Every inward movement of your hands puts tension on the inner pecs just a bit more.
Complete one rep from this new grip, then repeat the process until you’ve brought your hands all the way to a close-grip position. When you’ve reached this point, reverse the process, shifting your grip wider every rep until you’re back in your normal bench-press grip width. Because you’re moving to a wider grip, the exercise will get easier in terms of leverage on each rep, allowing you to finish out the set.
Depending on the weight you selected, you can go back in and out again. However, you may find that the weight you’re using allows you to only do one round in and out before the lactate buildup shuts you down.
Pro Tip: Check your ego at the door. This exercise is about tension, not heavy loading. If you currently bench 225 pounds or more for reps, use 135 pounds.
Low Pulley Push-Ups
Why Do It: This is a variation of the push-up that uses what I call “concurrent resistance,” which means it adds resistance that is not a direct part of the main movement and puts additional tension on the working muscles while they’re performing the primary exercise. This puts a massive continuous contraction on the muscles through the entire exercise.
How To Do It: This exercise is a regular push-up, but instead of setting your hands on the ground, you’ll be gripping two low pulley cable handles and doing the push-ups on your fists. The cables should be weighted with a moderately heavy load (something you’d normally use for eight to 10 reps on the cable crossover exercise is ideal) so that as you’re doing the push-up, the cables are trying to pull your hands out from under you. You must contract your pecs strongly to keep your hands in place during the push-ups. Get as many reps as you can with this setup until you either can’t do any push-ups or it feels like your hands are about to get pulled out from under you.
Core Bench Press
Why Do It: This exercise will hit the chest and isometrically target your abs at the same time, making it the perfect “beach body” finisher to this workout. During this exercise, your feet will be completely off the floor while you press. Without the support and drive of the legs, your abs will be recruited to stabilize the upper body during the press.
How To Do It: To get into position, first hold the dumbbells on your thighs and then sit on the bench. As you lie back, bring the dumbbells to your chest. Pick your feet up off the floor and put them on the bench so your heels are next to your butt. Begin the press from there. Every rep will put tension on the core musculature, in addition to putting a strong contraction on the pecs. Squeeze the pecs hard on every rep to get the most out of the exercise.
Challenge Exercise: If you are an advanced lifter and have no history of lower-back issues, try doing a back-off bench press. This presents an even greater challenge to your core. You’ll need a power rack or a Smith machine to perform this exercise, along with a moveable flat bench. Place the bench under the bar and set the rail height to about 18 inches higher than the bench. Load the bar with some weight and brace it up against the uprights of the rack to keep it from moving. Adjust the position of the bench so that when you lie on it, your knees/thighs are braced against the bar and your upper back is completely off the end. This takes away all direct support under your upper back during the movement and forces your abs to contract hard the entire time to support the upper back as you press. Make sure you have the position right before you use any weight with this exercise. Because this exercise involves balancing with a load, be very sure you’re using a weight you can control. This is the time to focus on a hard contraction in the pecs, not pushing a massive amount of weight.
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The variety of techniques used in this five-exercise chest blaster is going to represent a significant challenge to anyone who does a more traditional vanilla chest workout (think incline, decline, and flat-bench press.) However, the unorthodox training methods are designed to give your chest a complete workout. Fight through the discomfort that comes with the unfamiliar and your pecs will get bigger, stronger, and look better from all angles. IM