Ah, pecs. If there’s one muscle group that makes everyone stick to their workout plans, it should be the pectorals. I know I started my fitness journey for mostly aesthetic reasons, and that was to have a chiseled chest – not abs or arms or traps or whatever – to show off on the beach. Anyone who says they got into fitness for fitness’ sake is lying, you know you want to look good and have a physique that you can be proud of. And that’s okay, whatever gets you started and keeps you motivated, right?
My priorities have since changed, but I still focus just a little bit more attention to this specific muscle group than any other. Old habits die hard, I guess. So this month, we’re highlighting the fundamentals of chest training. We’ll talk about the facts and the myths and some other vital information that should hopefully improve how you approach your chest days.
Your chest can take more than a weekly split
Everyone progresses from a full-body workout to a split routine just a couple months into their gym membership – unless you’re a jumpy crossfit fool – so you’ve probably been given this standard once-a-week program for every muscle group by your trainer. The most important piece of advice I’ve ever received on this topic is this – your chest is strong enough to handle being trained more than once a week. And since then, for the past I don’t know how many years already, I’ve been hitting chest twice in a week – Mondays and Fridays. The minimum rest you need to lift optimally is just 48 hours, and training chest after it’s had just two days off is perfectly okay. I can say that my gains have improved tremendously after adopting this approach.
Sunday is Middle East Chest Day
You might have heard that Monday is International Chest Day, but for those living in the Middle East, I have noticed that a lot more people start their training week on a Sunday, and they hit chest first. As much as possible, avoid training chest on Sundays so you don’t have to share benches and other equipment with 200 million other people trying to do the same workout.
Variation is key
So you’ve devised a workout plan that hits your chest from every angle imaginable – that’s good. However, if you end up doing the same thing week after week, you risk hitting a plateau even if you keep increasing resistance. This becomes even more noticeable if you hit chest more than once a week. Try to mix it up every three or four weeks to keep your pecs guessing while still trying to work them from all angles.
Focus on free weights
Machines are great because they pretty much isolate the muscle group you’re targeting, but free weights rule the art of bodybuilding. People will notice that they cannot lift as much weight with dumbbells or a barbell as they do on machines, and that is to be expected. You work a lot harder trying to keep the weights over your head, and the fact that most chest moves with free weights have you lie down – as opposed to most machines that have you sit – makes you work overtime. But that’s the beauty of it, your pecs experience a lot more stress leading to a lot more gains. The bulk of your workout, up to about 70% or so, should be done using free weight or even body weight exercises.
The mind-muscle connection is vital
More than any other muscle group, the chest requires that you have mastery over the mind-muscle connection. Because most, if not all of the moves that hit the pecs are compound one, meaning other muscles like the front delts are also engaged, being able to push a huge percentage of the work to the chest is of paramount importance to racking up gains. You have to really feel the burn and the pump happening mostly in the chest, and just little bit in the supporting muscles, in order to get significant mass on your pectorals. And that takes a lot of practice to really nail down.
The easiest way to physically do this is to pop your chest out and keep your shoulder blades together at the back, keeping in mind to maintain this position throughout the entire rep. You cannot completely eliminate the engagement of supporting muscle groups (because that way you won’t be able to move the weights), but trying to keep it down to the bare minimum is vital to building a great chest.
This article is brought to you under my partnership with Gold’s Gym UAE as one of their brand ambassadors in the region. They are still running a great promotion where you can win annual membership at a club of your choice by giving them your best excuse for not going to the gym. Click here to enter.
Disclosure: The author received product and/or monetary compensation to support this story.