The chest is a part of the body with a huge visual impact for a bodybuilder. Usually, a voluptuous ribcage – like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s or Victor Martínez’s – is a sign of dense muscles, strength and power. The exercises help to decrease the amount of body fat around the chest, help to tone up, increase muscle mass and give you more strength to perform several tasks. The construction of a consistent musculature depends on the exercises, combined with a good diet and the right selection of supplements that can help maximize results.
To sum up, the pectoral is a muscle group that consists of two muscles: the pectoralis major muscle and the pectoralis minor muscle. The major muscle connects the chest (sternum and collarbone) with the arms, while the minor muscle connects the ribcage with the scapula. If these muscles aren’t proportionally developed, they may bring negative consequences (incorrect posture, weak respiratory volume, among others).
In a workout routine for chest hypertrophy, you should give priority to low volume, high intensity exercises. Work the chest muscles at least twice a week, with 48h breaks between sessions. You can choose 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps per exercise.
What are the best exercises to stimulate muscle hypertrophy?
To stimulate muscle hypertrophy you should focus on complex exercises (they involve the use of two or more muscle groups at the same time) that require lifting a heavy load because they are more efficient as they provide better and faster results. If you start your workout with isolation exercises you make get to a point where you’ll be having muscle fatigue, that’s why it is so important to always start with complex exercises, because you’ll be focusing the greatest part of your energy on the most important exercises.
Examples of chest exercises:
Isolates: crossover pulley, fly, pec deck.
Complex: barbell bench press, dumbbell incline press, dips on the parallel bar with your body weight
A study conducted by investigators from the Department of Exercise and Sports Science – Wisconsin University -, came to the conclusion that the declined bench press is the most efficient exercise for the chest muscles (as a whole) and that the inclined bench press perfectly isolates the chest’s superior area for those who are trying to develop it. The analysis on 14 healthy volunteers, ages 19 to 30, that aimed to define which exercises were more efficient to stimulate chest hypertrophy, proved that an ideal workout plan should include the declined bench press with barbell, cable crossovers, dips with body weight (to wear out the muscle) and pec deck.
1. Barbell bench press
Takes a lot from the chest and shoulder muscles, because it consists on lying down and lifting the load with a barbell. Stimulates the major pectoralis, deltoid muscles and triceps.
How to perform?
Lie down on a plan bench with your feet on the floor, slightly apart from each other. Put your hands on the barbell, slightly apart, shoulder-width, so that when your forearms are aligned with the body they stay perpendicular to the ground and so that your elbows form a 90º angle. Take the barbell off the support and pull it up. Lower it slowly towards your chest in a controlled way and keep your elbows underneath your wrists so you don’t cause any shoulder injuries. Take a break between reps. If you want to maintain the tension in the chest zone, stop blocking your elbows when you push the barbell up. Repeat the process accordingly to the number of reps you wish to perform.
To perform the declined barbell bench press, do it the same way, but on a declined bench. When you lower the barbell, do it towards the lower part of the chest. This variation will emphasize the lower part of the major pectoralis.
READ ALSO: 3 powerful exercises for tricep hypertrophy
2. Pec Deck
Stimulates the major pectoralis and the deltoid muscles.
How to perform?
Sit on the bench; adjust it so your elbows stay slightly below your shoulder line so you can get the best results. After that, put your feet on the ground, shoulder-width and keep your torso straight against the back support. Place your forearms on the quilted supports and grab the lever.
Slowly push and pull the levers, get back to the initial position until you feel a slight stretching in the chest muscles. Do not move your torso during the movement. Repeat the process accordingly to the number of reps you wish to perform.
3. Decline dumbbell bench press
It’s a variation of the bench press, but, unlike the inclined press, the inferior part of the body is the one that stays on top, and you’ll be working the inferior area of the sternum. Stimulates the major pectoralis, the deltoids and triceps.
How to perform?
Lie down on the declined bench, with your feet strapped around the quilted support and the dumbbells on top of your quads, next to the body. Pick up the dumbbells and put them next to your chest (on the side) with your arms bent at the elbows.
Push the dumbbells with your elbows upwards and inwards until your arms are fully stretched. Make sure that, when you perform the movement, you create a little arch with your arms, starting with the dumbbells next to the body and bringing them together at the end of the movement. When you lower the weight to the sides of your chest you should feel a slight stretch on the chest or deltoids. Repeat the process accordingly to the number of reps you wish to perform.
In case you use heavy loads, consider asking a friend to help you execute the exercise.
4. Dips on the parallel bar with your body weight
This exercise is a variation of the bench press where the inferior part of your chest muscles is more involved and it has a set of advantages comparing to the inclined press. It’s a more natural movement, involves every muscle in the body and not just the chest muscles (like what happens with the bench press). You may use extra loads (belt) to increase the degree of difficulty. The body assumes a slightly inclined position. The exercise comprises the arm muscles (mainly the triceps), the muscles of the shoulder complex, the back muscles as well as the stabilizing muscles of the torso and abs.
How to perform?
Place your body between the parallels, crossing your legs. On the superior point of the exercise, the arms are stretched, the elbows are steady and the chest points upwards – the body stays perpendicular to the ground. Get back to the initial position slowly inclining your body. Do the complete movement cycle and take 1 second breaks on the superior and inferior part of the movement. Perform the exercise slowly.
A) Partial execution of the exercise, without completely lowering the body (when your shoulders stay over or elbows or on the same level). This movement is simpler, but in this case the chest muscles won’t be completely involved in the workout.
B) Turn your elbows outwards instead of backwards. Try to keep them as next to your body as possible and don’t let the legs help execute the movement so you don’t change the execution technique.
5. Cable crossovers
Stimulates de major pectoralis, anterior deltoids and triceps.
How to perform?
Place one foot in front of the other, shoulder-width, with a distance slightly superior to a step. After that, grab one handle with each hand. The hands should be below the shoulder level and the elbows slightly bent. Slowly put your hands together until your arms are almost fully stretched. First move your arms down and then inwards, towards your chest, so you can perform a wide arch. Contract the abs and keep the thorax’s inclination during the movement, without bending your back. Slowly get back to the initial position and repeat the process.
Jon Huston, Developing The Chest: A Course In Hypertrophy!, 1st of August 2002, translation and adaptation of the original version
N/d, Exercícios Hipertrofia, n/d, translation and adaptation of the original version
Shanke Whitnee, B.S., Porcari John P., PH.D., et al, Top 3 most effective chest exercises, October 2012, translation and adaptation of the original version
Teresa Morales, Los mejores ejercicios para trabajar pectorales, 3rd of July 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version
Yulieth Mora, Los mejores ejercicios para aumentar pectorales, 10th of June 2013, translation and adaptation of the original version