Being in great shape has never been so popular, so it’s natural that every year, there’s a tidal wave of gym beginners looking for the best ways to shed fat and build lean muscle.
Due to their visibility, having well-developed pecs and biceps is a number one priority for most guys, especially for the newbies who are impatient to start adding some serious mass to their upper bodies and start shopping for bigger T-shirts. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that chest workouts are one of the most searched bodybuilding-related items on the internet.
There are many great ways to work your chest. But when you’re a beginner, you need to set a basic structure for your chest workout that will help you target the pecs in an effective way and on which you can later build on as your level of muscularity increases. And we’ll show you how to do exactly that!
Chest training 101
So you’ve just started working out a few weeks ago, you’re hitting your chest pretty hard and you can already see some visible progress in the shape and size of your pecs. This is all great, but remember, successful bodybuilding demands a bit more than sheer enthusiasm. If you want to keep on making progress, you have to train smart and know everything there is to know about the anatomy of the muscles you’re targeting.
The chest is divided into three different muscle groups: the upper pecs, an area that’s crucial for developing a full, three-dimensional chest; the middle pecs, the area around the nipples and the sides of the armpit and the lower pecs, which are located just below the nipples.
Many bodybuilders tend to work only one part of their chest for a long time and then wonder why their chest still looks flat despite all their efforts. As with any other area of the body, in order to achieve a huge bulging chest, you need to train all three groups of muscles with the same dedication. Start by strengthening the weakest areas of your chest first at every chest workout. If you train them last, the accumulated exhaustion will take its toll and you won’t be able to get great results. In addition, here are a few simple advices which may prove as vital to improving your chest training:
Always warm up
And warm up well. This applies to all workouts in your life, but it’s especially important for chest training because people often start by overloading the chest, as if it’s the only muscle which doesn’t require any warming up before the heavy work. Warming up correctly is a fundamental part of any training program which helps lower the risk of injury by boosting circulation in specific body parts and improves strength and focus for the workout that follows.
Free weights first
If you’re new to the weight room, begin by finding a set of dumbbells light enough to successfully perform a few sets of 12-15 reps of a given exercise. Contrary to popular belief, going big isn’t really recommended for beginners – start lightly and gradually progress the weight and/or rep pattern you’re working with. Using free weights will help you practice going through a full range of motion and target more muscles. Once you become adequately experienced with the dumbbells, move on to the rod.
Try the machines
Regardless of what anybody says, machines are easy to use and very effective. They offer your body stability and make it easier to maintain adequate form while enabling you to target your muscles more efficiently, especially when you’re looking to isolate a specific muscle group. In addition, they give you a chance to work with extra weight without risk of injury. But be careful not to rely on machines too much – they should be an addition to your free weight exercises, not the core of the workout. Also, the smith machine is not generally recommended for beginners because it limits the range of motion.
Maintain proper form
Proper form is essential for ensuring optimal quality of the training and minimizing the risk of injury. It’s a term that refers to many aspects of your workout: time under tension, angle of movement, range of motion and many other factors that you should always be aware of because they directly influence your performance and gains. Learn how each and every exercise is done correctly and never sacrifice form for the sake of lifting heavier weights. Proper form and technique should always come first.
Mind your grip
Each variation of any given exercise comes with a recommended grip style that allows for optimal activation of the muscles involved. As much as you feel compelled to use whatever grip feels most comfortable for you at the moment, follow the instructions and maintain the recommended grip for best results. After you master the exercise with the regular grip, you can experiment with other styles in order to target specific muscles better.
Train each body part three times per week
We strongly disagree with the claim that beginners should train each body part once per week. Low frequency training can’t provide enough stimulus for your muscles to grow and will limit your progress. When you’re a beginner, you have to provide just enough of the right training stimulus during each workout, while making sure to avoid overtraining.
In other words – keep the volume high enough for the workout to be optimally effective, yet low enough to avoid harming your body’s ability to recover. With a smart training split, you should be able to hit all major body parts three times per week and give your body enough time for proper rest and recovery between two workouts.
Eat high-quality food
Bodybuilders have to make sure that their diet consists of high-quality sources of all nutrients that are crucial for muscle growth and repair. As we’ve mentioned many times before, great bodies are made in the kitchen. Food is energy, and you’ll need a lot of energy to train your muscles effectively and encourage constant growth.
If you’ve made the decision to build the best body you possibly can, junk food and empty calories have to become a thing of the past. Make sure to eat plenty of clean foods containing complex carbs, protein and healthy fats and get your pre-workout nutrition in check. A good protein-rich pre-workout meal will give your muscles the fuel they need and allow a smoother recovery.
Get enough sleep
Without adequate rest, your body will fail to adapt and your gym efforts will be wasted. This is because your body recovers while you sleep. During sleep, our bodies produce and circulate human growth hormone and accelerate the process of protein synthesis (given that you’ve eaten just before going to bed) and brain cell restoration, among other things. Therefore, getting at least 7 hours of good quality sleep every night is a must for bodybuilders. For best results, maintain a regular sleep schedule, even on the weekends.
Change your training routine once every 3 months to avoid adaptation
A good rule of thumb is to never change your workout routine without a strong reason (stalled progress, extreme boredom, undue pain) because any routine requires the time and consistency needed for it to work, so if you keep changing everything every week, great results will be less likely to happen.
However, everyone needs to change their routine once in a while to avoid adaptation in training. Even the best workouts can’t produce great results forever, so if you follow the same workout for too long, you could be soon facing a plateau that will be tough to break. To avoid plateaus, introduce some variety to your workouts by changing exercises, rep patterns and grip styles or by completely changing your entire routine once every three months.
A sample chest workout
As a conclusion, we’d like to share this workout with you because it’s a great example of what you need in order to ensure maximum stimulation of the pecs. The following exercises will allow you to hit your chest from multiple angles and achieve growth-stimulating hypertrophy without overtaxing your CNS.
Warm up: 30 Push-Ups
Get into a high plank position with your hands firmly placed on the ground directly under your shoulders, then lower your body down while keeping the back flat until your chest touches the floor. Your body should be perfectly straight all throughout the movement. Powerfully push yourself back up to the starting position and repeat.
Dumbbell Bench Press: 4 sets x 10-12 reps
Lie down on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand with the palms of your hands facing each other. Lift the dumbbells so that you can hold them in front of you at shoulder width, then rotate your wrists forward so that the palms are now facing away from you. The dumbbells should be positioned just to the sides of your chest. Push the dumbbells up by engaging your chest muscles and lock your arms at the top. Hold the contracted position for a second, then slowly return to the beginning and repeat.
Dumbbell Flyes: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Lie down on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand with the palms of your hands facing each other. Lift the dumbbells up and bring them at shoulder width, then slowly lower your arms out at both sides in a wide arc until you feel a good stretch in your chest, while maintaining a slight bend at the elbows at all times. The upper arms should remain stationary throughout the movement. At the final position give your chest muscles a hard squeeze, then return the arms back to the original position and repeat.
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Lie down on an incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand with the palms of the hands facing each other. Lift the dumbbells up and hold them at shoulder width, then rotate your wrists forward so that the palms are now facing away from you. Push the dumbbells up and lock your arms at the top. After a one-second hold, slowly lower the weight down and repeat.
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets x 10-12 reps
Lie down on a decline bench while holding a dumbbell in each hand and on top of your thighs with palms of the hands facing each other. Bring the dumbbells in front of you at shoulder width, then rotate the wrists forward so that the palms are now facing away from you. Slowly lower the weights to your sides in a controlled manner, while keeping the forearms perpendicular to the floor, then push the dumbbells up by engaging your pecs until they’re fully contracted. Hold the peak contraction for a second, then slowly lower the weights down again and repeat.
Dumbbell Pullover: 3 sets x 15 reps
Place a dumbbell standing up on a flat bench. Lie perpendicular to the bench with only your shoulders lying on the surface, hips below the bench and legs bent with feet firmly placed on the floor. Your head should be off the bench. Grab the dumbbell with both hands and hold it over your chest with a slight bend at the elbows. Keeping your arms locked, lower the weight slowly in an arc behind your head until you feel a good stretch in the chest. Return to the starting position by reversing the motion and repeat.