5 Exercises To Jump-Start Your Chest Training
I didn't stop becoming a student of bodybuilding when I progressed beyond the beginner stage; I've spent the last 18 years of my life being a pupil of building muscle. If there's an edge to be gained, I'm still chasing it in the gym, the kitchen, and life in general.
But let's focus on the gym—specifically, on your chest training. One thing I learned long ago is that "how much ya bench?" and "how big is your chest?" are two very different questions. This isn't to say that the bench isn't good for chest development; it is. But it's not where the story ends.
Personally, I like to hit my chest with the classics while also saving room in my program for plenty of variety. Here are five exercises I've come to rely on when crushing chest. Take one. and plug it in!
1. Bodyweight Chest Fly
This extra-difficult take on the classic dumbbell fly will use your bodyweight, rather than an external load, for resistance. But don't expect it to be as easy as a few sets of push-ups!
You'll need two round, plate-loaded dumbbells with rotating handles (no hexagons here), since they'll be rolling on the floor. Alternately, you can use a couple of EZ-curl bars with a couple of light plates on them. If you have access to them, you could use a specialty Tool like floor sliders or furniture movers. In a pinch, you can even just put your hands on a couple of towels, if your floor is smooth enough.
No matter what tool you choose, start in a push-up position holding your dumbbell or other implement in each hand on the floor directly below your shoulders. Spread your feet so your foundation is stable. From there, slowly allow the dumbbells to roll outward (or the sliders to slide). You're effectively replicating a fly movement; your body will approach the floor as you take the movement wider. Go as far as you comfortably can before squeezing your pecs to bring your hands back together to the start position.
Keep your torso flat and your core tight! Don't allow your lower back or butt to rise into the air as you push your hands back together. This exercise is the perfect chest finisher, or you can even start with it to prefatigue your pecs.
2. Pull-Up Assist Decline Press
This is one you likely never thought to try. But if you're unable to bench because of an injury, or you just want to do more unilateral training, you still have options!
I use my other hand to stabilize my upper body, which allows me to really feel the stretch provided by the machine's counterweight. The decline angle of the press definitely favors the lower chest, but make no mistake, this still hits all portions of the chest.
3. Weighted Push-Up
Weighted push-ups are the perfect way to make an already good exercise great. To add a new pec dimension, especially to the upper region, I do them on a decline, with my feet perched on a bench. This new point of attack provides a different kind of tension on my pecs, which I've found to be highly effective.
You'll likely need a training partner to gently position the plates on your back once you're in position, and perhaps to hold them there as you complete your reps. You can even do dropsets by having your partner pull off one plate at a time to superfatigue the muscle.
4. Incline Cable Fly
Flies in their own right aren't revolutionary, but doing them with cables instead of a dumbbell provides a more unique stimulus for chest destruction. Unlike dumbbells, cables allow for constant tension bottom to top, with no resting spots along the range of motion.
My favorite variation of this exercise is on an incline bench to help target the upper portion of my pectorals. By focusing on the peak contraction, I can really help carve that crevice down the middle of my chest.
5. High-Pulley Decline Cable Cross-Over
Regular cable cross-overs are fine, but to really mix things up, I like to go with a high-pulley variation in which I bring my arms down in an arc to meet just below my belly button rather than out in front of me. If you've seen a most-muscular pose that competitive bodybuilders do, the end of the range of motion closely resembles that pose. In my experience, this variation allows me to really squeeze the inner and lower portions of my chest like almost nothing else.
You can see me doing this version of the move in my 4Weeks2Shred program. I'll even perform these as a mechanical dropset, starting off with decline presses and switching to more of a fly version.
There's nothing to be gained by going heavy here. This move is all about time under tension and squeezing hard, rather than focusing purely on load, making it a great follow-up to any heavy presses you do.