What is the first thing you notice on the physique of any superhero or action figure? For me, it’s their chest. The chest always stood out as the body part that seemed to set them apart from the, “rest of us” to make them a little more than human. As a guy who grew up watching superhero TV shows, movies, and playing with action figures, it’s no wonder that I, like so many other males, aspire to build a chest worthy of superhero attire.
Walk into any gym, specifically on a Monday, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. It is rare, like unicorn on Mars rare, to enter a gym and not see at least one individual working on their chest. Don’t believe me? Try going to a gym that only has one bench press station on a Monday aka international chest day, it’s like black Friday shopping with meatheads. Maybe it’s the fact that the pecs are right below your face and hard to ignore, or maybe guys are simply trying to compensate for what their female counterparts have that they don’t. The fact is that, the pecs are a highly trained and highly coveted muscle group, but they’re often undeveloped and less than stellar.
You would think that with so many people so focused on their chest muscles that it would be simple to build a great chest. Certainly, someone has come up with a trick, technique, or some solution so that building a great chest is, “so easy a caveman could do it!”, right?! Unfortunately, that is not the case for many and their chests are flat and saggy, but that is not their fault. They, like myself not too many years ago, simply do not know any better and go at training their chest like a machine gunner rather than a sniper. A machine gun lifter believes that head on, blunt force trauma is the only way to go when trying to build a stubborn body part. On the other hand, a sniper lifter understands that precision is the key to hitting their target and uses precise movements, weights, reps, and execution to take out get a stubborn body part to grow. Both lifters are able to reach their goal, however, the sniper will be much more likely to reach the goal and be quicker as a result.
To be able to successfully stimulate the chest, one must first understand the different functions of the chest and how to integrate those functions into a training program. The chest has three attachment points: the clavicle, sternum, and at the humerus or upper arm. The three points allow the chest to create shoulder flexion, horizontal adduction, and internal rotation of the shoulder and arm. These are important pieces of information to keep in mind, as the three functions of the pec major must be used to fully contract and stimulate the chest.
To get every fiber of the chest involved one must do three things, preferably while under load. They must use a movement that elevates the arms in front of them, brings the arms toward or across the middle of the body, and the shoulders and arms must internally rotate.
Try it for yourself right now.
Take your arm straight out in front of you with your hand in a neutral position, like you’re about to shake someone’s hand, but with a straight arm. In a completely level or even slightly descending fashion, bring your arm toward the mid-line of your body and contract your pec. Place your opposite hand upon your contracted pec so you can gauge the change in contraction level as we progress here. Next, take your arm across your body, but add in an aspect of elevation of the arm.
Did the level of activation change? Did you feel more of your pec engage?
The final piece is to not only take the arm across the body while elevating it, but to finish the movement with internal rotation of the shoulder, arm, and hand.
Once again, how did it feel? Did the contraction quality improve again?
Now that the anatomy of the pec major has been broken down, it is time to figure out how to program our chest training with these principles in mind. I like to begin and finish my training with an exercise that focuses on training the muscle in a shortened, contracted position to get as many fibers stimulated as possible. This is important at the beginning of the workout as it acts as a primer to get those fibers ready and “excited” to work. At the end of the workout it is a useful tool to get every last bit out of a muscle that I possibly can and stimulate growth.
In both situations, the focus is on the contraction and making it as thorough as possible. Many times this can involve just a few isolated reps at a time where I hold the contraction for anywhere from five to ten seconds. The idea is simply to get as much blood into the muscle as possible and squeeze and hold it there. For the chest, I like to use cable machines with either a handle or a cuff. If grip seems to be an issue for you when you’re training your chest, I suggest using a cuff or dual cuffs. If grip doesn’t get in the way of feeling your chest working then I think a handle is actually the better option as it allows you to shift emphasis to the anterior or front portion of your body through the hand and handle. In addition, it is easier for most people to internally rotate using their hand rather than their arm, making the handle a better solution when grip is not an issue. I then perform a cable fly making sure to start the movement below my chest and finish it above my chest with internal rotation of the hands. This covers all 3 aspects of the pec major function and allows me to get as many of those fibers involved as possible.
That same sort of application can be made to similar movements like dumbbell flys as well as all presses. The important thing to keep in mind is that the arms should come toward the mid-line of the body. They should slightly elevate as they go and end with internal rotation. If you use those parameters to develop your workout and exercises when trying to maximize hypertrophy, your chest training should improve greatly. Keep in mind that you are a unique individual so use your sense of awareness to feel out which angles and lines of force work best for your frame and function. Don’t forget that you can also piece together several exercises to work each portion and function of the chest individually. In either case, the idea is to fully contract every inch and fiber of the pec muscle.
Now, go forth and transform thy moobs into a chest with superhero-like proportions. Just don’t put on a cape and try stopping a bullet.
- The pec has 3 attachment points
- clavicle: top of chest/neck line
- sternum: middle of chest
- humerus: upper arm bone, just below shoulder
- The pec has 3 main functions
- adduction: pulling the arms toward mid-line
- shoulder flexion: arms elevated in front of the body
- internal rotation: rotate arms inward toward each other
- use the attachment points to target different portions and fibers of the chest
- use the 3 functions of the chest to stimulate all the fibers of the chest