1 – Add Some Instability Work... At the Right Time
There's a time and place for everything and that includes using some instability training for the chest. Here's the only rule about instability training: Make sure you do your stable movements first so that your chest is pre-fatigued before you hit it with something unstable.
If you haven't tried it before, use the "hanging band technique." If you don't have a specialized bar, you can double up some loop bands and add kettlebells or plates, as seen below:
Alternatively, you can use an unstable base of support by doing push-ups off a stretch band:
You'll find yourself struggling to maintain stability from four different directions (up, down, forward, and backward).
2 – Stop Counting Reps on Accessory Exercises
After you've already finished your heavy barbell or dumbbell bench workout and are ready to move on to accessory movements (flyes, push-ups, banded exercises, machine work), use a rep range that actually makes you lose count.
I'm not saying you need to be doing sets of 85, but high reps are your friend. If you're strictly counting out sets of 6 or 8 reps on these exercises, you're not going to build your chest much.
Get some blood into the muscle bellies for once so you can get that insane pump you've only read about. Use these high-rep accessory exercises as a way to ease up on the shoulder joints, take advantage of superior isolation, and groove the movement patterns for efficiency.
3 – Use Cables for Flyes
The classic dumbbell flye is perfectly fine, as long as you realize it forfeits a piece of your force curve.
Remember, the chest fibers run in a generally horizontal fashion. When you hold on to a pair of dumbbells, the force angle follows that fibrous path – in theory at least – because of the movement pattern, but in truth, the force angle is directly downward, bearing on the shoulder joint.
In other words, you're attempting to do a horizontal movement using a relatively vertical load. To clarify, let's exaggerate a bit. Imagine you were going to try flyes with 100-pound dumbbells.
There's a high chance you couldn't perform a deep flye movement with that kind of weight because it's just too heavy for the pattern. But, you COULD hold them there at the top of the lift for as long as you want because that position doesn't stress the actual muscles.
However, when you switch that force angle to a horizontal one – in the form of a cable flye where the cables are trying to pull your hands apart rather than the dumbbells simply pressing downward – it can act as a game changer for your activation levels.
Not only does this better match the direction of the pec fibers for better quality reps that use more of the force curve, it also makes it much easier to keep good form, even when you're losing steam.
The video gives a demo of conventional incline cable flyes, but also shows an easy way to extend a set by simply converting the flye into a cable press to get some help from the triceps.
4 – Stop Ignoring Push-Ups
Whether you want to do them one handed, two handed, using rings, a suspension setup, or with your feet elevated, the classic push-up affords too many benefits that many other movements can't deliver. There just aren't many people who are really good at push-ups who don't have a great chest. That says something.
Here are some distinct advantages that push-ups offer:
- Push-ups are healthier for the shoulder joint. They allow the shoulder blade to move around the ribcage as the movement progresses. This movement matches the upper arm's change in position – scapulohumeral rhythm.
- Without it, we'd have gummy shoulders. This is particularly important because conventional bench press patterns force you to pin your shoulder blades back. Consequently, you don't get a chance to train that healthy scapulohumeral rhythm as much as you need to.
- Push-ups help engage the serratus anterior, a muscle on the side of the torso that engages when the shoulder blades protract. Developing that muscle can keep your shoulders healthy AND really help finish off an impressive V-taper.
- Proper push-ups create plenty of time under tension that can't be duplicated with other exercises. You'll understand that when you crush repeated sets of 40.
You shouldn't be afraid to make a whole workout out of push-ups. You haven't "graduated" from them just because you're strong enough to press 300 pounds.
Look at it this way: If you can't do a set of 35 unbroken push-ups, then you've got work to do. No one should get to the point in their fitness where having proper control over bodyweight staples goes to shit and they no longer possess the strength or endurance to do them properly.
Try This: If you really want to cook your chest, try super-setting push-ups and bodyweight deep dips. Do 12 reps of push-ups and then do dips to failure and see how many rounds you can get done in 25 minutes.
When your chest and triceps are ready to pop out of your shirt, you can DM me on Instagram to send your thanks.