Building a Complete Chest

I naturally had great shoulder strength early on, and that translated over into virtually all of my pressing (flat, incline, overhead, etc). The drawback? Because I was delt-dominant, my chest lagged behind.

There's always going to be some muscle groups that will be subpar compared to others, no matter how much specialization you do for them. But I do believe in giving everything the ol' college try.

So let's talk about some principles you should be adding to go from being bird-chested to pectacular. (Totally cheesy, but I'm rolling with it.)

1. Train chest early in the week or whenever you're fresh.

This shouldn't be an issue with most gym bros. Monday is International Chest Day, after all.

2. Get the chest out in front.

With all pressing and flye movements you need to set the scapula deep into retraction and depression. Think about getting the shoulders down into your back pockets, and keeping the sternum high.

When you look at this from the side, you'll see that the pecs get into a deeper stretch, which will increase their activation, and you'll reduce the involvement of the anterior delts.

A little "hack" here is to use a rolled up towel in the middle of your back to facilitate a deeper setting of retraction.

Towel

The towel is a pretty strong reminder to hold it there as well.

3. Push to the centerline of the body.

This can be an internal cue to help establish better mind-muscle connection for the pecs as well. In all of your pressing, think about moving the arms to the centerline of the body to maximize pec activation and shortening.

For a lot of guys who press in order to "train the movement" for strength, they simply press straight up. But if you want to get the pecs to contract as hard as possible during a press – and you do for hypertrophy purposes – then think about driving the hands towards the center of your torso.

The external cue for this, if you're pressing with a bar, is to think about bending the bar in half so that it would end up in a "U" shape. Just make sure you hold that deep scapula retraction and depression to bias the pecs in the pressing. Don't let the shoulders roll forward at any time.

4. Know that leanness matters.

There's no "inner pecs" really. That'd be the sternal area of the pecs. And here's the real reason why a lot of guys think they need more mass in there: they carry too much body fat to see the separation between the pec muscles. If you want that bad-ass pectoral "split" that runs down the middle, then don't be fat.

5. Understand arm angles for complete pec development.

The pecs have three different areas: the clavicular pec or upper chest where the fibers are attached to the clavicle; the sternal or middle portion of the pecs that attach to the sternum; the abdominal head of the pectorals which originates from the external oblique, often called the lower chest.

If you want to bias a certain area of the pecs, you need to be aware of the angle of the humerus to the pecs themselves. This, and not the angle of the bench, will dictate what area of the pecs is the most activated and doing the brunt of the work.

Sternal Pecs

Sternal Pecs

You hit this area more when the arms drive from the side of the body to the centerline of the torso.

Upper Pecs

Upper Pecs

You hit this area more when the arms drive at a 45-degree angle upwards, towards the centerline, in relation to the torso.

Lower Pecs

Lower Pecs

You hit this area more when the arms drive towards the hips and the centerline in relation to the torso.

Prioritize movements based on what area of the pecs you're trying to bias over the others.

6. Stress the pecs at different lengths.

Not all movements stress the pecs equally in the range of motion. An incline press or flat press stresses the pecs maximally at the mid-point in the range of motion. A dumbbell flye places the greatest amount of torque on them in the bottom position where they're maximally lengthened. And a pec-deck or cable crossover tends to stress them more in the fully shortened position.

It's a good idea to stress the pecs through all of these different ranges so that no fiber is left behind. So how would this look in program design?

Day 1

Hit the sternal pec area: Do the dumbbell bench press for two drop sets of 8/8/8.

  • Take the first 8 reps to failure
  • Reduce the weight
  • Take another 8 reps to failure
  • Reduce the weight
  • Take another 8 reps to failure
  • Repeat one more time

Hit the upper and lower pecs: Superset the low-to-high cable crossover with dips.

  • Do 8-10 reps on cable crossovers to failure
  • Do as many reps as you can on dips with bodyweight
  • Repeat one more time

Day 2

Hit the upper pecs: Use an incline dumbbell press, barbell press, or Hammer Strength incline press (shown in video).

  • Do 10-12 reps to failure
  • Rest 60 seconds
  • Then try to get half the number of reps you achieved on the first set
  • Rest 3 minutes
  • Repeat one more time (technically this ends up being 4 total sets)

Hit the sternal and lower-pecs: Superset the flat bench dumbbell flye with a slight decline dumbbell press. Do 2 rounds of 10 reps on each.

  • Do the dumbbell flye with a weight you can only get 10 reps on
  • Then adjust your bench so that it's on a slight decline
  • Do presses with the same dumbbells you were using for the flyes for max reps

Creating the slight decline is easy. Just prop the end of your bench on a couple plates to create the decline. Use a slight angle because if it's too deep then you'll struggle to stay on the bench.

This routine just an example, and there's a ton of variations for movements and stressing the muscle at different lengths. The majority of guys usually need a bit more "upper" pecs because so many start out as bench monkeys.

Related:  The 10-6-10 Method

Related:  The Very Best Way to Build Your Chest