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TOP 10 EXERCISES FOR THE CHEST AND HOW TO DO THEM CORRECTLY

BENCH PRESS

This is the no-frills, blue-collar chest builder. Lifting maximum weights in the bench press is a favorite upper body limit-strength assessment and is the lift everyone in the Western world associates with weightlifting.

As mentioned in Unit 3, heavy bench presses are the go-to lift to develop massive pecs. The bench press allows you to lift more weight than any other free-weight exercise does.

Look at some of the best raw bench pressers of all time, such as Big Jim Williams, Bill Kazmaier, and Doug Young; they had some of the most muscular chests of all time, and these guys had way more muscle on their frame than did bodybuilders of the same era. Arnold was rumored to have consulted with Doug Young for mass building methods long before personal training was a recognized profession.

How to correctly perform a bench press:

1. Lie flat on a bench.

2. Un-rack the barbell at arms extension over your chest.

3. Grasp the bar with a pronated grip and slightly wider -than -shoulder- width grip.

4. Keep your upper back tight.

5. Make sure your feet are flat throughout the entire movement.

6. Grip the barbell tightly and lower the barbell under control to nipple line or slightly below.

7. Forcefully push the bar back to arms’ extension.

8. Dismount barbell from rack over your chest.

Important note: This is a compound movement, and when you use the proper technique, more weight equals more growth.

The bench press is used primarily for chest development, but the shoulders and triceps will experience growth; many other synergist muscles contribute to heavy bench presses. As will be discussed in the next unit, bands and chains can both be used for bench presses. Generally, stick to 10%–25% of bar weight for the added accommodated resistance.

DECLINE BENCH PRESS

Dorian Yates is a big believer in the decline bench press. He says the pectoral muscles have two actions: flexion and adduction of your upper arm. Both of these happen during the upward phase of a decline bench press. There is no doubt that decline bench presses target muscle fiber of the lower chest, but they do actually hit the entire chest.

Many people are even able to lift more weight on a slight decline than on a bench press. The decline bench press should be performed on a 20- to 25-degree decline. Some people with shoulder issues report less pain with decline bench presses because it forces you to keep your elbows tucked in and removes some of the involvement of the shoulder joint.

How to correctly perform a decline bench press:

1. Lie on the decline bench press with your feet under the leg brace.

2. Lift the barbell from the rack with a slightly wider-than-shoulder-width grip.

3. Lower the weight to your chest.

4. Press the weight back to full extension.

WEIGHTED DIPS

These were a staple strength training movement before modern machines and gimmicks arose. Weighted dips have a place in a wide spectrum of programs that serve a vast range of goals. They build barrel chests and triceps that fill out shirt-sleeves. I have included them because weighted dips force you to handle your body weight plus an additional load.

As mentioned in Unit 3, many bodybuilders will refer to weighted dips as the “king” for the chest and the triceps. How many exercises claim this kind of monopoly on two distinct muscle groups?

Dips build strength in functional activities and in strength tests. Pat Casey, the first man to bench press 600 pounds, placed weighted dips at the core of his program.

Want to bench big? Try dips!

Besides, they offer great transference to overhead presses.

Bodybuilders with shoulder or elbow injuries may find dips to be a good substitute for bench pressing. Most importantly, dips have been the staple of many great physique athletes including Branch Warren, Johnnie Jackson, and Ronnie Coleman, to name just a few.

How to correctly perform a weighted dip:

1. Start dips with arms extended on the dip bar.

2. Lower your body until your arms are parallel to the floor.

3. Return to the starting point.

Important note: Unlike bench presses, dips are a closed-kinetic chain exercise, meaning you push your body through the air instead of using an external resistance object such as barbells, dumbbells, or a machine.

This is a more natural movement pattern.

Weighted dips with a forward lean were a favorite of late iron guru Vince Gironda. To shift more emphasis on the pecs, keep the elbows out, tucking the chin to the chest and leaning forward.

A more upright posture with elbows in will shift more of the emphasis to the triceps. Extra weight can be attached by way of adding plates or a dumbbell to a dipping belt, or if you are lucky enough to have a Nautilus dip machine at your gym, the Nautilus is much easier to use.

DUMBBELL INCLINE PRESS

For decades, inclines have been a favorite of bodybuilders to ensure hitting the upper portion (clavicular) of the chest. This movement can also be performed against band resistance by placing the band around your back. Barbell variations can also be used.

How to correctly perform a dumbbell incline press:

1. Sit down on the incline bench, resting the dumbbells on your thighs.

2. Kick the weights to your shoulders and lean back. (If the weight is extremely heavy, get a partner to help you.)

3. Position the dumbbells to the sides of your chest.

4. Press the dumbbells up until your arms are extended.

5. Lower the weight back to starting position.

Important note: This movement, as shown in EMG studies, also targets the deltoids. Triceps also play an important assisting role. For a fun variation, try the incline dumbbell or barbell press with a reverse grip.

FLOOR PRESS

The floor press has two basic variations. The barbell floor press and the dumbbell floor press perform with a neutral grip. It is important to mix in neutral grip pressing exercises with dumbbells because it hits the muscle at a different angle and it disperses a greater load across the triceps, which in turn prevents wear and tear of the shoulders.

How to correctly perform a floor press:

The floor press is essentially a bench press done while lying on the floor.

1. Set the barbell in supports on the power rack.

2. Un-rack it like a normal bench press.

3. Lower the weight until your triceps hit the floor.

4. Pause for a split second at the bottom.

5. Press the weight back up to starting position.

Important note: This exercise works extremely well with the addition of chains.

BENCH PRESS WITH WEIGHT RELEASERS

As we all know, you can handle more weight on an eccentric than on a concentric. To maximize muscularity, bodybuilders must include eccentrics in their training.

How to correctly perform a bench press with weight releaser:

1. Attach the weight releasers to the bar.

2. Lower the bar like in a normal bench press.

3. As the bar touches your chest, the weight releasers release; therefore, you push up only the bar weight.

4. Return to the starting position and repeat reps without weight releasers.

Important note: Anywhere from about 5%–30% of the bar weight can be used on the releasers. These can be done for a drawn-out eccentric or at a traditional tempo. If done without purposefully slowing the eccentric, the positive portion of the rep will potentially feel much more powerful because of the overload of the stretch shortening cycle.

DUMBBELL FLYES

This has been a favorite of bodybuilders and top raw bench pressers for decades and was in fact a staple in Arnold’s regimen.

How to correctly perform dumbbell flyes:

1. Lie flat on a bench.

2. Lift the dumbbells above your chest with arms in a slightly bent position. (Your arms never straighten out throughout the entire movement.)

3. Lower dumbbells to the side until your chest muscles are stretched.

4. Bring the dumbbells together in a giant bear hugging-like motion.

5. Hold the dumbbells together at the top for a brief moment.

6. Return to starting position.

Important note: Remember, this movement is not a press or an extension. Think of it as giant hug. Once your elbows are bent 10–15 degrees, keep them in this fixed position. Concentrate on the squeeze.

This movement is extremely effective against resistance bands by putting the bands around your back and holding them in your hands. This not only makes it a great stretch exercise but also adds a peak-contraction element of constant tension throughout the entire movement. This can also be done on an incline or decline. If you have a history of shoulder problems, you will want to avoid this movement.

CHAIN FLYES

Chain flyes are a great substitute if you have shoulder pain or if you want to put less stress on your shoulders in general.

How to correctly perform chain flyes:

1. Attach a single handle attachment with a carabineer to a chain.

2. Perform the movement the same way as dumbbell flyes are done.

Important note: “I feel this in every muscle fiber in my chest!” screamed Johnnie Jackson after a difficult set of chain flyes. At the bottom of the movement, the chain unloads on the floor, so it is not nearly as much weight in the more vulnerable position, but you still get a stretch. As you squeeze the weight up, link by link, the chain comes off the floor. As such, where the movement would be easiest, intensity increases.

SMITH MACHINE NEGATIVE OVERLOAD BENCH PRESS

Smith Machine negative overloads provide another way to eccentrically overload your pecs. This movement is performed with a Smith Machine and will require two partners.

How to correctly perform a Smith Machine negative overload bench press:

1. Lie flat on a bench placed under a Smith Machine. (The bar should be directly above your chest.)

2. Load the bar with 10%–25% extra weight on the outside of the bar sleeves.

3. Lower the weight to your chest.

4. At chest level, have a partner on each side pull the extra weight off the bar.

5. Forcefully press the weight back to starting position.

6. Then have the partners add the weight back to the bar.

7. Repeat for necessary reps.

Important note: This exercise works best drawing out eccentrics, so take five to six seconds to lower the bar and then forcefully press it back up. A good routine is to do that tempo for as many reps as possible. Once you can no longer complete a rep, pull the additional weight off, and do as many reps as possible at normal speed.

This is a highly advanced technique and should be used only with caution. As with other intense eccentric and accommodated resistance techniques, avoid them during deload weeks or recovery cycles.

DUMBBELL PULLOVERS

“You will not believe the ache in the sternum that this movement will produce! It literally forces your chest apart and forces it into new growth,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger in regard to the dumbbell pullover.

The dumbbell pullover was a favorite of some of the greatest chests of all time such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reg Park, and virtually any old-timer. This exercise works not only the chest but also the lats and the intercostal serratus anterior (the muscles of the ribcage).

Maximally developed intercostal muscles will give the illusion of a bigger rib cage when you are taking a deep breath and holding a pose because the ribs are pulled up by the intercostal muscles. I believe one of the reasons chest development hasn’t caught up with other body part development is because of the elimination of any pullover variations.

How to correctly perform a dumbbell pullover:

1. Lie perpendicular to the bench press, with only your shoulders supported.

2. Your feet should be flat on the floor, shoulder width apart.

3. Your head and neck should hang over the bench.

4. Your hips should ideally be at a slightly lower angle than your shoulders.

5. Place the dumbbell between your hands, which should be in a diamond shape, using your thumbs and pointer fingers. (Palms should be facing the ceiling.

6. The movement starts with the dumbbell over your chest, elbows bent 10–15 degrees. (Maintain this angle throughout the entire movement.)

7. Slowly lower the weight backward over your head until the upper arms are in line with the torso.

8. The weight travels in an arc-like motion toward the floor.

9. Pull the dumbbell back over your chest, purposely squeezing the chest.

10. Hold for a second, and then repeat the exercise.

Important note: Those with a history of shoulder problems may need to avoid introducing this exercise.

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My name is Steven Goldstein

With over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have worked with clients of all ages and fitness levels. From professional athletes to individuals aiming to lose weight, I have helped countless people achieve their goals and improve their overall health through customized training and nutrition plans.

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