By Flex Staff
The old standards such as the music of Frank Sinatra, Bob Marley and Ray Charles never really go out of style. They're timeless and, thus, they keep getting rediscovered by new generations. Likewise, when it comes to chest training, most of today's bodybuilders rely on the same old standards as their iron forefathers: flat and incline presses, dips, flat and incline flyes, three or four exercises per workout, typically eight to 10 reps per set. The classics still hold up, but your chest can grow accustomed to variations on the same routine. When it grows accustomed, it stops growing. The following eight approaches are riffs off the standards, but come up with completely new mixes designed to break you out of routine routines and pump up your pecs.
When utilizing the Weider Pre-Exhaustion Training Principle, an isolation exercise (which directly stresses one muscle) is performed before a compound exercise (which directly stresses more than one muscle), so that the muscle targeted with the isolation lift gives out first during the compound exercise. That means the muscle giving out has been trained to exhaustion, which in turn triggers optimum growth. Front deltoids and triceps usually do much of the work in a chest press, but if you do flyes before presses, your pecs will give out before your delts or triceps. Pre-exhausting is most effective if you superset the exercises, immediately following each set of flyes with a set of presses.
Supersetting bench presses and dumbbell pullovers was one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's favorite techniques. The combination of a constricting movement (bench presses) and a stretching movement (pullovers) creates a tremendous upper-body pump. In addition, it's a very convenient superset, because after finishing a set of bench presses, you can quickly rotate 90 degrees and begin pullovers on the same bench.
Not everyone relies too much on presses. In fact, many hardgainers overemphasize isolation exercises, such as flyes and cable crossovers. Chris Cook is certainly not a hardgainer, but chest is his slowest-growing bodypart. This year, he experienced his best-ever chest growth by dropping all flyes and machine work and focusing only on free-weight basics: bench presses, incline presses, decline presses and dips. All-press workouts may induce a similar growth spurt in your stubborn chest.
Most trainers tend to do presses and flyes flat much of the time. Try cutting the flat from your routine by replacing flat work with incline and decline presses and flyes. This will allow you to fully compartmentalize your chest into upper and lower sections and to focus more intensely on each area. Additionally, if flat presses are hard on your shoulders or elbows, you may find that angling the bench up or down is less straining. One excellent method for boosting intensity is to continue a set with a lighter weight each time you reach failure. An entire workout of descending sets is guaranteed to catch complacent muscles by surprise. If someone can strip plates for you, you can use a barbell fit with smaller plates (such as two 25s and two 10s per side instead of a 45 and a 25 per side). Then re-rack each time you reach failure and have your spotter pull a plate off each side. If no helping hands are available, stick with machines and simply set the pin at progressively lighter weights.
The high/low principle alternates a series of low-rep sets with a series of high-rep sets. This combination works both fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers, and it maximizes both strength and blood volume.
The most common problem with chest routines is an overemphasis on bench presses. You might not think there's much opportunity for variety in your pec workouts, but there are a lot of ways to perform presses and flyes. If you train in a gym with several types of pressing machines, try them all. The following four underutilized exercises can be performed in almost any gym. Add one or two to your routine, or try our routine of all four.
Pullover and press In the category of "everything old is new again", this was an exercise staple in the pre-Arnold era, but virtually forgotten today. Start each rep with a barbell pullover, and then bench press the bar, thus working your pectorals together with your lats and serratus.
Smith machine stop presses This is a favorite of trainer Charles Glass. Set the supports so the Smith machine bar reaches its lowest point approximately six inches from your chest. Then, during each rep of flat, incline or decline presses, let the bar come to a dead stop on the supports for one second before pressing. In this way, you remove momentum from the lift and force your pecs to work harder at raising the weight out of the lowest position.
One-arm pec-deck flyes It's not practical to train your left and right pecs unilaterally with free weights, but you can with a machine. Using a pec-deck machine, alternate all the reps of a set for your left side with all the reps of a set for your right side. Low cable crossovers Instead of performing your cable crossovers with handles set in high positions, try switching them to the lowest positions. Keeping your arms nearly straight, pull the cables up so they meet at chin level. This focuses more stress on your lower and middle chest.
THE NEW MIX| If you're stuck in a rut, have the courage to try something new. Whether you use the routines and suggestions here for a jump-start or for an extended period of high-octane workouts, they can provide the right mix for pectacular new growth.