HUGE Chest Encyclopedia: Training the Chest, From Top to Bottom

HUGE Chest Encyclopedia: Training the Chest, From Top to Bottom

Without a doubt, the chest is THE showpiece muscle group.  Whether you are a bodybuilder on the competitive stage, a spring breaker at the beach, or just another junior account executive in the board room, possessing an incredible set of pectorals is something which certainly sets you apart from the competition, no matter where you are.  Building an amazing chest requires much more than just blindly benching a few times each week.  You have to create and execute a well-planned approach to training the chest, nourishing the body, and allowing for overall growth and recovery.  Let’s look at how to tackle overall pectoral factors – every step of the way!

Breaking down the chest

The pectorals can be broken down into four sections – upper, lower, inner and outer.  You’ll want to train each of these sections if you want to see complete chest development. And yes, you do want to see complete chest development!  The squared off look of early Arnold Schwarzenegger pictures, where he could balance a glass of water atop his flexed chest muscles should be your goal.  Even if you do fall a little short, you’ll still be thicker and better than most of your peers.

The Movements


The upper chest is targeted with exercises such as INCLINE anything.   That means incline bench press, incline dumbbell press, incline dumbbell flyes, incline machine press… well, you get the idea.  Target the upper chest for ¼ to 1/3 of your total workout.  It matters a lot.  Anytime you see an athlete with a thick, yet ugly bunched up chest, you can rest assured they use plenty of FLAT benching, but very little UPPER pectoral work.  Don’t make this mistake. 


Flat work is your friend when it comes to building up the inner and center beef of the chest.  Plenty of FLAT work – dumbbell bench presses, barbell bench presses, and of course, the wide variety of flat bench machines your gym has to offer – all will work great for building the meat of the inner chest.


The bottom of the chest, where the pectorals meet the top of the abdominals, is often neglected. Don’t make this mistake.  Use DECLINE movements to target the lower chest. Decline machine presses, as well as decline presses using dumbbells and barbells work great for this. 


Pec Deck, butterfly presses, dumbbell flyes, and cable crossovers – the movements for the chest which require you to bring the hands in – target the outer chest.  This ties in the pecs with the shoulders and delivers a wonderful wide & sweeping appearance for the chest.  Never skip them!

Heavy vs Light Training

You’ll want to employ a healthy mix of heavy and light training.  Use the heavy movements early in your workouts to target the fast-twitch, explosive muscle fibers.  Then, as your balance begins to fade as the workout goes on, move on to the lighter poundage weights, with more repetitions.  This system of “heavy, moderate, and then light” should be used for most of your muscle groups.  You want to target all possible muscle fibers, and pyramiding the weight you’re using is the key to this!

Feel vs Poundage

Most lifters enjoy lifting a TON of weight.  Well, not literally 2000 pounds, as nobody has bench pressed that much (yet!).  But most of us are aware of the fact that gains in strength do equate to gains in muscle mass.  You have to move progressively more weight with each passing week, month, and year, if you wish to grow bigger and stronger each week, month, and year, right?   What is often lost in translation is the muscle fiber contraction – something that MUST take place if you wish to grow the muscles.  You should work to FEEL every repetition in your muscle fibers, drawing blood into each fiber and 


Use minimal stretching before each workout to loosen up the area and prepare for lifting – but don’t go overboard.  Too much stretching before training will result in you losing some of the strength and integrity of the muscle group which you do need for your workout performance.  AFTER your workout – go nuts!  Spend ten minutes stretching and massaging the pectoral muscles.  Then return that night, as well as several times the following day, to continue the stretching process.  Break up the lactic acid and other waste in the muscle groups so you’ll recover faster and be ready to train again soon!

Mix Up Repetition Ranges

No matter what volume you like to use to train, you should always be mixing them up.   “Heavy” should be defined as 5-7 reps one week, and 6-10 repetitions another week. Always keep the body guessing, and you’ll always keep new muscle growth arriving. The moment your body becomes accustomed to a workout, you stop seeing results from that style of training!

Training Volume 

You will want to dedicate between 15 and 25 sets to each training session for chest.  This may seem like a lot, but over time, you may find yourself struggling to finish in under 20 sets.  When you consider the fact you wish to target the upper, inner, lower and outer pectorals, and you want to throw in a warm-up set… Well, the bottom line is that you’re going to be in the gym for 60 to 90 minutes, and the sets are going to fly by.  Prepare for the long haul on chest day, and put in the time if you want to see the results you desire!

Vary the Equipment

Always keep your body guessing.  Hit a new gym a few times each year for chest day.  This will give you access to new angles on new machines, which will in turn create new growth as your body is forced to adapt to a brand new set of circumstances.  Even your own gym may offer some new equipment choices if you use your imagination and move some benches around!


Do not neglect nutrition when you’re building up your chest.  You may think a big chest comes from training hard – and it does – but without the required nutrition of steady protein sources (chicken, beef, eggs, protein powder), carbohydrates (pasta, rice, beans, fruits & vegetables) and fats (egg yolks, almonds fish oil), your efforts will likely be in vain, as you will never advance past the beginners’ gains.  Your diet has to become more and more disciplined, right along with your training.

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