Everyone wants a bigger, more muscular chest. A broad, thick, well-sculpted chest is the supposed envy of fellow lifters and no one seems to ever be satisfied with their progress. On any given Monday bench presses around the world are occupied with tired and well-trodden hopes of finally cracking into the upper echelon of pec development.
With so many lifting pound after pound, rep after rep, and set after endless set, why do many never seem to arrive at any new level of growth? Sure, strength will ebb and flow. We all have our good and bad days, but where are all the results? Where is the progression in muscle mass?
Is ego the enemy here? Are we only feeding our pride and forgetting what it takes to build real muscle?
Let’s look into what’s really going on and uncover a better, more effective way to build real muscle mass on our chests and forget the ego once and for all.
The Ego’s Way to Build a Chest
We’re all guilty of piling on the weight on the bench press, fighting the bar up as we press with all our might, and having our training partner spot us a little too much.
Big weight, low reps, and long rest periods have been the recipe in hopes of a bigger, stronger chest for as long as I can remember. But we must ask ourselves the hard questions and answer with brutal honesty.
Have we reaped any reward following that path? Have we built bigger, stronger chests with these methods?
This haphazard way of training – monkey see, monkey do – lacks any real semblance of thought, logic, or practicality. We’ve just heard that a big bench press equals a big chest.
If you’re guilty of pounding the weights with little to nothing to show for it then we’ll need to break things down a bit and start over the right way.
A Better Way to Build a Chest
The first order of business will be to decide. You’ll need to decide on if you want to build muscle or build strength. Yes, there’s plenty of gray area and overlap here, but you’ll want to build your program around building muscle – if that’s your goal.
Building muscle is a somewhat different animal than building strength exclusively. Yes, you’ll build strength while you build muscle and vice versa, but we need to optimize our training to accomplish one over the other.
Muscle building (hypertrophy) is more of an act of fatiguing muscle tissue and recruiting more muscle fibers for stimulation. Strength training, on the other hand, is focused almost exclusively on lifting more weight or performing more reps. It’s performance-based, numbers-driven, and utilizes percentages of rep maxes.
If you’re reading this then you’re here for more muscle. Let’s break things down.
How to Really Build a Bigger Chest
Adding more mass to your chest isn’t rocket science, nor is it something to throw together just because you see others haphazardly combine a few ego-filled exercises into a program.
Start With The Right Mindset
It’s not enough to simply desire more strength to build a bigger chest. Pure strength training is all about lifting more. With hypertrophy training the goal is more fatigue and more muscle fiber recruitment. Think of training your body versus training with weights.
For more time under tension and fatigue you’ll need to increase the rep range and slow down the movements. This will be a hard pill to swallow but try to avoid thinking of these lighter sets as easier. In other words, still go to failure and grind out those last few reps.
Leave Your Ego at The Door
It can also be a tough pill to swallow when you have to decrease the weights you’re using to hit that new, higher rep range. The bench press, in particular, is the unofficial barometer of one’s worth in the gym. You may be around your friends, a gym crush, or just have it in your head that you need a big bench press in order to build a big chest.
Don’t listen to your ego. Ask yourself if a stronger bench is your ultimate goal or if a bigger, more muscular chest is. Leave the ego at home, do what you need to do to build muscle, and the rest will take care of itself.
Choosing The Right Exercises
The flat bench barbell press is a mainstay for almost all lifters desiring a bigger chest, however, if you’ve been under the bar (literally) and have seen little or no progress then a change is in order. Don’t be afraid of ditching the bench press for dumbbell work, incline-only workouts, and compound sets that will tax your chest in new ways.
Dumbbells, for example, allow for independent control, a deeper stretch, and more options for form adjustments. Also, play around with rep ranges. There’s no doctrine set in stone stating that you have to lift with low reps and massive amounts of weight.
The Long View for More Muscle
I’ve mentioned the need to look back and assess your progress, or lack of progress. You’ll also need to look forward and take under consideration your long-term plans not only regarding progression but also the wear and tear of your joints. Many longtime bench pressers (who use too much weight with terrible form) have chronic shoulder issues.
This derails any chance of overhauling your program for healthier joints and a plan that could finally work. Take the long view, see what you need to do versus what you want to do, and adopt a plan that gives you results and doesn’t feed your ego.
No More B.S.
Lastly, I want to speak to only those serious about getting results. We’ve all had our times of going into the gym and fooling around, doing stupid stuff, and challenging our logic by showing off in front of others. If you’ve sacrificed your progress for your ego and want actual results, you’ll need to stop with the theatrics and start getting to work.
Leave the phone in the car, commit to doing what is necessary, and try the program below. The sooner you stop and realistically look at what you’re doing and recognize what you should be doing the faster you’ll finally progress.
No Ego Bigger Chest Program
These chest-building routines are by no means set in stone. You should feel free to adjust and cater the program to your needs. Here are a few notes to keep in mind:
- Start with incline work. Most lifters lack upper pec mass because they focus a little too much on flat bench presses. Attack the upper pecs early in your routine and while you’re still fresh.
- Limit bench presses if your shoulders hurt. As I stated earlier, too many lifters complain of hurt shoulders and, coincidentally, start every workout with flat presses. Additionally, they go much too heavy. Try training without it for a while and see what happens.
- Lighten the load. If you’ve been pummeling your chest with heavy weights for the past decade, then it might be time to go in high rep mode. Not only will this be a welcome change, it’ll also create more time under tension and jack up the pump in your chest.
- Treat your chest like everything else. Chest training happens to be everyone’s most prized day of training. Don’t treat this day any more special than other body parts. You should be training everything with the same focus, concentration, and enthusiasm.
Perform each routine below twice per week. For example, you could do Routine A on Monday and Routine B on Thursday. Pay close attention to rest periods (60 to 90 seconds) and adjust weights to hit the target rep ranges.
- Incline barbell bench press 3 x 10-12
- Flat bench dumbbell press 3 x 10-12
- Machine or cable fly 3 x 15-20
- Incline bench dumbbell press 3 x 10-15
- Incline machine or Hammer press 3 x 10-15
- Floor push up 3 x as many as possible
Feel free to throw this alternate routine into any chest training day. It utilizes compound sets and will provide a much-needed shock to your system. You won’t need many compound sets to stimulate growth.
Superset: Machine or cable fly and incline flat bench dumbbell press 3 x 10-15
Superset: Incline machine or barbell press and floor push up 3 x 10-15
Putting your ego aside isn’t an easy task especially when you’ve been told repeatedly that you need to lift big to get big. The bench press is a tried and true exercise, but it’s not for everyone. You may need a more unorthodox approach along with a shift in mindset to set your progress in motion once again. Give the routines above a try. You only have more muscle to gain.