One of the most frequently asked questions by readers of the “Ask Dr Muscle” column is, “how do I build impressive pecs?” For the uninitiated (in bodybuilding lingo), pectoral muscles also known as pecs are the muscles of the chest.
Most men desire a powerful, button popping chest! Six pack Abs are impressive and so are biceps but the thing that stands out first, especially to the women you want to attract is the chest.
A well built chest accords you high status and an authoritative air. The subconscious pre-selection mechanism in the opposite sex responds extremely well to impressive pecs, marking you as a suitable breeder and provider!
But it’s not like I needed to convince you of that, so let’s get down to business…
How do you build your pecs?
There are several different exercises you can use to develop a chest but I’ll give you the best three core exercises. Here they are:
1. Flat Bench Press
This is the ‘king’ of gym exercises for men, if you will. It is a compound exercise because it also recruits other adjacent muscles like the shoulders and triceps. Lying down flat on a bench press machine, plant your feet firmly on the ground and rest your back completely on the bench.
SUPER IMPORTANT: There should be no arch between your back and the bench. Your back must align perfectly with the base of the bench. This is one of the most common mistakes I see people making in the gym. Avoid it. Not only does it make the exercise less effective, it can also lead to serious back injury.
Use an appropriate weight and then lower the bar gradually onto your chest (just barely touching) and lift it up gradually. You should aim to lift it up in short, quick (but not jerky) movement and lower it much more slowly. The lowering part is often referred to as the ‘neg’ (negative motion of the movement) and is the part where the most muscle stimulation occurs. Take your time on this to get the most out of it.
Do not raise your feet and cross them as you lift the weight. Keep them planted firmly on the floor.
The other advantage to doing slow ‘negs’ is that you effectively simulate lifting a much heavier weight with only a light weight. This reduces the stress on your joints, further reducing the likelihood of injury. I learned this from the great Frank Zane when I trained with him at his home in San Diego.
Aim to do about 3 or 4 sets using the ‘pyramid’. Start with light weights and high reps and then move up in weight while reducing the reps. Do this until you get to a weight where you can only do one or two sets using proper form.
Occasionally switch this up and start with the highest possible weight you can do. After warming up properly of course! last note about the flat bench: When done properly it should feel as if you are pushing your back into the bench, rather than pushing the weight upwards.
2. Incline Bench
This is also another core exercise for the chest and works the upper chest. A well built upper chest should jut out like a dashboard and clearly delineate the neck line.
I believe a guy named Serge Nubret built the most impressive upper chest of all time. Only body building fans will know him but you can Google him and look at his upper chest! He was even better than Arnold in this one respect!
Use an incline bench press for this. Some gyms have an adjustable one, which you should set to about 45 degrees.
The correct form for this exercise is a little tricky and takes some practice. When you do it right your arms should also be more inclined (as opposed to pushing up straight forward) and you should make sure you feel the stress in the pecs.
Pushing too much forward ends up working the shoulders and not the chest.
It is useful to have someone spot you the first few times.
Also note that you will generally be able to do less weight on this than on the flat bench.
3. Wide Grip Dips
This exercise builds the lower chest while also exercising the triceps indirectly. It basically has the same effect as using a decline bench press but I think it is more effective, more enjoyable and manlier! I personally dislike the decline bench position ’cause it makes me dizzy.
Arnold’s Bodybuilding Encyclopedia explains the motion best so I’ll just recap what it states:
1) Hold yourself at arm’s length above the bars
2) Then lower yourself slowly as far as you can go. From the bottom, press back up to the starting position, tensing the pectorals at the top.
In this movement, the further forward you lean, the more chest you involve so try crossing your feet behind your glutes (buttocks), which will shift your center of gravity forward and hit the pectorals harder.
A few additional notes about building pectoral muscles
• You can perform the first two exercises described (Flat Bench and Incline Bench) using Dumb Bells. Dumb Bells produce the same effect but force you to balance even more. Machines are the worst for balance and you should never use them. A free barbell is better than machines for balances but slightly worse than dumbbells.
• Occasionally use dumbbells for variety and to improve your balance-to ensure that your stronger side (the right side if you are right-handed and left if you are left-handed doesn’t end up bigger than your weaker side.
• There are two basic classes of exercises for the chest. “Presses” and “Flys”. As the name suggests, presses involve a pressing movement and are much more effective at building pectoral muscles. They are also more difficult.
• Flys involve a pulling motion toward the chest as in a bear hug. They are less effective and I consider them ‘refinement’ exercises. Unless you are professional bodybuilder being judged on every minuscule detail, they are not necessary. I am a big believer in simplifying things as much as possible. The simpler you make things the less daunting.
That is really all there is to building pectoral muscles. Now get off your butt and go build some!
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