Last Updated on January 14, 2021
The dream of every gym enthusiast is to have a chest as developed as Arnold Schwarzenegger at his best. However, it must be remembered that not everyone, despite hard training and applying the best chest workout, will be able to look like him. You should not over-arouse our ambitions if you do not want to be disappointed. This does not mean, however, that you cannot have well-developed chest muscles.
1. Anatomy of the chest muscles
The pectoral muscle is the largest muscle in the chest. It is a superficial, single-joint muscle, composed of 3 parts with different attachment sites:
- Clavicle part (upper part) – attaches in the middle of the clavicle;
- The sternocostal (middle) part – has its attachment on the anterior surface of the sternum and the cartilages of the real ribs;
- Abdominal (lower) part – attaches to the anterior sheath of the rectus abdominis muscle.
2. Functions of the pectoral muscles
The main functions of the pectoral muscle are horizontal adduction of the hands, i.e. bringing them closer to each other when they are in front of the body, and supporting horizontal extension in the shoulder joint. The chest muscle also participates in other activities, but from the point of view of its development, they are not as important as its main functions.
Comparing the size of individual parts of the pectoral muscle on the basis of previous studies, it can be seen that the area of the entire pectoral muscle is approximately 283 cm², and the central part covers as much as 228 cm² (81%). This proportion perfectly shows the dominance of the middle part of the pectoral muscle. That is why, when thinking about building your chest muscles workout and choosing the best chest workout for yourself, you should focus your training mainly on the development of this part of the muscle.
The pectoral muscle can be classified as the pinnate muscle. These muscles have a greater ability to generate specific force than muscles with perpendicular fibers. However, this ability decreases with increasing pinnate.
Morphological studies showed the advantage of type II muscle fibers over type I muscle fibers. In the first case, the ratio was 65: 35%, and in the second, 58: 42%. Thanks to these studies, we can conclude that the training of the chest muscles should be performed with a greater load and higher speed.
3. Exercises for the chest – general rules
Anyone who has ever been to the gym knows that the most popular exercise involving the chest muscle is the bench press. This is a mandatory exercise for all chest workouts. Due to the seemingly low degree of difficulty, high availability, and popularity, the bench press has been tested in many respects. It provided a number of tips on how to direct our training to make it as effective as possible.
Here they are:
- Electromyographic tests have shown that during bench press we can achieve almost maximum activity of the chest muscle
- A study by Japanese scientists showed a correlation between the maximum bench press result and the size of the muscle – a higher result is associated with a larger size of the pectoral muscles
- Thanks to the analysis of the load used during the bench press, scientists found that the pectoral muscle is most active at a load of 80% of the maximum weight
- The use of a wider grip leads to the involvement of mainly the middle – sternocostal part – both during the bench press on a straight bench and during the bench press on an oblique bench
- The use of a grip during bench press allows for greater involvement of the upper – collarbone – part of the pectoral muscle, in particular with a wide span of the hands;
- When pressing a barbell on a bench with a positive incline, the most optimal range of incline will be 30-56 degrees.
There is much talk about selecting the complexity of the exercise in order to properly engage the pectoral muscle. Research has shown that exercises such as bench press, dumbbell fly, butterfly flyes or cable pulls induce a similar activity of the pectoral muscle. However, compound exercises such as bench press cause greater activity of the triceps and deltoid muscles compared to isolated exercises.
4. How to choose the weight and technique for an effective chest workout
The technique used in each exercise is crucial. Equally important is the selection of the correct workout volume and workout intensity. All these parameters will allow you to adjust the exercises to the muscle morphology, the assumed goal, and a given training phase.
Using the cited study, your chest workout parameters should be chosen that allow you to achieve a load of 80% max weight. Based on the research of many scientists, Poliquin and Leger prepared a table in which they described the relationship between the percentage value of the maximum weight and the number of repetitions.
Most studies show that when bench press, we are able to apply 80% max weight with 5-7 / 8 repetitions. The number of series should be between 4 and a maximum of 5 series for one exercise. This is one of the ways to select the load during a chest workout, but this option can also be used during complex exercises such as bench press or push-ups on bars.
The second factor influencing muscle growth is the amount of time under tension we give them while exercising. Time under tension is the total amount of time the muscle is working (contraction, relaxation, and isometric tension phases).
Adequate time under tension, not exceeding the individual possibilities for recovery, leads to an increase in the number of micro-injuries during exercise. This results in adaptation, i.e. muscle hypertrophy (as long as the right amount of nutrients is provided and the time necessary for adaptation is provided).
The increase in time under tension can be achieved mainly by increasing the number of repetitions, as well as introducing the right pace for each movement.
A very good solution is to extend the eccentric phase to about 3-4 seconds of the muscle relaxation phase during isolated exercises such as chest fly, cable pulling, or dips.
The number of repetitions we should do in order to achieve hypertrophy is in the range of 8-12 so that the total time under tension is 40-50 seconds at a rate of 3 0 1 0 or higher.
The correct technique when exercising the pectoral muscles is essential – to fully engage the pectoral muscles and ensure safety, the shoulder blades must be brought together and compressed during any exercise involving the pectoral muscles.
Failure to maintain this position results in greater involvement of the deltoid muscles and dangerous positioning of the shoulder joints. The rest of the rules are the same as in any other exercise: adequate weight, full range of motion, stable and tense starting position, load control.
5. How many times a week should I workout my chest?
The chest muscles are not the largest in our body, so they will regenerate relatively quickly. But that doesn’t mean we should train them every day or every other day – and that’s often the case.
People who are just starting out should not immediately perform demanding workouts consisting of several exercises for a given group – they should focus on general development training 3-4 times a week, perform one exercise during each training session or a maximum of two exercises for a given muscle group.
When talking about general development training that prepares the beginner for strength training, it is worth discussing a few examples.
Simple and safe exercises that will prepare the joints and muscles that will soon work more intensively in the gym with heavier weights include, for example, exercises such as classic push-ups in a horizontal position (with support on the knees, as well as without support – for people with greater strength endurance) ).
General training – compound exercises – can also include squats that engage the knee joints to work, which will more easily withstand the initial phase of exercise in the gym.
A very good form of exercise preparing our body to work in the gym, and thus strengthening the muscles and their tendons, are also all exercises based on TRX systems.
Another equally effective exercise is an exercise with resistance bands, the advantage of which is the variable resistance throughout the exercise.
Thanks to this flexibility, we relieve the spine and joints working during training to a very large extent. In such a simple way, we can prepare our muscles for exercises with higher loads.
After introducing similar exemplary exercises to everyday sports, you can move on to the next stage, which is working on increasing the intensity and efficiency of the body.
Advanced people can train the pectoral muscles more often, but with much smaller volume: exercises involving the pectoral muscles 3-4 times a week in different zones – strength, functional hypertrophy, non-functional hypertrophy.
This allows for the continuous development of all muscle fibers, giving the muscle the right intensity, and providing a large number of nutrients.
For advanced people, frequent training of the pectoral muscles is a much better solution than doing many exercises in one series.
6. The best exercises for the chest
Choosing the best exercises and effective workouts for the chest is not too difficult, because the range of these exercises is limited mainly to two movements, which are bench press (horizontal flexion of the shoulder joint) and pulling (horizontal adduction of the shoulder joint).
The first and most important way to increase muscle mass is to exercise in a way that increases the hypertrophy processes in the body.
The most recognized and by far the most important method of muscle hypertrophy is the mTOR kinase process, and the main way to activate it is by increasing the external load used during exercise.
Bench press with barbell or dumbbell
The bench press is one of the best exercises for chest that allows you to both intensify the processes of muscle growth and achieve strength adaptation. Of course, pressing the barbell is supported by a number of synergistic muscles, but the pectoral muscle is the target muscle here.
When replacing the barbell with dumbbells, this exercise can be performed with a greater range of motion (ROM). Long-term studies have shown that an extended range of motion causes greater hypertrophy compared to exercise with a lower range of motion. Additionally, the introduction of unilateral exercises can reduce the disproportions between the pectoral muscles.
Dips – push-ups on rails
This exercise is a bit forgotten, but it is still a great tool, especially for developing the chest muscles. If we want to increase the involvement of our pectoral muscles, we should place our arms a little wider than shoulder-width apart, point our elbows outwards, and bend over a bit.
It is also useful to introduce an extended eccentric phase into this exercise.
Dumbbell Flys incline bench
For a training session to be complete, it is not enough to exercise all your muscles. All functions should also be considered, as in the case of training the pectoral muscles.
During bench presses, we mainly perform flexion and extension movements in the shoulder and elbow joints, but the pectoral muscles are also involved in pulling the hands towards each other – horizontal pulling performed e.g. during flyes.
Thanks to this exercise, we not only supplement the training of the pectoral muscles with appropriate movement patterns, but our pectoral muscles are also properly stretched. According to Charles Poliquin, for optimal development of the pectoral muscles, you should also use the various elevation ranges of the bench.
7. The most common mistakes in chest workout
There are some basic mistakes when training your chest muscles:
- Incorrect loads to your strength capabilities
- No shoulder retraction (arms forward)
- Performing exercises in a shortened range of motion
- Wrist flexing during push
- – routine and repetition of the usual pattern
- Weak load control during any exercises involving the pectoral muscles
- Too many exercises to isolate the pectoral muscles.
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