Workout Essentials: How to Build a Better Chest
As a personal trainer, you will frequently come across one of the most popular goals clients have, which is to build a big chest. Many exercises help build effective workouts so clients can achieve better chest gains. One of the most popular chest growth exercises is a barbell bench press.
While the bench press is one of the most effective exercises to perform, other chest press exercises are just as beneficial. There are many bench press variations to keep your clients engaged with their workouts and to build muscle and a bigger chest:
- Dumbbell bench press
- Incline bench press
- Chest dips
- Decline bench press
- Chest fly
- Pec deck machine
Chest training is usually performed too much or inefficiently. It is important to design a workout plan with a variety of exercises consisting of the ideal amount of sets and repetitions with proper progression.
Pushing and pressing movement patterns primarily activate the chest musculature. The wider the grip, the more chest activation your client will encounter. If your client tends to have a narrow grip, you will notice more development in the triceps.
Increase the volume and intensity of your clients’ workouts each week to help them build a bigger and better-looking chest. Broaden each client’s exercise bank to keep them engaged and continuously progressing. Preserve workout creativity and incorporate heavy weights to induce adaptation and growth more quickly.
The chest is comprised of two muscles, the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. These chest muscles attach to the humerus, sternum, and clavicle. The pectoralis major is the larger chest muscle and most superficial, which lays on top of the pectoralis minor. The pectoralis minor sits underneath the pectoralis major on the scapula or shoulder blade.
The pectoralis major is mainly responsible for flexing and extending the arm at the shoulder. It also plays a role in arm adduction.
The pectoralis minor is responsible for stabilization, protraction, and upward and downward rotation of the scapula. You will find that the pectoralis minor is the “problem child.” It causes a lot of shoulder injuries and even biceps brachii issues due to muscle tightness or stiffness. The muscle actions and where it originates plays a huge part in creating such issues.
It is important to know the actions of the chest muscles so you can train them entirely.
Lift Heavy Weights for a Bigger Chest
For a muscle to grow, you must train it hard and eat right. Here are five tips to apply to your client’s program to help them build a bigger chest muscle:
1. Training Volume and Intensity
The more stress applied to the chest muscle, the stronger it will become over time. Light weights and higher repetitions will not do the job. Be systematic and increase the load while lowering the repetitions. This will help you track progress and know when to increase the resistance on the muscle. Simply increase the training volume and intensity each week to see the best results.
2. Calories and Protein
Our body needs amino acids to repair and rebuild. Protein will provide your client’s muscles with the fuel they need to grow bigger and stronger. When your client completes the right sequence of training and eats in a calorie surplus, they will improve body composition. Eat more calories and protein for optimal results.
3. Eccentric Loading Technique
The eccentric or negative contraction of an exercise is where a client is the strongest. At this point in the lift, the client can control the highest amount of load. The most micro-tears occur during the lowering portion of an exercise and time under tension can induce better chest results. Emphasize eccentric contractions and even isometric contractions. You can implement this through isolation exercise.
4. Exercise Variety
Provide your client with different chest exercises and workouts. All trainings should include various movement patterns that the chest is activated in. Avoid limiting your clients to 1 or 2 chest exercises to keep them engaged in each workout.
5. Rest and Recovery
Safe, fun, and effective exercise—in that order—is what matters most. Safely push your client to their limits and improve their capabilities with proper amounts of rest. Allowing time for recovery is a huge component of the chest rebuilding and getting stronger. The more strength the chest attains, the more volume and intensity it will be able to endure. This leads to better chest workouts and higher amounts of muscle gains.
Best Chest-Building Exercises
Most clients show up for their session with the intention of just pressing without the knowledge of exercise variety and its impact on results. Exercise variety is crucial to help clients understand how to build a better chest workout.
Include exercise movements like dips, chest flyes, and pullovers when designing a chest workout. Each workout should incorporate exercises that produce different muscle actions. The following are some of the best chest-building movement patterns:
A push movement pattern example is the fundamental flat barbell bench press, which you can substitute with the use of many dumbbell exercises. Push-ups also serve as an effective push exercise to improve muscle mass and strength. Make them more challenging by adjusting hand placement and body position.
Use free weights, like barbells and dumbbells, in all push movements. If a client needs to begin with chest press machines, that is fine, but work to quickly progress them to avoid performing fixed motions for too long.
Free weights are effective because they activate more stabilizer muscles and create better range of motion. This leads to more muscle growth. Barbells provide the best leverage for clients to undergo a much higher load in an exercise.
Multi-joint pressing exercises include the push press or military press, which provide an effective approach to muscle gain and strength. Often underestimated, pressing movements help build the upper chest or clavicular portion tremendously. A well-developed upper chest will create chest definition and chest aesthetics.
Cable flyes are a great burner finisher exercise for chest workouts. Cable exercises help improve functionality, mobility, and stability. You want to implement mostly compound lifts during the main part of the workout. Incline dumbbell flyes are a great option over cable flyes, just in the main part of the workout.
Clients should increase the time under tension and resist the load during the eccentric contraction. This is where the muscle lengthens or elongates, allowing even more sarcomere contractions and muscle tears to occur.
Dumbbell pull-overs target many muscles, the chest being one of them. Although this is a different movement pattern from the rest, it provides a new type of stress for the chest.
Chest dips target mainly the lower chest. This exercise movement will help pack on immense amounts of muscle mass and upper body strength, especially with added weight.
The focus here should always be on building, growing, and developing muscle, but make sure you and your client review these training tips to avoid imbalances and creating overactive or tight muscles.
At-Home Chest Workouts to Perform
You are probably wondering if clients can achieve similar gains by doing at-home workouts. By prescribing the proper bodyweight workouts, your client can still produce chest muscle growth.
Skip the bench to focus on the most fundamental and popular bodyweight exercise: the push-up. Push-ups create muscle definition, muscle endurance, and increased muscle mass and strength like weighted chest exercises in the gym.
By increasing volume and intensity of at-home workouts, just as you would in the gym, you induce stress to the body. In this case, you would not add weights. You would simply adjust the starting position by changing the angle of the body and hand placement. This takes advantage of gravity and body weight, creating more resistance and stimulus.
Suppose your client starts with wall push-ups or modified push-ups. You work to progress them into regular push-ups with more repetitions. This is the same principle as adding weight in the gym, increasing the volume and intensity. Just because you don’t have weights to add, you still can increase the number of reps and sets they perform.
If a client is a more advanced and needs more than regular push-ups, you can have them create more resistance by changing the starting position hand placement or grip of the push-ups performed. Great push-up variations are diamond push-ups, clap push-ups, wide grip hand placement push-ups, narrow grip hand placement push-ups, and even foot elevation push-ups. Always look to change points of contact as well to increase the difficulty of an exercise.
Creativity is important in keeping clients engaged and helping them reach their goals. Dive into ISSA’s Bodybuilding Specialist Course to learn more resistance training strategies and modalities on how to help clients optimize chest muscle growth.