Want to build a huge chest? Then do these three tried-and-test upper-body exercises to transform your torso and sculpt a big, strong and impressive physique, says New Body Plan editoral director Joe Warner
When most people want to add size and width to their torso, they immediately make a beeline for the bench press. While the classic upper-body lift is one of our firm favourites – that’s why it features in all of the gym-based New Body Plan fat-burning and muscle-building programmes – the only way to build a lean and eye-catching physique is to train smarter than most people!
The best chest moves
That’s why I’ve put together this quick article on three of my favourite big-chest moves: try subbing them in to your next chest workout instead of doing the same moves you usually do. And when you do, really focus on how the muscles move and feel during each rep – doing so will improve your mind-to-muscle connection, and the faster your muscles can contract the greater your growth returns!
1 Low-to-high cable flye
Targets: Chest (+ anterior deltoids)
Why? When it comes to cable chest moves most people favour the two most common high-to-low cable exercises: cable flyes (where you hands meet at chest height with your arms parallel to the floor) or the cable crossover (where your hands meet, or cross, in front of your hips). And while both these high-to-low variations – if performed with perfect form and good tempo – are fantastic big-chest building lifts, don’t sell yourself short by neglecting the low-to-high cable flye to challenge the muscle fibres of your chest in a different way from a different angle. You can also play around with rep ranges: say you’ve done some high-weight, low-rep sets of a big compound chest move earlier in your workout, you can finish the session with some low-weight and high-rep sets of cable flyes to really fatigue as many fibres as possible. After all, stimulating the maximum number of fibres in multiple ways is the key to maximising lean muscle mass growth.
How to do it
• Stand tall with one foot forward in the middle of a double cable machine holding a D-handle attached to the low pulley in each hand, with an underhand grip and your hands slightly behind your body.
• Keeping your chest up, core braced and back straight, move you hands up and together in a smooth arc until they meet in front of your body no higher than chest height. You can keep a slight bend in your elbows or keep your arms fully straight.
• At the top rotate your wrists slightly to turn your thumbs away from each other so your pinkies touch to increase muscle activation in the middle of your chest.
• Slowly lower your hands back down to the start position. That’s one rep. Do 10-12 reps per set for four sets, remembering to switch your leading foot with every set.
2 Machine chest press
Targets: Middle chest (+ triceps and anterior deltoids)
Why? Some people, once they’ve been lifting a while, can fall into the trap of looking down their nose at resistance machines, believing (falsely) that they’re only any good for complete beginners. While the fixed-movement pattern of machines does make them good for novices to gradually build up strength levels, they can benefit all expertise levels, especially when you want to “hammer” a target muscle to make it grow bigger and stronger faster. The machine chest press is fantastic because you can very quickly adjust the weight you’re lifting (making them great for drop sets), as well as change your hand position: hold the widest part of the handle to work your chest more, or bring them closer together for less chest involvement and great triceps recruitment to build bigger triceps.
How to do it
• Prepare the machine, following the instructions to make the necessary adjustments so when you sit on it you’re positioned correctly and safely.
• In the start position you should be sitting upright with your chest up and holding the handles with a wider-than shoulder-width overhand grip (for maximum chest muscle activation).
• Press your heels into the floor and take a deep breath in, then breathe out forcefully and press the handles forwards to straighten your arms.
• Bend your elbows and slowly return to the start position. That’s one rep. Do 10-12 reps per set for four sets, or do a pyramid set, in which you do a high-rep set with a light weight, then increase the weight, but lower the number of reps in each subsequent set.
3 Dumbbell pullover
Targets: Chest (+ anterior deltoids and latissimus dorsi)
Why? The dumbbell pullover is typically thought of as a back exercise that works the lats, but pullovers are one of the only moves that works both the chest and back at the same time. In my experience I’ve found them fantastic for getting a solid muscular contraction in my upper chest that I struggle to replicate with other chest-specific moves. I rarely see dumbbell pullovers performed in gyms, but when I do it’s always someone using a weight that’s far too heavy: all that’s going to do is compromise your shoulder joint, and pullovers are another one of those moves when quality of movement is far more significant towards size and strength gains that quantity of weight. Keep it light, and focus on that muscle feel!
How to do it
• Lie on a flat bench with your heels planted on the floor holding a light dumbbell directly above your chest in both hands (form a diamond shape with your hands around the top end of the dumbbell to hold it securely).
• Squeeze your glutes, brace your core and keep your chest up, then – with only a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower the dumbbell back and behind your head in a smooth arc.
• Don’t take the weight back too far – this could hurt your delicate shoulder joint – so only lower until you feel a nice stretch in your lats.
• From there, return the weight back to the start position in a smooth and controlled arc. That’s one rep. Do 12-15 reps per set for four sets – and don’t go too heavy!
What are you waiting for?
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