A WELL-DEVELOPED CHEST EVOKES A POWERFUL IMAGE. TO ACHIEVE ONE, INCORPORATE SEVERAL EXERCISES AND DO PRESSES AT MANY DIFFERENT ANGLES TO WORK AS MANY MUSCLE FIBERS AS POSSIBLE. DEVELOPING STRONG TRICEPS AND DELTOIDS ALSO WILL HELP YOU BUILD YOUR CHEST.
Bigger than Arnold Schwarzenegger. Larger than Dolly Parton. That would be Isaac Nesser’s chest. At a tad more than 74 inches, the Pennsylvania man’s trunk is bigger than a coffee table. Make that a picnic table. Nesser’s workout routine includes bench-pressing 560 pounds and curling 300-pound barbells.
Nesser is a bit extreme, of course, but men do like developing their chests. And women like them to, too. It’s a fact. In an experiment, 30 female undergraduates at Newcastle University in England ranked color photos of 50 men (faces weren’t visible). The men with the best chest-to-waist ratios were ranked the most attractive. Women prefer men whose torsos have an inverted triangle shape (a broad chest and shoulders and a narrow waist) researchers concluded.
A lot of guys have figured this out, of course, without the help of science. That’s why some of them are willing to pay more for silicone pectoral implants than for a penis enlargement. Really.
Also, as with strong shoulders, a well-muscled chest gives you the power to push, whether it be a pit bull off your leg or an irate coworker at your throat. And a colossal chest conveys strength and power. “A barrel-chested person just seems impervious to harm,” says Michael Foussoui.
Read on and you’ll learn how to develop your chest the old-fashioned way: by lifting weights.
Your chest muscles are called the pectorals, or more commonly pecs. The pectoralis major is by far the biggest. A thick, triangular muscle, it spans most of your collarbone and breastbone and connects to your upper arm. The pectoralis minor is located beneath its big brother. You may also hear discussions of upper and lower pecs and clavicular (upper) and sternal (lower) chest fibers.
Most men have success building up their chest muscles for the same reason they do their arms and shoulders. I always say that the muscles closest to your head are the easiest to develop. You think about them more often because they are the first thing you look at in the mirror and what others tend to notice first about you.
Developing a muscled chest requires that you also build up your triceps and front deltoids. The three work as a unit.
You can build up your chest muscles by doing chest presses on an incline bench, a flat bench, or a decline bench. These angles will target your upper, middle, and lower pectoral muscles, respectively.
You don’t need endless exercises at countless angles during every workout to develop your chest, but do try for variety over the course of a week or a month.
A CHEST, NOT BREASTS
And now let’s take a moment to address a concern that some of you have. You don’t want to become anybody’s bosom buddy. You’re afraid that if you quit lifting weights after you have developed pec power, you’ll have more jiggle than Jenny McCarthy… that in profile, you’ll look more like Pamela Anderson than baseball’s Brady Anderson.
That’s a bunch of bullshit. If you get fat once you stop lifting weights, you’ll get fat everywhere, not just in your chest. If a guy’s chest turned into breasts, I’m pretty sure he’d have a big gut and a big butt, too.
This classic exercise also works your deltoids and triceps. Use a spotter for all bench-press exercises.
- Lie on a bench-press bench with a barbell above your chest. Grasp the barbell with your hands about shoulder-width or slightly farther apart. Your palms should face your legs, and your feet should rest on the floor. Keep your back straight and against the bench.
- Slowly lower the barbell to your nipple line. Your elbows should point down while the rest of your body remains in position. Don’t arch your back or bounce the bar off your chest. Hold for a second, and then slowly raise the barbell to the starting position.
DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS
This exercise works your triceps slightly more than a barbell bench press does. As with the barbell version, use a spotter.
- Lie flat on a weight bench with a dumbbell in each hand, your arms fully extended and perpendicular to the floor. The ends of the dumbbells should almost touch. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your palms should face your feet. Keep your head and body in full contact with the bench.
- Slowly bend your elbows and lower your arms straight down until the weights are just above the sides of your chest. Your elbows should be no lower than your ears. Pause for a second, then slowly raise your arms back up again. Keep the weights under control: Don’t arch your back or let the dumbbells bounce.
This move also works your shoulder adductors, from your chest to inner arm, and flexors, across the front of your shoulders.
- Lie on your back on a bench with your legs parted and your feet firmly on the floor. Hold two dumbbells above you, your palms facing each other. The dumbbells should nearly touch each other above your chest. Your back should be straight and firm against the bench. Don’t lock your elbows.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells out and away from each other in a semicircular motion to chest level. Keep your wrists locked, your elbows bent at roughly 90 degrees, and your back straight. Hold for a second, and then slowly raise the dumbbells to the starting position.
BARBELL OVERHEAD PULL
This exercise also works the latissimus dorsi in your back, as well as your rhomboids and your shoulder blade muscles. Use light weights.
- Lie flat on a bench with one foot to each side on the floor. With your palms facing your feet, lift the barbell above your chest until your arms are perpendicular to the floor, keeping your elbows unlocked and slightly bent.
- Slowly lower the barbell behind your head in a semicircular motion until your upper arms are parallel to the bench or lower. Don’t let your elbows form less than a 90-degree angle. Hold for a second, and then slowly pull the barbell back over your head to the starting position.
INCLINE BENCH PRESS
This exercise builds your shoulders and rib cage muscles too. Use a spotter.
- Lie on a 45-degree incline bench. Grasp the barbell with your arms shoulder-width apart and your palms facing your feet. Keep your back flat on the bench and your feet flat on the floor. Press the weight off the barbell rack and completely extend your arms until they are perpendicular to the floor.
- Bend your elbows and slowly lower the barbell to just above your chest, between your shoulders and nipples. Pause for a second, and then slowly raise the barbell over your chest again in a controlled movement. Try not to arch your back or bounce the bar off your chest.
INCLINE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS
This move builds your triceps. Use a spotter.
- Lie on a 45-degree incline bench with your arms fully extended and perpendicular to the ground. Hold a dumbbell overhand in each hand your palms facing your feet, your arms shoulder-width apart, your back against the bench, and your feet flat on the floor.
- Slowly lower the weights to your shoulders keeping your elbows pointing out. Pause for a second, and then slowly extend your arms again in a controlled motion. Try not to arch your back or bounce the dumbbells off your chest at the bottom of the lift.
DECLINE BENCH PRESS
This is similar to a regular bench press but stresses the lower portion of the pecs. Caution: This is a difficult and potentially dangerous move. Use lighter-than-usual weights and be sure to have a spotter. To avoid injury, use especially light weights until you master the movement.
- Lie on a decline bench with your head under the barbell rack and your knees over the far end of the bench. Hook your feet under the support pads. With your arms shoulder-width apart, hold the bar using an overhand grip, palms facing your feet. Lift the bar off the rack and hold it straight over your chest.
- Slowly bend your elbows, lowering the weight to just under your nipples, always keeping your elbows pointed out. Hold for a second, then slowly press the barbell back up in a controlled motion, extending it to arm’s length.
This move also strengthens the latissimus dorsi muscles of your back, as well as your triceps. Use lighter-than-normal weights until you get used to it. If the dumbbell’s weight plates are removable, make sure the collars are tight before beginning.
- Lie crosswise on a bench with your head just off the end. Keep your torso straight and your feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell by the end, palms up and thumbs around the bar. Your arms should be extended above your chest, your elbows slightly bent.
- Slowly lower the dumbbell backward over your head until your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Don’t arch your back. Pause for a second, then slowly raise the dumbbell back to the starting position.
DECLINE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS
Use a spotter for this exercise. Use especially light weights at first, to avoid injury.
- Lie on a decline bench with your knees over the far end of the bench. Hook your feet under the support pads. With your arms shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell overhand in each hand, your palms facing your feet. The dumbbells should extend straight over your chest at arm’s length.
- Slowly bend your elbows, lowering the weights to just under your nipples, always keeping your elbows pointed out. Hold for a second, and then slowly press the dumbbells back up in a controlled motion, extending them to arm’s length.
PEC DECK EXERCISE
This exercise also works your deltoid muscles.
- Sit at a pec deck machine with your feet flat on the floor and your back against the seat back. Keep your forearms against the pads and your arms in a straight line with your shoulders.
- Use your elbows to slowly squeeze your arms together toward the center of your body until they can’t go any farther. Keep your head up and your chest out as you squeeze. Hold for a second or two, and then slowly return to the starting position.
This move also strengthens your front deltoids. To avoid injury, start conservatively, with light weights, until you master the movement.
- Stand between two overhead pulleys with D handles on the cables. Position your feet shoulder-width apart and grip the handles overhand. Bend at the waist so that your upper body is parallel to the floor. Keeping your elbows slightly bent and your wrists straight, pull the handles down until they are in line with your shoulders. This is the starting position.
- Slowly pull the handles down and in until they cross in front of your chest. Pause for a second, and then slowly return to the starting position.