How To Build A Large Chest

How do you know when your training intensity is high enough? When I’m asked that question, I usually answer with a question: Could you have gotten two more reps with that weight before you racked it? If your answer is yes, you’re not training intensely enough.

So how do you increase your intensity? You have to change your mind-set when you’re in the gym. Your mind is a lot more powerful than your muscles will ever be. Before you do a set, you have to tell yourself that you’re going to get two more reps than you got last week, and do it. In order to take your body to a new level, you must increase your threshold for pain.

A Grueling Chest Match

There are hundreds of exercises and variations of exercises for the chest. Nevertheless, after training hundreds of bodybuilders, I’ve observed that most trainees lack upper-chest development. I’m talking about the kind of chest you could lean your own chin on; the kind that Arnold bragged he could set a glass of water on. Not only does a strong upper chest look impressive, but it tends to highlight your middle-chest development as well. I’d also go so far as to say that the weight of a massive upper chest will push your pecs down so that you achieve the look of a hanging lower chest.

Variation Is the Key

The trick to keeping your muscles from adapting to any one routine is very simple: Change your routine frequently. There are so many good exercises that hit the pecs directly that it shouldn’t be difficult. It’s important to pick movements that isolate and put as much stress on the chest as possible. For that reason alone the bench press isn’t your best option because the assisting muscles, the triceps and shoulders, get too much attention. Obviously, there’s no way to completely isolate any muscle group without using some assisting muscles. Here are some variations and techniques that are guaranteed to turn up the intensity.

Warm Up for Intensity

Due to the difficulty of the exercises it’s a good idea to fully warm up your chest before you jump into them. I like to warm up by pre-exhausting my chest with some moderately heavy cable crossovers. The cable crossover is also a great stretching exercise to get your chest ready for a grueling session. I suggest three sets of six to eight reps: On the first set cross the handles directly in front of your chest and hold them in that position for about four seconds; on the next set hold them crossed in front of your neck for four seconds, and on the final set hold them crossed at hip level for four seconds. That should get your blood flowing and get you adequately warmed up.

A Super Intense Superset

For the two exercises you’ll need a standard bench press setup and a pair of dumbbells. The weights you use depend on your strength level. Set the bar on the bench press with an amount you can comfortably handle for 30 reps. Most trainees (even some of the strongest guys I’ve trained) use one 45-pound plate on each side. As for the dumbbells, they should be slightly lighter than you normally use for regular dumbbell bench presses.

This combination involves doing a set of flat-bench dumbbell presses followed by a burnout set of barbell presses, but you perform the dumbbell presses with a slight variation. Lie on the bench as you would for a set of flat-bench dumbbell presses but slide all the way down the bench until only your shoulder blades and head are still supported. Your butt should be practically touching the ground, and your body should be balanced on your feet and shoulder blades.

Perform a set of eight to 12 dumbbell presses in this position, and when you’re done, immediately put down the dumbbells, slide up the bench, pick up the barbell and do as many presses as you can. You’ll be burning big time in no time. Do three supersets in this manner, increasing the weight if you need to up the intensity.

Drop Sets to Raise the Pain Threshold

This one uses the incline dumbbell press. Keeping in mind the need for variety, I’ve included two different drop-set routines for you to try:

Drop set 1

Set an incline bench at a 45 degree angle and get three sets of dumbbells that are 10 pounds apart, with the heaviest being a weight you can handle for six reps. On your first set go to failure with the heaviest weights, then immediately grab the dumbbells that are 10 pounds lighter and do a set to failure. After that, you guessed it, you immediately grab the third set of dumbbells and rep to failure. If your muscles aren’t burning after that, something is wrong.

Drop set 2

Technically, this is an up-the-rack sequence, not a drop, as you go up in weight on each set but decrease the angle. Adjust the incline so that it’s two notches higher than 45 degrees and again select three sets of dumbbells that are 10 pounds apart. Perform your first set for 10 reps with the lightest weights, then immediately set the incline down one notch and grab the next heaviest set of dumbbells. Do 10 reps or go to failure, then drop the dumbbells, drop the incline to 45 degrees and perform a set with the heaviest weights you choose for 10 reps or to failure.

The exercises are very grueling, and you probably won’t be able to do the supersets and the incline triple drops on the same day. There’s a fine line between high intensity and overtraining. You must learn your limitations so you don’t cross it.

Create Your Own Chest-Crushing Routine

One simple solution to the need for variety is to change your order of exercises frequently. Another is to do one of the two intense workouts described above with one or two of your favorite exercises and then switch at the next chest workout.

Pay attention to the areas of your chest that need the most work. If you have a weak upper chest, start with and emphasize incline movements. If you have a weak inner chest, try incline cable crossovers and standing cable crossovers. Just train intelligently. As stated above, your mind is much more powerful than any muscle in your body.

Chest Blaster 1

Cable crossovers* 3 x 6-8

*Include a four-second pause in the fully contracted position and do one set with the hands crossed in front of the chest, one set with the hands crossed in front of the neck and one with the hands crossed in front of the hips.


Dumbbell bench presses* 3×8-12
Barbell bench presses 3 x failure
*Performed at foot of bench with body supported by shoulders and feet.

Chest Blaster 2

Cable crossovers* 3x 6-8

*Include a four-second pause in the fully contracted position and do one set with the hands crossed in front of the chest, one set with the hands crossed in front of the neck and one with the hands crossed in front of the hips.

45 degree incline dumbbell presses* 3 x failure

*Perform as one triple-drop set, going down the rack without stopping, and use dumbbells that are 10 pounds lighter on each successive round.


Incline-dumbbell presses * 3 x 10 or failure

*Perform as one giant set, going up the rack without stopping, and use dumbbells that are 10 pounds heavier while dropping the angle on each successive round.

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