Most people seem to think that the chest area is the easiest one to train. This is because it’s mostly comprised of two muscles and everyone presumes that with enough presses and flyes it should be easy to perfect faster than the other areas on your body. However, this isn’t true – your pectoral muscles are much more complex than that and most people don’t work on them as well as they should, or in the correct way. In fact, a lot of people have wasted years training their chest muscles and having it end up looking very poorly trained.
It’s really hard to grow your chest, and it’s even more difficult to do it if you’re doing it wrong. So, in order for everyone to stop this nonsense and switch to efficient chest training ways, let’s look at the top five mistakes of the common gym enthusiast.
#1. You Don’t Train Your Upper Chest Enough!
This happens when you rely too much on bench presses and you neglect the upper region of your pectorals. This region goes from your clavicles to just above your nipple height. It makes your body look higher and connects your pectorals with your deltoid and trapezoid muscles, like the ones exhibited by Franco Columbu.
Most people have weaker pectoral muscles in this region when compared to the lower chest area, and you should put your upper chest muscles first when it comes to fixing this. You want to even out both areas which means that inclined exercises should be your top priority. Here is how to get this done:
– Do some inclined bench presses with dumbbells or a barbell right when you’re starting your exercise.
– When you’re working on your chest, make sure to have as many sets that will work on your upper chest, comprised of presses and flyes, as the number of sets on your lower chest which would be made out of flat and declined presses and flyes, as well as dips.
– You want to keep the focus of your cable crossovers on the upper part of your chest, which means you should do them with your cables near the floor. This would have you pulling the cables up and together instead of having them at a height where they would benefit the lower part of your chest.
– When you pose, make sure to have your hands on your hips and to emphasize your upper chest muscles. This will help you establish a better link between your muscles and your mind and you will be able to pinpoint the feeling of this area when you target your upper chest muscles.
#2. Overreliance on Barbell Bench Presses
Everyone has either heard or asked the question about how much you can bench. It’s one of the most common phrases you hear in a gym and everyone grows tired of it incredibly quickly. If there ever was an efficient way of measuring strength, even though a lot of the gym community insists that this way is valid, it really isn’t and it has negative consequences on the chests of people who consider it useful. There are way too many bodybuilders who bench a lot of weight for a low number of reps and this has undesirable effects.
Note that when you do the bench presses right, they can be quite the perk for your body, but if you overuse them and use them to measure how strong you are, you might overdevelop your lower pectoral muscles in comparison to underdeveloped upper pecs. This will result in droopy boobs 100% of the time, like Art Atwood’s. Also, if you keep benching the maximum number of sets with the minimum number of reps, the chances of hurting yourself will gradually rise in the shoulder, wrist, elbow and even pectoral damages. To prevent this from happening:
– Know that barbell bench presses are an exercise like all the others, and you can do it whenever you want, even among the last exercises in your workout.
– I would recommend that you perform sets of 8-12 reps, and occasionally you could pyramid down to six.
– If you want to know how much you can lift once, as in your maximum single-rep lift, don’t try it in the gym. Instead, use an online calculator and input your best 10-rep set.
– Switch up your exercises! If you do barbell bench presses first, change them with inclined presses with dumbbells and a barbell, one of each. Also you could mix up whole eight week periods – do 8 weeks of barbells and dumbbells alternating between workouts and 8 weeks of no free-weight benches at all for best effect.
#3. You Rely Too Much on Machines!
This is the complete opposite of the previous point. I’m sure you’ve seen these guys – they work out and work out constantly on a number of flye and press machines. However, this is counterproductive – make sure to have an equal number of free weight exercises in your routine as well. Barbells and dumbbells are your friends on chest day and if you want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his best days, make sure to use them. Remember, back when Arnie was training, he almost didn’t use machines and his pecs are one of the most impressive ever. In order to fix this, you need to:
– Integrate free weight exercises as well as bodyweight basic exercises into your routine.
– Don’t do over half of your exercises with machines.
– Free weights are important – if you can’t get them, try to work out on FreeMotion or HammerStrength unilateral mechanical press machine.
– If you can’t do eight reps of dips with your own bodyweight, using a dip machine is okay to make it easier. This doesn’t count as a machine exercise nor a free weight exercise.
#4. You Are Not Contracting Your Muscles!
Free weights have that flaw of not making it easy to contract your muscles as much as possible. When you perform dumbbell flyes, your chest is under less intensity when the dumbbells touch than it is when they are the most apart. Also, when you do dips or presses, your triceps takes over a lot of the intensity when you’re near lockout. To fix this:
– Insert a flye exercise in every workout with either training bands or a machine. If you’re doing cable crossovers, for best contractions cross your hands with one going over the other. Also, if you’re using a pecdeck machine or an upright flye, or you’re performing flyes with bands, do them one hand at a time in order to have that extra movement that will put extra intensity on your chest. When you do it with both hands, they both stop when they reach your central plane, but with one hand you could extend that by a lot.
– When you do presses, try to lock out! Your chest will be as flexed as it can be at the end, and your triceps will take on a lot of the load, but locking out is still the best way to do these.
#5. Working the Weight, Not the Muscles
When you don’t do this, you are utilizing your momentum and speed to do your reps without any attention on the area being exercised. This goes against common bodybuilding principles which are the bases for the presses, flyes and dips. To remedy this:
– Flex the part of your body that you are about to exercise. If you’re going to do incline presses, try to toughen up your upper pectoral muscles and boost your body-mind connection to that specific area.
– Make sure your form is correct! Using correct form is more efficient for building muscle but it’s also much safer. If you don’t watch out, your secondary muscle groups will take over and you will have no effect even if you exercise a lot.
– The negative halves of reps should be strictly controlled. When you do bench presses, you should lift the weight in one to two seconds, but it should take you a full two seconds to lower it back down.
So, to sum up, make sure you exercise your upper chest with free weight presses and flyes, make sure that you focus on your muscles and not the weight, concentrate on the mind-body connection for every single muscle group that you exercise and don’t waste energy, time and muscles.
Finally, you should realize that bench presses are just another exercise and there is nothing distinctly special about them. Do them for eight to twelve reps per set and you will be getting the absolute best results possible. The most important thing to take home is the realization that all exercises can be done with free weights or with some kind of machine, but free weights will always have a better effect because of the fact that machines don’t let you make mistakes. Free-weights do.
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