How to Build a Massive Chest and Look Like a Badass

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I am writing this on a Monday which means that it’s “International Chest Day”. Gyms everywhere are filled with people benching and doing various types of flies. Personally I usually train the Overhead-Press on a Monday to avoid having to wait for a bench to be available. But that’s not important to you. What is important to you?

Well, most of you probably want to build a huge chest.

I think that’s a fair generalisation to make, judging by the amount of people who put far more focus on their chest than any other body part. (Rivaled only by the biceps)

And there’s nothing wrong with that!

Unfortunately most of you aren’t happy with the way your chest is growing. I know it’s discouraging to not notice a difference after working hard in the gym for months. If you aren’t growing at all there are a couple of things you need to have a look at:

Are you lifting weights properly and is your diet set-up for ideal muscle growth?

fitness good foods

You won’t grow much if you aren’t in a calorie surplus and consuming enough protein.

But often you will be gaining muscle on every body part except your chest. No matter what you do you can’t seem to add muscle to your pecs.

How do I know?

I’ve been there myself.

I did endless sets of dumbbell flies, machine flies, pec decks, etc.

No matter what I did my chest hardly grew. Sure, I would add a little muscle over time but nowhere near as much as I wanted.

Now all of that has changed. My chest is probably my strongest muscle in terms of size and relative strength. Or at least it’s the body part that people notice and compliment most often.

Maybe that’s just because people are obsessed with developing a big chest though.

Either way what matters is this:

I used to be just like you and couldn’t add muscle to my pecs and now they are my strongest muscle.

You might be wondering what changed.

Continue reading until the end of this post and you will learn all my “secret” tricks and tips on building a massive chest.

What is my secret to adding pounds of muscle to your chest?

You are about to discover the secret to growing huge pecs. Except it isn’t really a secret…

Heavy Bench pressing is the main exercises I use to grow my chest.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: “Bench pressing to build a big chest isn’t a secret at all!”

But I won’t leave you hanging quite like that. There is more to building a big chest than just gaining strength on the Bench Press and we’ll get to the specifics later on in this post.

But first we need to address the elephant in the room: A lot of people claim that Bench pressing isn’t any good for growing your chest.

That’s complete non-sense and you should stop listening to anyone who says that right away.

The Bench Press is a fantastic mass builder for the chest and will add some size to your shoulders and triceps too. However most people don’t add much muscle to their chest by doing the Bench Press. Then they go on the internet and claim that the exercise doesn’t work for adding size to your pecs.

Which is actually partly true. 

The way they perform the exercise won’t add much muscle to their chest.

But that’s because they are doing it wrong!

So actually learn to bench properly before you decide (and start telling everyone who will listen) that the Bench Press isn’t a good chest builder. Seriously, if you go to a commercial gym the chances are you aren’t bench pressing correctly for optimal growth, safety and strength.

How to not mess up the bench press

I am going to cover how the majority of lifters completely make a mess of their bench pressing. If you make this mistake you aren’t getting the full benefit of the exercise. You aren’t even really benching. You are doing a made up exercise that vaguely looks like a bench press. (Think of it as the bench press’ ugly sister.)

Bench Press secret #1: Touch your chest with the bar on every rep.

Doing only half of the range of motion will lead to your shoulders and triceps growing. But no matter how ‘strong’ you get your chest won’t get much bigger. The reason for this is simple. The bottom part of a bench press is where a lot of stress is put on your pecs. (Stress is a good thing in this case.)

By skipping the bottom range of motion you have made the bench press almost useless.

Stop cheating to make yourself feel stronger.

Stop listening to idiots that say going all the way down will hurt your shoulders.

Start touching your chest on every rep.

“Touching my chest with the bar hurts my shoulders!”

If it hurts your shoulders you aren’t doing the exercise properly. You are lowering the bar too high on your chest which puts your rotator cuffs at risk of getting injured. Rotator cuff injury is a serious issue and not something you should ever risk. Especially when it’s easy to avoid.

All you have to do is touch the bar to your chest below your nipple line. The bar shouldn’t touch your upper chest. Bring it to your sternum instead.

Also you have to make sure that you are pulling your shoulder blades together and not letting them come apart during the lift. This puts less stress on your shoulders and leads to better chest development. That’s what I call a win-win situation!

 

Bench Press Secret #2: Pause for one second with the bar on your chest. paused bench press

This is called a pause bench press. In my opinion the pause bench press is the best way to gain size on your chest. Strength athletes do it because they have to in competition. If they don’t pause the rep doesn’t count. I recommend that everyone who wants to gain chest size adopts the same standards.

You will be ‘weaker’. Not really because the exercise is harder but don’t be surprised when you have to use less weight to do a paused bench press. (From now on when I refer to a ‘bench press’ I mean a paused bench.

Pausing at the bottom of the bench press makes your chest work harder. If you aren’t pausing there is always a little bit of momentum involved in starting the lift. You want to completely avoid bouncing the bar off your chest. The reason is the same as before. Remember how I told you that your chest works hardest at the bottom of a bench press? So obviously it makes sense to avoid momentum at the bottom of the range of motion.

Bench Press Secret #3: You have to get stronger over time.

If you are doing the exercise properly and applying the two tips above your chest will grow from the bench press…

If you are consistently getting stronger.

Strength gains will lead to muscle gains. The idea that strength increases and muscle gains are somehow two separate things is false. If you add 20 pounds to your bench press you will have gained some muscle.

There is no other way to gain that much strength. (Unless you are a complete beginner)

You can make some very small strength gains by becoming better and more efficient at the exercise. But adding anywhere near 20 pounds to the bar without gaining muscle is physiologically impossible.

That’s why they have weight classes in some sports. Having more muscle will make you stronger and increasing your strength will lead to muscle gain.

Why did you think you get stronger from weight training? Sure, at the beginning it’s mostly because you are becoming better at performing the exercises. But after about 6 weeks you are getting stronger because your muscles are bigger!

A bigger muscle can move more weight. Period.

Trying to gain strength doesn’t mean that you only do low reps either.

If you go from bench pressing 135 pounds for 3 x 8 to bench pressing the same weight for 3 sets of 12 you have also clearly gained strength.

Forget about the ‘hypertrophy rep range’. That concept was thrown out by experts years ago.

Instead focus on gaining strength over time in whatever rep range you enjoy doing (Or whatever your training program calls for). Personally I am a fan of moderate (4-6) and low (1-3) reps for compound exercises. I find that I can gain strength (and by definition also muscle) faster compared to when I use high reps.

I then usually do some secondary movements for higher reps to get a pump. Gaining strength on secondary movements isn’t as important in my opinion. I use compound exercises to build the majority of my strength and size and then I add some isolation exercises to train weak points.

But that’s just me. Others use different methods successfully. As long as the training leads to increased strength it will work.

“But my friend is smaller than me and he can lift more weight!”

heavy-bench-press

That doesn’t disprove what I’m saying. He is built differently from you. Maybe his arms are shorter which makes him better at benching. Or maybe he is just genetically more gifted than you in the strength department.

It doesn’t matter.

You should compare yourself to where you were a month, 6 months or a year ago.

Comparing yourself to others in the gym is never a good idea.

If YOU add 20 pounds of weight to an exercise you have gained muscle. You might still be weaker than other people and have more muscle mass. But for any single person an increase in strength also means an increase in muscle mass in the main muscles involved in that exercise.

So instead of asking how to gain muscle you should really be asking how to get stronger on the compound lifts.

The focus of any good muscle-building program is increasing your strength on a couple of key movements. That doesn’t mean that all you do is heavy compound exercises for low reps. But those exercises are the foundation of any decent lifting routine.

So if you want a big chest all you have to do is get stronger on the bench press, right?

Yes and no.

By getting stronger on the bench press you will absolutely gain muscle in your pecs. But if you want a nice, evenly developed and proportionate chest you’ll probably need some accessory work…

Assistance Exercises for Building a Huge Chest

This is the part that will vary a little from person to person. The 3 “secrets” I talked about above will work for everyone. They are universal truths. The only difference between people will be how fast they add strength and muscle.

Remember how I mentioned that the purpose of assistance exercises is to train muscles that don’t get worked enough on the compound exercises? That’s what we are going to look at next.

You’ve built a good foundation of size and strength through your bench pressing.

Now it’s time to carve the perfect chest.

Why most people will need accessory work for their chest

If you have built most of your size using the bench press you will probably have an upper chest that is lagging behind. While the Overhead-Press works the upper chest to some extent it usually doesn’t do enough to make your chest proportionate.

Having a well-trained lower chest with a weak upper chest leads to a more feminine look. Men are looking for an even amount of muscle mass from the top of their chest to the bottom. To achieve this look you’ll need to add muscle to the upper part of your chest.

Not to worry, that’s exactly what assistance exercises are for.

Some people are against the flat bench press because it targets the lower chest more than the upper chest. I don’t think that’s too big of a problem honestly. You just have to be aware of this fact and add an exercise to your routine if it becomes a problem for you.

What assistance exercises help bring up a lagging upper chest?

There are a couple different options here. Some people will want an isolation exercise for this purpose but I’ll be suggesting another compound movement. If you are a beginner I highly recommend using the exercise below.

However if you have some experience in the gym, feel free to make your own choice in terms of assistance exercises. With experience you’ll learn what works for you.

My favourite exercise for the upper chest is the Incline dumbbell Bench Press.

This is a great exercise to make sure your chest is evenly developed from top to bottom. It will lead to a more masculine look than if you only did barbell bench presses.

By using an incline you shift the focus from the lower chest to the upper chest.

A couple of tips on how to do incline dumbbell presses:

  • Don’t use too steep of an incline or you will shift the focus to your shoulders. (I find a 30 degree incline is perfect for hitting the upper chest.)
  • Use a full range of motion and pause in the stretched position at the bottom.
  • Don’t hold the dumbbells like you would a barbell. Instead make sure to turn your wrist outwards 45 degrees.
  • You should get stronger over time, but strength gains are not as important on accessory work.
  • You should ‘feel’ the chest burn.
  • Use higher reps
  • Don’t turn it into an ego lift. (Nobody cares how much you incline dumbbell press!)

The great thing about using dumbbells is that you can go lower thus making your chest work more. So obviously a full range of motion is important so that you get this benefit.

There is some evidence showing that training with a ‘stretch reflex’ produces better results. I don’t know if that is actually the case but you should feel your chest stretch anyway. Why? Because then you know that you are going low enough.

The last of the three points above is about injury prevention again. Just like with the normal bench press you want to avoid flaring your shoulders at the bottom of the movement.

Greg from kinobody.com is a great example of someone with an evenly developed chest. Hint: He focuses on Incline Presses!

Greg from kinobody.com is a great example of someone with an evenly developed chest.
Hint: He focuses on Incline Presses!

Closing Thoughts

This post is getting long so I’ll try to keep the rest of it short and sweet.

A question that might come up is why you shouldn’t just use the incline barbell bench press as the primary chest builder.

That is a decent option but personally I prefer the flat bench press because it lets you use more weight and get stronger quicker.

I like to use the flat bench press to build strength and power, and incline work to make my chest more proportionate.

By using dumbbells for the incline work you get a longer range of motion and the added benefit of a stretch reflex. It helps me really feel my chest work which is great because I don’t care about my strength on this exercise as much.

Yes, ‘feeling’ the muscle ‘burn’ isn’t always a sign that it’s the best exercise but in this case it sort of is.

 

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