Basic Training for Building a Big, Muscular Chest

By: Mark G. Winston

No matter how good your arms may look, an essential element to having a balanced and impressive upper body is a broad, densely muscled chest. In this article, I'll give you the basics of how to get pectoral development that's sure to give you the strength and look that you desire!

Warming Up

One of the most important elements of any weight lifting activity is preparing your body for the work ahead. Before starting your chest workouts you must make sure that you warm up properly. Given the risk of injury, this portion of your chest training is absolutely essential. I recommend that you warm up with 1 or 2 sets of 12-15 pushups prior your chest training sessions.

Even if you're starting your chest training after you've trained other body parts, don't be fooled into thinking that you're already "warmed up" and that your pecs are ready for an intense workout. Remember, a few minutes devoted to warming up is time well spent as this preliminary exercise can prevent muscle pain or serious injury.

The Pyramid Principle

When you begin training your chest, you'll need to discover how much weight you must lift to stimulate maximum growth. The absolute amount of weight will vary with each exercise according to your strength and endurance levels. Having said this, there are certain chest exercises that you shouldn't perform with heavy weight. These exercises include dumbbell and cable cross over flys which put intensely isolated resistance on the "pec-delt tie-ins" located at the intersection of your chest and shoulders.

To build pectoral mass you should instead do flat bench and incline dumbbell presses, parallel bar dips and weighted pushups. As a guideline to the relative amount of weight that you should use to stimulate muscle growth, I've found that 70-85 percent of my "one-rep" maximum with proper technique is best for these purposes. In other words, if your one-rep maximum for dumbbell bench press is 100 pounds (i.e., two 50 pound dumbbells), you should initially complete your work sets with dumbbells ranging from about 35 to 45 pounds.

During the mass building phase of your chest workouts, the "pyramid principle" requires you to progressively increase the amount of weight lifted during your work sets. As you increase the amount of weight, you decrease the number of repetitions performed in each set. A sample pyramid set for doing dumbbell bench press with a one-rep maximum of 100 pounds would be the following:

Set #1 - 10 reps x 30-35 pound dumbbells;
Set #2 - 8 reps x 35-40 pound dumbbells;
Set #3 - 6 reps x 40-45 pound dumbbells;
1-rep maximum - 50 pound dumbbells.

If you can't work with 70-85 percent of your one-rep maximum at the beginning of your chest building program, don't worry about it. Just find an amount of weight that challenges you to complete 10, 8 and 6 repetitions and gradually increase the resistance from that point. You don't need to try a one-rep maximum lift in every workout, but this "power-check" allows you to monitor your strength increases and ensure that you're using enough weight during your work sets.

When your one-rep maximum increases or you find that you can do more than 10, 8 or 6 reps as you pyramid through your work sets, then it's time to increase the amount of weight for each of these sets to continue stimulating muscle growth. The pyramid principle is simple and essential to building a big, muscular chest. You should apply it throughout the mass building phase of your chest training efforts.

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