Ok so it’s your first time in the gym and you seem a little intimidated by all of the guys screaming and grunting and throwing heavy weights around. Then you turn and notice that the biggest guy is benching 315lbs. Little do you realise that he just got his ass kicked at a low-level amateur show because he has weak legs, or that his partner spotting him is getting a better pump because he’s shrugging the bar, while the guy shows off. On the other side is that guy. His bravado shines because he can out bench anyone. He just wishes there will be a time when the judges call, “front double bi, front lat,…how much do you bench..?”. In fact, he knows that when the average person in awe of his size ask how much he lifts, it’s safe to assume that they are referring to how much he benches.
Oh the love affair with the bench press is in every gym in every corner of the world, especially on Mondays. However, to build massive pecs, the bench press is not the best movement. In fact, I haven’t bench pressed in over 2 years and my chest has grown significantly. Here’s why I do not bench: A common injury that can devastate a bodybuilding career is a pectoral tear. Judges will mark you down automatically with a pec tear. Surgeries are usually successful but definitely noticeable when judges are judging symmetry. So, ask yourself, is showing your buddies how much you bench worth losing time from training and points in a competition because of a torn pec? What I do recommend is a really good warm-up that will not only stretch the pecs and the front delt, which is usually more of the culprit when it comes to stiffness on chest day. My very first movement on chest day are cable crossovers.
Warm-up: Cable Crossovers
2-3 sets 20 reps
Don’t worry your lifts will not go down if you’re more concerned about impressing the attractive woman in your gym. In fact, your lifts will likely increase because this warm up will stretch the pecs and front delts and increase your range of motion and explosiveness when shifting from the eccentric (lowering) to concentric (lifting). You will be less likely however, to finish your set with a stiff shoulder because the double resistance of the cable will also warm up your rotator cuff. The second reason for starting with cable crossovers is because you are able to pump so much blood into the pecs before moving onto your pressing movements. This will allow for a much greater connection with every single rep because your pecs will have so much blood in them already.
4 sets 8-12 reps
I do this movement second because the upper pectoral region is a smaller area that has to be specifically targeted for development. Developing density in this region of the pecs is not only important in side chest pose. Density in the upper pecs is important when the pecs are stretched in mandatory poses like the front double bicep and front lat spread where the pecs are stretched. Often times when guys lack this development, their chest goes flat in those two poses. I prefer the smith machine because the barbell free weight on an incline causes some rotator cuff discomfort due to having to stabilize the bar. With most free weight incline benches you have to almost reach behind you to unrack and then rack the bar when exhausted after a set and without a really good spotter, going heavy can be dangerous. I prefer the smith machine to avoid putting the rotator cuff in a vulnerable position and to also make sure that every rep is targeting the same exact spot on my chest.
Dumbbell Flat Bench
4 sets 8-10 reps
Ok the difference between the bar and dumbbells is very simple, the dumbbells give you more freedom and range of motion. Why is this important? Well as discussed earlier, the flat barbell is the main culprit of pec tears. The main reason is the intense pulling and stretch that occurs on the pectoral muscle/ front delt during the eccentric movement or lowering of the bar. With dumbbells, you can control how far apart your hands are during the eccentric so that the pecs aren’t as vulnerable to tension that’s too intense from the sternum. The other benefit from dumbbells on the flat bench is the contraction. There is a technique to contracting the pecs during dumbbell presses but it might take some humbling because you may not be able to go heavy and use the dumbbells that make a loud thud and shake the gym when you drop them. When I do dumbbell presses, during the concentric or pressing up of the dumbbells I start turning my thumbs higher than my pinkies. This will give you an intense contraction of the pecs as you are pressing the dumbbells up. During the eccentric I lower the dumbbells under control and even out my thumbs with my pinkies emphasizing the negative and a good stretch.
Hammer Strength Flat Bench
2 sets 20 reps (drop sets)
I prefer higher reps combined with drop sets for isolation movements like the Hammer Strength because it’s easier to drop the weight and the restriction of the machine will reduce the risk of injury while going higher in reps. I usually start with a weight where I can barely get 6 reps and just keep dropping weight until I get to 20 reps. My sets usually consist of 2-3 drops each.
Pec Deck or Dumbbell Flyes supersetted with dumbbell pull-overs
3 sets 10-12 reps
I prefer doing the pec deck because not only is the stretch more controlled but the contraction is more intense and can be held for an extra second or two. With the dumbbell pullover the emphasis is more on the stretch which will help expand the rib cage.
I. Warm-up: Cable Crossovers 2-3 sets 20 reps
II. Incline Bench 4 sets 8-12 reps
III. Dumbbell Flat Bench 4 set 8-10 reps
IV. Hammer Strength Flat Bench 2 sets 20 reps (drop sets)
V. Pec Deck or Dumbbell Flyes supersetted with dumbbell pull-overs 3 sets 10-12 reps