5 Exercises to Pump your Pecs

5 Exercises to Pump your Pecs

It’s got to be the number one feature most beginner, and intermediate bodybuilders aspire to - a chest of steel.

There’s something primal about it. Male animals often puff out their chest or pound it to ward off enemies or attract the opposite sex. And let’s face it – we humans aren’t that different when it comes down to it.

Problem is - it can be difficult to make big gains in the chest area. Ok, you can eat more or take protein supplements to give you some extra bulk. But what you really need is a workout routine that is designed to target, build and tone those pecs to perfection.

We’ll get to the routine in just a moment, but first let’s take a look at some of the science behind building your chest muscles – remember: ‘knowledge is power.’

How to build your chest muscles

Your chest contains two main chest muscles: the upper part known as the pectoralis major and below that the smaller muscle known as pectoralis minor.

The pectoralis major is one large muscle but has two main parts. The upper section is called the clavicular head, and the lower section is called the sternal head.

The chest muscles form the powerhouse used to move your arms around. Serious weightlifters and bodybuilders recognize the importance of the chest muscles in many types of lift and work hard to maintain their strength. Most exercises designed to train the chest involve either lifting the body with the arms or pushing the arms away from the body.

It’s tempting to think that the chest muscles are similar to other muscles in the body and can be built up by stressing them on a regular basis with heavy weight-lifting.

This doesn’t work with the pecs.

You can’t isolate them as you might with other smaller muscles. The chest is a single muscle that contracts as one, despite appearing to be two or more. For this reason, it’s best to exercise with lower weights with a higher number of reps, more regularly. Also, you need to change the angle of the lifts and movement to strengthen the different muscle fibres.

Before setting out to build you chest, you need to lay a solid foundation. Here are a few tips to get ready to strengthen your pecs:

  • Eat more protein-packed food – meat, fish, eggs are all good for bulking up. Prepare yourself by eating plenty of these food types or adding protein supplements to your diet.
  • Learn to love push-ups – push-ups are great for building your chest muscles and don’t require any specialist equipment. Try starting your day with at least 30 push-ups and add more as you gain strength.
  • Learn proper free-weight lifting techniques – this guide will give you detailed instructions on how to perform lifts correctly for maximum muscle growth.
  • Get the right equipment or join a gym – the minimum you need is an adjustable bench and dumbbells for this workout routine.

Now that you know how to prepare for pumping up your pecs let’s move on to the workouts that are going to get you that superhuman chest.

Chest Workouts

These workouts aim to balance focused chest exercises with secondary workouts for the back, shoulders, arms and legs. Chest muscles will only develop when other muscle groups are strong enough to provide support, so make sure you don’t neglect them.

With all of these exercises, start with a comfortable weight, then increase gradually after each set. Try not to lift your maximum weight unless you are trying to exhaust the muscles in a final set of the workout.

1 | Flat Bench Dumbbell Press

4 sets of 6 to 10 reps

Graphic illustration of muscle used when performing a bench dumbbell press

We’re going to start with an old favourite – the dumbbell bench press. This trains the chest muscles, as well as triceps, deltoids and back muscles. Remember to select a comfortable weight, not the top of your lifting range.

Method:

  1. Lie flat on a bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand resting near the top of your thighs, palms facing towards each other.
  2. Bend one leg up to help you lift the dumbbell up to chest level, rotating your wrist at the same time until your palm is facing down your body. Make sure the dumbbell is at the side of your chest, with elbow bent and forearm and upper arm perpendicular. Repeat with the other dumbbell.
  3. Breathe out and push both dumbbells upwards, contracting your chest muscles and glutes at the same time.
  4. Extend your arms as far as possible, keeping the dumbbells steady and rising in a vertical line. Pause for a moment at the top.
  5. Inhale, brace your abdomen and chest muscles, then lower the dumbbells slowly back to chest level.
  6. Repeat for the required number of reps and sets.

2. Flat Bench Dumbbell Flyes

5 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Graphic illustration of muscle used when performing a bench dumbbell flies

Transition from bench press to dumbbell flyes to focus on building the chest muscles.

Method:

  1. Lie flat on a bench, holding a dumbbell in each hand resting near the top of your thighs, palms facing towards each other.
  2. Bend one leg up to help you lift the dumbbell up to chest level. Repeat with the other dumbbell. Your palms should still be facing each other.
  3. Raise both dumbbells in a similar way to the bench press but stop before your elbow locks and hold this position. This is your starting position.
  4. Keep your elbows slightly bent to avoid tendon damage, inhale and lower your arms out in a wide arc away from the sides of your torso. You should feel your chest muscles stretching. Your elbow and wrists should not flex at all, the only movement should be at your shoulder joints.
  5. Contract your chest muscles, exhale and raise the dumbbells back to the starting position.
  6. Pause for a moment, then repeat for the required number of reps.

3 | Low Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

4 sets of 6 to 10 reps

Graphic illustration of muscle used when performing a low incline dumbbell bench press

Changing the angle of the workout bench to an incline of around 30o or more makes the bench press a far more vigorous chest workout. If your bench can adjust to different angles, try changing the incline between sets to get an all-over pec workout.

Method:

  1. Rest your back against the bench, feet planted firmly on the floor, with a dumbbell in each hand resting on your thighs, palms facing each other.
  2. Use your thighs to lift the dumbbells up until they are shoulder width. Rotate your wrists so that your palms are facing down your body, with elbows bent and forearms raised with hands at shoulder height.
  3. Exhale and push both dumbbells directly upwards using your chest muscles. Make sure the motion is slow and controlled.
  4. Keep going until your arms lock. Pause for a moment, then begin to lower the dumbbells steadily. The lowering motion should take at least two times as long as raising them.
  5. Pause at the starting position, then repeat for the required number of reps.

4 | Push Ups  

4 sets of 10 – 15 reps

Graphic illustration of anatomy during push ups

The humble push-up is a sure-fire way to build and pump your chest muscles. Just make sure you’re doing them right.

Method:

  1. Lie face down on the floor holding your upper body up with your hands roughly shoulder-width apart.
  2. Steadily lower your chest towards the ground as you breathe in. Keep going until your chest is almost touching the ground.
  3. Exhale and push your body up until your arms are fully extended again. Make sure you contract your chest as you press up.
  4. Pause for a moment at the top, then repeat the motion.

Tips:

If you struggle to do the required number of reps at first, either start with knees on the floor or in a standing position against a wall until you’re ready for the full exercise.

To make them more challenging, try performing the push-ups with your feet raised on a bench. This increases intensity applied to the upper chest.

5 | Final Max-out Chest Superset

This final exercise is a superset designed to pump your chest muscles to the max. You will need cable pulleys for the first exercise and a seated bench press machine for the second. The machine will focus the workout on your chest muscles as stability is better than a standard barbell or dumbbell bench press.

When you do a superset, remember that the whole point is to perform them without a rest period, so transition directly from one set to the next.

Exercise A | Cable Crossover

3 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Cable Crossover

Method:

  1. Pull the cables into a high position over your head, standing halfway between the pulleys.
  2. Take one step directly forward with one leg, while simultaneously pulling your arms together in front of your body. Your hands should almost meet at around waist level. Maintain a slight forward bend from your waist. This is the starting position.
  3. Inhale, bend your elbows slightly and let your arms rise out in an arc to each side. Keep going until you feel a stretch in your pec muscles. The only movement during this motion should be at your shoulder joints.
  4. Exhale as you bring your arms back to the starting position in front of you, contracting your chest as you do so.
  5. Pause for a moment, then repeat.

Exercise B | Machine Bench Press

4 sets of 8 to 12 reps

Graphic illustration of muscles used while using a chest press machine

Method:

  1. Sit down, select a moderate weight and use the step lever to move the handles forward slightly.
  2. Grab the handles with your palms down and raise your elbows, ensuring your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Extend your arms fully.
  3. Breathe in and bring the handles back towards your chest.
  4. Pause for just a moment, tense your chest as you breathe out and push the handles back to full extension.
  5. Repeat for the required number of reps.
  6. At the end of the set, use the lever to lower the handles and weights back.

 

 

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