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How To Get A Bigger, Stronger Chest

bench press
(Image credit: Unknown)

1 Bench press

Sets 6 Reps 6-8 Rest 2min

Grip so your wrists are directly above your elbows in the bottom position. Retract your shoulders, drive your feet into the ground, squeeze the bar and brace your lats. Un-rack, then lower the bar under control to your chest. Explosively drive back up.

“The problem with the bench press is that most men focus on how much weight is on the bar rather than how much they are stimulating their chest,” says body composition expert Tom MacCormick (flatwhitesfreeweights.com (opens in new tab)). “This might boost your ego, but it won’t grow your pecs. Rather than having an external focus, look inward. Focus on the amount of tension you place on the pecs as you press. Concentrate on feeling the muscle stretch as you lower. At the bottom, make sure you’re using your chest to push the weight up. You may have to reduce the weight at first – but it will get you growing your pecs.”

2 Incline close-grip bench

Sets 4 Reps 8-10 Rest 90sec

Take a shoulder-width grip on the bar. Retract and depress your shoulder blades, contract your lats to brace your torso and lower the weight slowly to your chest. Explosively drive the weight back up to the start position.

“Because most guys’ chest training starts and ends with the bench press they disproportionately develop their lower chest,” says MacCormick. “Studies show the sternocostal head [lower chest] is highly activated in flat or decline bench presses with a wide grip. The clavicular head [upper chest] is more highly activated using inclines between 30-60°, while some studies show a narrower grip enhances this activation.” Best advice? Use both.

3 Cable flye

Sets 4 Reps 8-10 Rest 90sec

Lie on a bench set to a 15° incline between two cable pulleys with rope attachments. Grasp the ropes and with a slight bend in your elbows, lower your arms to the sides in a wide arc until you feel a stretch in your chest. Initiate the move by contracting your pecs.

“Most people do flyes with dumbbells using a neutral grip,” says MacCormick. “This is sub-optimal for two reasons. First, the range where the muscle is under tension with dumbbells is small because gravity isn’t directly acting upon the load for the second half of the movement. Second, the arms are neither in their strongest position nor the best one for isolating the pec. A better option is to do flyes with a palms-down grip on a cable machine. This provides a stronger contraction and constant tension on the muscle. You could add an external rotation of the arm at the start of the movement to provide a greater stretch to the muscle and increase activation.”

Joel Snape
Joel Snape

From 2008 to 2018, Joel worked for Men's Fitness, which predated, and then shared a website with, Coach. Though he spent years running the hills of Bath, he’s since ditched his trainers for a succession of Converse high-tops, since they’re better suited to his love of pulling vans, lifting cars, and hefting logs in a succession of strongman competitions.