By Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS
People generally do what’s most important first. The first day of the week, Monday, is known as international chest day in the commercial gym world. We can debate the merits of what’s most important til’ the cows come home, but the fact is, no other body part has received its own “unofficial day.”
Behind bars, the chest is referred to as “the hood.” A well-developed “hood” is a status symbol on the prison yard weight pile. Bodybuilders who lack suitable chest development are said to “disappear” when turning to the side. Not a good thing. So what does that tell you? Anyone from the hedge fund manager to the bouncer at a notoriously violent Tijuana dive bar can garner respect if they have a well-developed chest.
We know your time is limited and you may not have access to all of the latest “advancements” in chrome machine, but if you’re willing to work hard once a week, we can help take your chest development to a whole new level.
The Reverse-Grip Bench Press
Unconventional training strategies can yield unconventional results—a good thing if you want to break away from the pack. Lots of bodybuilding methods are based off tradition, but we’re going to buck tradition and turn to science to take your upper chest development to a whole new level. A recent Canadian study showed that the reverse-grip bench press increased upper pec activation by 30 percent compared to a traditional/flat pronated-grip bench press. By comparison, the incline press has about 5 percent greater upper pec activation over the traditional bench presses.
If that doesn’t sell you, here is a powerful anecdote: The two biggest upper chests I have personally seen were on Texas powerlifting titans Big Jim Voronin and the late Anthony Clark. Both trained using the reverse-grip bench press. And since most people have problems with the upper chest, that’s where we’ll start.
For the warm up we’ll perform the reverse-grip bench press for 10 minutes, using cluster sets with 65 percent of your grip bench press max for four reps. Rest 30 seconds and repeat this process until 10 minutes is reached. On the last set, if you have any gas left, complete as many reps as possible.
Make sure you use a spotter to lift the bar off, thumbs around the bar (much more risky than a traditional bench press), and if you can’t get the technique right, try dumbbells instead of the barbell.
The dumbbell pull-over was a favorite of the guys with the greatest chests of all time—Arnold Schwarzenegger, Reg Park and virtually any old-timer performed this exercise. It works not only the chest but also the lats and the intercostal serratus anterior (the muscles of the ribcage). Maximally developed intercostal muscles will give the illusion of a bigger rib cage when taking a deep breath and holding a pose because the ribs are pulled up by the intercostal muscles.
I believe one of the reasons chest development hasn’t caught up with other bodypart development is because of the elimination of any pullover variations.
After each exercise, complete one set of 15 reps of dumbbell pull-overs with a moderately light weight emphasizing the stretch.
Do this a movement intention style, focusing on the stretch and feel the movement, keeping reps in the 12+ range. If you have a history of shoulder problems, be careful when introducing this exercise. You may need to avoid it altogether.
Watch IFBB Pro Cory Matthews Performing Dumbbell Pull-Overs
Bodybuilding guru, the late Vince Gironda, felt dips were the best movement for stimulating muscle growth in the upper body. Virtually every great bodybuilder from the classical area to the modern day pros with the grainy/dense look include dips in his training regimen. The strongest raw bench pressers of all time also include this exercise in their routines.
Perform dips for five sets of five reps, progressively adding weight each set if possible. After the last set, remove the added resistance as fast as possible and do as many reps possible with your bodyweight; rest 20 seconds and do as many reps as possible again with your bodyweight. Rest 20 seconds and repeat one more time. Rest interval: 90 seconds between working set of dips.
Lean forward to place the emphasis on chest.
300 Pound “Big Al” Davis Doing Dips with 340 Pounds of Additional Weight
By now your stabilizing muscles are tired so we’re going to opt for cables at this point because they provide continuous resistance throughout the entire range of motion. Your focus needs to be on a full range of motion. Perform the negative portion of each rep for three seconds; perform the positive forcefully holding the peak-contracted position at the top for one second.
Pick a weight with which you can do 12–15 reps. Perform the as described above for one minute straight, if you fail before a minute, continue the set with partial reps. Don’t stop! Start with perfect form and end by any means necessary. Rest for two minutes and then do the same thing for 40 seconds. Rest two minutes and the final set will be completed for 30 seconds.
Finish this workout with five minutes of push-ups. Perform them to failure, rest 30 seconds, repeat the process until you hit five minutes. Failure means failure, not discomfort! Get the most out of it.
The old cliché, “You’re only cheating yourself” applies to anyone who doesn’t give 100 percent on this workout. Half-assed effort will simply equate to half-assed results. Whether you just want to develop the functional power to push your way through the BS at the next sales convention or want to build a powerful looking “hood” you can accomplish either one with this workout.
Time to hit the pig iron!
Josh Bryant, MS, CSCS, trains some of the strongest and most muscular athletes in the world in person at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and via the Internet. He is the co-author of Amazon # 1 selling book, Jailhouse Strong. To learn more about Josh Bryant or to sign up for his free training tips newsletter, visit www.JoshStrength.com