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Hardcore Chest Training with IFBB Pro Dan Hill

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Germany’s Dan Hill tells MMI how he brought up his chest, helping him become one of the youngest pros in the IFBB. Now, he’s setting his sites on pro success in America.

By: Steven Stiefel; Photography by: Paul Buceta; Model: IFBB Pro Dan Hill

Training articles in bodybuilding magazines often focus on a pro’s most impressive bodypart: How did Jay Cutler get those legs? What did Ronnie and Dorian do to build their massive, detailed backs? Well, they worked their butts off, of course. But they were also born with freakish genetics — particularly for these standout muscle groups.

However, most recreational bodybuilders who want to improve their physiques — and maybe even compete some day — can benefit more from learning how pros built up their lagging bodyparts than they can from reading about how to showcase amazing genetic gifts.

At 24 today, Dan Hill is one of the youngest pros in a sport that favors veterans — and he won his pro card three years earlier at the age of 21. One of the ways he achieved his pro card at such a young age was to concentrate on bringing up his chest, which was one of his weaknesses, so it matched the rest of his pro-caliber physique. Dan knew that if he wanted to become a competitive professional bodybuilder, he’d have to present a more balanced physique. “Genetically, my shoulders, back and legs grow pretty easily,” he tells MuscleMag. “But I knew I had to concentrate on my chest to get it to improve like the rest of my body.”

So, Dan hit the gym with intensity, working his chest until it was in sync with his faster-growing muscle groups. He continues that emphasis on chest training to this day, and the results are obvious in his much more balanced frame.

A Slow Roll Up A Big Hill

The story of Dan’s rise to top of the bodybuilding hill is much more complicated than just working his chest. It’s a story of Sisyphean dimensions. Dan was born — and continues to live — in Germany. From a young age, he was focused on developing his physique, inspired by a desire to add size. But Dan overlooked one of the biggest issues in adding mass — making sure that’s its quality. When he was 18, he started following an offseason bodybuilding nutrition program that ballooned him up to 260-plus pounds. Then Dan had to drop over 70 pounds, most of it fat, to reveal all the hard work he was putting in at the gym.

Dan competed in a number of amateur shows, and the results showed his pro potential. “I won the German Junior Nationals overall title three years in a row,” he says. Then he won the IFBB Junior World Championship overall title in 2007. “I was the first German to win this,” he explains. It’s a unique record, and because of it the IFBB opened the doors, allowing Dan to enter the pro ranks.

Despite such great fortune, Dan is still rolling that big boulder up the hill. “I have to admit that, as much as I love my home country, Germany is not the best place to become a well-known pro bodybuilder.” In Germany, supplement companies and other sponsors pay less than they do stateside. “The best way to succeed is to move to America,” Dan concludes. The good news is that profiles in magazines such as MuscleMag and exposure from pro shows will help him gain entry into the exclusive club of North American–sponsored athletes.

Playing  Catch-Up

Dan’s good looks aside, it’s not easy competing as a pro; the stakes have definitely risen. He explains that he has to make sure all his bodyparts are in sync with each other: ‘”It’s not enough just to work your chest if it lags behind the rest of your physique — you have to blast it.” It’s true that you can’t compete if you’re not complete. The following are some of the strategies he has used to turn his chest into a competitive strength.

Dan’s good looks aside, it’s not easy competing as a pro; the stakes have definitely risen. He explains that he has to make sure all his bodyparts are in sync with each other: ‘”It’s not enough just to work your chest if it lags behind the rest of your physique — you have to blast it.” It’s true that you can’t compete if you’re not complete. The following are some of the strategies he has used to turn his chest into a competitive strength.

Endurance Sets

“One of my favorite things to do with chest is to perform a 15-minute set of one exercise with a light weight.” Dan picks a move such as dumbbell flyes or dumbbell presses, and then goes to town, performing the move almost as if he’s doing cardio. This intense muscular blast is more intense than 100s (performing a set of 100 reps without rest), and he says that this makes working with heavy weights in subsequent workouts more beneficial because the target muscles have been trained to overcome short-term fatigue with better aerobic conditioning.

Multiple mini workouts

Dan likes to hit the bodypart he’s focused on several times a week. “Many days, I’ll perform one exercise for about five sets for my chest when I’m focused on getting it to grow.” Dan says he performs this one-exercise workout about three days a week, first thing in the morning, before he performs his cardio. To improve your chest, try implementing these mini-workouts, he suggests, making sure to take a couple of days off before you do your primary workout for chest. So if you train your chest on Mondays, then perform just one move (such as incline dumbbell presses or Hammer-Strength presses) for five sets on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Let your chest rest over the weekend and then perform your next big chest workout the following Monday.
Emphasize form & function

“The most important aspect of bringing up a lagging bodypart is developing a good mind/muscle connection,” Dan says. He explains that often your weak muscle group is trailing the rest of your physique because you don’t work that muscle group naturally. When you train chest, for example, the supporting muscles, such as front delts or triceps, can take over and eventually fail, making you think you’ve …

Next: Form & function continued …     worked your pecs to failure. To overcome this, Dan suggests you concentrate on isolating your target muscle — on feeling it stretch and flex — even during compound movements. “To completely hit the chest in an isolated way,” he says, “you have to imagine that your arms and shoulders are missing.”

Explode out of the bottom

Another of Dan’s favorite techniques for explosive pectoral growth is using an explosive motion as you lift up from the bottom position. “Use your target muscle, and drive with as much force as possible,” Dan says. Doing so will stimulate your fast-twitch fibers and thus complement the benefits of the aforementioned endurance sets, which will develop your slow-twitch fibers. This one-two punch leads to more complete chest development.

Steven Stiefel is a health, nutrition and exercise writer who lives in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in numerous national magazines, and he is the author of Weights on the Ball Workbook and Fit in 15.

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