Chest Muscle Anatomy
The technical term for the chest muscles are called Pectorals.
In the image above (Image Fig 1.) You can see that the chest is essentially two muscles. The upper chest and the rest of the chest. (The Clavicular Head of the Pectoralis major and the Sternal Head of the Pectoralis major)
The best way to learn how to build big chest muscle is by training both Pectoralis major regions. In order to train the chest muscles one needs to understand the functions of the chest muscles.
The function of the chest muscle as described by Wikipedia here: Chest muscle function. In simple terms your chest muscles are primarily responsible for moving your shoulder joint in 4 ways.
- Flexion of the arm
- Adducting the arm
- Rotates your arm medially (Rotating your arm internally to your body like arm-wrestling)
- Arm attacher to your shoulders the trunk of your body
Technique For Greatness
There are countless fitness and bodybuilding articles, books and magazines writing about how to get a bigger chest. 99% of the literature are absolutely wrong.The best exercises for the pecs are always highlighted in these magazines. But what they fail to cover is how to exercise with correct form.
In the few articles where exercise form are described, they are described in a way that is too simplistic. This leaves the reader being unconsciously naive about exercise form.
Technique or also known as exercise form is arguably the most important topic. The literature in today’s fitness magazines and even bodybuilding books fail to describe the correct technique but let us assure you that we will talk about correct technique and form in detail.
How to Build Pecs
In order to learn how to get big pecs one must learn the correct form.
Every exercise that involves pressing/pushing a weight while your back is in a resting position, requires middle back activation. These exercises include:
- Barbell bench press
- Dumbbell bench press
- Chest press machine
- Smith machine bench press
When you lay on the bench your middle back needs to be activated before you start the exercise. Another way to look at it your scapula needs to be retracted before pushing the load.
This is a broad statement but almost everyone that I see bench pressing in the gym is doing the exercise totally wrong.
Everyone is Bench Pressing Wrong
Let us describe a typical scenario. You set the weight on the barbell and lay on the bench. Get your hand position in a comfortable place which is usually just over should width. Then you press the weight up and slowly raise the bar to your chest and you repeat.
What did you do wrong?
First of all before you press any weight you must activate your middle back. When bench pressing you are not supposed just lay on the bench as if you are about to have a nap and then press the weight up. This is how you cause a rotator cuff injury.
Retract your scapula and keep the back muscles activated. This stabilises your body before you press the weight. Doing so will reduce your shoulder activation during pressing and involve more chest muscle.
Bench pressing wrong does not allow you to engage your chest fully which leads to poor muscle growth in the pectoral area. Also when you bench wrong you involve other muscles such as the anterior delts or more commonly known as the front shoulder.
This puts your shoulders at risk and it why the majority of the population suffers from shoulder injuries. The most common injury known to bodybuilders are rotator cuff injuries. People also develop forward rounded shoulders in which they look hunched over.
Bench pressing the correct way will you put your shoulders in a safer position and will help you build a bigger chest which is why most people bench press in the first place.
How to Retract the Scapula for Push Exercises
To learn how to get a big chest one must learn how to retract the scapula.
- Shrug your shoulders
- Bring your scapular/shoulder blades together (imagine a trying hold a pen between your shoulder blades
- While holding this contraction bring your shoulders down
- This contraction on your middle back is the feeling you need to have before pushing (scapula retracted)
Lets say the exercise you want to perform is the barbell bench press.
First retract your scapula and while holding this contraction on your middle back lay down on the bench. You middle back and your posterior delts (back of your shoulders) should be touching the bench.
Also your butt should be touching the bench. While your middle back and your butt is touching the bench arch your lower back thus creating a small gap between your lower back and the bench.
Do not over exaggerate the arching of the lower back. You should be able to fit a small fist through this gap.
Grip the barbell firmly with a wider than shoulder width grip. Lift the bar and lower the weight slowly with control towards nipple level or just underneath.
The exact positioning of where to lower the barbell is dependant on your body mechanics and what feels more natural to you. This is because we are all built differently so it varies for each individual.
Lower weight down till it touches your chest and the press it up with power and then repeat. At all times maintain the retraction of your scapula. Even if the weight becomes heavier do not over arch your back and keep middle back activated. A little gap is what is needed and if you find you are over arching lower back then lower weight or try to consciously focus on not arching.
Common Mistakes You Are Making When You Bench
Many are making these mistakes every day when they barbell or dumbbell bench press. This prevents them from building a big chest.
Let us highlight the most common mistakes people make when bench pressing that prevents them from building big pecs:
- Laying flat on the bench and just pressing going through the motion – Don’t forget to retract your scapula before pressing.
- Drop the barbell drop and bounce it of your chest – Don’t drop the weight on your chest – the most effect part of the exercise is the negative portion of the exercise. Lower the weight slowly and with control.
- Have you hand positioning more narrow than shoulder width – shoulder width or less will place more emphasis on triceps, therefore has them wider than shoulder width to engage your chest muscle.
- Rack as much weight as possible on the barbell and press – Leave your ego at home and choose a weight that isn’t overly heavy. you cannot exercise with good form with a weight that you cannot manage.
- When bench pressing sway your head forward as if your head is pressing the weight with you – Keep your head stationary on the bench. Swaying your head each time you press will only encourage bad neck posture and you will look like ‘a right mug’.
5 Factors To Add To Your Arsenal That Will Help You Get a Bigger Chest
1. Free Weight Exercises
Free weights are proven to increase muscle mass therefore you definitely want to include them into your workout. Barbell bench press and the dumbbell bench press will help you build a big chest.
In terms of implementing barbell or dumbbells into your workout routine: you could add them both together in one workout. Or you could use just barbell for 6 weeks and then change for dumbbells for the next 6 weeks.
Barbell bench press will add serious mass onto your chest and it is highly recommended that you start your chest workout with this exercise first. The reason why barbell bench press is regarded so highly is due to the fact that you stack more weights onto it compared to using dumbbells.
Dumbbells add another dimension into your chest training and they are excellent as it exercises your pectoral’s full range of movement. Range of movement is vital for muscle growth as it allows you to hit more muscle fibres within the chest.
If you can add these fee weight exercises into your routine and learn how to perform them correctly then you will learn how to get a bigger chest.
2. More Sets
Studies after studies have already proven the best exercises for building a bigger chest i.e. the barbell bench press and the dumbbell bench press. So why do so many people complicate things and add hundreds of chest exercises into one given routine? Hundreds is an exaggeration but you get the point.
Spend more time perfecting the best exercises. So lets say you do 15 sets in total for chest. Instead of doing for example:
- Barbell bench press x5
- Incline smith machine bench press x 5
- Dumbbell flyes x 5
Spend more time focusing on the mass building exercises. So a bigger chest workout might look like this instead:
- Barbell bench press x10
- Flyes x5
It makes perfect sense to spend more time of your workout barbell/dumbbell bench pressing rather than add other less effective exercises.
The above was an example I am not suggesting do 15 sets for chest the amount truly depends on your exercise experience.
3. Contract the Chest
Contracting your muscles are indefinitely a big part of the picture to build impressive chest muscles. If your muscles are not contracted during exercise then they are not being exercised.
Make sure you focus on feeling the muscle contraction during each rep. Learning how to contract your chest muscle will help you discover how to get a bigger chest.
For example when you bench press lift the bar and lower it till it touches your chest and then press it up. During the positive/concentric movement of the exercise contract (squeeze) your chest. In this case the upwards pressing movement is the positive movement.
For most beginners the bench press can be difficult to actually feel your chest working during this powerful exercise. If you struggle then revaluate your exercise technique and if that fails trying fly type exercise movements.
Exercises that help you feel the squeeze in your pecs are:
- Dumbbell flyes
- Cable flyes
- Peck deck machine
4. Isolation Exercise and the Benefits of Pre-Exhaust
Another great way to increase pectoral muscles is to isolate them. I am not referring to isolating them after your big compound exercise like bench press and then doing dumbbell flyes for instance. I am referring to pre-exhausting the muscles.
Pre-exhaust is when you isolate your chest first and then go onto a compound movement afterwards. There are many among us that trains that bench presses but before our chest muscles are even fatigued our triceps or shoulders fatigues first.
That happens to the best of us and it just means that your Pectoral muscle is actually quite strong in comparison to your other muscles.
In order for your chest to keep growing or to grow use the specialised technique pre-exhaustion. You can implement pre-exhaustion into your chest routine via two ways.
The first way you would chose an isolation exercise that hits the chest first like peck deck machine or some sort of flye and then you would do a compound movement like dumbbell bench press.
The second way is exactly the same but instead you superset them together. Superset means that you do the isolation movement first and then with no rest go straight onto the compound movement. Supersets are much more intense.
5. Train Your Middle Back
The final tip which sounds a bit odd is to train your middle back. Building your middle back muscles will improve you body posture.
In addition it will make your entire physique look more complete. If you feel that you are lacking in the chest department, having a thick mid back will push out and make your chest appear bigger.
A strong mid back will improve your scapula retraction and help stabilisation during your pressing movements.
Improving you middle back muscles will help you build a bigger chest.
Take all of these tips and techniques into consideration as it will help you learn how to get a bigger chest. One that bulges out from your shirt.