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Chest Training 101 Articles Database Articles by Writer Articles Written by Matt Canning Chest Training 101


As with all muscle groups, it's important to keep in mind a few basics before you start with your chest training. If you keep in mind some simple tips, you will make twice the progress in a year than if you don't. Chest development is important for any well rounded bodybuilder to have.

Tip 1 - Ensure you get adequate rest.

Simply, no muscle will grow very well without it. Without proper rest (sleeping at night for at least eight hours), you will not give your muscles the full luxury of proper recovery. Not to say that you can't make any progress at all, but the progress you do make will be subpar compared to the progress you would make with good rest.

Tip 2 - Ensure you get proper Nutrition

This is another one of those things that people tend to forget. I should stress that proper nutrition is probably the most important aspect of being a bodybuilder. Some of said it is as much as 80% of what bodybuilding is all about. Even if that number is a stretch, you better believe that it is paramount to keep in mind for any bodybuilder seeking to gain slabs of muscle mass. For the natural bodybuilder, the basics of nutrition are simple: Eat six or more small meals throughout the day, consume one gram of protein per pound of body weight each day and try to take in at least one gallon (3.8 litres) of water every day. If you don't, you may have to say goodbye to some of your gains before you even say hello to them! Believe me, nutrition is one of those things I can't stress enough - it is important - more important than proper training and you have to keep that in mind. Save yourself from many unproductive workouts by focussing on your diet and nutrition from day one. Not day two or day three - DAY ONE!

Trip 3 - Use the Mirror to Gauge Your Progress

Say goodbye to the scale! It's useless. If you continue to use it to determine your progress, you'll be pleased gaining a lot of fat. That isn't your goal - you want muscle mass, and muscle mass you'll get if you pay attention to the mirror and use it to determine where you need to put on muscle. A scale is simply no good compared to the mirror. With a scale, the worst thing that can happen is you will come to depend on the numbers as a sign of your progress. Believe me - you can be 200 pounds and look nothing like you would at a lighter body weight depending on your body fat level and how the weight is distributed - get used to using the mirror - you will appreciate it.

Tip 4 - Stick with the Basics

There really is no need for you to turn bodybuilding into a science if you are at the beginner or intermediate level. In fact, many top level bodybuilders have sworn by the basics since the beginning and are still seeing incredible results from them. Ronnie Coleman went to work in early 2003 to prepare for the 2003 Mr. Olympia contest, and stuck with the basics - dumbbells and barbells hard and heavy, and look where it got him - the results speak for themselves. Fact is - you can stress over which machine to use or what exercise will help for this or that, but in reality, you can make incredible gains using the basics which you know are good and have been proven by other bodybuilders over time - dumbbells, barbells, and some variety will do more for you than you may suspect.

Photo © Ron Avidan of

Tip 5 - Use the Instinctive Principle.

In other words - listen to your body! No bodybuilder or magazine can tell you what is better for you than your body. Listen to it. Don't workout while sore, and don't train if you suspect overtraining. You will know when a workout will be a problem and when a workout will be productive. Listen to your body.

Tip 6 - Supplements!

By no means do supplements replace a healthy diet. But once you have figured out your diet and come up with the appropriate caloric breakdown, consider some supplements. protein powder is a good place to start. You can follow that up with creatine and glutamine if you feel your diet is up to snuff and have the money for these supplements. As I said - these supplements are just that - SUPPLEMENTS to your daily diet, which should provide you with the rest of the nutrients you need throughout the day. Aside from the supplements listed above, you may want to consider a vitamin tablet.

Tip 7 - Find a Training Partner.

ok - I admit this one won't always be possible or practical, but if you can find a person who is just as committed to health and fitness as you are and willing to join you at the gym - take full advantage! Spotters are great as motivators and they will help you during movements such as the barbell bench press where it may be dangerous in case you are unable to complete the lift on your own. Of course, you wouldn't try it if you didn't think you could do it - but that's the beauty of a spotter - they will help you may not be able to do it alone.

Tip 8 - Don't become overwhelmed.

Set realistic, attainable goals. If you don't, the chances of you becoming overwhelmed with the whole experience and quitting altogether increase drastically. You're your own person. Be pleased with that and aim to be the best you can be.

Tip 9 - Check out the chest training database. Shameless pitch - I know. But this database is growing all the time and it's full of interesting and informative articles on how to maximize your current level of chest development. It's a great place to start. Sure, it doesn't have all of the answers as it is still far from complete, but one thing is for certain - it will give you the basics in terms of information on chest training and sometimes the basics are all you need. No need to turn bodybuilding into an exact science quite yet, because it isn't one. This database will send you in the right direction and there are always more places you can go from there.

Tip 10 - Stick around. Learn. Check out the Discussion Board.

Another shameless pitch. But honestly, you might be surprised at how much you can learn through interacting and discussing with fellow bodybuilders - both in the gym and on the internet. You should always be the final judge in anything you decide to do to advance your training, but never underestimate the power of a helping hand, or several. I try to respond to every question posed in the discussion board personally to help you with your training. This is all free of charge, too. I'm not asking you to spend a dime. I created this site to help other people to help themselves because that is a rich reward for me. I want to share what I know about bodybuilding and nutrition, and by doing the same, everyone will learn a whole lot more.

Chest Training

In order to train your chest properly, you need to emphasize a certain amount of repetition control and discipline. Your goal is to focus on your chest and and feel the movement. You should include a training partner as a spotter for safety, unless you are using a machine, in which case you should be familiar with the machine and know how to use it safely. It is possible that machines can be dangerous as well depending on how it is set. Be aware of these things before you attempt to lift any amount of weight that you have a chance of not being able to handle. Practice, and ease into heavy weight training. Be smart and prevent injuries. When you are using the bench press (either free weights or machine), you should include a grip slightly wider than shoulder grip. If your grip is too wide, you will emphasize deltoids more, and if your grip is too narrow, you will emphasize triceps more. All three variations on grip are positive for muscle building, but to specifically focus on chest development, you want to stick with that slightly greater than shoulder width grip. You should place your feet firmly on the floor. Be weary of arching your back excessively; this is a sign that you are using too much weight and that the strength of your chest is not enough to complete the movement. This is not productive to training of any kind - form is paramount. You should keep your shoulders down and back. Raise the bar up in a controlled manner and focus on timing - raise both arms at once and keep an even pace. It's not a good idea to get out of sync - what you want is to bench press up at a nice even pace - working both sides as independently as possible while keeping things even. Some good chest exercises other than the flat barbell bench press are included below:

  • Flat Dumbbell Presses
  • Flat Dumbbell Flyes
  • Incline Dumbbell Presses
  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes
  • Dips

Seconday Muscles Involved

You shoulders and your triceps are muscles which are also worked during pressing movements. Your chest and shoulders will work hard during the initial phase of the bench press motion, while your triceps will work at the lockout at the top. That said, both the shoulders and the triceps can be the weak links when it comes to bench press movements. Two exercises which will help you strengthen the shoulders and the triceps for this exercise are related and pretty simple - front military barbell presses (shoulders) and close grip bench presses (triceps). By strengthening your shoulders and triceps with these movements, you can guarantee a stronger bench press and fewer problems as a result of these weak links.

As for the number of reps and number of sets, this is also pretty simple. Of course this will depend on your level of training and your genetics and your body is the best judge, but as a general guideline, you should be aware that the chest is a larger than average muscle and so it takes a bit more push to get it growing. I would suggest an 8X8 routine where you do eight sets of eight sticking with the basics - barbells, dumbbells and other free weight movements. Machines and all the extras can be added as you become more advanced as well as more reps and more sets. Since the chest is larger, it also requires longer periods of time to recover. I would suggest working chest only one day per week. If you must work your chest more often than that, I would advise to wait at least 72 hours between workouts. Muscle mass is like anything else - break it down and it takes time to rebuild it. Think of it like a building which has just been damaged due to an earthquake - people will try to rebuild it and the last thing you want to do is add extra stress to its structure at this point in time. Wait until it's fully rebuilt before considering this. Your chest muscle fibers will be repairing themselves, and you don't want to break down what has already been broken down. This is an easy way to lead to overtraining, something which should be avoided at all times.

That's it for now. Stay tuned for more info, and be sure to check out the following links for more great info:

Take care,

Matt Canning

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