#1 Use a bodybuilding bench press style
The first one is to use a bodybuilding bench press style rather than a powerlifting one.
I know I may get some flak for this since bench pressing like a powerlifter seems to be very trendy lately. But I’d like to go over some of the differences.
The main difference between the two bench pressing styles is that with the powerlifting bench press, you focus on keeping the range of motion as short as possible.
That’s because that helps you lift the most amount of weight possible.
The two main ways you can decrease your range of motion are by either using a wider grip or by creating a more pronounced arch in your lower back to bring your body closer to the bar.
Conversely, a bodybuilding bench press style would still require you to keep your back arched, but much less of an arch to increase the range of motion.
That’s because, for maximum muscle growth, it’s simply better to train your muscles through a full range of motion (ROM).
And there are three main benefits to a full ROM.
The first is that a full ROM on the bench press will produce higher level of muscle activation.
Second, different parts of a movement emphasize different parts of a muscle. Thus, by going through a full range of motion you’re able to train the muscle in its entirety.
And third, it’s beneficial to overload your muscles in their stretched position. Going through a partial ROM won’t do that quite as well as a full ROM. (1)
So, if your goal is to maximize muscle growth, a bodybuilding bench pressing style is more effective than a powerlifting one.
Another thing that’ll help your chest grow is to focus on pressing your hands inwards during barbell bench pressing and dumbbell hex pressing movements.
This is a simple technique adjustment that you can use to maximize chest growth.
When you’re bench pressing, imagine that you’re trying to bring your hands together. This obviously won’t happen because the barbell is fixed and it won’t bend.
But by focusing on squeezing your hands together, it’ll increase chest activation because one of the primary functions of your chest is to perform shoulder horizontal adduction.
This is basically a fancy way of describing bringing your arms from wide out at your sides to closer together, towards the midline of your body. (2)
So, squeezing your hands inward on the bar will increase the tension placed on the chest.
#3 Increase chest workout frequency
The next thing you should do if you’ve consistently been training for some time now, is to increase chest workout frequency. In other words – train your chest more often.
This doesn’t apply to beginners. If you’re new to the gym, research shows that you only have to train each muscle just once per week for optimal gains. (3)
As a beginner, you can follow a typical “bro split” by, for example, training chest, shoulders, and triceps on Monday, legs on Wednesday, and back and biceps on Friday.
You can also spread the training volume over more sessions and just focus on one muscle group per day.
The point is that, as a beginner, hitting each muscle just once a week is enough to grow.
However, once you’ve passed the beginner stage, and you can no longer increase the weight you use almost every workout.
You’ll need a higher training frequency to maximize gains, as shown by a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis. (4)
The researchers concluded that “training twice a week promotes more muscle growth compared to once a week.” (5)
Another analysis found similar results. It attributed much better muscle and strength gains for each additional workout per muscle, per week. (6)
Even when total training volume was similar between groups, the groups that trained each muscle more frequently outperformed the ones that crammed the same number of sets and reps into fewer sessions throughout the week.
Now, whether you should train your chest two, three, or even more times per week depends on your situation and how much training volume you currently do per workout.
Some people recover faster from their workouts than others. And some people need more overall volume per week to stimulate chest growth.
But overall, as an intermediate or advanced lifter, it’s ideal to train each muscle at least twice per week.
If you’ve been doing that and your chest still isn’t growing, you can try to add a third chest day.
This should help because as you get closer to your genetic muscle-building potential, you’ll have to find ways to increase weekly volume to make additional gains.
Another thing that many people do wrong is not going low enough on both dumbbell presses and barbell presses.
Many people only lower the weight down until their arm is just about parallel to the floor. Sometimes, they won’t even get to parallel before pressing back up.
It’s important to understand that when you perform a pressing exercise, the lockout portion of the movement is primarily done by your triceps instead of your chest.
So, your triceps are more engaged during the lower portion of the press.
If you only lower the dumbbells halfway down, you’re not going to stimulate your chest optimally.
So, make sure to lower the weight fully unless, of course, you have shoulder problems that lead to pain when you bring the bar or dumbbells too low.
Otherwise, if you have healthy shoulders, you should try lowering the bar until it touches your chest.
When you train with dumbbells, you can actually lower the weight even further.
So, make sure you take advantage of that if you’re trying to add muscle to your pecs.
#5 Alternate weight and reps
The next chest growth tip is very important for those of you that are stuck at a plateau.
You’ll want to alternate the amount of weight and reps that you do for your chest exercise.
Research suggests that training with a wide range of different rep targets produces more muscle growth than always sticking with the standard 8-12 reps per set.
For example, in a study published in the Internal Journal of Sports Medicine, (7) researchers divided men into two groups.
One group performed “a constant-rep resistance training routine” where they performed each set for 8 to 12 reps.
Meanwhile, the other group performed a varied-rep routine. Participants in this group switched up their rep ranges for each workout.
They would perform 8 to 12 reps one day, then 20 to 30 reps the next day, and finally only 2 to 4 reps on the following training day.
Both groups did this for 8 weeks. (8) And even though both groups gained a significant amount of strength and muscle mass, the researchers noted that “muscle growth effect sizes were more favorable for the VARIED group over the CONSTANT group. (9)
The differences between groups weren’t huge, and the researchers concluded that both options can be effective for muscle growth.
However, based on this study, it seems that varying your rep ranges has a slight advantage.
This fits with my personal experience. And it makes sense because the data shows that you need a variety of rep ranges to maximize growth in all types of muscle fibers. (10)
Remember, you have type 1 slow-twitch muscle fibers that are more responsive to endurance-based activities, and type 2 fast-twitch muscle fibers which are more for explosive, and heavy lifting activities.
By varying your weight load and rep ranges with your chest exercises you’ll get more strength development out of the low-rep heavy weight sets.
Meanwhile, you’ll develop more resistance to fatigue from the high-rep low-weight sets.
My personal recommendation that has worked well for me is to stick to one rep range for a few weeks before switching to a different rep range.
That will give you time to master that rep range and get stronger at it before you switch.
My favorite rep ranges to switch between are: a low 3-4 reps, a moderate 6-10 reps, and a high 12-20 reps.
#6 Take it easy on incline presses
It’s all too common for someone to have a lagging upper chest. That’s because, in almost all lifters, the upper chest is underdeveloped compared to the lower chest.
The common advice for this issue is to just raise the incline on the bench to put extra emphasis on the upper chest.
Even though this is a good strategy, many people go overboard with the angle. That’s because they think that the more inclined the bench is, the more they’ll hit their upper chest.
But a steep incline isn’t necessarily better for the upper chest development, or for chest growth in general.
For example, a recent 2021 study looked at the effects of five different bench pressing angles on muscle activation.
These angles included 0 degrees or flat, 15 degrees, 30 degrees, 45 degrees, and 60 degrees. (11)
The results showed that an incline of 30 degrees was able to produce greater activation of the upper portion of the chest.
However, inclining the bench higher than 45 degrees produced significantly greater shoulder activation while decreasing chest activation. (12)
And the funny part is that most gym equipment manufacturers haven’t caught up to the science. After all, this is a pretty new 2021 study.
So, most of the fixed incline barbell bench pressing machines that you see in gyms have too steep of an angle to maximize chest activation.
If that’s the case in your gym, which it probably is, I recommend you take one of the regular adjustable benches and set it up at about a 30-degree angle inside of a squat rack.
#7 Cables are a bodybuilder’s best friends
Another thing that you should do to help your chest grow is to use cables. Specifically, perform cable presses.
You see, one of the limitations of the barbell and dumbbell press is that you push your hands straight up instead of inwards.
And if you squeeze your hands together as we talked about earlier, it definitely helps target the chest better. But it still only creates an isometric contraction.
Meanwhile, cables allow you to incorporate that horizontal adduction that we talked about earlier automatically throughout the entire movement because your hands are literally being pulled apart.
Cable chest presses also have other unique benefits. For example, cables allow you to train your chest through a full ROM.
Cables also provide a more favorable strength curve where the resistance is the same throughout the entire exercise.
And cables also allow you to take smaller steps up in weight load.
This is beneficial because sometimes you’ll be unable to move up by 5lb dumbbells in each hand, but you’ll be able to slightly up the weight on cable presses.
This is why I encourage you to mix some cable-pressing exercises into your routine.
With that said, cable chest presses should be done seated or laying down.
If you stand while doing them, the weight will pull you back and you’re going to be challenged more with stabilizing your body than training your chest.
Most people perform flies with dumbbells on a flat or inclined bench with their hands in a neutral position.
This is totally fine, and it will help with chest development. But you can get an added benefit by also performing cable chest flies with your hands in a pronated position.
So, your thumbs would be facing each other instead of your palms.
Believe it or not, when your palms face each other the chest muscle is in a disadvantageous position from a mechanical standpoint.
That’s because the muscle fibers of the chest don’t have a direct line of pull.
By mixing in cable flies with your palms facing down you can train your chest from a position that makes it easier for your chest muscles to fire from.
Keep in mind you don’t have to give up regular flies with your palms in a neutral position.
But it’s great to mix in this variation with your palms down as well.
Also, there’s a reason why I keep specifically referencing cables when it comes to flies. That’s because cable flies have a more favorable resistance curve than dumbbell flies.
When you use dumbbells, the bottom portion of the fly requires a lot of effort. But as you get closer to the top of the movement you lose almost all the tension on your chest.
Using cables fixes this by keeping the tension on your chest the whole time.
#9 Increase your weight load progressively
I saved the most important tip for last. And that’s to make sure that you’re consistently trying to increase the weight load that you can lift for your ideal rep range.
Without applying progressive overload, you won’t be able to add much muscle to your chest past the beginner stages.
So regardless of which rep range you’re targeting, you need to use a weight load that’s challenging. And you need to try to increase that weight load over time.
Even increasing the weight by 5 pounds is a huge step forward.
If you’ve been training for a while, upping your weight by just 5-10 pounds can take weeks or maybe even months. But by being consistent, those little increases will add up to big gains over time.
Use barbells or dumbbells at the beginning of your workout and try the previously-mentioned variated rep strategy to aid your pressing strength.
Doing that, in combination with a good diet where you’re taking in enough protein, should lead to muscle growth.
So that about wraps it up guys. Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll implement these tips in your workout plan to see your chest grow.
Now, if you’re stuck right now and you’re having troubles adding muscle, it may have just as much to do with your diet as it does with your workouts.
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- Doing bench presses through a full ROM lead to more strength gains compared to not locking out your elbows on the top.
- Focusing on squeezing your hands together will increase chest activation. That’s because one of the primary functions of your chest is to perform shoulder horizontal adduction.
- As a beginner, you only have to train each muscle once per week for optimal gains.
- Once you’ve passed the beginner stage, however, you’ll need a higher frequency to maximize gains. Evidence from a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis.
- “Frequencies of training twice a week promote superior hypertrophic outcomes to once a week.”
- Much better muscle and strength gains with each extra workout per muscle per week. Even when total training volume was similar between groups.
- For instance, consider a 2016 paper published in the Internal Journal of Sports Medicine.
- “a constant-rep resistance training (RT) routine (CONSTANT) that trained using 8-12 RM per set, or a varied-rep RT routine (VARIED) that trained with 2-4 RM per set on Day 1, 8-12 RM per set on Day 2, and 20-30 RM on Day 3 for 8 weeks.”
- “Effect sizes favored VARIED over CONSTANT condition for elbow flexor thickness (0.72 vs. 0.57), elbow extensor thickness (0.77 vs. 0.48), maximal bench press strength (0.80 vs. 0.57), and upper body muscle endurance (1.91 vs. 1.28).”
- Data indicates that you need a variety of rep ranges to maximize growth in all types of muscle fibers.
- A case in point: a 2021 study by Rodriguez-Ridao and his colleagues looked at the effects of five different bench press angles on muscle activation (0°, 15°, 30°, 45°, and 60°).
- “An inclination of 30° produces greater activation of the upper portion of the pectoralis major. Inclinations greater than 45° produce significantly higher activation of the anterior deltoid and decrease the muscular performance of the pectoralis major.”