Build Muscle Size and Power With Specialized Chest Training Workouts

STACK Expert David Groscup explains how building a massive chest requires more than barbell Bench Presses.

Want to know something about building a powerful, massive pair of pecs? Standard flat Bench Presses with a barbell may not give you the results you're after. Why not?

Although barbell Bench Presses are a very important power movement for chest training, they primarily engage the frontal deltoid and triceps, both of which are much weaker than the pectorals and wear out quicker, limiting the weight you can use. A much better strategy is to wear out the pecs first before hitting the smaller muscles.

I realize that many trainers advocate performing compound exercises like the Bench Press first, but there are benefits to switching things up a bit. An exception would be a powerlifter attempting to add pounds to his or her Bench. This requires performing Bench Presses before any assistance exercises to build the most explosive power in the Bench.

But our goal is to increase muscle size and power, so some of our workouts will start with the Bench Press and some will start with other exercises. This balances strength and muscle size development. Most of our free-weight work will be done with dumbbells, due to the increased range-of-motion they provide and because they are safer to use with maximum weight.

RELATED: The 3-Day Chest Workout Routine for Mass

Pre-Exhaust

This effective technique couples an isolation movement such as Pek Dek Flys with a compound one like the Incline Dumbbell Press. Perform the isolation one to failure first, followed immediately by the compound one. The isolation exercise exhausts the pec muscle exclusively, then makes use of fresh triceps and deltoid muscles to "push" the pecs past failure. An example of a workout using this technique is:

  • Incline Dumbbell Flys — 1x12
  • Flat Bench Dumbbell Bench Press — 1x8
  • Standing Bar Dips — 1x12

To increase the intensity, add some forced reps at the end of the bench set with the aid of a partner, who should apply just enough assistance to allow completion of four extra reps.

Try this workout:

  • Standing Cable Crossovers — 1x15
  • Decline Dumbbell Bench Press — 1x8+4 forced reps

Since the forced reps increase the intensity of the set, total set count is reduced to two.

RELATED: 7 Dumbbell Chest Press Variations for a Stronger Chest

Double Pre-Exhaust

This is similar to regular pre-exhaust except we do two isolation exercises prior to one compound exercise. This provides greater in-roading of the target muscle due to the muscle being thoroughly exhausted prior to the compound movement.

Here is a great workout using this technique. Feel free to substitute exercises for variety.

  • Pek Flys on Pek Dek — 1x15
  • Decline Dumbbell Flys — 1x12
  • Machine Bench Press — 1x6

As in the standard pre-exhaust routine, you may use forced reps to increase intensity. The following is an example:

  • Mid-Pulley Cable Flys — 1x12
  • Decline Dumbbell Flys — 1x10
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press — 1x10+4 forced reps

Power Routine

We use the Bench Press first to generate power. Use low- to mid-range reps to focus on strength development, and follow them with assistance exercises to thoroughly exhaust the pecs. This form of training adds muscle size, but not to the level the previous workouts do. This is a result of lower reps, increased rest time and less muscle pump.

Power Workout

  • Barbell Bench Press — 2x4-6
  • Rest two minutes between sets
  • Incline Dumbbell Press — 2x6-8
  • Rest two minutes between sets
  • Machine Dips — 2x6
  • Rest two minutes between sets

This is not a High-Intensity Interval Training routine. It's designed as a hybrid powerlifting routine.

Power Routine 2

  • Incline Dumbbell Press — 1x4
  • Rest two minutes
  • Dumbbell Bench Press — 1x6
  • Rest two minutes
  • Incline Dumbbell Flys — 1x8

I recommend starting with the pre-exhaust routine and completing it once per week. Use it for four weeks before moving to the double pre-exhaust routine. Switch to the power routine for a month, then mix them up on a regular basis to yield the best results.

RELATED: 8-Exercise Advanced Bodyweight Chest and Back Workout


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: CHEST | BENCH PRESS | WORKOUTS | POWER | EXERCISE | BENCH | PRESS | BARBELL | INTENSITY | DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS | FLAT BENCH