Nutrition & Health OnLine Magazine
Exercises for the Chest
Davey Dunn
When we started the Basics of Training series of articles our intention was to provide the kind of fundamental information that everyone needs to know to improve their physique. There is nothing more basic to training than knowing how to properly perform the exercises themselves so starting with this article we are going to critique different exercises that can be used to strengthen and build the different muscles in your body. In this issue we are going to examine how to perform exercises for the Chest.
Barbell Benchpress is by far the most popular exercise for training the chest. You should start the lift by evenly aligning your hands on the bar and then lift the bar out of the rack to the starting position. Keep in mind that the wider the grip that is used the more the involvement there will be for the pectorals, which are the target muscles. Smoothly lower the bar to your chest with you elbows out. (See Pictures Below) You should touch at the lower portion of your chest and then press the bar upward in a smooth even motion. The bench press is considered a complex movement because the exercise also involves the triceps muscles as well as the anterior deltoids. A greater emphasis can be placed on the triceps and the anterior deltoids by using a narrower grip and drawing the elbows closer to your body. Common improper techniques that are often seen in the benchpress are lifting the butt during the lift, uneven extension of the arms and bouncing the bar off of the chest. If you want to get maximum results from the benchpress then use proper technique and avoid bad form.
Dumbbell Benchpress is basically the same as the Barbell Benchpress except that you use dumbbells. The advantage of using dumbbells is that you will involve more of the stabilizer muscles involved in pressing movements. As with any free weight exercise, more muscles will be used just trying to balance the weight so overall more muscles are used performing a Dumbbell Benchpress than with a Barbell Bench and much more than with a machine like the Pec Deck. Dumbbells are a good variation for the Benchpress movement and can be used alternately with the Barbell Benchpress to produce greater gains. The fundamentals of performing the lift are pretty much the same as a Barbell Benchpress. You start with the Dumbbells in the upward position and smoothly lower them keeping you elbows out to maximize pectoral involvement. Lower the weight as far as is comfortable and the press the dumbbells back to the starting position in one even motion.
Incline Benchpress is used to provide better isolation for the upper part of the pectorals. The angle of the incline can vary but should be between 15 and 30 degrees for the best isolation of the upper pectorals. The performance of the lift is the same as for a regular Barbell Benchpress. Start with an even grip and then lower the bar to your chest in a controlled manner with your elbows out. Press the bar back to the starting position in one even motion. As with the Barbell Benchpress you can also use dumbbells with an incline bench to provide more variation and derive the same benefits for the upper pecs that are seen with the regular dumbbell benchpress.
Decline Benchpress is used to provide better isolation for the lower part of the pectorals. The best angle to use for isolating the lower pectorals is between 18 and 25 degrees. The performance of the lift is similar to the regular Barbell Benchpress except that more weight can usually be handled since there is a decreased range of movement.
Dumbbell Flys is the best exercise for strictly isolating the pectoral muscles in the chest. The exercise begins the same way as a Dumbbell Benchpress with the weight in the upright position. Instead of bending your elbows out, as with a Dumbbell Benchpress, you allow your arms to fall outward in a controlled manner until the pectorals are completely stretched. You should keep a slight bend in your arms as you allow them to fall outward. (See Pictures Below) Once the maximum stretch has been reached you should return the weights to the starting position keeping the same arm angle that was used while lowering the dumbbells. Since the tricep muscles in the arms are kept out of this exercise as opposed to a pressing type movement the isolation of the chest is superior with flys than with pressing exercises.
Pec Deck Machine is a way to train the pectoral muscles of the chest using a machine. We have talked previously (See MACHINES vs. FREE WEIGHTS: Which Works Best) about the superiority of using free weights for producing strength and power gains. Despite this disadvantage, a Pec Deck Machine can provide excellent isolation for the pectoral muscles and is much easier to use than free weights. As with most machines, the performance of the lift is pretty straightforward. Grasp the handles and pull them forward until they touch in the middle. Keep a controlled movement throughout the performance of this exercise and make sure that you are using just your pectorals.
Dips are not the best choice if you are trying to strictly isolate the pectorals but they do provide plenty of stress on the chest as well as the shoulders, arms and upper back. Dips are considered a compound exercise since they work so many different muscle groups and should be carefully planned into your workout to avoid overstressing the muscles involved. Performing the lift is fairly simple. You start in an upright position with a slight bend in your elbows. You lower your body by bending your elbows until the back of your arms is perpendicular to the floor. You then press your body back to the starting position. Most experienced lifters use a belt that can hold weight and increase the intensity of the exercise.
Bent Arm Pullovers do not directly work the pectoral muscles but are included because of the overall impact they can have on chest development. Bent Arm Pullovers primarily work the latissimus muscles of the back but over time the intercostal muscles become stronger and exert a pull on the ribcage that increases the overall size of the chest. This was a favorite trick of old time bodybuilders to help them develop huge barrel chests that has been lost in the modern drug crazed bodybuilding culture. You start this exercise with the barbell resting on your chest. You push the bar up toward your head and then allow the weight to pull your arms back and toward the floor. At the lowered position the back of your arms should be just about perpendicular to the floor. From the lowered position you pull the weight back up and over to the starting point keeping your arms bent throughout the performance of the lift. This exercise is best performed toward the end of your upper body exercises since it helps stretch out the upper body muscles which is a good way to finish.
All of the exercises above can be used to develop the pectoral muscles of the chest but should be used in a manner consistent with other principles of training like Specificity, Variation and Periodization. You should never perform more than two of these exercises on the same day. If you perform your chosen exercise with maximum intensity then you really only need one exercise per day since a high intensity effort is enough to provide the stress needed to promote growth. The most sensible way to train is to use different exercises on different days for the same muscle group since this is consistent with the principle of variation and will lead to greater results. Chest training is one of the most popular pursuits of weight trainers so choose and perform your exercises wisely and you will have a chest in which you can be proud.



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