By Eric Broser
Think of the pec development of Arnold Schwarzennegger, Franco Columbo, and Lou Ferrigno in their prime…or modern day BEASTS Ronnie Coleman and Markus Ruhl. What do all of these incredible bodybuilders have in common? Each of them display (or displayed) not only massive pecs, but also complete chest development, from outer to inner, and upper to lower. This is not something that occurred purely by accident, but was the result of a carefully devised training program that gives proper attention to all areas of the pecs. Yes, of course genetics are involved, but like mentioned earlier, they do not tell the complete story. Most of the trainees I see toiling away in the gym spend most of their time on the bench press, which can be a mistake. While this certainly is a wonderful pec builder, over reliance on this movement can give the chest a saggy, sometimes “breast like,” appearance. In my experience, the upper chest is much more stubborn to grow and thus needs even more stimulation than the mid and lower pecs. Personally, I feel that all trainees should spend 2/3 of their chest training on movements that target the upper chest in order to achieve a balanced look. Truthfully, I have never seen an upper chest that was too big for the lower. However, I have seen the opposite hundreds of times.
Now, I am sure that everyone reading this article has utilized incline barbell/dumbbell presses, incline dumbbell and cable flyes, as well as various machines meant to target the upper pecs in his or her training. However, if these movements are not getting the job done I would like to offer you four alternative exercises that hit the upper pec fibers hard, but are rarely used by most trainees. Please keep in mind that these movements are not meant to replace the basic incline exercises, but are to be used as an adjunct in a targeted upper chest attack!
Smith Bench Press to Clavicles Grab a flat bench and position it evenly within a Smith machine. Lie down and line up your body so that the bar is directly over your clavicle bones. Make sure to utilize the body positioning tips that I went through above. Your grip on the bar should be just outside shoulder width, and your upper arms should be completely perpendicular to your torso, so that your elbows will be flared out wide. Lower the bar slowly, under full control, until you feel a deep stretch along the entire upper chest. Depending on your shoulder flexibility, you may not be able to lower the bar all the way down, and might need to stop an inch or two short of your clavicles. Once you feel the stretch, hold it for a count of one, and then push the bar back to the top using pure pec power. This is not an exercise in which extremely heavy weights can be used, or you could risk injury to your shoulder joints. Stick with poundage that will allow you between 8 and 12 reps in good form. Also, make sure you warm up properly before getting into your work sets.
Reverse Grip Bench Press This is usually thought of as a triceps-builder but believe it or not, EMI studies show that the RG Bench Press activates the upper chest fibers as much as 40% more than standard incline presses! This movement can be done with free weights or on a Smith machine, whichever you prefer. Grip should be just wider than shoulder width, with the rest of the body set in the same position as it would for the regular bench press. Lower the bar carefully to about nipple level, or just above, and then powerfully press the bar up and slightly back (toward the eyes). Focus hard on the upper pecs to create the mind muscle connection. This movement can be a little awkward at first, so start with light weights and gradually increase as you perfect your form.
Dumbbell Pullover Traditionally, dumbbell pullovers have been used by trainees in the hopes of expanding the rib cage in order to develop a “deeper,” more “barrel-like” chest. While it is questionable as to whether pullovers can have any significant effect on the size of your ribcage, it is a certainty that they can help you thicken your upper pecs! However, not many bodybuilders are aware of this, and thus fail to include this amazing movement in their program. That said, you must utilize precise technique when performing pullovers, or you will end up receiving more lat and teres stimulation than upper pec stimulation. In order to optimally attack your chest with pullovers, lie down on your upper back, perpendicular to a flat bench. Your legs should be bent, and your hips held low throughout the set. Hold a dumbbell firmly in your palms by the upper, inner weight plate. Your arms should be slightly bent, and the dumbbell held over your chest to start. Slowly lower the dumbbell back and down behind your head until the point that you feel a good stretch in your chest. Make sure the dumbbell follows a path back and down behind your head, and not back and away from your head or you will work your lats harder than your chest. At the point that you feel a stretch, focus on contracting your pecs and using only chest power to return the dumbbell to the starting position. Once the weight is back over your chest, flex your pecs hard before initiating the next rep. Pullovers can be worked heavy, but in order to do so, you may need someone to hold your knees down so that you can keep your body in the proper position while lowering the weight.
Lower Pulley Cable Crossovers
Cable crossovers as they are normally done, using the upper pulleys, basically work the lower and inner pecs. However, by using the lower pulleys, and the correct “plane of motion,” you can really torch the upper “shelf” of the chest. Take hold of the two lower pulleys and position yourself in the center of the cable crossover machine. Stand up straight with your chest held up high. There should be a slight bend in your arms and the pulley handles should be at about waist level. Before you even begin the movement you should feel the tension of a stretch in your chest. Using pec strength only, pull the handles up and together so that they actually meet at arms length out in front of your face. Squeeze the pecs hard for a count of one, and then slowly return to the starting position. I recommend sets in the range of 12-15 reps for this movement. See you in the gym! #pecs #pump