3 Ugly Truths About Building a Big Chest
Big. Juicy. Chesticles.
Everyone wants the Arnold Schwarzenegger-like slabs of man-meat hanging off their chest, but few people achieve this monumental feat of iron dominance.
So what gives? Everyone is into International Chest Day and building a big bench. We all love pushing heavy barbells off our chest; chasing the dream that one day we can stroll the beach shirtless, only to hear:
Whoa! How much you bench, MAN?
I'm here to tell you that building a big and strong chest is easier than you think, but you will need to make a few adjustments. What follows are a few ugly truths about building a bigger chest and the changes you will need to make to your training and expectations.
The Ugly Reality of Chest Building
Reality #1 - You Need More Than Heavy Bench Sets
The ritual is killing your gains. What ritual is that? The practice of working up to a heavier-than-your-one-rep-bench-press-max and having your gym buddy help row it up.
This form of chest-bouncing overload isn't helping. You won't build a bigger chest, nor reach your bench press strength potential, by focusing on this epic-level degree of stupidity.
A few heavy sets of benching might feel good to your ego, but it lacks the volume and time under tension to build much of anything. We haven't even touched upon the reality that this practice is also dangerous.
The average chest bro is not only ego lifting, but his warm-up protocol also sucks. If you don't know how to bench for chest growth, there's a good likelihood you don't know how to warm-up properly before your heavy sets.
Solution: Seek out a reasonable chest and bench press protocol written by someone that is well-respected and knows programming. Follow that program and trust the process.
Here are some programs I have written:
- The Only Chest Workout You'll Ever Need
- 3 Savage Chest Workouts You Will Hate - But Love
- 4 Great Chest Workouts for Mass and Strength
- Read This Before Your Next Chest Workout
- Chest Workouts to Bring Up Lagging Pecs
Reality #2 - You Need Volume and MORE Than the Bench Press
Improving your bench press workout is a great start, but you need more than that. To build a big, thick, beefy chest think about attacking it from as many quality fronts as possible.
Improve your exercise selection and make sure you're hitting your chest with a decent amount of compound movement volume. Basically, there is more to life than just the barbell bench press. Here are some compound variations that you can work into your program:
- Barbell bench press
- Incline bench press
- Decline bench press
- Dumbbell bench press
- Dumbbell incline bench press
- Dumbbell decline bench press
- Bench press 21s
- Alternating dumbbell bench press
- Guillotine bench press
I would advise using at least two of these variations each week for a reasonable volume. What's a reasonable volume? Well, I prefer a slightly higher number of reps on dumbbell bench press, so this might work well:
Weekly Pressing Volume
- Barbell movement - 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps
- Dumbbell movement - 3-4 sets of 8-15 reps
After hitting your chest with two compound movements, and this can be viewed through a weekly lens (either full body, A/B split, or body part split), I would add in two or three of the following:
- Bodyweight exercises - Push-ups, diamond push-ups, TRX push-ups, dips
- Machine exercises - Chest press, incline chest press, pec dec
- Cables - Cable crossovers
- Isolation exercises - Dumbbell flye variations, Svend press
The typical bro workout consistents of a small amount of bench press volume, typically followed up with an isolation movement such as flyes or cable crossovers. This is barely enough work to maintain chest size, for what it's worth.
Reality #3 - Might Need to Get Lean to See Those Slabs
Let's go back to Arnold for a second. Mr. Schwarzenegger had mountainous slabs of chest meat, and this is your goal as well. Unfortunately, you'll likely be facing two possible issues:
- It takes some solid chest genetics to have thick, slabby chesticles.
- It generally takes a substantial degree of leanness to make your chest look good.
Sure, there are guys out there that are naturally gifted. They have genetically-sexy, thick pecs and are typically lean and mean.
You are not that man and neither am I.
Men carry most of their excess fat in two areas: belly and chest. This is the exact opposite of what we want. Under these circumstances, it's easy to see why showcasing a ripped six-pack and a sexy chest can feel impossible.
Given normal (average genetics) it's very likely that you will need to get as lean as possible to showcase all the hard chest work you're hammering away with at the gym.
What's lean? Well obviously there's no rule and that will vary. A good starting goal is to get down to 15-18% bodyfat and reassess.