I’m gonna go ahead and state the obvious: every dude who has ever set foot in the gym wants to have a sick chest. In terms of desirability a pumped up chest is up there with mountainous traps, thick arms, and cut abs. Even guys who claim they’re just hitting the gym to stay healthy, get stronger, or prepare for a sport wouldn’t think twice if someone offered them a magic elixir that would instantly blow up their pecs.
Luckily for each and every one of those dudes, no elixir is required to obtain the chest you desire. Instead, the solution lies in isolating and attacking your pecs.
The bench press is a great strength builder, but because of the need to stabilize the bar through the range of motion a tradeoff occurs that takes some of the training effect off of the pecs – transferring it to the delts instead.
I’m certainly not saying you should abandon the bench press. It’s a great upper body strength move, works multiple muscle groups at once, and will improve performance in almost any athletic competition.
But when it comes to isolation and hypertrophy there are better options. Here are a few:
The hex press is a great alternative to the traditional dumbbell press, and is literally so easy a caveman could do it. When setting up for the movement; lie down on a bench, push the dumbbells together, and keep them pushed together while pressing them up and bringing them back down (as in a traditional DB bench press). Not only will this move pump up your chest big time, it will also take a lot of stress off of your shoulder joints (a huge plus if you’re like me and sit at a desk for 8 hours a day which can cause aggressively rounded shoulders).
Seated Machine Press
The machine press follows the same range of motion as a traditional bench, but takes the work of stabilizing the load off of the delts. By eliminating the need to control the weight as it moves through the range of motion, the training effect will be focused directly on the pecs allowing for more isolation and more muscle growth. This is also a good option for training the chest while recovering from a shoulder injury, but if that’s the case then start light and adjust the load as pain will allow.
Chest dips are a different twist on an old favorite. Many chest exercises involve the triceps to some degree or another. When it comes to dips the degree to which the triceps are involved depends on the angle of the torso. If your torso is angled vertically (perpendicular to the ground) then the movement will have more of an impact on the triceps. By angling your torso so that it is more parallel to the ground the training effect can be transferred over to the chest. In addition to being a great muscle builder this will likely help improve your bench press and overhead press as it will force you to stabilize your body as it moves through the range of movements.
I usually work flyes in once my pressing for the day is complete. Used with higher reps and lighter weight these can really give the pecs a great finishing pump, especially if you nail the stretch at the bottom portion of the movement. For perfect technique checkout this demonstration from legendary trainer Joe Defranco.