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How To Build Chest Muscle

Mark, How Do I Build A Great Chest? This is a question I get asked quite often these days.
Why?
Because pecs (chest muscle) look great! They make a huge difference to your overall physique.

Can you imagine a guy with big biceps, boulders for shoulders and a flat chest? Just wouldn’t look right would it?

So we need to work our chest in a manner that really stimulates growth; a way that really encourages the muscle fibers in the pecs to enlarge.

(mark performing incline dumbbell bench press)

bench press

Building Chest Muscle Is Easy

That’s the good news friends. In my opinion, the chest is one of the easiest muscle groups to build. All you have to do is ensure 2 things:

  1. You complete a full range of motion on every rep
  2. You lift (concentric) and lower (eccentric) the weight at the correct speed

Ego

If you are used to lifting with sloppy form, you’ll have to sacrifice a bit of weight to exercise with the form illustrated in this article. This may involve a battle with your ego though.

A part of you will say,

I can’t lift a weight that low, that’s 2 steps
back! I’m making great progress.

Are you really?
Forget the amount of weight you’re lifting, are your muscles growing?
Are you pleased with what you see in the mirror?
If not then the amount of weight lifted means nothing. Get your ego out of the way, drop the weight and use proper form. I promise you won’t regret it. I am much more impressed when I see someone lifting with proper form than some guy benching a weight he can’t handle; arching his back or getting his training partner to help lift the weight nearing the end of the set.

The Chest Workout

If you really want to focus on building an impressive chest, work this muscle group on a day of its own and perform 9 sets. Go here to access a full, anabolic workout plan.

Firstly, use free weights. Nothing beats free weights for building muscle so avoid machines.

The Bench Press

The staple of any chest workout routine is the bench press. You can opt for using either dumbbells or a barbell, either choice is great. For the last 6 months or so I’ve used dumbbells as I find I can get a greater range of
motion with them i.e. I can lower the weight further than I can with the barbell.

Incline Dumbbell Bench PressIncline Dumbbell Press

Incline, Flat and Decline Bench Press

There are 3 variations of the bench Press:

  1. Incline Bench Press
  2. Flat Bench Press
  3. Decline Bench Press

* The inclined position will work the upper portion of your chest most
* The flat bench press works your mid-overall chest
* The declined position primarily works the bottom portion of your chest

I feel my upper chest is lagging at the moment so I begin my chest routine with 2 sets of incline dumbbell bench presses. You should always prioritze your workouts.

The Form

The form you use for these exercises is the same for all 3.

  1. Lower the weight as far as it will go
  2. Push up with an explosive motion (1-2 seconds)
  3. If you are using dumbbells, they should touch at the top (your arms in an ‘A’ shape)
  4. Lower slowly (should take about 2 seconds to lower)
  5. Repeat

Add Width To Your Chest

As well as focusing on the top, middle and bottom of your pecs, you should stimulate the sides directly as well. This helps add width and thickness to your chest. Dumbbell flies are perfect for this!

Dumbbell Flies

My favorite chest exercise! Here’s the proper form to use when performing them:

  1. Keep your arms slightly bent at the elbows throughout the movement.
  2. Lower the weight a far down as possible. You should feel a real stretch right across your pecs at the bottom of the rep.
  3. Now push up again until your arms form an ‘A’ shape at the top.

Sample Chest Building Workout

For a 9 set workout, try:

* Incline Bench Press x 2 sets
* Flat Bench Press x 3 sets
* Decline Bench Press x 2 sets
* Flat Dumbbell Flies x 2 sets

See here for more information on how many reps and sets you should be performing for optimum muscle growth

I go into more detail about how to work your chest and other body parts in my free ebook ‘Total Anabolism‘ which you can download for free by simply putting you name and email and the top right of this page.

To Powerful Pecs!

Your buddy,

Mark McManus

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Andrew January 30, 2008, 7:50 am

    Mark great article , very motivating as always. One question I have for you is just the other day I was training and asked a personal trainer to check my form. He advised me to restrict my range of motion to keep the muscle contracted rather than stretch the whole way out and therefore undoing all the good work.

    What’s your opinion here?

    thanks.

  • Mark McManus January 30, 2008, 10:07 pm

    Hi Andrew.
    I think you are referring to ‘locking out’ at the top of the rep.
    This is called the peak contraction point.
    Yes, I think the guy you were talking to was offering some sound advice. You wouldn’t be undoing all your good work but keeping your arms slightly bent throughout and not locking out will keep your muscles stimulated throughout the whole set.
    Locking out takes the stress off your muscles at the completion of each rep.
    You don’t need to reduce range of motion so much as simply keep a slight angle at your elbows to ensure the chest stays stimulated throughout.
    Cheers,
    Mark

  • Taylor January 31, 2008, 8:09 pm

    Great info and workouts. I am going to follow your advice!

  • Mark McManus January 31, 2008, 8:14 pm

    Hi Taylor.
    I love to see women lifting. I’m glad you’re going to adopt this plan to build chest muscle.
    What I love about receiving comments is the introductions it gives me to other bodybuilding and fitness blogs.
    Keep up the good work.
    Mark

  • Boarder February 4, 2008, 10:23 pm

    been following your advice given in your free ebook (which is awesome – so much help) and i can actually say ive made staggering gains. only been bodybuilding since early november but ive done your routines for about 6 weeks and i can actually see proper gains. really encouraging! your articles along with http://www.musclechat.co.uk helps me with every little thing i need to know.

    one question though:
    everyone says you must increase your weight each workout, but i find if i do that then im kinda sacrificing my form. i wanna lift more as you said about ego lol but i wanna build muscle. so should i just stick to the weight im at untill im doing 12 reps with good form then move it up a few kg?

  • Mark McManus February 4, 2008, 10:33 pm

    Hi. Thanks for the kind comments, I’m glad I can help you achieve your goals.
    Yes, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Do not sacrifice your form for higher weights. If you find yourself going higher before you’re ready, you can kiss your gains goodbye. You’ll have to use more momentum to shift the weight which means the muscle in question doesn’t actually get maximum stimulation.
    Believe me, I’ve succumb to my ego so many times in the past and then the following months were a write-off, a complete waste of time.
    Keep up the good work. Keep the good form and only go higher when you can get 12 proper reps.
    Cheers,
    Mark

  • Ryan June 2, 2008, 3:03 pm

    I am a relatively beggining lifter who is really looking to make significant gains in my chest. What is the best way to determine the proper amount of weight that I should be doing on each of my sets?

  • Mark McManus June 5, 2008, 4:52 am

    Ryan,
    Trial & Error.
    Pick a weight and go to failure, how many reps did it take? More than 12 – go lighter and so on until you get a weight where you fail between 8 and 12 reps.
    Mark

  • Robert June 25, 2008, 11:02 pm

    Hi, I have never lifted weights and I have smoked for 34 yrs,I quit smoking about 4 months ago and am now interested in building my body up some,but back in 1986 I was in a motocycle accident and it shattered my left elbow so I don’t have full range of motion in it,I would say I have about 85% ROM in that arm. My question is how nuch do you think that is going to hinder me working on my chest since my arm does not have full ROM?

  • Mark McManus June 27, 2008, 4:40 am

    Robert, 85% isn’t perfect but you can still build muscle.
    It would preferable that you could stretch all the way to the bottom of the rep but be unable to extend all the way up.
    Also, you could allow for more sets of dumbbell flies to build your chest. There shouldn’t be any range of motion issues with these.
    Mark

  • ZenLC August 26, 2008, 9:50 pm

    Tried this routine for the first time today and I love it! One question – we don’t have a decline bench where I was lifting, is there any substitute? I thought about laying on a stability ball but wasn’t sure if that was enough decline to work the bottom of the muscle. What is your opinion, Mark?

  • Mark McManus August 26, 2008, 9:58 pm

    Hi Mike. Unfortunately I don’t know of anything. I don’t think the ball would support you well. Leave them out and add 1 more set on to each of the other exercises to compensate.
    Sore pecs tomorrow and the next day my friend ;)
    Mark

  • Ivan September 18, 2008, 9:27 am

    Dear Mark
    i downloaded your ‘total anabolism’ even print it out and made it my routine. Just started almost 2 weeks and i can feel the effect of the workouts and sweat like hell. Its really great .
    But the only thing when comes to chest workout is that i cant ‘feel’ the workout. Unlike biceps curls or leg exercises which you will feel a little bit of stretched muscles a day after the exercise, the chest exercise practically does not feel anything. And ofcourse i am not seeing any gains really.
    I am using a pair of dumbbells weighing about 11 kgs now(started from 10 and i am trying to add 1 kg each week). it just didn’t work for me. please advice…

  • MattHolborn December 30, 2008, 10:27 am

    Hey,

    I was getting a bit tired and bored of the same of chest workout routine I had got accustomed to. I dropped a weight on the dumbbells and did the 9 set workout yesterday. Loved it. Will stick to it. Would do advise adding a low weight, hi rep routine maybe every fortnight as well.

  • Ron April 9, 2009, 11:18 pm

    Hey Mark…great info ofcourse…Im going to add the dumbell flies to my routine…the side of my chest is in need of a boost…still trying to lose body fat and that is still a flabby area. I know I need to get rid of body fat through cardio and diet but that one areay on the side of my pecs are very stubborn.

  • Chester April 29, 2009, 7:15 am

    Hey mark, do you have any chest exercises for countering man-boobs/gynaecomastia? I had read that doing incline chest press, decline dumbbell flies & dumbbell pullover would help.
    Is it true? Do you have any chest exercise suggestions for people who have moobs?
    Thanks!

  • Fotis May 1, 2009, 11:00 am

    hi mark.!!nice article..!!it is very helpful!!i am at the starting point for now but i think i can succeed!!i am from greece!i have an overally fit body but my chest is the wosrt!its like u know -beacuse of some extra kilos-i am 1.80m and 81kg-!should i lose some weight firstly?or workout and lose weight simoultaneously?(i mean a have to workout cause summer is coming..)i hope u understand me thank u!!

  • Mark McManus May 3, 2009, 12:09 pm

    @Fotis. You should definitely weight train and lose fat simultaneously. In fact, weight training is the best thing you can do to change your body composition.
    My book Total Six Pack Abs is all about that – it’s a weight training, cardio and nutrition BLUEPRINT for TOTAL body reconditioning i.e. low body fat levels AND more lean muscle!
    Cheers,
    Mark
    http://www.TotalSixPackAbs.com

  • shea November 8, 2009, 2:05 am

    thank god for google love dis page.
    i only turned 17 their and i am looking 2 build sum tight chest muscle.
    also thinking of joining the army buh i need to get fit 1st so i hope dis page will help me.
    so thanks mark

  • Mark McManus November 9, 2009, 6:46 pm

    Thanks Shea

  • Emmanuel December 3, 2009, 6:49 pm

    would be enternally happy if it works for me.

  • Irvin December 28, 2009, 6:55 am

    Hey mark this is irvin i am 15 years old and i love to weight lift i have been doing my 5 days a week routine but now i dont have that much time so i am trying your 3 day a week routine, in this routine do u want me to do a bodypart and then switch to the second one or you want me to swtch over each set

  • berat January 10, 2010, 6:01 am

    hey im from macedonia, i discovered ur website from youtube and im glad i did so i was wondering if someone experienced would show me how to build my inner chest and possible give me some workout routine for building muscle
    my e mail is [ed. email deleted to protect poster]
    thx very much

  • andrew January 26, 2010, 9:26 pm

    Hey Mark,
    I was wondering if you could offer your insight? Right now I can do 10 reps of flat dumbbell bench presses using 50 lb. dumbbells, reaching failure on the 11th rep. However, I feel that instead of lifting the dumbbells explosively (1 second) it takes me more around 2-3 seconds to lift the weight. In other words, I can lift the weight but not very fast. Would it be wise to decrease the weight in order to raise the weight in the air at a faster pace?

  • Mark McManus January 26, 2010, 9:31 pm

    @Andrew. No. This is an old post and I no longer teach ‘explosive’ movements. You’re doing just fine as it is.
    If you didn’t see my most recent post, here it is…
    http://www.musclehack.com/how-to-build-muscular-pecs-like-a-cartoon-superhero/

  • andrew January 27, 2010, 3:43 pm

    thanks for the quick reply, and the updated link

  • Gaara February 5, 2010, 3:12 am

    hey man.. wanted to ask something.. o.o and forgive me if it was written and i didnt notice lol.. here is the deal o.o i used to play kung fu for like 2 years or so.. but then stopped.. playing any sports for like 3 years..so my chest got a little fat now.. o.o if i train chest exercises and bench stuff.. will it get flat again and build muscles instead.. or the muscles will be built without any major change o.O sorry for the stupid question lol.. and i used to swim when i was young so o.o my chest is a little wide .. just dont know how to make it seem fit o.o and im 16 btw lol XD and because of studying my body got rusty o_o so … idk what to do lol XD and doing like 20 pushups everyday is helpful or not o.o?? thanks ^^ and love the site ♥

  • Mark McManus February 6, 2010, 5:37 pm

    @Gaara. No you can’t spot reduce the fat on your chest. Working out will build the muscle underneath with no impact on the fat above it. You need to go on a cutting diet to get your overall body fat down in order to reduce the chest fat.