Speed up your lagging upper-chest development with these 7 strategies, exercises, and techniques!
If your chest workout is always ordered something like this—flat bench press, incline press, decline press, fly—you've got all the makings of a complete chest workout. That's not to say, however, that you're going to have complete chest development. If you're always doing a middle-chest movement first, when your energy levels are highest, and attacking your upper and lower chest when you're fatigued, guess which region will eventually start to lag?
Bodybuilders who follow the "flat bench first" approach usually have deficiencies in their upper and lower chest that start showing up over time. And some bodybuilders simply have genetic deficiencies in a particular area, which forces them to redouble their efforts to bring up their upper pecs.
If you're looking to build more thickness, muscle, and strength in your upper chest, here are seven ways you can quickly restructure your training to address your weakness. If you have any more ideas that we haven't addressed here, please add your two cents in the comments section at the bottom of the article.
Start With A Multijoint Upper-Chest Movement
The simplest and most obvious solution to emphasize your upper pecs is to target them first on chest day. So, instead of starting your workout on the flat bench, start with the incline bench press.
By flipping exercises, you'll find that you're significantly stronger and can lift a little more—or do a few more reps with a given weight—than you could when you did an upper-chest move later in your workout. Forcing your upper pec fibers to lift more than they're accustomed to will set you on the road to making gains.
By all means, since you'll now be a little stronger on inclines, don't be afraid to use a slightly more challenging weight. Nothing stalls progress more than choosing a weight you can already handle for 3 sets of 10. If you normally do sets of 8-10 with inclines, do a set or two (after warming up) for 6-8 reps to make those fibers work even harder.
There are benefits to doing either a barbell or dumbbell movement here, and both are good choices. You may find that the following points will help you decide which to opt for as your lead exercise, but you definitely want to steer away from a machine exercise. Your body has to work harder—and harder work equates to more muscle stimulus and growth—with free weights.
Get Off The Fixed Bench
If you take a closer look at incline barbell bench-press stations, you'll notice that the angle of the bench is typically fixed, usually around 45 degrees. (I've seen some benches that are even steeper than that, and they end up working the delts rather than the upper pecs.)
There's no law in physics that says the upper pecs have to be worked from the same angle all the time; in fact, you'll get better overall upper chest development if you use a variety of incline bench positions.
Now take a look at that adjustable incline bench. There are several notches on the bench that allow you to work low inclines, moderate inclines, and even steeper inclines. If you really want to improve your upper pecs, this adjustable bench is your new best friend, and you'll make use of all those in-between positions at some point.
The adjustable bench is best utilized with dumbbells or in the Smith machine. Start using a variety of inclined positions—either from set to set or workout to workout—to target the muscle fibers in slightly different ways.
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Do A Second Upper-Chest Exercise
One way to target a lagging body part is to do more exercises that focus on it. What you do not want to do, however, is simply repeat what you did with the first move.
For instance, let's say you did an incline barbell press for sets of 8 reps on the first exercise, and now you're going to do another movement. Which of these would add a different stress to the target muscle?
A: The Smith-machine incline press on an adjustable bench set to the same angle as the fixed-incline barbell press for sets of 8 reps.
B: A dumbbell press with a lower degree of incline than you used on the fixed bench for sets of 10-12 reps.
I hope you chose B. If you want to change the training stimulus to work a target muscle in multiple ways, you should opt for different equipment, change the angle of the bench, and work with a different relative intensity. Just doing a second upper-chest movement isn't enough unless you're taking into account all these factors.
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Don't Stop At Failure
If you want to optimize muscle growth, you can't fear muscle failure. If you just drop a weight after you reach 10 reps, but you could've done 1-5 more reps, then you're not doing a true set of 10.
Pushing past your limits—which, by the way, should be cycled with periods of lower-intensity training—will break down additional muscle fibers and stimulate more growth as long as you take only a few sets past muscle failure. (Taking every set past muscle failure could lead to acute overtraining.) The best advice is to take 1-2 sets of a given exercise beyond muscle failure, typically on your last or your heaviest set.
There are plenty of good advanced-training techniques available when it comes to chest day. If you've got a workout partner, consider: