Build the Ultimate Chest with 2 exercises

Recently on Quora I had a question about which exercise was better for building a big chest, Bench Press or Dips, and I had to stop for a moment and think, you see the big thick chests of the late 70’s Bodybuilders were built with both, as this was the way of things, in fact it was common practice to warm up with Bodyweight exercises like dips and pull-ups before heading onto the weights, additionally Dumbells were seen as finishing exercises or “concentration” and were normally left to the end, the question was interesting though as I have always thought of the Barbell Bench Press as quite an inefficient exercise as it tends to recruit a lot of help from the Triceps and Shoulders to complete the movement, but it cannot be denied that it is the exercise of choice and if anybody is going to lift weights you can be fairly sure that it will figure in their routine.

To decide what is best, we first need to understand in where the muscle is anchored as this will give us some idea of what movement it is bio-mechanically suited to performing, the whole idea behind all these new and strange looking machines that came out of late are all trying to move the resistance through the best possible motion to load the target muscle directly, there is a trade off with this though, when we do this we isolate the muscle completely and build it in size and strength, but if we concentrate solely on that type of isolated movement we do not bring the other supporting muscles up with it, and you can at best start to look a little odd as you have large major muscle groups with nothing behind or at worse you could liken it to hanging a chandelier from a thick heavy chain from a plasterboard ceiling with no extra support, sooner or later it will pull loose from the ceiling and the roof will come in, this what gives powerlifters and strength competitors that solid thick look it is all the muscle groups growing together regardless of aesthetics to create the strongest individual possible.

So the pectoral muscle has two parts the Pectoralis major and minor, the muscle we are all referring to when we think of this is the major as this is the most visible, this is anchored under the anterior Deltoid and attached like an open fan to the sternum it’s major function is to draw the arm across the chest and is used to push things away from us, the minor is also anchored under the anterior Deltoid but this is attached to the Ribcage and is activated by drawing the arms back over the head this would tend to be activated along with the Latissimus Dorsi and Serratus muscles.

Pectoralis Major

  • Bench Press
  • Flies
  • Dips
  • Cable Cross Overs
  • Dumbell Press
  • Cross Bench Dips
  • Press-ups

These all have an Incline / Decline variant and as discussed previously Bench Press can be done with Dumbells as well as a Barbell and in fact when training on your own it is probably advisable to do it that way to avoid dropping the weight on yourself!

The best way to determine which exercise is best is to try them, and variations of them, but I would say that as an integral part of a chest routine they should both exist, in fact I would go out on a limb and say that a routine consisting of just these two exercises would be sufficient to build a good think chest, I will explain.

Bench Press

Laying flat with your feet flat on the floor grip the Barbell evenly at just beyond shoulder width and by that I mean that the inside of your thumb should be just outside the line of the shoulder this will help to reduce the activation of the Triceps, there are several schools of thought on the arched back situation you often see but I will offer my opinion, a small arch that you could just about slide a flat hand into is fine any more than that and it is too much, lower the weight slowly and under control, do not bounce the weight at the bottom as this could cause damage, push straight up and do not lock out, it is bad for your elbows and besides it just rests the weight on your Triceps as they fight to keep your arm straight against the weight.

Dips

Traditional Dips at a dip bar are very difficult to get wrong as the body is suspended and pretty much just follows it’s own pattern, the trick here is concentration, mind – muscle connection plays a big part in this movement as you are concentrating on moving up by squeezing the pectorals together rather than simply straightening your arms, you will know when you have got it right because your chest will pump up instead of you triceps just feeling like balloons!

Flies

Done with Dumbell in a flat position keep your arms just shy of straight and put a small arc into the movement so instead of simply going straight up and down move your arms from the open position as if you were going to cross them over your chest but obviously stop as they meet at the top of the movement the best way to imagine this is to think about pulling from under your shoulder and toward your sternum as that is the path the muscle will want to naturally take.

Cable Crossovers

These are done on a cable crossover machine (surprise) and are easy to get wrong, it seems that some people are trying to replicate a pressing movement by literally closing and opening the arm at the elbow, this really makes it a Tricep exercise and at best the Pecs just had a stabilising support, You need to imagine the same movement and intent as the Fly but stood up, this exercise also targets the Pectoralis Minor due to you bringing the arms down and across from overhead, once performed right you will know because the resultant pump from both the Major and Minor muscle groups is huge and you will notice it.

Press ups

Photo by Sabel Blanco from Pexels

I would (and do) use this exercise as a warm up, it is a brilliant one to warm up the shoulder joints and the elbows as well as the chest and when performed correct you even get a lot of AB activation as well as some Hip Flexor assistance, the right way to do this is with a flat straight line from your ankles to your shoulders and hands in the same shoulder width position as with Bench Pressing, slowly lower yourself to the ground so that the whole body touches at once not the face or tummy first, and then in one movement the whole body lifts back to the starting position, this is a little rough on the wrists though so make sure to roll them out after each set.

Conclusion

As you can see the two exercises that stand out as having the most activation on the Pectoralis Major are the Bench Press and the Dip as they naturally sit across the muscle girdle and move in the same direction as the muscle can pull, Cable Crossovers are a very close third as they also target the Minor and this will lift your chest up and make it appear bigger over time, I do not subscribe to the Incline / Decline theory because it is so easy to over do, benches just aren’t adjustable enough unless you are lucky, and tend to be too high on incline, moving the stress to the Shoulders and too low on Decline because you have to put one end on a step to achieve it and you end up pushing with you triceps, if it is possible to do so and you are determined to do it, then an incline or decline of no more than 2 inches would suffice more if you have shorter arms to allow for the lever effect, so in the end after being forced to think it through I realised that done correctly Bench Press is a very good exercise and has a good amount of activation across the chest, the trick is to get the hand spacing right and think about the movement rather than the ego boosting weight, because if you go heavy to soon you just recruit every other muscle and leave the Pecs just supporting.

Practice the Preaching ep11

Appreciation through Contrast

So there was a small issue this morning when embarking for my 5k walk, due to an oversight on my part my headphones were flat, I have to admit that I cannot actually remember when I last charged them and being a gadget freak of course I do not own a wired pair that I could have used in their place.

I decided to set off without the aid of music ( I sometimes listen to podcasts and audio books as well ) resigning myself to a walk that would feel longer and more arduous due to the lack of audio input.

The exact opposite happened and I found that without my normal distraction my mind was looking for other ways to stop thinking about the pain in my quads ( I trained legs the day before yesterday and they are sore, I am in agony ) and I was able to take in the scenery around me, I noticed Deer in a field and Rabbits started to cross the path in front of me, what with the birds singing in the trees it would only have taken a brief glimpse of a Disney princess to convince me I was still asleep and I should get up to go for my walk!

The Silence of an empty road

My point is this, I am a materialistic person, I like things, I like stuff, gadgets and watches, computers and cars, but they are hectic, they are thrilling in some cases and high maintenance in others, but without contrast they become noise, just faceless ordinary white noise, we get used to things too quickly and they lose their lustre, so we start looking for new things, shinier and in most cases more expensive, because there is lack of contrast, if we compare like for like we can only look to increase the value of what we have to effect change, if on the other hand you look to balance experiences with polar opposites your appreciation of both sides becomes exponentially heightened, and you will start to see the added value in each with a fresh prospective,

As an example take a concert, you go and see your favourite artist / band and it is loud and busy, you probably get bumped into frequently, and spend what seems like 90 percent of the time with somebody stood on your foot but I bet you still can’t get the smile off your face, you enjoy it and when it comes to an end you are gutted, it is over and you are on your way home, but when you reach home and sit down with the beverage of your choice you really appreciate the quiet and the stillness, it provides the same pleasure as the concert but in a polar opposite way, the same can be said for pretty much anything in life.

Sorry for the quality, digital zoom

The walk this morning, although it actually took longer, as I say my legs are less than optimal, felt like it went by quicker, it was easier somehow as I had been forced out of wireless headphones and the ability to choose which particular rabbit hole I put my consciousness into and I was forced to look at the world outside my front door at arguably one the most peaceful and beautiful times of the day, so if you are feeling tired or bored with your immediate surroundings my suggestion is to get up and pursue if only for a brief moment the exact opposite of your current environment rather than look to increase your experience of the norm, we grow and thrive on change and adaptation, and popping out to the countryside rather than going on the internet to look for a bigger TV will also help you to achieve financial goals, as it is a lot cheaper.

Again, smash it each day 100%, invest in yourself and before you know it you will wake up where you want to be.

Main Photo by sergio souza from Pexels.

Practice the Preaching ep10

So tenth episode, I have to confess that I wasn’t that sure where I was going with the episode idea but it seems to have worked out fairly well, there is an odd sense of obligation when you have stated in print for the world to see ( or at least the three followers I had at the time one of which was me and another my wife), and in fact I credit a lot of the habits I have built up in the past few weeks to my self-obligated reporting of my progress to you my readers (and the wife).

So I would like to encourage anybody struggling to start a new regime, or move their diet to a healthier one to write down their goals and keep it somewhere they will see it upon waking, although studies have shown that it can be 18 to 254 days to form a habit, in those early formative days you will need the written reinforcement to remind of your goal, bear in mind that if you are working toward productive healthy habits I would be willing to bet there are several bad destructive ones you have to break as well!

So for the first few episodes there are ones missing, some posted late (for various reasons in my defence) and as we go further they become more consistent, when I first started I picked 4:30am as a waking up time because it seemed to give me the right amount of time before work to take care of what I needed to do, and I nearly made it for the first few days but not quite, the snooze button was remarkably easy to find with tired eyes !

Now however I am waking up nearly the entire week before the alarm goes off! much to my wife’s relief she doesn’t need beauty sleep but she does like it !

I thought additionally this morning as it is a Yoga day I would share what YouTube videos I follow below.

I do look at others but have found these two to help the most at my level, and I am progressing quite well.

So keep up all the good work you are doing and always move forward even if it is only a little bit, I have taken quite literally tiny steps in my journey but now on reflection have travelled some distance, just remind yourself everyday of the changes you are making, through a written declaration to yourself and before you know it, they will be second nature and you will start to feel odd if for some reason you can’t complete a workout or study session, this in turn will make those activities more pleasurable and once you start to enjoy something you start to absorb it.

Practice the Preaching ep4

What the hell is going on? For some reason I seem to have completely lost the ability to get up at 4:30 and do anything other than turn the alarm off!

It could well be linked to this cold I have had now for about a week, it is on it’s way out but still……

I did still manage to do a run/walk at 5:45 for a kilometre and a half, and haven’t wandered into the illness induced gluttony that I would have not that long ago!

So no great revelation today other than I can’t bang on about persistence in the face of adversity and then go quiet on days when I can’t be arsed, or claim I ran a half marathon when infact I was wrapped in a blanket and the only exercise was tapping the screen to post this post.

Onward and upward (albeit whining about being ill and shuffling along to show everybody that I am not well)

Practice the Preaching ep3

Ok so this morning was a prime example of a perfect storm, I was up late and I had to be in work very early for a change that I was implementing, so as I have said in the past I had to prioritise, ultimately bread on the table always has to win, all other efforts are to support this not in spite of this so there was no walk, no hour of cardio followed by half hour of Yoga, I followed my emergency morning routine.

  • Planks on front, both sides and back held for a minute each.
  • Seated splits stretch held for a minute
  • forward fold held for (you guessed it) a minute
  • Bridge pose held for a minute
  • And finally deep goddess pose ( I wish it was a little more manly ) held for a minute

This is by no means a comprehensive workout but it does help to wake the body up and not let it get even remotely comfortable with the idea of a sedentary life again, remember every time you do something you reinforce it and eventually it becomes habit and then second nature.

Practice the Preaching ep1

As a counterbalance to the vast majority of these types of sites where readers get preached at and are then subject to perfectly timed updates about the authors activities seemingly agnostic of time and the requirement for sleep, I am starting this series of mini posts (they will all be a lot shorter than this one) to catalogue my progress, because I believe each time we do one thing toward a goal no matter how small it is progress.

So if one is late then I probably did it late, if one is missed I probably had something to do other than yoga for instance, but I will try and make them as close to the time I complete the progress as I can, they will never be on a timed publish to appear that I am up at 5.00am when in fact I am tucked up in bed with my cuddly toys counting sheep!

So for this morning, I am going to do 10 minute Yoga routine for flexibility (I am 43 and really need that), a 10 minute Yoga routine for core and pelvic strength (see reason above) and then for cardio I will put in a 45 min power walk (just going quicker than usual with the family dog)

See you all later!