Chest Not Growing?
Chest won't grow? I've been there.
The majority of guys that take their training and dieting seriously are able to stack on size and strength to their biceps, triceps & deltoids without a problem... but when it comes to chest the same cannot be said.
Hell, look around next time you're in the gym.
The majority of guys have underdeveloped chests and overdeveloped deltoids.
It's certainly not due to skipping their workout as the international chest day phenomenon continues strong.
Below you'll find the 4 reasons why your chest won't grow along with the chest workout and training principles that worked for me.
You're Bouncing the Barbell
Form always takes priority over the weight being lifted.
Whether this is being done out of habit or because the weight is too heavy to lift with strict form I don’t know, what I do know is that by bouncing the barbell off your chest at the bottom of your flat and incline barbell bench presses you’re taking tension off the muscle and essentially performing a half rep.
The bottom portion of the exercise is by far the hardest and is only working the chest, the easier upper half of the bench press utilizes the triceps more to a degree.
If you’re only performing the top portion of the bench press you won’t be placing anywhere near enough tension on your chest to build decent size or strength.
Drop the weight and practise strict form if you’re lifting too heavy.
If you’re bouncing the barbell out of habit opt to perform pause reps (perform an isometric hold at the bottom of the movement for 1 second before powering the barbell back up).
You're Performing Too Many Isolation Exercises
The chest, like all muscle groups benefits greatly from heavy compound movements – not super lightweight isolation exercises.
Double digit sets of cable cross-overs, decline dumbbell flies and close grip plate pinches aren’t going to give you much more than a big pump (and as we know the ‘pump’ isn’t linked to muscle growth).
Emphasis should be placed on the primary mass movers such as the barbell bench press, incline bench press, dumbbell bench press, incline dumbbell bench press and dips (weighted if possible).
Get strong on these major movers and you’ll never have to worry about the size of your chest, I’ve never seen a gym-goer repping over 225lbs on the barbell that had a small chest.
By focusing on ‘pump up’ exercises you’ll get the immediate thick, full chest look which is great for an event or a photoshoot but not for long term strength and size gains.
You're Pressing With Incorrect Elbow Placement
Incorrect form, when coupled with heavy weight is a recipe for disaster – with weeks outside of the gym the usual outcome.
When performing the barbell bench press many gym-goers unrack the barbell and start repping, however as they start to get to those last few reps they flare their elbows out in order to recruit more assistance from the shoulders.
Flaring your elbows is a sure-fire way to impinge your shoulder (which from my own experience can take months to properly recover!).
Tucking your elbows in too close to your side however (with a narrow grip) will place greater emphasis on the triceps than the chest and will leave you with far less stability when dealing with heavy weight.
You're Lifting In An Inefficient Rep Range
By default the standard chest day workout routine tends to consist of 3 sets of 10 reps on the bench press and a handful of isolation exercises.
10 reps is NOT the best way to build muscle.
I personally recommend working within the 4 – 7 rep range for all of your major lifts.
Regardless of whether you are in a cutting or bulking phase your workout does not need to change at all, you won’t get increased vascularity or striations by performing a higher number of repetitions, that’s a load of crap. I keep my rep structure the same all year round and simply manipulate my caloric intake based on whether I want to gain mass (calorie surplus) or burn fat (calorie deficit).
I’m certainly not the first person to advocate lifting heavy for fewer reps…
“If you must use dumbbells for daily training, use heavy ones with fewer repetitions rather than light bells with numerous repetitions” – Arthur Saxon, 1906
If you don’t generally train in the lower rep range I recommend you give it a try, stop lifting in the 10 – 15 rep range for at least a month and focus on heavy, low rep sets. Once you start to see results you won’t want to go back.
Now, you may still think high reps are beneficial, but let me tell you they’re far from it.
High repetitions result in increased stress on your CNS, increase in localized inflammation and increased soreness.
“Movements or exercises that do not give the muscle the required resistance, but are the kind that involve a great number of repetitions, never break down any tissue, to speak of. These movements involve a forcing process that cause the blood to swell up the muscle, and simply pump them up”– George F. Jowett, 1926
So should you discard higher rep training completely?
Smaller muscle groups such as the calves and biceps from my experience respond better to a slightly higher rep range (8-12).
Chest Not Growing? Focus On This Exercise...
"SJ, what's so good about this particular exercise? Why not a different pressing movement?"
The Incline Barbell Bench Press Targets the Upper Chest
When it comes to building an aesthetic chest the upper portion of the chest, targeted by performing incline presses is king.
A large upper chest gives the full, pumped chest look that most guys are after. Meanwhile too much work on the decline bench can lead to a droopy looking chest due too much lower chest development.
The Incline Barbell Bench Press is Safe For Heavy Lifting
Unlike exercises such as the fly and lateral raise which are downright dangerous to perform at heavy weight as keeping correct form is near impossible the incline barbell bench press is not a problem.
Provided you have good form, a spotter or the rails set up correctly in a power rack you’re good to go!
There’s Endless Progression With the Incline Barbell Bench Press
6 years ago I struggled to bench press an olympic barbell without any weight on it.
Today my incline barbell bench press is continuing to progress in weight while my chest continues to grow.
This is not an exercise you need to ‘cycle in and out of your routine’ like fitness magazines and personal trainers tell you – the incline barbell bench press is, in my mind undoubtedly the best bang for your buck chest exercise that you can continue to progress on.
Performing The Incline Barbell Bench Press...
Set up an incline bench in front of a weight rack, making sure you adjust the incline to a comfortable position. The back of the bench should be facing the weight stack.
Sit on the bench placing your back firmly against the backrest.
Using an overhand grip, grasp the bar with your hands spaced about twice your shoulder width apart.
Lift the bar from the rack by pushing up with your chest muscles and hold it straight over your chest with your arms fully extended. This is the start position.
As you inhale, lower the barbell slowly until it touches your upper chest.
Hold for a count of one while squeezing your chest muscles.
Return to the start position as you exhale, pushing the bar using your chest muscles. Hold for a count of one.
Putting It All Together... 2 Chest Workouts For Growth!
Incline barbell bench press – 4 sets – 4 – 6 reps
Incline dumbbell bench press – 4 sets – 4 – 6 reps
Weighted dips – 3 sets – 6 – 8 reps
Push-ups – 2 sets – ’till failure
Incline barbell bench press – 5 sets – 4 – 6 reps
Incline dumbbell bench press – 5 sets – 4 – 6 reps
Incline dumbbell Flyes – 2 sets – 4 – 6 reps
Weighted dips – 2 sets – 6 – 8 reps
Have You Hit A Plateau? Chest Not Growing? Let Me Know Below!