Chest Training Mistakes!
Chest Mondays are a universal phenomenon, with men flocking to the gym to get their weekly 'chest pump' on.
Set after set, hours upon hours are spent trying to build a chest that resembled Arnold's in the golden era of bodybuilding...
Yet, many guys fail to see any growth in terms of size and strength in their chest and often hit lengthy plateaus... this post outlines the 4 biggest chest training mistakes I see (that I also used to make!).
Believe it or not building a solid chest is far easier than it is made out to be
Chest Training Mistake #1
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).
Chest Training Mistake #2
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.
If you've been performing excessive isolation on your chest day give this sample chest workout a try:
Incline barbell bench press - 4 sets - 4 - 6 reps
Flat dumbbell bench press - 4 sets - 4 - 6 reps
Weighted dips - 3 sets - 6 - 8 reps
Push-ups - 2 sets - 'till failure
Chest Training Mistake #3
Elbow Placement on Pressing Movements
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.
Use the right weight, don't try sacrifice form on your last few reps and risk a shoulder impingement just to add a few more pounds to the bar.
Chest Training Mistake #4
Wrong 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).