As anyone who’s ever queued for the bench press knows, men obsess over the size of their chest. So much so that, in the right (or wrong, depending on your leanings) circles, Monday is known as International Chest Day.
The reason for its popularity, and why it’s now time for you to invest in your chest, is the potential for major gains in both strength and size. The strength is transferable across your entire upper body, elevating your performance in the gym, on the sports field, or simply on heavy lifting duty around the house.
The size puffs out your chest both physically and metaphorically. And, when combined with the correct styling tips, earns you a confidence boost that extends to life both inside and outside the gym.
Here’s how to make the most of every muscle fibre and get maximum payback from the time you spend on your pecs. Start flexin’.
Press To Impress
As the bros know, shirt-stretching pectorals are built around the bench press. “It’s known as one of the ‘big four’ – along with squats, deadlifts and pull-ups – and is a compound exercise that’s the holy grail of working your pecs,” says Brett Durney, from Soho Fitness Labs. It works your chest through its full range of motion, maxing out muscle activation to stimulate growth.
However, pumping out reps doesn’t guarantee a chiselled chest. There are a set of dos and don’ts you need to get right first.
Don’t: Add Weight You Can’t Lift Under Control
More weight normally means more muscle, but it’s a beginner’s error to overload the bar. You’ll probably find a way to finish the rep, but that’s because your body naturally recruits other muscles and joints to finish the job.
A boost to your ego? Yes. A boost to your chest? Not so much.
Do: Imprint Your Back
Lifting heavy naturally encourages you to arch your back to assist with momentum, which makes reps easier. But easy doesn’t build muscle. Not only does this arch put your back at risk of injury, you also shift the focus away from your chest.
By using ‘imprint’ – a Pilates technique where you push your lower back into the bench – you ensure the entire rep hits your chest.
Don’t: Go Too Fast
Scan any gym and there’ll be some guy pounding out reps like he’s got somewhere else to be. But move the weight too fast and you limit the time under tension (when the muscle is engaged during the rep), which in turn impacts how much the fibres tear and repair.
Instead, lower every rep over three seconds to really test your strength.
Do: Contract The Muscle
When pushing to the top of your rep, a PT-grade trick is to imagine your elbow creases want to come together and touch. “This cue makes you contract your chest muscles a lot more, therefore providing a more effective lift,” explains Durney.
Don’t: Go It Alone
Working out with a training partner, or asking the guy next to you for a spot, allows you to safely lift to failure – where you’re physically unable to complete another rep. This exhaustion triggers an all-natural hormone boost that guarantees growth.
You Don’t Make A Big Chest Lying Down
It’s not all about the bench. For all-over size, you need to hit the spots the barbell can’t.
Attack All Angles
“Your chest is made up of two muscles: the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor,” says Durney. “Both contribute to all chest movements and help further define your muscle growth.”
You can secure size across each by changing the angle of your lifts and introducing both incline and decline bench press to your programme.
Be A Super Man
Change the stimulus of your training as much as possible and you’ll shock your muscles into new growth.
“Try supersetting your bench with press-ups,” says Durney. The extra reps and strain on your muscles will wake up even the sleepiest regime. Especially since there are innumerable variations of press-ups for you to explore to outwit workout boredom.
When building a muscular chest, bulking is only half the battle. Fat loss can prove problematic. “It’s thought that high levels of oestrogen from food sources such as processed foods contribute to this problem,” says Durney.
As does stress. Get out of work earlier, get in the gym more and finish with food you’ve cooked yourself; you’ll boost testosterone and suppress oestrogen to reverse your issue and reveal the honed upper body you covet.
Dress The Part
An A-list chest doesn’t come in Hollywood makeover time. Which is where deploying the proper styling tips comes in. Because if your idea of showing off your chest is reaching for a deep-V tee, then you’re doing it all wrong.
If you want to shift the emphasis up top, eyes need to be drawn there first.
“Wear lighter shades above the waist, bigger block prints, horizontal stripes, pockets on the pecs, chunkier textures and layer,” says Giles Farnham, head of River Island’s style studio.
The Right Lines
Contrary to popular conception, the higher the better. “For a wider, weightier illusion opt for crew necks and buttoned collars, which block off the chest,” says Farnham. This creates an illusion of width.
Textures are king. “A chunky stitched knit in a lighter shade than your bottom half that sits slim to your torso will enhance your inverted-triangle body shape,” says Farnham.
“And blazers; look for flecked finishes, sturdier wool fabrications and wider lapels to offer detail and create a stockier illusion – and stick to slim or skinny cuts.”
Make A Stand
Finally, be aware of your posture. Imagine trying to pin your shoulder blades back and down to meet in the middle of your back. This will at once both widen and heighten your chest – as well as taking the pain away from postural problem associated with rounded shoulders – for the quickest way to add inches to your chest.
Combine these pointers and you’ll earn on-point pecs that’ll inflate your shirt as well as your ego. But remember: you may be proud, but making them ‘dance’ like Terry Crews is an absolute no. Sorry.