“Maybe after seeing some photos of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime bodybuilding days, you’ve decided you want to build up your chest,” says Marc Perry, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., founder of BuiltLean.
Not a bad idea. After all, some men stand a bit taller and prouder when they’ve developed a pair of muscular pecs.
But what exercises, exactly, help you build your chest the fastest? And how often should you train your chest?
“While the bodybuilding approach of ‘chest day’ is conventional wisdom, it may not be the optimal method to gain muscle mass,” Perry says. In fact, research shows training your muscles more frequently yields greater gains, as long as you’re not overtraining.
So: Work your pecs more than once a week using the exercises on the following slides. If you choose to create your own chest routine that seriously maximizes muscle growth, Perry suggests keeping these research-backed principles in mind:
- Do multiple sets per exercise
- Perform some sets to muscle failure
- Make sure your exercises are varied in a multiplanar, multiangled fashion to ensure the most stimulation of all muscle fibers
- Employ a repetition range of 6–12 reps per set
- Use rest intervals of 60–90 seconds between sets
- Complete concentric reps at fast to moderate speeds (1–3 seconds) and eccentric reps at slightly slower speeds (2–4 seconds)
“If you currently work out three days a week, you can hit your chest every workout,” Perry says. “The goal is to hit your pecs just enough so you can recover in time for your next workout.”
The sweet spot is a total of five sets with a compound movement. (You can also consider adding a finisher after each workout, like a few sets of cable crossovers, pec deck, pushups, wide-grip dips, or racked kettlebell carries to failure. More on those in the slides that follow.)
Perry suggests first aiming for five sets of 12 reps of a compound chest move—like a bench press variation—when you’re adding them to a full-body routine (you may only get to five reps on the last set, which is fine). If you’re trying to build a bigger chest, you want to hit these muscles when you’re fresh to see the fastest results and biggest impact.
If you’re not a DIY guy, don’t worry: on the last slide, you’ll find a dedicated chest day workout that’s already optimized for the biggest benefits.
Final note: “Keep in mind, while building your chest muscles can make you appear bigger and stronger, your grip strength, core, and glutes are far more important for developing maximal strength, power, and function,” Perry says.
Pecs can sometimes be overdeveloped if you put all your efforts on them, so keep that in mind as you build your routine. “But if you’re lacking in chest strength and muscularity, these 10 exercises will help your chest grow—no doubt about it,” Perry concludes.