October 5, 2004

Weight-Gainer Series: Chest

BY David Bohn ("Fitness")

Well, it wasn’t much of a hot summer, but that was probably the best September we’ve ever seen! I hope that you all made the most of it and got outside, whether it was walking, biking, rollerblading or people watching (you know who you are…).

Now that the weather has gotten cooler, it’s time to rededicate yourself to the club if you are interested in beginning the transformation of your physique; or at least get a little more muscle. When working to gain muscle mass there are a few things that the lifter has to achieve. When lifting, the individual needs to overload the muscle, i.e. fairly heavy weight. Anytime you breakdown muscle from weight lifting, it’s vitally important, especially for you “hard gainers,” to eat within 30 minutes. This meal obviously needs to be protein intensive, with some carbohydrates to help with absorption and along with glutamine and other vitamins, minerals and supplements to help with your rebuilding phase. Lastly, make sure you get enough rest. Size gains actually come from your “off” time, so if you are beginning a heavy phase of your weight lifting program, you really need to try to get around the 8 recommended hours of sleep.
As you get ready to workout your chest, make sure you’ve warmed up properly. Again, this is important to make the muscles and connective tissue more pliable and able to adapt to the heavy load you are about to place on them. Do between 5 – 10 minutes on a stationary bike or treadmill or whatever gets your heart rate up between 65 – 75 % of your Heart Rate Max (HRM). Anytime you plan on going heavy, it’s best to have a spotter, particularly on chest. If you don’t have a spotter, try using a machine so that way if you try to bite off more than you chew, you won’t have a bar dropping on your clavicle or neck.
There are four primary phases to working the chest, with a multitude of variations within those phases: upper chest, middle chest, lower chest and fly exercises. I generally recommend hitting the chest in that order; though for variety’s sake occasionally change that pattern. The reason for that order is most men need to develop their upper chest the most so it is usually best hit that area when you’re fresh. Working too hard on the middle or especially lower chest can cause a man’s chest to grow too far downward, so unless you want manboobs, don’t go hardest on the lowest part of your chest.
For increased variety, people can use the bench and straight bar, dumbbells, and machines. Generally machines allow for the most weight, but dumbbells recruit more ancillary muscle fibers, so again, practice variety.

When looking to add muscle size and strength, the general rule is more sets and fewer reps. Think about going for 3 – 5 sets per exercise of 6 – 10 repetitions; starting around 10 repetitions on the first set and working down to six reps by set four or five. This breakdown means using a weight that forces you to be able to complete only 10 – 8 – 8 – 6 – 6 repetitions at the coinciding set; not simply stopping because you have done the appropriate number of repetitions. Remember you are lifting to fatigue and overload; not always a pleasant feeling but necessary if you want growth. Allow yourself at least a minute to rest so that way you can lift as hard as you can for the following set. Once you have been following this phase for four – six weeks, then you can add splits sets, drop sets, etc. to further compliment your workout and shock the muscles into continued growth. When working on flies, remember to vary the angle of adduction of the arms (arms coming into the body from the side); arms perpendicular to the body, 60 degrees, 45 degrees, 30 degrees and so on (usually when working with cables).

By and large this workout can be done with one exercise per phase, meaning one for upper chest, middle chest, etc. However, if you feel the need to hit the same area twice with a secondary exercise, by all means, go for it. But, that most likely means you didn’t go heavy enough the first time.

Keeping the heavy principles and variations in mind, this program should be a good start to anyone wanting to transition into a mass gaining program. Remember to lift heavy with a spotter, eat enough protein (almost a gram of protein per pound of body weight; yes, that’s a lot!) and allow for enough time to recuperate. Remember that no change of significance is easily achieved; so stay dedicated to your workout and in a few months you could be looking at a new you.