It is no secret that chest days are the most popular days in the gym. Usually done on a Monday according to most workout splits, a good chest day can mean a good week of walking around with the confidence of a good pump. Pectoral muscles also need simple training with easy-to-learn forms and a few basic exercises that most people tend to enjoy. Bench presses, dumbbell presses, cable crossovers and push ups make up for most of it.
But it can also get monotonous after a point. Stimulus to any muscle needs to keep changing with different challenges and new exercises over time for it to keep developing. With the chest being so closely associated with shoulder exercises, it is important to focus on the right form and push so that the right area of the muscle can be targeted.
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Here are five ways you can make your chest day better with minor adjustments that can lead to major gains.
The underhand press
An alternative or an addition to the incline bench or dumbell press is the underhand press. This is a proven move that is extremely effective in activating the upper chest fibres. “The regular grip bench press uses more of the lower and middle pec muscle fibers. One study shows that muscle activity of the upper pectoralis increased by 30% when using the reverse grip as opposed to the regular overhand grip,” writes Jim Stoppani in an article for bodybuilding.com. Stoppani is a Connecticut-based health consultant who also has a doctorate in exercise physiology.
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The reverse grip or underhand press will not allow you to load too much weight due to the lack of stability at the bottom of the exercise (the point where you must start pushing the weight back up using your chest muscles). So a gym-buddy may really come in handy for this one until you find a weight which you can regularly do and slowly increase.
Partial bench press reps on a squat rack
A squat rack (or a power rack) will allow you to add safety bolts so that the bar does not travel beyond one point. Align your bench under the rack and make sure the stoppers are locked in place so that your range of motion isn’t affected by the lack of a spotter, trainer or gym-buddy. The bar will simply stop traveling lower than the point where you need support from someone, which means you can do heavier weights.
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Adjust the stoppers in such a way that you can work on partial reps where you don’t go all the way down but still manage to get a few reps in. Now there is an entire argument about partial reps vs full range of motion reps, but it is totally okay to add a partial-rep exercise to your routine to focus on specific areas of your large muscles.
One arm cable crossovers
Also called the single arm hammer chest press, this exercise will ensure that your arm crosses the chest’s mid-line while pulling the weight, giving a full contraction and stretch to your mid-chest and lower pecs. Most people stop their range of motion as soon as both hands are about to meet in the middle during a conventional two-arm cable crossover. The one-arm version will ensure that you can focus more on your chest than your core.
Add these reps immediately after an incline or a flat bench press and that way you’ll work your entire chest. Happy super-setting.
Dips are a brutal bodyweight exercise but they give a pump unlike any other to the upper body. Mostly used during tricep training, a slight change to the angle of your body will make a huge difference in terms of adding load to the chests instead of the triceps.
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When you’re on top, at the start of the exercise on a dip machine/rack, make sure you align your body to lean forward a bit and look down, immediately shifting the weight to the chest. You will be able to lift more easily due to a large muscle being activated to push, which will allow you to add weights to a strap and overload.
Push up variations
Push ups are the building blocks of any kind of workout. And over time, especially for those in intermediate to advanced training levels, they become too easy for the body to really benefit. That doesn’t mean you should give up on them. There are dozens of variations to go through to make these more effective, the easiest being weighted push ups. There can be broken down into twisting push ups, diamond push ups and incline push ups. If you want to add some explosive training, there’s always the jumping push up or the clapping push up. The list is endless. The lesson however, is to recognise when conventional push ups have become too easy, and then make sure you add challenges every week to keep the exercise fresh.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.