Chest Training For Beginners
Let’s face it:
Building a solid chest is a goal of many trainees. Plus, with the popularity of the bench press, most new gym-goers head straight for chest training when they first get started.
The problem is, effective chest training is about more than simply bench pressing. Understanding the muscle group and what functions it has will make the entire process much more productive.
To that end, we’ve put together this beginners’ chest training guide. In it, you’ll learn everything you need to know to get started right away.
Let’s dive in...
Chest Anatomy And Function
The chest is a two-headed muscle group located on your torso's upper front part, above your stomach. The clavicular head refers to the upper portion of the chest. It originates on the clavicle (hence its name) and inserts into the humerus (the larger upper arm bone).
The sternal head refers to the middle and lower portion of the chest and makes up most of the muscle group. It primarily originates from the sternum and six primary costal cartilages. Similar to the clavicular head, it also inserts into the humerus.
Both heads of the chest work together in activities like throwing, lifting something off the floor, pressing weights, and adducting our arms (such as when we hug someone).
Depending on our arms' position and the angle at which we do activities, we can emphasize different regions of the chest. For instance, chest pressing on an incline bench allows us to emphasize the chest's upper portion. In contrast, doing an exercise like the dip enables us to better train the fibers of the lower region.
Upper And Lower Chest: Do We Need to Focus On Each?
After reading the previous point, you might be thinking:
“Well, do I need to do several exercises to emphasize different portions of my chest?”
For the most part, you don’t. While certain movements better emphasize specific portions of your chest, you don’t need to do them for overall development. As a beginner, focusing on core movements like the barbell bench press, push-up, and dip will deliver exceptional results.
With that said, there will come the point (years down the road) when you might notice that some part of your chest is lagging. For many, that’s the upper chest. You can then start doing dedicated upper chest training like incline pressing and low-to-high cable chest flyes.
But unless you’re incredibly serious about complete muscular development and possibly plan on stepping on a bodybuilding stage, you shouldn’t worry much about this. Your chest will look incredible to the average person in any case.
With that said, optimal development will come from a varied approach that allows you to train your chest from multiple angles and with different movement patterns. We’ll look at the details of this below.
Five Ways to Boost Your Chest Training Right Away
- Use a Variety of Movements
As discussed in one of the previous points, the chest has several functions in the body, and we should perform a variety of movements to develop it completely. In general, there are two movement patterns you should include in your training:
- A push, such as push-ups, barbell bench press, and dips
- A fly, such as machine cable flyes and resistance band flyes
Your pushing exercises should make the bulk of your chest training because they deliver most of the results, and you can cause a significant overload with them. For instance, it’s not uncommon to eventually bench press well into the 200, 300, or even 400-pound range.
In contrast, fly movements should serve as isolating exercises that help further develop your chest and allow you to accumulate enough training volume. Plus, they offer a nice way to vary your training and remain engaged.
Flat barbell bench press - 3 sets of 4 to 8 reps
Incline dumbbell press - 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
Machine cable chest fly - 3 sets of 12 to 20 reps
- Emphasize Different Portions of Your Chest
In general, we can split the chest into three distinct regions - the upper, middle, and lower pectoral. Compound exercises like the bench press will do an excellent job of developing all three portions well. But, if you’re looking for optimal development, you need to attack the muscle group from different angles.
Specifically, you should perform activities that have your arms go up, straight ahead, and down relative to your torso. These include movements like:
- Incline press
- Flat press
- Decline press or dip
Because of the upper chest’s position and function, incline exercises help emphasize it. Research finds that an incline of 30 to 45 degrees appears best for the upper chest. Still, it’s good to experiment and see what works best for you.
Flat pressing is your most straightforward option. Simply do exercises like the push-up and bench press, and you’ll do great. If you plan to use a barbell, you should experiment to see what grip width allows you to activate your chest better. For most people, slightly outside shoulder width works great.
And finally, decline pressing and dips effectively stimulate the lower chest region, allowing you to achieve complete development in the long run.
- Do Enough Volume
Research finds a strong correlation between our training volume (the amount of training we do for a given muscle group) and muscle growth. Simply put, the more training we do, the more growth we get to enjoy. This is up to a point, of course. We can’t do endless amounts of activity and grow infinitely.
In general, research finds somewhere between ten and sixteen weekly sets to be effective for most people. For example, four sets for flat bench press, four sets for incline, four sets for dips, and four sets for chest flyes.
It’s also a good idea to split your weekly training volume into two workouts, as studies find that training our muscles twice per week might be more beneficial. For example:
Monday - 8 sets of chest
Thursday - 8 sets of chest
- Feel Your Chest Work On Each Repetition
The mind-muscle connection is a bit of a controversial topic, and little research has managed to find significant benefits to it.
But, intuitively, we all know that for our training to stimulate the correct muscles, we need to feel them working. This is quite true for the chest because changes in technique (be it because of fatigue, trying to lift too much weight, or something else) can lead to lesser chest activation. Instead, we might emphasize other muscles like our triceps and anterior deltoids.
So, keep this in mind as you train your chest. Regardless of the exercise or how much you’re lifting, make it a point to feel your chest work.
This alone can make a massive difference in the long run and allow you to build a stronger and more developed chest.
- Track Your Progress
The primary difference between training and exercising is overload. In other words, exercising is about raising your heart rate and staying healthy. Training is similar, but you do activities to get better over time.
In the context of training for strength and muscle growth, tracking your progress is vital because it helps you stay on the right track. If things go well, you know that your training is sound and you don’t need to change anything.
If things go poorly, you understand that your training needs improvements. For example, you might need to change some movements, do more volume, train more frequently, or something else.
Chest training is one thing. But if you’re also interested in grabbing some fresh gym attire, head over to our shop to see what we can offer. Specifically, we offer some of the best gym leggings online.