Imagine this; you’re meeting someone for the first time, face to face. Upon first glance, your eyes are immediately directed towards their chest. You fight the temptation, in order to keep eye contact, but realise the pull towards the chest area is very strong. Upon reading this, you may be confused as to whether I’m referring to a guy or to a girl. It doesn’t really matter anymore, as a guy can easily have an impressive chest as a girl can. Besides the artificial means, the way to get a nice, sculpted, full and firm chest required the same protocol, through weight training. Tightening up the chest muscles is not as difficult as people think; building the chest muscles may come easy at first, then past a certain point, the gains are slower and slower. Consistency and progression is important, as is rest and recuperation...and let us not forget exercise technique and program structure. The following are certain pointers to keep in mind when training the pectorals (chest muscles) to get them to an impressive level, and to keep them there for a long time.
COMPOUND VS ISOLATION MOVEMENTS
The question as to whether compound exercises, such as flat bench presses, incline bench press, dips, pushups, etc. work the chest better than isolation exercises (pec deck, dumbbell flyes, cable crossovers, etc.), has been a question of debate for quite some time amongst avid weight trainers. Here is logic behind both types of exercise movement, so you will be able to better figure out how to integrate both movements in your chest routine.
Compound exercises like the bench/chest press are said to target not only the chest/pectoral muscles, but also the shoulders/deltoids, as well as the arms/triceps. Because of this, beginning weight trainers have difficulty feeling the chest muscle working properly. However true this may be initially, the great thing about compound exercises, is that you are working several muscle groups at the same time, which will give you a more balanced look to your physique, as opposed to just a super developed chest, but no shoulders and arms...does this make sense?
On the other hand, because it is more difficult to fully target the chest muscles with a compound exercise, especially when you are a beginner weight training enthusiast, a more simplified exercise, such as the pec deck machine, will better target the chest muscles. The downside of the direct targeting of a specific muscle is the unbalanced look to your body. If, by using isolation exercises only, you wanted to balance out your body with more shoulders and arms to equal the symmetry of your developing chest, it would take you way more time than just by using one compound exercise that targets everything at one time.
So, what is the best solution to this debate? Do BOTH types of exercise. One compound exercise and one isolation exercise will have you targeting your chest muscles appropriately, while getting a good symmetrical development of the surrounding muscle groups, so you don’t look like you just stuck implants in you.
STIMULATE, NOT ANNIHILATE
For those of you who are type A personalities, or just really masochistic, please take heed. Working your muscles until you cannot move, only to then be sore for an extended period of time, days after the workout, is not too conducive to progressively increasing the work you do in the gym, on a consistent basis, in order to continue to get chest gains. Some muscle soreness is indeed inevitable when you first begin a new workout routine, but this soreness will gradually lessen and lesson as your muscle become adapted to the workload. If you add a change to the workout, such as increasing the weight you use, or perform more sets or repetitions, then yes, you could get some more muscle soreness. However, deliberately, causing your muscle to be sore on a regular basis in an effort to induce muscle growth can actually impede your chest growth results. The main reasons for this is the more you train a muscle, plus allow it to recover, the faster your muscle will grow and you will get results...point, blank, period! If you decide to train the muscle to death every workout, eventually the lack of muscle recovery will catch up to you and lead to overtraining. If you think that you can kill the chest muscles only once a week, then wait the whole week until the muscle soreness goes down, before retraining it to death again, you may not be getting as quick results as you would like... frequency and consistency is the key to developing muscle and tone... at least when we are talking about doing it naturally.
AVOIDING SHOULDER IMPINGEMENTS
Shoulder impingements problems are common amongst weight lifters, and especially amongst weight lifters who only focus on heavy bench presses, while neglecting rowing, in order to even out the posture and avoid rounded shoulders. Shoulder impingements are also a thing for people who do bench presses combined with poorly executed lat pull downs, as both the lats and pec muscle contribute to the rounding of the shoulders, which exacerbate that pinching feeling in the shoulder joint. Combine that with poor flexibility of the lats and pecs, and you have yourself a winning combination, not to mention the inability of the serratus anterior muscle that has stopped firing appropriately, but those of you who like to do partial reps on bench press in order to keep the tension on the pecs.
STRETCHING, SCAPULAR RETRACTION, POSTURE
When you are building the chest, or weight training in general, your muscle will become tighter and tighter over a period of time, because you are creating microtears in the muscle fiber, which, upon healing, cause the muscle to shorten a bit. This is why stretching is important to keep the muscle at its normal resting length. Any shortening of, let’s say, the pecs, will cause the shoulders to round forward slightly, which over time, can cause the shoulder impingement described in the previous section. Aside from this, working the scapula retractors, (ie: the rhomboids and middle traps) will helps tremendously to pull the shoulders back, thereby preventing the forward rounding of the shoulder and ensuing shoulder impingement syndrome...This is all about propter posture. In essence, for proper upper body posture, the ears have to be in alignment with the shoulder joint, which then has to be in alignment (ie : a straight vertical line) with the hip joint, then the ankle joint. Anything off this proper alignment can cause problems in the future.
TRAINING THROUGH A FULL RANGE OF MOTION
Training through a full range of motion for each exercise is essential in helping to keep your posture right, plus it also helps with muscle contractions through the stretch reflex. Your muscles adapt to the range of motion with put them through on a consistent basis, so if you are doing full range of motions, involving a stretching in the muscle before a full contraction, the muscle will be more apt to keep their length (or even get longer) in order to adapt to this range of motion. The same goes if you decide to do partial reps on a consistent basis; your muscles will eventually shorten, and when they get too short, trouble begins....
HIGH FREQUENCY VS HIGH VOLUME TRAINING
As mentioned briefly in a previous section of this article, the more you train, the more results you get, providing you allow for recovery, so it’s better to just do enough effort to stimulate the muscle as opposed to tearing it down too much, where you have to take more time off to recover. Now the question arises as to whether you can just train several exercises for the same muscle group, with several sets and many reps, with quite a heavy weight...this is what is called high volume training. However, with high frequency training, you would train said muscle group, between 3-7 times per week, but with less volume...let’s say one exercise of 2-3 sets, and vary the exercise each workout. In essence, you can take the high volume workouts that you would only do once or twice a week, and spread them out over the week in more frequent, shorter sessions, in order to get more frequent muscle stimulus, leading to faster gains....all the while keeping the same number of set, reps, and weight throughout the week equal as if you were doing them all in one workout!
RECOVERY...HOW MANY DAYS ARE NEEDED?
The rule of thumb I like to use for workout recovery is the following:
Although the average amount of days needed for a particular muscle or muscle group to recover is about 2-3 days, the length of time is extended, if you are doing a more intense and longer workout, and the length of time can be reduced if you are doing a shorter, less intense workout. A good way to gauge this is by your ability to keep up the same amount of repetitions and sets and weight during the next workout. If your capacity is diminished, and/or you feel sore while doing the workout, it may be wise to take another day off. Over time, you will know roughly how much time you need to recover between workouts!
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