Workout Routine- Chest

December 12th, 2006 | Posted in General

I have long arms so developing my chest has always been a struggle. It still lags behind other body parts like arms and shoulders. I am also not very strong on movements like bench press, so the weights are not as heavy as I can do for other muscle groups. Here is my current chest workout. Again, this is a strength/power routine:

Chest Day

Flat Bench Press- 4 sets x 6 reps: I actually prefer to do these with dumbbells but in this routine we were trying to go too heavy for dumbbells. Load your bar with an appropriate weight on a flat press bench. Lay on your back… a slight arch is okay but basically keep your back flat against the bench. Raise the weight off the bench supports and position it over the center of your chest. Keep your shoulders back. Lower the weight toward your chest until your upper arms are just below the point of being parallel with the floor. Pause and explode upwards, pushing with your chest and trying to use as little of your triceps as possible. Your hand position is up to you… the wider you go, the more outer chest is worked and the closer, the more inner chest and tricep is worked.

Bench Press at the top position…

…and at the bottom. My elbows are just lower than my shoulders.

One mistake people often make with the bench press is going too low, touching the bar to your chest or worse yet bouncing it off your chest. That is more of a power movement, and not necessary to building chest size and strength. In fact, going too much deeper than parallel with your upper arms is hard on your shoulders and easily results in injury or long-term shoulder damage.

Dumbbell Incline Press- 4 sets x 6 reps: Sit on an incline bench with the incline set to 30% or so. Take a dumbbell of appropriate weight in each hand. Raise them up and position them with straight arms directly above the upper chest/collar bone. Do not arch your back, keep it flat against the bench. Pull your shoulders back by squeezing your shoulder blades together. Lower both weights at the same time in a controlled manner until your upper arms are again just past the point of being parallel to the floor. Pause and then drive the weights back up pushing with your chest. Touch the ends of the dumbbells together at the top of the movement before descending again.

Flat Bench Flys- 4 sets x 6 reps: Take a dumbbell in each hand, and lay flat on your back on a bench. Extend your arms toward the ceiling with the palms facing each other and knuckles out. Keeping your arms as straight as possible, move the weights away from each other and down towards the floor, opening your arms wide. Don’t allow your hands to go more than a few inches below your shoulders. Keeping your arms straight, bring your hands back together above your chest. Try to contract your inner chest with this movement… imagine there is a pencil in between your pecs and you are trying to squeeze it between them.

Decline Bench Press- 4 sets x 6 reps: Using a decline bench (where your feet are higher than your head), load a bar with the appropriate weight. Like in the bench press, start from an extended arm position and lower the bar toward the lower 1/2 of your chest. You will be able to go deeper with this movement thanks to the angle of your body, but don’t touch the bar to your chest… that’s too deep. Pause and drive the bar back to the top position. This develops the lower chest.

Standing Underhand Cable Crossovers-
4 sets x 6 reps: This is a good movement for developing overall chest size. Using a dual cable machine (one that allows the cables to come from down low) set each side with the same, appropriate weight. With your back to the machine, so you are standing forward and pulling the cable handles forward, stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width, and knees bent slightly. If you are going heavy you can also stagger step, with one foot forward and the other back like a sprinter but not as deep. Your hands are hanging straight down at your sides. Tighten your core (bellybutton in towards your spine), squeeze your shoulder blades together to keep your shoulders back and keep your back as flat as possible. With your palms facing forward, thumbs out, and a slight bend in your arms, lift the handles forward and up from your sides until your wrists cross at chin level. Pause and lower back in a controlled manner.

Dips- A great way to finish off the chest. On a dip machine or bars (one that allows you to hold a bar on each side of your body, parallel to one another), raise yourself into position with arms straight. Cross your ankles, bend your knees and raise your feet behind you toward your butt, leaning forward. Drop slowly until your shoulders are lower than your elbows, then drive yourself back to an almost straight arm position. Don’t “lock out” your arms, but keep them bent a little at the top to keep tension on your chest.

Abs- blah, blah blah.

One of the secrets to building your chest is to keep your shoulders back on all movement. If you allow your shoulders to come forward, they will get too involved in the movement and reduce the effect on your chest. They will also quickly get tired and limit your sets. Imagine puffing out your chest without arching your back.

Tomorrow I will discuss rest, diet, supplements and cardio. Wednesdays are a day off from the gym for me.


  1. paulcapurso says:

    Hey Tom,

    Got a question. I know you will be doing diet but I’m a guy who can’t gain weight. I’ve been 155 lbs. for ever. I eat very healthy as I have stomach issue’s but geez I can’t gain 10 lbs. for nothing and I eat like 6 meals a day. I don’t use the weight gainer shakes because some are packed with sugar. Any tips?

  2. Tom says:

    Paul- You are what is called an “ectomorph”, which is to say you have a body type that tends to be thin, lean and lanky. Sometimes referred to as “hardgainers”, ectomorphs have the hardest time gaining muscle because the have a naturally high metabolism and usually long, thin muscles that make it difficult to overload. If you are looking to add wieght in general, that is easy… just ingest more calories than you burn in a day, and you’ll gain weight. Most of that will be fat, however, unless you do some training as well.

    In general, Ectomorphs need to lift heavy weight with less reps and more rest time to hit the deep muscle fibers they have trouble reaching in order to stimulate growth. Don’t bother with cable or isolation movements… stay with the big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, incline bench, chin ups, military or dumbbell front presses, barbell/DB curls, dips and french presses. Keep your reps to 6-8 and your sets and no more that 12 sets of exercises total per workout. that’s perhaps 4 movements with 3 sets each per workout. Use as heavy a weight as you can with good form. Allow a good 3 minutes between sets… ectomorphs need to slow down and save their energy for the sets themselves. You also need to make sure you let each muscle group recover completely from a workout before working the same group out again… 3 days minimum and I’d suggest once a week.

    Nutritionally you need to eat 5 to 7 small meals a day. Your protein intake should be 1.5 grams per pound of body weight, and no less that 35% of your total calories per day. Carbs should be 45% of your daily calories, and stick to low glycemic carbs like green vegetables, oats, whole wheat pasta and brown rice rather than high glycemic carbs like regular pasta or rice, potatoes, fruits, sugars or processed foods. Try drinking a protein shake about 90 minutes before you go to bed. Drink a lot of water (80 oz. per day) and take a good multivitamin.

    Ectomorphs also tend to be high strung and stressed, with high levels of cortisol (anti-muscle hormone) as a result. Take 15 minutes during each day and find a quiet place to be alone and do some relaxation. Sit quietly, breathing in through your mouth and out through your nose. Start at the top of your head and slowly, consciously relax each body part starting with your forehead, ears, jaw, etc. until your get to your toes. You will be surprised at how tensed up and clenched the average person is when they think they are at rest. This simple technique dramatically reduces stress.

    I was a pure ectomorph in my twenties but as I got older my metabolism slowed down so now I am a cross between an ectomorph and an endomorph (a person prone to fat), so I can relate to having trouble gaining weight. Intensity in the gym, proper rest and eating well are the keys.

  3. paulcapurso says:


    Wow, that’s exactly it! You really know where I’m coming from. Dude your the man!!

    Thank you


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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