The latest muscle group to get slammed in the Lean Warriors workout series is the chest. It’s time to add some strength and size. You ready? Good.
If you’ve read the guide to shoulder muscle growth, then you’ll recall that I recommend you to focus on shoulders over the chest.
While a big chest is great, developed shoulders are even better. You can’t beat the symmetry effect you get from having strong, muscular shoulders.
Add the fact that being lean reveals the cuts and striations, it makes perfect sense to hit your shoulders when you’re well rested. Hit the chest later in the week.
You also don’t need to be shirtless to show off your well developed shoulders. So, make the shoulders your priority. You’ll thank me for this later.
With that said, the chest is still very important to develop. You’ll want to hit it at least once per week. Progress is key just like any other exercise. Get stronger every single week and you’ll build size.
As you’ll see below, the order of exercises I recommend is different from what you’ll normally see out there.
Nearly every guide or program you see wants you to start with the big, compound lifts. However, I don’t recommend that because I prefer being loose and warmed up before lifting.
I got this philosophy from Steve Reeves. On his shoulder days, he always started his workouts with lateral raises. He felt that warming up his lats before moving into heavy presses made him perform better.
If Steve Reeves found this to be the case, then it’s safe to assume he’s correct. He’s the best of the best when it comes to building a lean, natural physique.
Therefore, in this guide you’ll notice that we start with Dumbell Pullovers. Most guides have you doing this last, but we’re starting with this one.
1. Dumbbell Pullovers
Yup. We’re starting with Dumbell Pullovers. It’s a different approach to building the chest, but we do things differently around here.
The pullover is a great way to really open up your chest. This will allow you a better range of motion when you hit the incline bench press for exercise number 2. Here’s an image to give you a visual:
Starting with the pullover is the approach that Steve Reeve’s gave to the shoulders. We want to start with an exercise that gets the blood flowing and primes the muscle for work.
It’s not about preventing injury. Millions of people start with the bench press and they don’t get injured.
This is about opening up your chest and preparing it for the compound lift. You won’t tax your chest with the pullovers. You’ll still be able to hit the bench press with a lot of strength.
You could very well see this first exercise as a warm-up. But, you do want to use a dumbbell that’s heavy enough to work the chest.
If you’ve never done the pullover before, then the form might seem a little weird. It might be difficult for you to get into position.
Find a bench. As seen in the picture, you want to rest your shoulders on the bench with your head hanging off the end. You are supporting your body with the shoulders on the bench and feet firmly planted.
Keep your back straight. And, make sure you have that dumbbell in your hands before you get into position. You’ll have an awkward time grabbing it if you forget!
Once in position, grab the dumbbell with both hands. Hold the dumbbell straight up above your chest with arms extended.
The first move is to lower the dumbbell behind your head with your arms extended, but not locked out. Refer to the picture.
During this first move, you want to inhale and fill up your chest with air. You’ll feel your chest open up as you bring the dumbbell back behind your head.
The second move is to bring the dumbbell back over your head and back to the starting position. Exhale your breath during this second move. You’ll feel your chest contract as you bring the dumbbell back over your belly.
Repeat this movement for about 12 reps. Choose a dumbbell that’s heavy enough for you to do 12 reps without tiring out. But, don’t go super light here. 3 sets is more than enough.
The great thing about dumbbell pullovers is that they greatly increase the flexibility of your arms and shoulders. You’ll notice this improvement as the weeks go by.
2. Incline Bench Press
Now that you’ve opened up the chest and the blood is flowing, it’s time to move to the best mass builder of them all: the incline bench press.
Alternatively, you can do the dumbbell incline press. But, use the barbell if you can. It’s a superior exercise in my opinion. Your safety is important so use dumbbells if your gym doesn’t have a rack with safety collars.
Why the incline bench over the flat? Because the inline bench puts more stress on your chest muscles and less on your shoulders. Flat bench pressing will wear and tear your shoulders over time. You don’t want that.
The incline bench also targets the upper chest a little more than the flat. This is preferred for symmetry purposes. However, the main reason we incline bench is to prevent shoulder injuries. Here’s an image:
I chose this image because it shows the safety collars. You can see those bars on both sides of him that would catch the barbell and protect him. It’s important you lift with safety collars if you’re by yourself and have no spotter.
With safety collars, you can add more and more weight every single week without fear of hurting yourself. This is key for progress. You want to progress your strength until you plateau.
As for the actual bench, I suggest you use the lowest incline setting. That’s the best position. I’ve seen people incline bench at a 45 degree angle and it’s way too much. The lowest is actually correct, a 30 degree or so.
If you’ve never bench pressed before, then start off with the bar. Shoot for 6 reps. If this is easy, then add 10 pounds to each side and do another 6. Still easy? Add another 20 pounds and do 6 more.
Keep adding weight until 6 reps becomes tough. This will be your starting weight the next time you come in to the gym to do incline bench presses.
Because this exercise is strength focused, your goal is to do 3 sets for 6-8 reps. This means you’ll want to pick a weight and do 3 sets with the same weight.
Once you are able to hit 8 reps on the first set, 7 reps on the second set, and 6 reps on the 3rd, you are ready to add 5 more pounds next week.
It’s important that you’re able to hit the 8 rep mark on that first set. You don’t want to get stuck doing 6 reps for all 3 reps. Yes, that’s within the range, but progress will soon stall as you struggle to hit 6 reps on the first set.
So, stick with a weight that you can hit 8 reps with on that first set. Hitting 6 reps on the next 2 sets is perfectly okay.
3. Flat Dumbbell Chest Flyes
Now that you’ve hit the chest with your heaviest sets, head back to the dumbbells for some flat bench flyes.
The dumbbell flye isn’t really a mass builder. That’s the job for the incline bench press. The flye is used to stretch the pectorals and open up the chest. It increases blood flow and adds definition.
Therefore, no chest routine is complete without flyes of some sort. Some people use machines. Others use cables. We’ll stick to dumbbells because it’s simple, and I get triggered when people hog the cable machines 😉
So, head over to the dumbbell rack and grab yourself two dumbbells of moderate weight. If you’re new to this exercise, then start with the 10’s or 12.5’s (serious gyms have dumbbells that increase in 2.5-pound increments).
Here’s an image to give you an idea. It’s pretty straight forward:
Now the way you hold the dumbbells is important. In fact, for any dumbbell exercise, you’ll notice that changing the grip changes the workout.
For example, if you do flyes with the pinky touching the “bottom” of the dumbbell, the dumbbells naturally weight down towards your face.
On the other hand, if you grip the dumbbells with your index fingers and thumbs touching the “top” of the dumbbell, you’ll get a different feel.
The point is that you can mix up your grips with dumbbells to get a different affect.
You can also twist your wrists as you bring the dumbbells together. You’ll get a different contraction in your chest when you do this.
That is the beauty of dumbbells. Lots of different variations can be had just from changing up grips and moving the wrists.
I personally like to twist my wrists during the flyes so that my palms face me when I bring the dumbbells back to the top of the movement.
Give this a try and you’ll feel how your chest contracts differently from the standard movement.
4. Pyramid Push Ups
Time for a nice finisher. This is actually the exercise I do on vacation because it gives a great pump. Perfect for when you have no gym.
Regardless, push ups are great for the chest. You can easily incorporate them into any chest routine. In my opinion, they work best as a finisher, and it doesnt take long to do pump out a few sets.
Pyramid push ups take this to the next level. They are challenging and will push you to your brink.
They hit your chest, your triceps, your back and your shoulders. After a taxing chest workout, these are perfect as a finisher.
I don’t have an image since the push up is rather self-explanatory. In the future I’ll record a video to give you a visual.
There are various methods of the pyramid push up. I have my own which I will explain to you here:
Get into position. Perform 1 push up and hold at the top for 1 second.
Next, do two push ups. Again, hold at the top for 1 second when you complete the two.
Next, do three push ups. Again, hold for 1 second at the top before moving onto the next set of four.
Once you perform the four push up, pause at the top for 1 second. You are now going to reverse the pyramid and head back down to 1 push up.
So, do four push ups again. Pause at the top for 1 second. Now do three push ups, and pause again.
Keep going down until you do that final 1 push up. This is counted as 1 set. Good job! It’s tough if you’re new to it, especially after a tough chest workout with heavy weights.
Depending on your level of strength, you can always increase the pyramid. I sometimes go up to 6 these days. It’s up to you but you want to push yourself here.
If you are terrible at push ups, then do these with your knees touching the floor. Knee push ups are still pretty effective. Do a level 5 pyramid instead of a level 4.
I want to know your thoughts. Please comment below and leave your opinions, questions, additions, etc. Get the discussion going.