Most trainees blast their chest with endless exercises and techniques every Monday. They start with the bench press. They finish their sets with negatives, forced reps, squeezing at the lockout, and other advanced techniques. They then proceed to incline presses, flies, and maybe some dips. They may add a cable crossover to really etch in the details.
They work with many sets and rep ranges to address every fiber and generate as much lactic acid as possible to spur growth. They mix it up with free weights, machines, and maybe even gymnastics rings. They make sure to hit the chest with all the exercises, angles, and positions. They strike side poses for the mirrors, jiggle their pecs between sets, or admit that they work their chests only to make their breasts look larger. Everyone whom trains wants a huge chest, yet most struggle to bench press a paltry anything above their bodyweight.
While such routines will result in sore chests for the rest of the week, most will have no progress to show for such a program. Evidence shows that load and effort lead to max muscle recruitment of the chest. Using awkward angles to hit different parts of the chest can harm your joints, reduces the weight possible, and goes against your anatomy.
Muscle appearance comes from genetics, not exercise selection. Adding size reveals shape. As a fan-shaped muscle, exercises may have slight differences in activation for the chest but only when used with very light weights. Once you go heavy enough to add size and strength on the right exercise, every fiber that can play a role will.
Middle, inner, and outer fibers cannot be emphasized. The lower chest fibers attach from the shoulder to the sternum or the ribs, and the upper chest fibers attach from the shoulder to the clavicle. They run all the way across as opposed to separating into segments. This calls into doubt that emphasis can occur. Imagine pulling on one end of an attached rope. How could you possibly make it taut in just a specific area?
The upper and lower chest is a real division though. The sternal or lower portion of the chest assists on pulling movements, while the upper chest can aid with shoulder flexion. Both parts work on horizontal arm abduction, which occurs when you push on something, like a barbell while lying on a flat bench for example. This joint motion hits the whole chest. This argument is the same to the parts of the trapezius coming together for shoulder extension.
Any time you work your chest, you either work the fibers at a weaker or stronger length throughout the range of motion. Your muscles work best at the mid-range, forming more connections here due to optimal overlap. This point occurs with your arm slightly behind your shoulder. As you start to move away from this point, the sites that allow connections either overcrowd or move too far apart. This means that although you may feel stronger at the endpoints due to leverage, these positions always involve less tension. Tension is the main stimulus for size and strength.
Many of the classic chest exercises work poorly. They force you into weaker positions and place awkward forces on the joints. Dips and decline presses, used to carve the lower line of the chest, can harm you due to the depression of the shoulder. Incline pressing can cause shoulder impingement similar to overhead pressing. The fly has at least a couple problems. It externally rotates the shoulder too much, putting strain especially at the bottom. The weights drift too far away from your body precisely when your muscles grow weak due to the stretch.
When you hold a weight far away from you, it feels heavier. This explains why lateral raises feel so difficult even with light weights. Take your arm and extend your hand out far in front of you as if reaching for something. Notice how hard your shoulder has to work versus when it stays closer to your torso. The maximum moment arm should match where the muscle operates strongest. This happens precisely on a bench press. When the bar is about halfway down, you will have close to a 90° bend at the elbow, with the elbows furthest away from your chest.
The flat bench press works both portions of the chest, protects the shoulder, and matches the moment arm perfectly. You also get the benefits of a major compound exercise, including less joint strain and more muscle activation. It stimulates the triceps, shoulders, scapular protractors, core, neck, and many more.
Get a big chest by pushing heavy weights. The bench press with good form works best. The dip while leaning forward and a push-up can work too, but the dip can hurt the shoulders and the push-up fails to allow heavy enough weights as you progress. Make sure you use a medium grip. This will activate the chest evenly along with the shoulders and arms.
Issues with the bench press come from using poor form and in some cases too much range of motion. Some will need to limit the range of motion at the bottom. Those with smaller torsos and longer arms will find that touching the chest with the bar can strain the shoulder. As long as the arms just break past the shoulders on the way down, you have enough range of motion.
Growing up, I got compliments on my big chest. Any time while wearing a trusty gray t-shirt, I imagined wearing a battlesuit of bulletproof muscle and endless hair that could repel all but the most advanced ballistics. I started off bigger than most, inheriting my dad’s ginormous torso. I developed it much further by bench pressing 290 for 7 reps. This heavy poundage grew my chest and not the diversity of exercise. My growth always mirrored my strength. I worked hard, but always had this potential within me.
Many possess less ideal structures and their chest reflects it. Everyone can improve but you have to keep in mind your original level. Lift to get better against yourself and not another person. Act smartly and patiently and you can achieve far greater than you dream.
Make sure you eat enough and rest well to grow your chest. Most trainees stimulate growth, but fail to realize it due to these factors. They expect to magically grow larger chests while not consuming enough calories and overtraining. Bench press in the heaviest but safest manner possible for a big chest and account for diet and rest to get the best results you can.