How To Train A Lagging Chest!


Lagging Chest

Most modern day bodybuilders have lagging chests. Their shoulders and triceps are absolutely enormous but their chest usually lags behind the rest of their upper body.

If your chest lags behind the rest of your upper body then your current training program isn’t workout. You need to be more creative and switch things up to build the massive chest that you want!

Introduction

  • Strategy #1: Mechanical Position Of Exercises
  • Strategy #2: Getting Really Weird With It
  • Strategy #3: Exercise Sequences
  • Strategy #4: Training Frequency
  • Strategy #5: High-Intensity Training Techniques

In this comprehensive guide I will teach you 5 of the most important training strategies for bringing up a lagging chest.

Some of the best chest training strategies include using the right mechanical position with your sternum held high on all of your chest exercises, sequencing your exercises correctly and using the right high-intensity training methods like drop sets and iso-holds.

All of these training methods will help you to recruit new muscle fibers in your chest and finally get that chest growth that you are after. After reading this article you will have all the knowledge you need to bring up your lagging chest.

Note: if you have trouble reading the training routines in this article then check out this guide on how to read a training program. Now let’s get down to business…

Strategy #1: Mechanical Position Of Exercises

The most important factor in building a huge chest is using the right mechanical position of exercises. This is a term that I learned from the bodybuilding coach Dante Trudel.

On every chest exercise you want your sternum pushed up and out and your shoulder blades pulled back and down. This places the maximum stretch on your chest throughout the entire range of motion of any chest exercise.

Here is IFBB pro Stan Efferding showing you the correct mechanical position for your chest on the 30 degree incline bench press. Check it out:

Stan is pushing his sternum up as high as possible and pulling his shoulder blades back and down on every single rep. This puts a massive stretch on his chest throughout the entire range of motion and maximizes the recruitment of the muscle fibers in his chest.

Even in the top position of the bench press Stan maintains this mechanical position. This is what you want! As soon as you roll your shoulders forwards on a chest exercise you lose the tension on your chest and move it onto your shoulders and triceps.

Some bodybuilders such as Ronnie Coleman only perform the bottom two-thirds of chest exercises because this is where the most chest growth occurs. Just take a look at Ronnie Coleman repping out 500 pounds on the flat bench press:

Ronnie pretty much ignores the entire top half of the bench press! Why is Ronnie doing this?

The reason is simple: mechanical position of exercises! Ronnie knows that the chest grows best when it is placed in a deep loaded stretched position with his sternum held high so he focuses exclusively on that part of the bench press.

Ronnie Coleman had the second best chest in bodybuilding history (right behind Arnold Schwarzenegger) and I don’t think this is a coincidence.

The truth is you can tweak any chest exercise to make it more effective by forcing your sternum up and your shoulder blades down and back. If you learn to maintain this position during your compound and isolation chest exercises then you will have such the better chest development.

Strategy #2: Getting Really Weird With It!

The most important factor in bringing up a lagging body part is to use the right exercises for your body. If you can’t feel your chest working with your go-to exercises then it doesn’t matter how much volume, frequency or intensity you use: your chest is never going to grow!

So what’s the solution? As Dante Trudel says, the solution is to “get really weird with it.” That means tweaking old exercises and using new exercises where you can actually create tension in your chest.

One of the most overrated chest exercises in the world is the flat bench press. The bench press worked great for Arnold Schwarzenegger but it does very little for most people. Besides, the flat bench is responsible for more upper body injuries than every other exercise combined.

Don’t get me wrong – the flat bench is a great exercise! But if you are trying to bring up your lagging chest then there are better options.

The legendary bodybuilder Dorian Yates was a huge fan of the incline and decline bench press. He used both throughout his career to great effect. Dorian correctly points out that the incline and decline variations train the chest harder while putting less stress on the pec tendons and causing far fewer injuries.

Flat, incline and decline dumbbell presses are also much better choices than the flat bench press. They allow for a much greater range of motion on the chest and actually recruit more motor units and muscle fibers in the chest than the barbell pressing exercises.

However, there is more to chest training than using the same-old, same-old flat / 30 degree incline / 30 degree decline angles. In reality the chest can contract at every angle from steep declines to steep inclines.

If you never experiment with parallel bar dips, 15 degree incline dumbbell presses or 60 degree barbell presses and so on then you are leaving a TON of chest growth on the table.

Here is IFBB pro Ben Pakulski talking about this concept:

Ben correctly points out that the chest can contract through many different angles. If your chest is not growing then you MUST start experimenting with these different angles to work the dormant muscle fibers in your chest.

One of the most popular chest exercises is the dumbbell fly. This exercise lets you get a huge stretch in your chest in the bottom position of the movement. It was also one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s favorite chest exercises.

Unfortunately a lot of people get poor results from this exercise. The bottom position can put a lot of stress on your shoulders and pec tendons and there is very little tension on your pecs in the top position.

A much better option for most bodybuilders is the chain fly as popularized by the bodybuilding coach Josh Bryant. Here is a perfect video demonstration:

This is a perfect example of getting really weird with it! The chains make the exercise lighter in the bottom position where you are weaker and heavier in the top position where you are stronger. In other words the chain fly is ridiculously hard in every single point in the range of motion!

The chains also make the exercise much safer. You can get a HUGE stretch on your pecs without having to worry about bothering your shoulders or pec tendons in the bottom position. I think you will be shocked at how much your chest working the first time you try this exercise.

Strategy #3: Exercise Sequences

Lagging Chest

Let’s say that you are doing everything right in terms of your exercise selection but your chest still won’t grow. You are using the correct mechanical position with your sternum held high and your shoulder blades held down and back so that you get a maximum stretch on your chest on every chest exercise.

You are also “getting really weird with it” and using a wide variety of chest angles / exercises where you can really feel your chest working.

What do you do now? The next step is to make sure that you are sequencing your chest exercises correctly. This is something that John Meadows has perfected in his “Mountain Dog Training” program.

John breaks up his chest workouts into 4 different phases so that he can stimulate as much chest growth as possible while staying injury free:

  • Phase #1: Pre-Pump / Activation Phase
  • Phase #2: Explosive Phase
  • Phase #3: Supra-Maximal Pump Phase
  • Phase #4: Stretch Phase

John starts off his chest workouts with a joint-friendly exercise where he can really feel his chest working. John really likes dumbbell presses and hammer strength machine presses performed at different angles for sets of 8-12 reps.

This first phase is all about establishing a good mind-muscle connection with your chest and pumping blood into the working muscle.

The second phase is called the explosive phase. This is where you perform some heavier sets of 5-8 reps on a “meat and potatoes” chest exercise like the 30 degree incline barbell press. John found through trial and error that he gets better results performing barbell pressing exercises second in his routine after he is already warmed up and pre-fatigued from the first exercise.

After the explosive phase John moves right into the supra-maximal pump phase. John’s goal is to pick and exercise and get the biggest pump possible in his chest.

John loves to perform high-intensity bodybuilding techniques like drop sets, partial reps or iso-holds on the last working set. This is the set where you really go crazy and bust out all the stops.

Finally John finishes his chest workout with an exercise where he can really get a good stretch on the working muscle. Exercises like cable flys, stretch push ups, machine pec-decs and dumbbell presses with manual overpressure in the stretched position are all fair game.

Performing a stretching exercise at the end of your workout after your muscle is already engorged with blood is a great strategy to stimulate even more growth.

There are many great ways to sequence your chest exercises but John’s system is one of the best. It is definitely worth trying if you have a hard time feeling your chest working during big compound exercises like the incline barbell press.

Strategy #4: Training Frequency

We’ve covered the most important chest training strategies like using the correct mechanical position for your chest exercises, getting weird with your exercise selection and sequencing your exercises for maximum growth.

If you are doing all of these things and your chest still isn’t growing then you may need to try some advanced chest training strategies. One of the best strategies for bringing up any lagging body part is increasing your training frequency.

Most advanced bodybuilders train each body part once per week using a typical bodybuilding “bro-split.” For example:

The Typical Bodybuilding Bro-Split

  • Monday: Chest
  • Tuesday: Biceps
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Shoulders / Triceps
  • Saturday: Back
  • Sunday: Off

There is nothing wrong with this kind of low-frequency training split. Most professional bodybuilders use something similar to it. However, if you have a lagging body part then training it once per week may not be the way to go. Let’s look at a few different ways to increase your training frequency.

One of the easiest strategies is to add some extra chest work on one of your other training days. For example:

Bro-Split Lagging Chest Training Split

  • Monday: Chest
  • Tuesday: Biceps
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Thursday: Off
  • Friday: Shoulders / Triceps (Extra Chest)
  • Saturday: Back
  • Sunday: Off

With this split you are adding some extra chest work on your shoulders / triceps day. This can be as simple as adding 1-2 exercises at the end of your workout for relatively higher reps. Even if you keep the weights light this extra training day can be very helpful for bringing up a lagging chest.

John Meadows often uses a similar strategy to bring up a lagging chest. For example:

John Meadows Lagging Chest Training Split

  • Monday: Legs
  • Tuesday: Chest / Shoulders
  • Wednesday: Off
  • Thursday: Back
  • Friday: Chest “Pump” Day
  • Saturday: Arms
  • Sunday: Off

If you work with John and you have a lagging chest then he might have you perform an extra “pump” workout for your chest later in the week. This pump workout would consist of joint-friendly exercises performed for higher reps.

Machine, dumbbell and cable exercises are all fair game for this workout. Heavy barbell exercises like the incline bench press are not!

If you want to ditch your bodybuilding “bro-split” and train each body part more than once a week there are several ways to do so. Dorian Yates used an unconventional training split where he trained each muscle group once every 6 days. Check it out:

The Dorian Yates Training Split 

  • Day 1: Chest / Biceps
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Shoulders / Triceps
  • Day 5: Back / Rear Delts
  • Day 6: Off
  • Day 7: Repeat!

Dorian took the traditional bodybuilding bro-split, combined some of the training days and then eliminated one of the extra rest days. The end result is a training split where you can train each muscle group once every 6 days while still using lots of exercises per muscle group.

Dorian’s training split is like the best of both worlds! If your chest is lagging (or any other body part for that matter) then this can be a great training split for bringing it up.

Another great higher-frequency training split is the 4 day push / pull / legs split. This split is a little weird but it lets you train each muscle group about once every 5 days. For example:

The 4 Day Push / Pull / Legs Split

  • Monday: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps
  • Wednesday: Legs
  • Friday: Back / Biceps
  • Saturday: Chest / Shoulders / Triceps

With this split you just keep rotating through your push, pull and legs workouts. Whatever muscle groups you trained on Monday gets trained again on Saturday.

This split is AWESOME for bodybuilders because it lets you train your lagging muscle groups once every 5 days. It is also easy to perform extra training volume for your weaker body part on this day.

Another great higher-frequency split that you may want to try is the 5-day Poliquin split. For example:

The 5-Day Poliquin Split

  • Day 1: Arms / Shoulders
  • Day 2: Legs
  • Day 3: Off
  • Day 4: Chest / Back
  • Day 5: Off
  • Day 6: Repeat!

With this split you get to train each muscle group once every 5 days. This split also lets you train antagonistic muscle groups together such as your chest and back. This was a favorite strategy of Arnold Schwarzenegger and he seemed to know a thing or two about building a big chest.

Arnold would perform antagonistic supersets with exercises like bench presses and pull ups or dumbbell flyes and cable rows.

The bottom line is there are a TON of different higher-frequency training splits you can use to bring up your lagging chest. You can add some extra chest work later in the week or you can use an entirely new split to train each body part more than once a week.

These higher-frequency splits are not required but they can be very effective for bringing up lagging body parts such as your chest.

Strategy #5: High-Intensity Training Techniques

If you are doing everything right but your chest still won’t grow then your traditional “3 sets of 10” workout just isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to have to train to failure or even beyond failure with different high-intensity training techniques.

The one thing these high-intensity training methods have in common is they all make your chest work harder by prolonging the time under tension of your set after you reach muscular failure.

Here are some of the most effective high-intensity training techniques for bringing up a lagging chest:

  • Pre-Exhaust
  • Post-Exhaust
  • Forced Reps
  • Rest-Pause
  • Extreme Stretching

If these high-intensity training techniques won’t make your chest grow then nothing will! Now let’s take a closer look at them.

High-Intensity Technique #1: The Pre-Exhaust Method

The pre-exhaust method is a high-intensity training technique where you perform an isolation exercise immediately followed by a compound exercise. The isolation exercise lets you isolate the target muscle and the compound exercise lets you overload the muscle with more weight while forcing the target muscle to work hardest and fail first.

Here is a brutal pre-exhaust tri-set that John Meadows had IFBB pro Ken Jackson perform at the end of his chest workout. Check it out:

Here is the exact protocol for this tri-set if you don’t want to watch the whole video:

  • A1: Machine pec dec, 1 x 10-15, 1/0/1/0, no rest
  • A2: Cable fly / chest press**, 1 x 10-15, 1/0/1/0, no rest
  • A3: Decline hammer strength machine against bands, 1 x 10-15, 1/0/1/0, rest as needed

**Perform as a hybrid between a cable fly and a cable chest press

Talk about a brutal tri-set! Ken performs an isolation exercise to failure with some extra forced reps and then immediately moves onto 2 compound chest exercises. This is a great way to make sure you are recruiting your chest during the compound exercises.

High-Intensity Technique #2: The Post-Exhaust Method

The post-exhaust method is pretty much the opposite of the pre-exhaust method. With the post-exhaust method you perform a compound exercise immediately followed by an isolation exercise for the target muscle group.

Research shows that the post-exhaust method actually does a better job of building muscle mass than the pre-exhaust method. It is that powerful!

Here is a sample post-exhaust chest routine that you may want to try. Check it out:

  • A1: 30 degree incline DB press, 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
  • B1: Flat hammer strength press, 3 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
  • B2: Cable crossover (high pulley), 3 x 12-15, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest

The post-exhaust method is used on the last 2 exercises for this routine. You are supersetting the flat hammer strength press with the high-pulley cable crossover. The isolation exercise lets you prolong the total time under tension on your chest after first reaching failure on the compound exercise. T

his is an incredible way to train for bringing up your lagging chest.

High-Intensity Technique #3: Forced Reps

Forced reps are a high-intensity training method where your training partner helps you perform 1-3 extra reps on an exercise after you reach muscular failure. Your training partner helps you lift the weight through the concentric range and you lower the weight on your own under control.

These extra forced reps are unbelievably effective for creating neurological adaptations and muscular adaptations. In other words they help you build strength and size at the same time. Not a bad deal!

Here is Stan Efferding giving a perfect demonstration of forced reps on the incline dumbbell press. Check it out:

Stan performs 8 perfect reps on his own. On the 9th rep he fails and his training partner helps him perform 4 more forced reps in a row. These forced reps are so effective because they are actually a form of eccentric training. They help you overload your eccentric strength levels after first reaching concentric failure.

Here is Stan Efferding talking about the importance of using forced reps in your training:

“So you need to go to failure, you need to have some forced reps, you need to just go all out and take your body some place it’s never been before so it has to adapt and become bigger and stronger. Everything else is minuscule in comparison.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

High-Intensity Technique #4: Rest-Pause Sets

Rest-pause sets are a high-intensity training method invented by the bodybuilding coach Dante Trudel. The basic idea is to train to failure three times in a row on an exercise with only 20-30 seconds rest in between each attempt. Yes, rest-pause sets are just as brutal as they sound!

Here is Dusty Hanshaw giving a perfect demonstration of a rest-pause set on the incline bench press:

As you can see Dusty uses the exact same weight on all three attempts. He gets 8 reps on the first attempt, 4 reps on the second attempt and 2 reps on the third attempt.

Right after his last attempt Dusty throws in a static hold with the weight in a “power position.” This is something that you can do if you are an advanced bodybuilder and really know what you are doing. The static will further prolong the time under tension of the set and overload your muscles eccentrically.

Typically for a rest-pause set you want to fail somewhere between 7-10 reps on the first attempt but you can go as high as 15 or even 20 reps to failure if you really want to.

Rest-pause sets have many of the same advantages of forced reps: they let you destroy the target muscle in a very short period of time and they stimulate size and strength gains at the same time. The only downside to rest-pause sets is you can only perform 1 of them per exercise.

If you can perform 2 rest-pause sets in a row then you weren’t pushing yourself hard enough on the first attempt!

High-Intensity Technique #5: Extreme Stretching

I’ve saved the best for last! If you have tried absolutely everything to get your chest to grow and it still won’t budge then it’s time to try extreme stretching. An extreme stretch is basically a heavy loaded stretch performed in the bottom position of a chest exercise.

One of the most popular ways to perform an extreme stretch for the chest is to hold the bottom position of a dumbbell fly for 60-90 seconds. Here is Dusty Hanshaw giving a perfect demonstration of this technique:

Why on Earth would anyone try to do this? The reason is simple: extreme stretching is one of the most powerful hypertrophy training tools you can use. Many people have completely transformed their weaker body parts just by incorporating extreme stretches into their routine.

Here are 6 science-based reasons to use extreme stretches in your training program:

  1. They stimulate mTOR, the “on” switch for protein synthesis
  2. They overload your fast-twitch muscle fibers
  3. They increase blood flow and induce hyperemia in your muscles
  4. They release anabolic hormones into your muscles
  5. They **potentially** stretch out the fascia surrounding your muscles
  6. They **potentially** stimulate hyperplasia in your muscles

I recommend you incorporate this chest extreme stretch at the very end of your chest workouts. Dante Trudel recommends you perform 1 all-out stretch for 60+ seconds while the strength coach Christian Thibadeau recommends you perform 3-4 slightly submaximal stretches per body part. The choice is up to you.

Just make sure that your chest is already very fatigued and pumped full of blood before you attempt this. If you try an extreme stretch at the start of your routine then you are just asking for trouble.

Conclusion

Lagging Chest

It’s time to turn that lagging chest into one of your strongest body parts! In this guide I gave you five of the absolute best strategies for bringing up your lagging chest:

  • Strategy #1: Mechanical Position Of Exercises
  • Strategy #2: Getting Really Weird With It
  • Strategy #3: Exercise Sequences
  • Strategy #4: Training Frequency
  • Strategy #5: High-Intensity Training Techniques

The most important strategies involve picking the right exercises for your body, executing them with the correct mechanical position and sequencing them correctly so that you can really feel your chest working properly.

If you are doing all of these things correctly then it may be time to play around with more advanced strategies like increasing your training frequency or busting out the high-intensity training techniques.

If you execute on the information presented in this article then you are well on your way to developing a bigger, stronger chest. You may not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger overnight but even he had to start somewhere!

So what are you waiting for? Get back in the gym and start training your chest like you mean it!

“So many people along the way, whatever it is you aspire to do, will tell you it can’t be done. But all it takes is imagination. You dream. You plan. You reach.”

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck on your strength training journey!

Dr. Mike Jansen, PT, DPT

Thanks for checking out my site! My name is Dr. Mike Jansen and I'm the founder of Revolutionary Program Design. If you want to reach your size and strength goals faster then you've come to the right place. My goal is to make RPD the #1 strength training resource available anywhere in the world. So grab a seat, kick back and relax. There's never been a better time to lift weights or to learn the art and science of strength training program design.

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