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Build That Stubborn Chest
When you glance at some of those old black and white pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger, taken in the original Gold's Gym in Venice on Pacific Avenue, what's most noticeable about his physique is his massive chest. It is full and thick and when he does his side chest pose it swells up and seems to stick out a mile. Just standing there relaxed it appeared thick and dense like two massive slabs of beef sitting on his rib cage. In fact a lot of the old school guys had thick chests back in the day, Lou Ferrigno, Serge Nubret, Franco Columbu, but it seems these days very few bodybuilders have that really impressive chest development. Thick, sweeping chest muscles have been overtaken by monstrous front delts making it obvious where all the pec muscles went. When Arnold was growing up, everyone trained chest and biceps and didn't pay as much attention to other muscle groups, like shoulders for instance. Since shoulder muscles were weaker, they didn't take over all the work when training chest. Stretching the shoulder girdle and chest was a common practice years ago in an effort to expand the rib cage and increase the overall measurement of the chest. Inadvertently this created more flexibility through the chest and shoulders so when a bodybuilder performed a full range of movement on his chest exercises, his chest muscles were flexible enough that the load was not as easily transferred to the shoulder muscles which would then do much of the work. When chest muscles are not very flexible they can only stretch so far before they will either tear or the load will be transferred to another muscle group or connective tissue in the shoulder joint. If you are doing dumbbell presses for instance, as you lower the dumbbells to your chest you will reach a point where your chest muscles cannot stretch beyond. If you continue to lower the dumbbells past that point then the shoulders will take over most of the work. If that happens you will feel tightness in your shoulders at the lower part of the movement and after doing the set your shoulders will feel pumped and burning. When you over-stretched at the bottom of the movement your shoulder muscles took over the workload. You thought you were training your chest and just doing your best to perform a full range of movement but instead you have just trained your shoulders, which explains why your shoulders grow but your chest doesn't. One obvious solution might be to perform partial movements when training chest (meaning not lowering the weight all the way down to your chest). While partial movements have their place in an advanced training program, your chest muscles won't be getting much work if the range of motion is limited by inflexibility. The further a muscle group has to travel when performing an exercise, the more work it does and the more it will grow. Muscle inflexibility will stop your progress cold.

Increasing flexibility and Range of Motion is the goal
  • Muscle tissue can be trained to be more flexible by stretching regularly. But it's always important to ensure your muscle tissue is warm before you try stretching it. For the next 4 weeks, do 3 sets of pushups to warm up and stretch for a couple minutes between each warm-up set. For the first set of pushups just go 2/3 of the way down to keep your shoulders out of the movement until you are more flexible. After stretching between the 1st and 2nd set, the rest of your pushups should be full movements.

  • Stretch between every set during the entire workout.

  • Since your chest has not been doing all the work during your chest training you will have to teach those muscles to contract through the entire movement because they are used to your shoulders taking over at the bottom. Start with a weight about 50% less than you normally use and add weight each set. Be prepared to use a lot less weight than you have been doing because you will perform your reps slowly going the same speed up and the same speed down like a hydraulic piston.

  • When you get to the bottom of the movement feel your chest muscles stretch and then don't go beyond to the point where you feel your shoulders stretching. As you get more flexible you will be able to go deeper but you will always gauge the depth you go on your chest exercises by whether or not your shoulders are involved in the movement and not how far the weight travels.

  • Don't use weight training as a stretching exercise, stretch between sets and after you train. Using your sets to stretch your chest muscles will just involved your shoulders in the work.

  • Finally, lay off your front delt training for 4 weeks while you do this chest specialization program. They could probably use a break anyway while your chest catches up.

  • Train chest 2 times a week for 4 weeks then return to your normal training cycle.

Day 1

Pushup " shoulder width hand spacing 3 15
Incline dumbbell press 4 10
Flat dumbbell press 4 10
Dumbbell pullovers-elbows bent (Keep tension on your chest through the whole movement and pull the weight over with your chest. Be sure not to lower the weight too far or you will feel it on your triceps)

Day 2

Pushup " wide hand spacing 3 10
Flat barbell bench press 4 12
Decline barbell bench press 4 12
Incline barbell bench press