How to Build a Sculpted Chest as a Natural Lifter
By Ali Kuoppala | Last reviewed Tue 25 September 2018
Medical Review by Dr. Stefano Pizzo, MD
Chest day, everyone’s favorite huh? That’s right, go to any gym and you’ll see the majority of guys doing either chest or biceps.
Why? For one, because they’re both “show muscles”, and lot’s of people just train to impress the ladies, and secondly, training chest and arms is easy, ask any newbie lifter if he wants to do bench pressing or squatting today and 95% of the time you’ll be headed towards the bench.
Nothing wrong with that as long as you remember to train every part of the body in a balanced manner. Building a sculpted steel plate chest is important, but so are all the other muscle groups of the body.
Know the Muscles you Work With
Many people are confused about the anatomy of the chest muscles, otherwise known as “pecs”. And this is because they’re not exactly sure whether it would be one big muscle or a muscle group that has separate sections, upper, middle, and lower.
The simple truth is that your chest is comprised of one large muscle, which has an “upper portion” on the top part just under the clavicle, which is technically still part of the same muscle, but the muscle fibers are angled differently, and thus this “upper chest” can be targeted with few key movements (and yes, this has been proven in EMG studies too).
So the chest is comprised of;
- Pectoralis major, sternal head (the large “main muscle” of the chest).
- Pectoralis major, clavicular head (still the same muscle, but with a different angle of fibers.
The muscles of the male upper body are extremely dense in androgen receptors (and this includes the pecs), thus they grow well under high levels of testosterone, hence why I recommend you to check out the THOR-program, a training manual for maximal testosterone response training.
Optimal Training Frequency and Set/Rep Patterns for Chest
You may have heard claims that the chest grows best with high-rep work. Maybe you’ve read about a training program of some extremely shredded fitness model on a bodybuilding magazine and now think it would be smart to follow his 15-20 rep sets to get “that burn”.
Not a good idea. Those ultra-shredded fitness models big enough to appear on magazines like Flex and Muscle&Fitness are 95% of the time on gear. It’s a sad but true fact, although new and gullible trainees often defend their idols such as Simeon Panda or Ulisses Jr for being natural, anyone who has been lifting for more than few years should be able to tell that these guys are on the juice.
Why shouldn’t you still follow their programs though? The answer is simple, when a trainee uses steroid-assistance, especially when training the muscles of the male upper body, their muscles respond better to high-volume high-rep training, as the rate of protein synthesis is constantly high and the androgen receptors of the upper body will have a surplus of hormones to bind from the bloodstream…
…For natural trainees, however, this type of high-volume high-rep work does next to nothing for strength and mass gains of the chest. Natural lifters will respond much better to heavy weights and lower volume – with of course – plenty of rest and recovery.
You can’t expect to get similar results than those gear-using fitness models do as a natural trainee, so stop following their programs (unless you’re on gear that is).
The smartest way to train chest as a natural lifter would be to choose 1-2 main lifts which you would perform at the rep range of 2-6 (to build strength) and then pick 1-2 assistance lifts which would be performed at rep ranges of 8-12 (to expand muscle glycogen stores and gain mass). The amount of sets per exercise varies a lot between individuals but should land between 2-5. Training chest muscles 2-3 times a week is enough, more than that and you’re not going to properly recover for being able to progressively move into heavier weights (and if you can’t, your gains will plateau rather quickly).
Here’s an example of what this could look like in practice;
- Main exercise for the sternal head of pecs 4×3
- Main exercise for targeting the clavical head 6×3
- Assistance exercise 8×2
- Assistance exercise 10×2
- Assistance exercise 12×2
Research Proven Exercises for Steel Plate Chest
The exercises below are not picked by random, instead, they are a combination of the teachings of World’s elite trainers, along with the findings of EMG-studies (1, 2) measuring actual muscle activation in a laboratory setting.
When you structure your chest workouts around these movements, your chest muscles will be on a fast-lane to growth.
- Best main movements;
- Flat or decline bench press (for targeting overall chest area, the decline is actually more effective!)
- Barbell or dumbbell incline press (for targeting the upper portion of the chest)
- Best assistance movements;
- Cable cross (remember to cross the cables at end and contract)
- Dumbbell Flyes
- Weighted dips
NOTE: Click the links for video examples.
You may have seen some people recommend all kinds of crazy chest movements for targeting some weird section of the chest or getting that “burn” feeling, the truth however is that those five movements are all you EVER need for explosive chest muscle growth.
Here’s an example routine;
- Decline bench press with dumbbells 4×3
- Incline press 6×3
- Dumbbell flyes 8×2
- Cable crosses 12×2
- Weighted dips 1x to near failure (but not to failure!)
Chest muscle growth is not rocket science, and you don’t need any high-rep BS or magazine workouts for getting that steel plate chest.
Just remember to use effective movements, constantly progress to heavier weights (progressive overload), and train heavy. This article should literally be all you need training-wise.
Also remember that the male upper body grows best when it’s subjected to high testosterone levels (due to being dense in androgen receptors), thus I would recommend this training program specifically tailored for maximal hormone response.