13 August 2010

Introducing Intensity to Chest Training

The love hate relationship I developed with training chest stemmed from a gaping hole where the 'pectoral-deltoid tie in' should have filled. Every time I hit the most muscular pose I could see a visible weakness in that area. Action was to be taken. My lack of upper chest became an obsession,as did the desire to push myself to the extreme and discover what this muscle group is capable of.

I was reading Joe Weiders Super System, which after studying a number of body building and nutrition books, I still found the most influential. It gives you an educational insight in to the mind of a body builder, which will give you a distinct advantage in your quest to build muscle. The principle of
instinctive training is introduced AND HAS BEEN THE MOST EFFECTIVE PRINCIPLE I HAVE EVER USED. Understanding your body and how it works and reacts, and not relying on your best mates workout plan or the incredible new muscle gaining supplement you just bought!

Basic Chest Training

Up until that point I was making slow but steady gains in my chest development, but I knew there was more I could do to improve. Initially my chest training was fairly basic. For a warm up I would work through light dumbell flys and cable crossovers. This is a good way to wake up the chest muscles for the workout ahead. 2-3 sets lightly increasing the weight and reps each time and you should begin to feel a good pump.

After the warm up I begin the real work with flat barbell press, usually varying the angle each set. This is a psychological thing for me, because I believe religiously in variation throughout the workout. I work on a minimum of 10 reps to failure, usually 12 reps to failure for 3 sets. Then for a heavy exercise incline dumbell presses,following a simple 5x5 programme (5 sets of 5 reps to failure using maximum weight with up to 3 minutes rest in between sets). The next movement I would alternate between variations of cable crossovers, cross bench flys, and pec dec movements to really finish off the chest ,so an additional 6 sets of 8-10 reps to failure. This gave me a total set average of 14 sets per chest workout (excluding warm ups).

I had been using this programme for around 3 months, and although I had made gains, my progress was beginning to slow and I was left feeling frustrated at my efforts. I now knew I had to introduce something new.

Pre Exhaustion Training

Pre exhaustion can be a very effective weapon for blasting through muscle growth boundaries, or speeding up the strength gains that might be dwindling. I found it to be very effective even in the early stages of serious bodybbuilding training. Performing an isolation exercise, followed immediately by a compound exercise for the same muscle group, will allow you to drag your muscles to a level of fatigue they likely have never experienced before. This Level of intensity will accelerate your muscles in to new growth and explode your strength levels in a matter of weeks! The downside to pre exhaustion training is it can be easily mistreated! Yes you will stimulate rapid muscle growth and lift heavier weights over a short period of time, BUT, over training is a common mistake made by athletes who are new to pre exhaustion sets. I would recommend using it for no more than 2 consecutive workouts for ANY MUSCLEGROUP. Any more than that you will risk breaking down muscle fibres instead of building them! I chose to team up a 5x5 programme with pre exhaustion training and kept to the routine for almost 4 months.
Muscle Group
Erector Spinae
Cable press downs/dumbell extensions
Leg extensions
Close grip bench press
Bent over barbell rows

The workout would begin with a couple of sets of bodyweight dips, leaning forward to give more control to the chest and shoulder muscles. After a few weeks I moved this exercise to the end of the workout, where I was doing 5 sets of 6-10 reps with up to 50kg attached to the belt. This remains one of my favourite exercises for its all round power building in the shoulder arm chest regions, and I often use dips in my tricep and shoulder workouts too.

Next was flat dumbell presses and incline dumbell flys. 1 complete set would consist of (a) set of dumbell flys (isolation) followed with no rest by a set of (b) dumbell incline presses (compound). the rep ranges and weight used vary depending of the desired result, in my case this was to add mass to my upper chest. I would do 10 full range of motion flys, followed by a heavy set of incline dumbell press 4-6 reps. The intensity of this type of training was unlike anything I had experienced before. Because the chest muscles have been isolated while performing the flys, they come in to the presses fatigued so, using a weight that normally I am able to do 12 strict form reps to failure with, I would grind out 6-8 hard reps. For once I could feel my chest completely depleted of energy, to the point my triceps and shoulders were taking all of the weight!

After 3 sets which almost double on merit alone, flat barbell presses and cable crossovers to squeeze as much blood in to the chest as physically possible!! Again using the pre exhaustion principle, 10-15 cable crossovers (variety of angles) followed by barbell bench presses with a heavier weight of 5-8 reps for 2-4 sets ,depending on energy levels for that day.
By the time this workout is over you will know the true meaning of muscle failure.

I have since used pre exhaustion training techniques on a number of 'lagging' muscle groups (notably traps) and would recommend anybody facing a reduction in development to experiment with it. This level of intensity really did send my chest in to overdrive opening new doors in my training, and more importantly opening up my mind to the possibilities ahead.

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