Next to arms, the chest is almost every bodybuilder’s favorite muscle to build. It’s not uncommon to see guys at the gym spend their whole workout doing flat barbell bench-presses; with an occasional dumbbell flye thrown in.
A powerful chest looks amazing; no doubt. However, building well-developed chest muscles and strength requires you to do more than press to your heart’s content.
I’ll show you how to build bigger chest muscles using 5 great tips. But first, let’s have a quick anatomy lesson, so you can better understand this impressive muscle.
The Specs of Pecs
Each chest muscle has two smaller muscles: pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. In men and women, the pectoralis major covers the pectoralis minor.
The pectoralis minor controls the humerus bone; found in your upper arm. It allows you to lift, throw, flap, and rotate your arm. The pectoralis minor controls a lot of your shoulder movement.
To build bigger chest muscles, you need to:
- Build huge pectoral muscle mass
- Develop all parts of both pectoral muscles
These tips and exercises can help you do just that.
1. Switch to Dumbbells
It takes lots of chest muscle to push a weighted bar away from your body. But it doesn’t take all your chest muscle. If bench-presses are your sole chest-building exercise, you’re limiting your potential. Here are just a few reasons why you should switch to dumbbells:
Dumbbells improve your range of motion. During a bench press, your range of motion is restricted to straight up and straight down. With dumbbells, you’re free to work your chest muscles from all angles.
Dumbbells reduce the risk of injury. One major reason dumbbells are safer is because they employ natural movement. They are also safer if you’re a beginner or don’t have a spotter.
Dumbbells allow you to work chest muscles independently. This helps you develop all parts of your pectoralis major and minor.
Dumbbells engage more muscles for stabilization. Controlling two dumbbells is harder than controlling a barbell or a machine. So, your body has to engage more muscles to increase stabilization when you use dumbbells.
Dumbbells give your workout more versatility. How many chest exercises can you do with a bench and barbells? Trust me; the number of dumbbell exercises you can do is a lot higher. The advantage of variety is that it gives you a comprehensive chest workout.
Are you at a loss for exercises that don’t involve barbells? This is another sign it’s time to switch to dumbbells. These are some popular dumbbell exercises for chest muscles:
- Dumbbell bench press (optional: neutral grip)
- Incline bench press (optional: neutral grip)
- Decline bench press
- Lying fly
- Incline fly
- Straight-arm pullover
- Bent-arm pullover
2. Focus on Efficiency and Good Form
The key to building bigger chest muscles isn’t to lift more weight. It is efficiency and good form. Throw out the “heavy at all costs” mentality and concentrate on optimizing each rep.
Focus on chest muscle contractions, so you can eliminate reliance on shoulders and triceps. Using a machine at least once during your workout allows you to focus on contractions; instead of stabilization. Slowing down each rep also aids the process.
Don’t waste your time on inefficient movement. When Arnold Schwarzenegger–whose chest measured an impressive 58 inches–performed flat dumbbell flyes, he raised the weights until the tension in his pecs began to decrease. After this point, Schwarzenegger realized any movement was useless because it wouldn’t have an impact on his chest muscles.
As your chest muscles grow and get stronger, don’t be afraid to increase poundage. Just remember to always keep efficient movement and good form in mind.
3. Isolate Your Pecs
The pectoralis major is much larger than the pectoralis minor. However, both muscles need attention if you want the best visual results. Building your pectoralis major does the most to increase your chest muscle mass. Building your pectoralis minor fills out the top of your chest, which tends to be the shallowest part.
Most chest exercises strengthen the pectoralis major, but these exercises focus on the pectoralis minor:
- Dumbbell pullovers
It’s best to exercise your pectoralis minor at the start of your workout when you’re still fresh. Otherwise, these small–but important–muscles may get neglected.
4. Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
If you don’t stretch, nothing will happen…at least, not for a while. Over time, the constant strain of weight lifting and lack of stretching greatly increase your risk for injury.
Besides preventing injury, stretching improves flexibility, which leads to better athletic performance. Stretching allows your joints to move in their full range of motion. This simultaneously improves your performance and prevents injury. Lastly, stretching increases blood flow to the muscles.
Here are a few stretching dos and don’ts from the Mayo Clinic:
- Do – Stretch; even though it is time consuming
- Don’t – Stretch cold muscles or you may hurt yourself
- Do – Warm up for 5-10 minutes before stretching at the beginning of your workout
- Don’t – Bounce. It causes small muscle tears, which scar and limit muscle flexibility
- Do – Aim for tension
- Don’t – Aim for pain
If you only stretch once per workout, post workout is best. Stretching after a workout does the most to increase your flexibility and reduce your recovery time.
5. Stock Your Muscles with Fuel
“[Muscles] are long-lasting, they are self-healing and they are able to grow stronger with practice,” says Craig Freudenrich, PhD. “Although they work differently than a car engine…muscles do the same thing — they turn energy into motion.”
However, your chest muscles only heal, grow, and move if they have fuel. And the best muscle fuel comes from calories; especially protein calories.
Aim to consume 1.0-1.6 grams of protein for each pound of body weight you have. For example, a 175-pound man should eat between 175 and 280 grams of protein each day.
Here are 5 excellent sources of protein:
- Red meat
A shake with 20-30 grams of whey protein and 30-40 grams of carbs can do wonders for your chest muscles after a workout.
Just remember that protein is essential for building bigger chest muscles; but your body also needs carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables.
The Best Tips for the Best Results
Sure, there are many ways to build bigger pecs. But some ways are better than others. Rather than rely solely on barbell bench-presses, add more versatility to your workout and enhance your results with dumbbell exercises.
Use good form and efficient movement to maximize your strength and sculpt every muscle in your chest. And don’t neglect stretching and refueling. These are the best ways to build and define your chest muscles.
-  Mayo Clinic staff. “Stretching: Focus on flexibility.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Feb 2011.
-  Lemon, PW. “Protein and amino acid needs of the strength athlete.” International Journal of Sport Nutrition. 1.2 (1991): 127-45.