You have done everything you can. You bench press heavy, you do your chest flyes, and you drink your protein....but your chest is just not growing. You start to think that it has something to do with your anatomy and genetics, but I beg to differ. Growing your chest may be more complex than you think, but it is not impossible. I have a dream....that one day, all bro lifters will have the developed chests they desire...okay, maybe not. But by the end of this article, you will have the knowledge to pursue your quest for a huge chest!
Before looking at how to grow the chest, we must understand what the chest is and what it does in regards to muscular control. The chest is made up of two muscles, the pectoralis major (majority of the chest) and the pectoralis minor (minor portion of the chest known as the upper chest). The main function of the pectoralis major is the lateral, vertical, and rotational movement of the upper arm. The main function of the pectoralis minor is to pull the scapula anteriorly and inferiorly. What does that mean for you? The purpose of the pectorals is to bring the upper arm across the body and pull the scapula forward. Now that we know this, where do we go? We must find exercises that do just that!
You see it time and time again. Guys are benching every "chest day" and wondering why their chest is not growing, even when their bench is improving. Before blaming genetics or the protein powder you are taking, let's look at the bench press for a moment.
For most bench pressing, you hands are going to be placed far enough that your elbows are bent roughly 90 degrees at the bottom of the movement. Well, if that is the case, the upper arm is not even crossing the torso (the major function of the pectorals) due to a shoulder width or wider hand placement.
It has been taught for heavy bench pressers to tuck their elbows, rather than letting their upper arm come straight out to the side (for a very smart and protective reason). This leads to more anterior deltoid and tricep activation/stress than pectorals due to the upper arms lowering and pressing upward rather than across. Most individuals who bench press this way (and usually only bench press for chest) will develop massive shoulders and triceps, while watching their chest lag behind.
When it comes to deciding exercises for your chest development, you want to find an exercise that not only brings the upper arms across the torso, but also has great potential for progressive overload. The bench press has the most potential for progressive overload, but does not (safely at least) bring the upper arms out to the side and across the torso through a full range of motion.
On the opposing end, you have those that do a lot of cable-crossovers and still have a chest as flat as....well, a flat chest! Cable cross-overs may isolate the chest perfectly, but the progressive overload potential is very limited. In order for a muscle to adapt, it must have a greater stimulus placed upon it. Why limit yourself to such minor changes in stimuli, when you could stimulate the chest with a greater stimulus?
This is where dumbbell pressing shines! You get a slightly lower progressive overload potential than barbell pressing, but a greater stimulation of the pectorals themselves!
Like any muscle in your body, if you do not do enough frequently enough, your body will not adapt and grow. Just working chest on "international chest monday" is not going to cut it if you are wanting to maximize your chest growth. Protein synthesis is elevated between 24 to 72 hours (depending on the individual) and resting during times of baseline levels of protein synthesis would mean wasted opportunity to grow those pecs! A good rule of thumb would be a minimum of twice a week frequency for hitting a lagging muscle.
After having the frequency down, it is a matter of "how much should I do each day?" That in itself has an individualized answer. Everyone needs different amount of both frequency and volume to stimulate more muscle growth. A good rule of thumb when it comes to the amount of work done per session is to start at the bare minimum, hire a coach, or follow a TRUSTED AND PROVEN work out routine for beginners and slowly make adjustments through time (increasing work done over time).
If you are hitting your heavy bench work outs, doing the usual pushups before every night, skipping out on sleep, and trying to keep your skinny boy abs, you are definitely not going to recover. Your chest is like any other muscle and muscles need to recover in order to grow. You do not get bigger from the work outs, but rather from recovering from the work outs. Maximizing your recovery is essential for maximizing your chest growth. If you have the right exercise selection and you do the right amount of frequency and volume, all that is left is improving your recovery.
Making your chest bigger seems so simple, yet all the "bros" at the gym just can't seem to master it. When it comes to developing a bigger chest, you must pick exercises that work the pectorals through their full range of motion and work with their major function, perform enough work in one session to stimulate hypertrophy, perform enough sessions to keep from wasting the power of elevated protein synthesis levels, and maximize your recovery to come back bigger and stronger than before. I don't have a dream that every bro will have a developed chest they want, but I do know that now you have the information to attain just that.