If your goal is to have an incredible chest, doing a shit ton of pressing work is in your future. Barbell benching, dumbbell benching, every push-up under the sun; that’s your answer. However, if that’s all you’re doing, you’re likely leaving some size on the table. Specifically, you’re leaving the appearance of size on the table.
Whether you want a big bench press or want to take sexy selfies on Bondi Beach, most of us are more concerned with our pecs than our traps. The only problem there is that you can’t have one without the other.
Emphasis pressing patterns is fine, unless you’re also neglecting pulling patterns. Spend a lot of time pushing weights or papers, and we create a less than desirable position for complete sexification.
Training your pecs and pushing exercises is quite important, but training to pull provides both structural and neural advantages.
Pecs are incredibly strong muscles, and we can compare them to an engine in a car. If you want bigger pecs or a stronger press, you want a bigger, more efficient engine. Tune your ride or drop in a new motor and you’re there. However, if you’re not also upgrading other components, you’re over-powered and opened to a host of problems. That new engine is great until your wheels are out of alignment, and the torque bends your chassis. That car won’t drive very well, will it?
That’s what you’re doing right now.
When you try to put bigger, stronger pecs on your body without reinforcing the areas that help create or stabilize that force, bad shit happens. This bad shit may be less-than-desirable results, or increased potential for injury. (Those may vary in significance for you.)
Exclusively training your pushing muscles contributes to a kyphotic posture and forwardly positioned shoulder, which may lead to adaptive shortening of your chest musculature. If they’re always being shortened, why would they want to stay long? This works against your goal, letting your pecs get weaker and smaller. Your body isn’t working against you; you’re working against it. There is a better way, and it involves working on your back.
The trapezius, rhomboids, and serratus are part of the team responsible for manipulating your scapular position. If these muscles aren’t doing their job properly it can lead to less-than-desirable positioning, and/or jokes about abysmal back development/strength.
Ideally, we want full control over our scapula positioning, and this is a great starting point. Three of my favorite exercises to help develop upper back stability and strength is the deadlift, the row, and the push-up. In the grand scheme of things, getting stronger at any and all variations of those three lifts are going to help, but a huge factor is actually doing them the right way. Let’s get started.
Rowing patterns provide a great opportunity to practice pulling your shoulder blades down and together. This isn’t necessarily the position that they should always be in, but it’s a great place to start. Simplicity suggests that we start with something such as a suspension trainer row, like this one:
If you’re tenacious with technique and progressing to elevating your feet, perhaps moving on to a Bent Over Row variation in in your best interest. It requires a bit more focus on movement quality, but provides ample opportunity to load the bar.
When you’ve satisfied your rowing requirement, focus on the push-up, and specifically, the “Push-Up Plus.” What makes the Push-Up Plus different from other push-ups is the purposeful protraction, or forward movement of the shoulder blades at the top of each rep. This intentional movement helps to create control through out the shoulder complex, which doesn’t suck.
Once you’ve established the ability to create that movement, reinforce it by getting really strong with push-ups. Seriously, load those suckers up! Vests, chains, bands; get stronger.
Push-Up power has been established and now it’s time for my favorite exercise of all time, the deadlift. Bodybuilding circles tend to consider the deadlift a back exercise, and while I am put-off by the lack of emphasis on hip control and power, they’re not wrong; Deadlifting is a great tool for a seriously awesome back. If we assume that assume that awesome back is synonymous with good posture, then the deadlift can really help you nail this.
Deadlifting heavy shit is a sure-fire recipe to strengthen the upper back, but occasionally deadlifting less heavy shit for more reps can really help remind you how much work your shoulder musculature does when maintaining a desirable position. While conventional deadlifting will always rule the school, one of my favorite exercises for really setting in a shoulder position is the Romanian Deadlift:
Perhaps you’d like somewhat more of an impetus to
hate the world set a solid upper back, and doing a set of twenty reps on the trap bar is the reminder that you need.
Our body can recover from almost anything, and one of the ways it does this is by stopping you from repeatedly doing stupid things. If your pec development is struggling or stagnant, consider the possibility that you don’t need more pressing; you need more pulling.
Allowing your body to find balance between pushing and pulling can help you succeed with both short term goals of powerhouse pecs and long term goals of not feeling like an old man before you’re an old man. They’re both important things to consider, Mr. I Just Want To Look Good Naked.
If you’re on the quest for epic pecs, don’t get trapped into only focusing on the front side of your body. Consider your posture, considering how your pushing and pulling capacity compare, and consider how it would feel to reevaluate your efforts and work smarter instead of just working harder.