The chest is the showpiece muscle group in any physique on the bodybuilding stage. Sure, people like to see big arms. And we all know that big backs seem to win the big pro shows. But in every frontal pose, the chest is a make-or-break point for success. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a set of pectorals worthy of a Greek statue, and always took home the trophy over men who were better conditioned. Phil Heath has the best arms of any bodybuilder in history not named Ronnie Coleman, but his lack of clavicle width has led to a chest which cost him an Arnold Classic title against Dexter Jackson in 2008.
One of the main reasons that some bodybuilders have poor chest development is that they allow their shoulders to carry much of the workload when they are hitting the chest exercises. The shoulders play a key role in moving the weight, and if your shoulders are very powerful, they may tend to carry the brunt of the weight of the barbell during the pressing movement. The result is a very nice set of well-rounded, developed shoulders, sitting next to pectorals that aren’t going to impress the judges anytime soon. You can correct the situation by using some techniques to make the chest work harder. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
The most common method of removing shoulder influence from chest presses is to use the pre-exhaust method. This involves starting with an isolation chest movement such as incline dumbbell flyes, then moving immediately to incline bench press. While this is the most common split, it doesn’t have to be the only one you use. Machine exercises such as Pec Deck or cable crossovers also allow you to exhaust the muscles of the chest first. When you follow it up with a set of incline dumbbell bench presses, your chest will suddenly fail long before your shoulders. This will make it do more work – and see more growth.
A less common and perhaps more effective method for removing stress from the shoulders is to use a process known as scapular retraction. Simply put, it involves putting the chest forward when completing pressing movements. Being further off the bench, the weight will pull at it much more – and the shoulders much less.
This style of lifting isn’t legal in powerlifting meets, but it’s very effective in the gym for bodybuilders seeking a better chest and less shoulder involvement on chest day. Flex your chest muscles as you complete each repetition, and keep your shoulders rolled out. The barbell should come all the way down to the nipples with each repetition. This type of training will likely require a reduction in the amount of weight that you are using initially. Over time, however, you’ll discover a new level of comfort, balance and strength with this pulling method.
Use the mirror to honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to your pectorals. If they are overpowered by your shoulders, you should work to correct this situation, by any and all means available!