Top 5 Chest Training Mistakes That People Make in the Gym

Want head-turning, buttons-popping pecs? Check out the following list and see if you are making these mistakes in the gym.

Ronnie Coleman Most Muscular

Big Ronnie Coleman flexing his pecs! Image Courtesy: T-Nation

1. Pushing too heavy weights

For many guys, the bench press is the holy grail of upper body strength. To size someone up, you simply ask “so, how much do you bench?” The problem with this mindset is that instead of focusing on the engagement and contraction in your chest, you are focusing on moving the weight.  This usually results in a limited range of motion, and your shoulders and triceps take over in an attempt to push maximum weight. Try to use a lighter weight but really focus on squeezing the chest throughout the movement. Go all the way down for a deep stretch and flex hard at the top for that peak contraction.

2. Not enough isolation

Pressing movements will always be the foundation of any chest workout routines, but that doesn’t mean you should not be doing any isolation work! I see many people coming into the gym doing 3 sets of incline, 3 sets of flat and 3 sets of decline bench presses. You’ll probably be pretty strong, but chances are your front delts and triceps will be more overpowering than your chest. For maximal chest development, incorporate movements like cable crossovers and dumbbell flies. Flat dumbbell flies was one of Arnold’s favorite exercise for chest, and his chest development was just phenomenal!

Arnold Schwarzenegger Side Chest

Back in the day, one can rest a glass of water on Arnold's chest!

3. Relying too much on machines

There’s always the ongoing debate about machines vs free weights. It’s hard to say which is better. For me, I predominantly use free weights to work my chest. Yes, some machines work great but it feels a lot different going under the bar or holding a dumbbell in each hand. Free weights force you to balance the weights and allow your body mechanics to adjust itself according to your own limb proportions and leverages, whereas with machines, you are fixed in a certain angle or position which may not work for some people. I’m not saying machines are bad, but it is essential to incorporate free weight movements into your chest workout.

Dorian Yates Hammer Strength Chest Training

6-time Mr O Dorian Yates repping out on the Hammer Strength isolateral bench press machine

Some people argue that you isolate your chest more and use less of your stabilizer muscles when you use machines. The same argument can be used for free weights – you just need to learn how to do it. I’ve done both the Hammer Strength series isolateral machine presses and flat dumbbell presses, and to tell you the truth, I feel the same level of isolation in my chest. It’s all about the mind-muscle connection and really zeroing in on the muscle contraction.

4. Not doing enough incline movements

Most people are lacking in upper chest, and most people complain about it without doing anything to fix it. If your upper chest is your weak point, start doing incline movements: incline bench press, incline dumbbell press, incline flies etc. I prefer doing my incline bench press in a power cage so that I can adjust the angle of my bench. Start off your chest workout with incline presses while you are fresh before moving onto the flat movements.

Incline barbell press

Image Courtesy: T-Nation

5. Not focusing on the eccentrics

Watch how most people bench – they unrack the weight, let it drop, and put all their strength into pressing it back up, then BOOM down it drops again. What happened to the eccentric portion of the movement? They are missing almost half a rep!

There is more tissue damage in the negatives than in the positives, so if you want to induce growth in your chest, you better be focusing on the lowering portion of the exercise too. A good tempo is 1 second up and 3 seconds down (this will force you to use lighter weight in order to complete the amount of reps you set out to do). Imagine your limbs and your chest are springs and when you control the weight as it comes down, you are storing elastic energy, and once if hits the bottom it “springs up” and you explosively press the weight upwards.

Check out 4-time Mr Olympia Jay Cutler knocking out some chest, and look at how he controls the weights:


Don’t forget about bodyweight exercises!

Push ups and parallel bar dips are still some of the best chest exercises out there. Just that you are benching 225’s doesn’t mean you are too strong for those exercises! Try adding plates on your upper back while you are doing push ups, or doing weighted dips by hanging a dumbbell / plate to a dip belt.

And for those who want to push things to the limit:

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