Spartan Muscle Series: My Favorite Exercises for a Bigger and Stronger Chest

I’m gonna level with you (and potentially leave myself no choice but to tear up my Bro Card, and kill it with fire).

There’s a general distaste for pressing that runs through my veins, and training chest is by far my least favourite day of the week (*gasp*). While I shed a tear over the loss of my swoley Bro Card, here’s the second instalment in The Spartan Muscle Series.

Even though training chest is at the bottom of my preferential totem pole, there are two exercises that I believe stand above the rest when it comes to increasing your strength, and developing a chest that pops out past your stomach (without fucking up your shoulders or having to spend many monotonous hours pressing).

Meathead Mullan’s “bread and butter” chest movements.

Incline Barbell Press

Why incline barbell presses are my “bread” chest exercise:

In my experience, many lifters struggle to effectively stimulate their chest with flat pressing. Between the postural issues which effect many of us, the inability to feel a deep stretch from top to bottom of your pecs, and a bar path that lends itself to placing much of the load onto your delts and triceps, flat barbell presses are simply a vehemently sub-optimal movement for developing a chest that stretches the limits of your t-shirt.

On the other hand, incline barbell presses are the move. By nature of the 45 degree incline, you’ll feel the load much more in your “upper chest,” and find yourself able to place more of the load directly on your chest as a whole.

Execution points:

  • Unless your programs specifies otherwise, use your most powerful, comfortable grip width. In all likelihood, you’re going to be pushing serious weight. So, you want to ensure that you’re in a stable position to do so.
  • Lower the bar with control (aim to take 2-3s to do so), until the bar is 1-2” off of your chest.
  • Pause for 1-2s, and flex your chest against the weight.
  • Without literally doing so, think of jamming your hands together as you contract your chest as hard as you can.
  • Drive the bar up explosively until you’re just shy of full lockout.
  • Rinse and repeat.

 

Low Incline DB Flyes w/Prone Grip

Why low incline dumbbell flyes are my “butter” chest movement:

To achieve an optimal training effect for any muscle, you need to work through a full range of motion, aiming for a hard contraction, and deep stretch. Most pressing movements will limit you in terms of how deep of a stretch you can get (at least without putting your shoulders at risk). Flyes, on the other hand, grant you the ability to emphasize the stretch portion of the movement, without having to use a ton of weight. Both of which are enhanced by the particulars of this fly movement; using a slight incline with a prone grip.

Execution points:

  • Use a 20-30 degree incline (for many pressing movements, slight angles are more effective than the defaults of flat, 45, and 70 degrees).
  • Open up your chest by pinching your shoulder blades together, maintaining a strong thoracic arch, and locking down your rib cage. Fight like hell to hold this position through your entire set.
  • Generally speaking, a slow and controlled tempo is well suited for fly movements.
  • Flare your elbows out wide as lower the dumbbells, and sink as deep into the stretch as your range of motion will allow.
  • Unless otherwise specified, briefly pause in the stretch position.
  • As you bring the dumbbells towards the contracted position, think of driving your elbows together instead of focusing on the dumbbells themselves.

 

Tying these movements together

As is the goal of The Spartan Muscle Series, there’re numerous ways which you can achieve a different training effect, and set up these two exercises for wildly different sessions. Below you’ll find four ways you can go about thrashing your chest by taking full advantage of these two “bread and butter” chest movements, and get your chest growing.

A1. Incline Barbell Press 9,7,3,9,7,3

The goal here is to use heavier loads on the second time through each rep range. Leave 1-2 reps in the tank on each first set of 9,7,3, then increment up for your second pass. Move right to A2.

A2. Low Incline DB Flyes w/Prone Grip 6×8-10

Coming off the heavier emphasis in A1, use a weight you can knock out 11-12 reps with, and knock out controlled, pumping reps. Jam as much blood into your chest as you can. Rest for 90-120s before moving back to A1.

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A1. Low Incline DB Flyes w/Prone Grip 6×12-15

This session is purely about building volume while working in the traditional “hypertrophy rep range.”

A2. Incline BB Presses 6×8

Flirt with failure on each set. Rest as needed before moving back to A1.

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A1. Low Incline DB Flyes w/Prone Grip 6×10-12

Keep these slow and controlled. Flare your elbows out wide as lower into the stretch, and bring the DBs together at the top, flexing hard in the contraction. Rest 60s between sets.

B1. Incline Barbell Press 6×6

This set & rep scheme is far and above my favourite for incline presses. Take your strongest grip, lower each rep over 3-4 seconds, and pause for 1-2 seconds when the bar is about 2 inches off of your chest. Flex your chest hard, and drive the bar up explosively. You’ll want to take 90s rest between sets.

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A1. Incline Barbell Press 10×10

Here’s a little taste of German Volume Training (GVT) to build up your chest in minimal time. Crisp, clean, controlled reps are key here, with no more than 75s rest between sets.

B1. Low Incline DB Flyes w/Prone Grip 6×10

Use the same execution principles as in A1. GVT is all about accumulating volume – there’s nothing fancy going on here. No more than 45-60s rest here.

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