Tips for improving your chest development

Written by Mark Coles - Follow on Google+ | Facebook | Twitter

If there’s one question I get asked a lot when a guy comes in for a consultation at our Nottingham Personal training gym, its’ how do I get a bigger chest? It usually only takes a quick look at their posture and a few questions about their training to be able to give them some solid reasons why it’s not been happening.

Guys spend day after day pounding the bench press in the hope that a bulging chest will simply appear before their very eyes, often to be disheartened when after months of training they’ve got nothing to show for it.

For quite a long time, chest development was a problem for me. Many years of rugby had left me with quite a few structural shoulder imbalances. Throughout my playing career I underwent reconstructive surgery on my left shoulder following a severe dislocation, and I suffered a full separation of my ac joint on the right. When I eventually stopped playing and transferred my training focus to body building, I hit a stumbling block. Unlike rugby where a defined chest was of no functional use to me, for my own personal physique development it was essential. I wanted that split line from the base of my pecs right up to the top of my sternum. Every time I trained my chest I used to get a massive pump in my shoulders but minimal to my chest. I knew I was able to fix this, I just needed a strategy.


My first step was to have some soft tissue release work on the tight internal rotators of my shoulders, (pec major, pec minor, lats, teres major, and subscapularis) my injuries had left me with quite a lot of scar tissue. I knew if I could break up some of this I’d have a lot more range. I’m very keen on using a treatment process I like to call treat then train, I’ve had a lot of success with my clients and athletes over the years. I get them to have their soft tissue work done first to improve range, and then follow that up immediately with the training component.

Now whilst I wanted my pecs to develop, the main reason they were lagging behind wasn’t because of a lack of enough bench press, it was down to a few other things. Firstly, I was unable to keep my shoulders retracted when I trying to press the weights (stability issue). Secondly, my shoulders were fatiguing before my chest even got chance to come to the party, and thirdly I had an inability to feel the muscles I actually wanted to train.

Now I’m going to save the stability issue for another time, the whole subject is an article in itself. I am however going to cover the two remaining points, why my shoulders were over working and why I couldn’t feel the muscles.

The first point I’m going to cover is the over activity of my shoulders. I knew that I was over working them, that’s why they were the main part of my upper body that was getting pumped up. What I needed was a way to get my chest engaged and take the emphasis off my shoulders. There are many different body building training methods out there, all serving a purpose in the quest to develop muscle mass. The one that stood out for me was called the pre exhaust method.

Pre Exhaust Method

This method isn’t new, it’s been around since the 1970’s and was first created by Nautilus founder Arthur Jones. Some systems stay around for a long time, simply because they work. In this method you are simply using an isolation exercise first to target a specific muscle group, before immediately adding in a compound movement for the same muscle group. When you use a compound exercise first, the load you are using is distributed across several muscles. The problem here is that weaker muscle groups will tire out quicker, if you stimulate the main muscle you are trying to hit first, then it will be fully stimulated when you add in the compound lift after wards. In my case the muscles that fatigued first were my shoulders and triceps, and my chest hardly got chance to come into its own.

The best thing I can do at this point is to give you a workout to follow, go away and try it and let me know how your chest feels in the next couple of days.

The workout:

A1           30 degree Incline Dumbbell pronated flyes - using the pre exhaust method
4 sets    8 – 10 reps          tempo 3110        rest zero – straight into A2

A2           30 degree Incline Dumbbell chest press semi supinated grip - using the pre exhaust method
4 sets    12 – 15 reps        tempo 40X0        rest 90 seconds

B1           Flat Dumbbell unloading flyes - using the pre exhaust method
4 sets    8 – 10 reps          tempo 2210        rest zero – straight into B2

B2           Flat barbell bench press using a wide grip - using the pre exhaust method
4 sets    12 – 15 reps        tempo 31X0        rest 90- seconds

Mind Muscle Connection

The second skill I used to focus on my chest development is something called the mind muscle connection and I use it every time I train. I remember watching Arnold Schwarzenegger in his bodybuilding film Pumping iron talking about this technique and he said that it played such a large part in his hugely successful career as a professional bodybuilder.

To be able to fully contract a muscle when you train, you need to be able to contract it at rest. Just take a minute to sit up and see if you can flex your pecs. I often ask my male clients to try this before they start training with me and I’m often proved right when they can’t do it.

You need to be able to connect your brain (mind), with the muscle you are trying to train (in this case your chest). All too often I see guys pumping out rep after rep and I know they can’t even feel the muscles their trying to train.

To use the mind muscle connection to help develop my upper chest I had to lift my chest as high as possible on the bench, pull back my shoulders and really concentrate to feel the muscle stretching on the lowering portion. I then had to switch on at the bottom of the rep to make sure that I contracted fully and used my upper chest to drive the weight back up.


It’s one thing going to the gym day in day out pumping iron, it’s another turning up switched on mentally and knowing that the muscles you’re training are going to be fully stimulated. They therefore stand a better chance of growing in the recovery process. If you’re not getting results, try my tips for chest development, you can even apply the same principles to other body parts that may be lagging too.

Please leave me any comments below, I appreciate all feedback and suggestions for any further articles.

Like this article? Please share it...

Your comments