Anthony Mychal Hybrid Blueprint

Click here for a free Athletic X Physique Workbook and learn about the Eight Essential Exercises for the X Physique.
Smart one you are.

The Best Damn Guide for Building Upper Chest Size and Strength

by 123 comments

You know those cool polyester shirts that feel oh-so-awesome in the summer time? The super athletic ones? The ones you buy twelve of because they look awesome in the store?

Yeah, I do too.

Even though I don’t wanna.

Because, despite my seeded desires, when I wear them, I somehow grow a pair of tits. With hard nipples, to boot.

A Ron Burgundy blame-it-on-the-pleats optical illusion?

Perhaps.

But it doesn’t matter

The biggest sore spot for most guys has gotta’ be the upper chest. Wimpy arms are liveable. But being collapsed under the collar bone? Talk about a downer.

The upper chest is a life changer. It affects the clothes you wear and how confident you feel. Every. Damn. Day.

I know how you feel. Let’s fix it together.

Now, I don’t want to fool you: I don’t have a model upper chest. My pressing strength isn’t ideal either. But I’m writing this anyway because you can learn from my failures, and I’ve never seen an upper chest article that focused on principles rather than exercises.

I’ve listened to anecdotes about “just getting the bench press stronger” to fix my woes. But at my pressing peaks I was just as unsatisfied with my upper chest as I was at my pressing lows.

Writing about Evosport and long duration isometrics made me realize that I reprogrammed my glutes like a champ over the past few years.

Couldn’t similar concepts apply to the upper chest? Couldn’t it be repatterned to increase activation? Wouldn’t that then lead to greater size?

To give you a hint, I’m two weeks into this little “experiment” and my chest is the most proportionate it’s been in my life. Things are looking good. Here’s how you can say the same thing.

IS ISOLATING THE UPPER CHEST A MYTH?

Some say preferentially building the upper chest is impossible. Instead of butchering the words of Dr. Clay Hyght, I’ll just quote this piece from Building a Bodybuilder Chest:

You may have heard of the “all or none” principle of muscle contraction. Essentially, here’s what it means: When stimulated, a muscle fiber will either contract or it won’t.

Some people have erroneously adapted the all-or-none principle to mean that an entire muscle will either contract or it won’t. These confused individuals will go on to tell you that exercise variations are practically pointless when training the chest because the entire pectoralis major will either contract or it won’t.

This is some seriously misguided logic to say the least.

For starters, although still considered part of the pectoralis major, the clavicular pectoralis is actually a separate muscle with a separate nerve innervation.

Although the entire sternal head of the pectoralis major does share a common nerve innervation, the angle of the muscle fibers varies tremendously from top to bottom. For that reason, the line of pull is different throughout different areas of the muscle.

Luckily for us, your body (or brain rather) will recruit or call upon the portion of the muscle that’s best suited to perform the movement in question. So if you were to do a movement in which the lower fibers of the pectoralis major are in the best mechanical advantage to execute the movement, then those will be the primary fibers recruited to do the work —thank goodness!

So yes, you can emphasize different sections of the chest from top to bottom. But notice I said emphasize, not isolate!

So fixing the upper chest starts with repatterning the clavicular pectoralis—the triangle shaped muscle that creates the upper chest. Just like people do with the glutes, the goal is to better recruit the upper chest in every pressing movement. This hinges on two things: increasing overall activation, and using optimal mechanical positions during lifts.

HOW TO INCREASE ACTIVATION

In my X Physique article, I touch on the bodybuilder mindset.

When it comes to lifting weights, the goal is to continually overload the muscles. The easiest and most trackable way to do this is by slapping more plates on the bar. The problem with this philosophy is that the muscles become secondary to the weight.

But the muscles are what actually lift the weights.

But when dealing with “carving” a physique, Arnold said it best: “The weights are just a means to an end; how well you contract the muscles is what training is all about.”

Control the weight, mentally and physically, through-out the entire range of motion. Make the muscles work in every phase. Think about them squeezing and lengthening.

Research proves that a greater mental connection with a muscle results in a greater activation. Old time bodybuilders will back that up. So instead of thinking general overload, think specific overload. It’s less about pressing and more about the upper chest. You no longer press. You power through a movement with the upper chest. Here’s how to make this happen.

1. I credit this to Frank Yang. During every repetition of every lift, picture your body as nothingness except for the muscle you’re targeting. Check out the anatomy dude above. Envision that. Seriously. Try it. It works. Close your eyes and practice it before every set. Think of the targeted muscle lighting up bright red in a sea of white.

2. Pre-exhaust the upper chest with an abundance of activation exercises (see below) before any bigger pressing movement. Yes, your performance will drop on the bigger pressing movement. No, it doesn’t matter. The goal is to specifically overload the upper chest.

3. Do unilateral lifts. Put your hand on the upper chest of the arm at work. Feel it contracting. This sensory connection helps.

4. Start with isometrics. When trying to activate, don’t go too complex too soon. You need time to think about what’s going on — time to develop the connection with the mind. Dynamic contractions don’t often afford this.

5. Keep stress on the muscle at lockout. Too often, lifts are locked out with the joints. Learn how to lockout a lift and still feel the stress in the target muscle.

HOW TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF MECHANICS

The upper chest has two main functions: flexion (think of raising your hands) and horizontal adduction (think of clapping hands together). This means  two things:

1. The elbows should be pinned to the rib cage during most (if not all) pressing.

2. It’s best to press in an upward and inward diagonal plane.

But we can’t stop there…

3. If a lift doesn’t target the upper chest, don’t do it. This means parting with both dips and bench presses. Deal with it for now. As Dan John says, “The goal is to keep the goal.” Down the line, if you even things out, go back and own those exercises.

4. Pack the shoulders in the correct position for optimal upper chest activation. Keeping them “back and down” opposes both of the upper chest’s main functions. Practice this by putting one hand on the opposing side’s upper chest, retract your scapula, and shrug your shoulder blade around. You will hit a position with the upper chest fairly active. This is your new lockout position. See #5 below for why.

5. Live on unilateral dumbbell exercises. According to Frederic Delavier, author of the Strength Training Anatomy books, “With bilateral work, both shoulders are driven backward supporting the weight, putting them on stretch and causing greater delt recruitment. Working one side at a time means using less weight, therefore the shoulder stays in place and doesn’t get as involved.” (The above information was taken from Sean Hyson’s blog post, Bodybuilding That Isn’t B.S.)

6. Shallower inclines may be better than steeper inclines. The latter tends to put more emphasis on the shoulders.

7. Don’t ever flare your elbows on any pressing.

8. Take the muscle through a fully stretched range of motion. This is a toughie that’s better explained during some of the actual exercise descriptions below.

9. On dumbbell presses, rotate the wrists when nearing the lockout so that the pinky fingers face towards the body. This adducts the arm — a function of the upper chest.

10. Try pressing in an arc. Understand the function of the upper chest: think of clapping and raising your hands at the same time. So to stretch the muscle you have to oppose this movement, which means bringing the arms down and out a bit. But to shorten it, it has to be returned to the clap position which means the arms not only have to drive away, but also up towards the head.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT EXERCISES

All of the numbered points above form the philosophy of building the upper chest. All of the exercises listed below, in some way, abide by the guidelines above. They are broken down into two categories. Activation exercises are used frequently to awaken the upper chest. Base exercises are more readily overloaded, making them better suited to traditional training guidelines.

As you read through these exercises, don’t forget mechanics and activation sections above. For instance, the elbow will always be in tight. Top half range of motion is often shorter. Remember, we aren’t pressing. We are overloading the upper chest. Flexing the arm above a certain point shifts the focus to the shoulders. That’s a no no. All focus stays on the upper chest.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT ACTIVATION EXERCISES

1. Isometric Band Work

On of the simplest ways to get the upper chest to fire is with isometric-esque band flies. I prefer hooking the band around a doorknob or something waist height, not necessarily under the foot as shown in the picture.

Put your non-working hand on the opposing side’s upper chest to make sure it’s doing it’s thang. Get maximal tension in the band and press into a psuedo-lockout. Rotate the wrist so the pinky faces the midline of your body. From here do little “pulses” bringing the band both up and across your body. Range of motion will be teeny tiny. The goal here is to increase blood flow to the area and to familiarize yourself with what it “feels” like to fire the upper chest.

2. Hyght Flies

Hyght flies are named after Dr. Clay Hyght, who has written extensively about the upper chest. Once again, I’ll let him do the talking:

My purpose for creating the exercise was to target the clavicular pectoralis with its most pure function, which is to fle (raise the arm up) and horizontally adduct (move toward the midline) the shoulder joint.

Begin by lying on your back on a bench inclined to about 60 degrees. After grabbing a light set of dumbbells. begin the movement with your arms hanging straight down and your palms facing forward. Initiate the movement by bringing your arms up and in across your body.

Think of forming a triangle with the path of the dumbbells, with the point of the triangle (the finished position) up over your nose. I have found it optimal to have the pinky side of the dumbbbells come together, forming a 90 degree angle. Make sure to perform the movement by pulling with your upper pecs, not the shoulder or biceps.

Just to note, Dr. Hyght finishes with an interesting note: pull with the upper pecs. This goes back to learning how to pack your shoulders correctly for optimal upper chest activation as mentioned in #4 of the mechanics section.

3. Modified Svend Press

Smash two plates together and hold them in front of your body. Instead of pressing them straight out, like in the regular Svend Press, press them up. Keep the elbows in tight. This isn’t really a “press.” It’s more of a front raise. Keep the stress on the upper chest.

4. Band V Press

The band v press is a great exercise because it fully stretches the upper chest at the bottom. Notice the start position. The elbow isn’t in tight, and the wrist is pronated. Focus on ripping the clavicular pectoralis from the bone to get a good stretch.

For the actual movement, bring the elbow in and rotate the wrist with the press. You can also press “out” at a 45 degree angle to get more tension on the band..

CHOOSING THE RIGHT BASE EXERCISES

1. 30 degree, Low Incline, Close Grip Incline Barbell Press

Throw away all other barbell pressing. Compared to a flat press, the upper chest isn’t necessarily recruited all that much more, but the lower chest is less recruited. Using the close grip and the shallow incline makes it all the better.

Note: The low incline is preferred to a higher incline because higher inclines tend to shift the focus to the shoulder.

2. 30 degree, Low Incline, Incline Dumbbell Press

Perhaps even better than incline barbell pressing is incline dumbbell pressing. Dumbbells make it easier to keep the elbows in tight, get a good stretch, and press in an arc up over the face.

You can also twist the dumbbells so that the pinky finger’s face each other at the top of the movement — perhaps even touching them and doing an isometric squeeze — to involve more of the upper chest.

Also, keeping in mind #5 of the mechanics section, it might be beneficial to do all of your dumbbell pressing unilaterally. Keep the non-working hand on the upper chest of the working arm.

3. 30 degree, Low Incline, Incline Fly

Flys can be good. They can also be bad if you don’t know how to pack the shoulders correctly (see #3 of the mechanics section). Keep the stress on the upper chest. Stay humble with the weight on this exercise.

4. 30 degree, Low Incline, Incline Squeeze Press

This exercise comes from John Romaniello. Squeeze two dumbbells together as hard as possible while doing incline presses. Keep the elbows in tight and emphasize pressing in an arc on this exercise. So bring the bells down to the nipple area and press them up to a position over your face.

5. Low to High Cable Fly

You can check out the interworkings of this exercise here.

6. Unilateral Dumbbell Floor Press

If I had to pick a “go to” exercise to learn how to properly pack the shoulder for upper chest activation, this would be it. Read about this exercise here.

7. The V Press

I “invented” this exercise in attempt to have a moderately overloadable exercise that would stretch and stress the upper chest in a way that met most of the guidelines above.

For this press, go through full range of motion at the bottom. Think about poking underneath of your collar bone with your thumb. As with most other exercises, keep the elbow in and only press as far as your upper chest can control.

8. Front Shoulder Raise With Thumbs Up

Raise the arms until they are 15 degrees above parallel. Do these with a plate and squeeze it during the reps.

THE INS AND OUTS OF REPATTERNING PROGRAMMING

As you know, I’m more of a minimalist when it comes to exercise selection. So don’t be confused by the wide array of exercises above.

I know that the bulk of our progress is going to come from a few things:

  • Increasing activation
  • Using and understanding proper mechanics
  • Avoiding any pressing that doesn’t preferentially hit the upper chest
  • Leveling up one or two big exercises over time

You can do all of the pump work you want, but if you aren’t continually overloading the incline press or one of the dumbbell presses while adhering to proper mechanics, your progress will be sub-par.

So the plan shakes out like this:

1) Do one of the activation exercises every day. You can rotate though if you want. Incorporate some kind of isometric contraction with each movement. For instance, do the modified Svend press with a five second pause at the top.

Something like three sets with 10-20 repetitions is ideal for these. If you want, do a different one every day. Do them more than once per day, too. When improving activation, frequency is fantastic. But, remember, the goal is always to increase the “feel” throughout the upper chest. Have your mind in every repetition.

2) Pick either the barbell incline press or the dumbbell incline press and use that as your marker of improvement. So whichever you choose, focus on progressive overload over time. This doesn’t mean busting a maximal load every session. Sometimes you will need to sketch. But over the span of your training life: More weight. More reps. Less rest in between sets. Whatever. Just make sure you’re using proper mechanics.

Putting up an extra twenty pounds doesn’t matter if you’re squirming around like a salmon under the bar. Building the upper chest is a gut check. Only those that throw their ego aside will prosper.

3) Stick with high(er) repetitions. On the big lift(s) chosen above, stick with the 6-10 range. It’s light enough to ensure form. Heavy enough to be “heavy.”

4) Consider specializing. This may sound off to some, but think about training the upper chest three times per week. Even bolder, think about training it every day. There’s a template for this below, but it comes down to doing one base lift submaximally every day. You can recover as long as you play your cards right. Trust me.

5) Take smaller jumps during a warm-up. For example, if you’re working up to an incline bench press of 185 for 6 reps, your warm up might look like this:

45×6

65×6

95×6

115×6

135×6

155×6

185×6

Then, depending on your preferred method of overload, you can do sets across at your maximum weight, drop sets, whatever. (Or just stop there as that’s a hefty workload.) But, for the most part, the warm-up is the bulk of the workout because you don’t want to take a sudden jump that makes it difficult for you to maintain proper upper chest recruitment.

NORMAL GUY SAMPLE ROUTINE

Most guys train pressing once or twice per week. So here are two workouts. If you only train once per week, simply rotate through the workouts. So the first week, do the first workout listed. Week two, do the second. If you train twice per week, you’re good to go.

Every morning: 3 sets of 15, band v press, 5 second isometric hold at maximum contraction

Pre-exhaust (done right before pressing sessions): 3 sets of 10, modified Svend press, 5 second isometric hold at top

Workout A

Incline Barbell Press, work up to a heavy set of 8

V Press 3×15

Low to High Cable Fly 1x failure

Workout B

Unilateral Dumbbell Floor Press 4×6

Unilateral Incline Press 2×15

Low to High Cable Fly 1x failure

HIGH FREQUENCY SAMPLE ROUTINE

For the high frequency routine, it’s best to have two “main” pressing sessions per week.

Every morning: 3 sets of 15, band v press, 5 second isometric hold at maximum contraction

Pre-exhaust (done right before pressing sessions): 3 sets of 10, modified Svend press, 5 second isometric hold at top

Daily Workout

V Press 3×10

-Done with a weight that could be handled for 15-20 repetitions

Workout A (Tuesday)

Incline Barbell Press work up to a heavy set of 8

Workout B (Friday)

Unilateral Incline Press 4×8

BONUS: BODYBUILDER SPECIALIZATION ROUTINE

Every morning: 3 sets of 15, band v press, 5 second isometric hold at maximum contraction

Pre-exhaust (done right before pressing sessions): 3 sets of 10, modified Svend press, 5 second isometric hold at top

Workout A (Monday)

Unilateral Dumbbell Floor Press 4×6

V Press 3×15

Workout B (Wednesday)

Unilateral Incline Press 2×15

Low to High Cable Fly 1×15

Workout C (Friday)

Incline Barbell Press, work up to a heavy set of 6

Mechanical Drop Set, 3 sets

  • Do a set of incline flies to near failure. Without putting the dumbbells down, go right into incline dumbbell presses.

CONCLUDING REMARKS (AND MY PROGRAM)

The exercises listed aren’t special by any means, but that shouldn’t be surprising. Instead, focus on the principles: Not doing bench presses or dips. Keeping the elbows tight and in. Trying to press with an arc. Getting the upper pecs to fire better. Only using the range of motion controlled by the upper chest.

And as for the absurd amount of activation work, keep it around for about eight weeks. After that, tone it down to warm-ups and perhaps a mild pre-exhaust.

For those of you wondering where to include overhead pressing, ditch the second workout on the Normal Guy and High Frequency templates. Do your overhead presses there. But the specialization routine is “specialized” for a reason. Forego the overheads for the time being if you want to walk that path.

As far as the training program I’m currently on and seeing results from — it’s essentially the high frequency program. I’m in the summer haze of lifting every day, which calls for incline pressing to a moderate intensity 3-4 times per week. But I do v presses daily along with the activation work. Very sketchy. But, so far, very productive.

UPDATES AS OF 6/11

KEEPING “TUCKED” SHOULDERS

Keeping the shoulders close to the torso (or using a close grip) activates the upper chest because it adducts the arm. Self guided research by Bret Contreras showed that close grip bench presses active the upper chest nearly as much as incline pressing.

Keeping the elbows close to the torso is difficult on barbell exercises because the wrist is pronated (to hold the bar). So try holding them to a flare of 15-30 degrees. On dumbbell exercises, however, keep the elbows in tight. No more than 15 degrees of flare.

This puts more emphasis on both the shoulders and triceps, which is fine. If you’re worried either will fatigue before the upper chest gets “enough” work, consider intensive pre-exhausting with any of the activation exercises listed above.

THE 242 PROGRAM

If you follow The 242 Method, here are some ideas:

Pick either the dumbbell or barbell incline presses as your main marriage lift.

On your low intensity days, pick any of the dumbbell exercises. Do them with a controlled tempo, short of failure. Focus on engorging the upper chest with blood. Get jacked. Simulate. Don’t annihilate. Incline squeeze presses, incline flies, unilateral dumbbell floor presses, and low to high flys all work well here. Try ‘em all. See what ones you can best get a mental connection with. Stick to higher reps .

THREE NOTES ON THE V PRESS

First, by nature of the movement, your lower back will be hyperextended. This freaks some people out. But old school pressers used to hyperextend the back a lot. I don’t find it a big deal as long as you do two things: squeeze the glutes and lock the abs. This creates a solid base to work from and will protect your spine.

Second, don’t just press up. Press out. I called it the V press because the angle of your body and arm form a “V” of sorts.  This hits another one of the upper chest’s functions: shoulder flexion.

Now, don’t go extreme. Too far out limits the weight you can use. The goal of the V Press isn’t activation, it’s overload. (As long as the upper chest is the muscle doing the main work.) This takes some experimentation, but you might only be pressing 5 degrees out of the vertical plane.

Third, don’t think of this exercise as a “jab.” Most people are jab pressers that drive movement from the triceps. If you’re privy to fighting, think of the V press as more of an uppercut. Don’t really focus on the “extension” part. Drive from the shoulder and upper chest.

Uppercut. Don’t jab. Maybe I should have called it the uppercut press?

+++++

What do you think? Have any exercises that didn’t make the list? Any principles that I overlooked? I’d love to hear your opinion, so shoot a comment below.

 

Update: since first writing this, I’ve made something that you probably should check out if this post interests you. It details a full repatterning program and some great exercises that you can use — it’s sort of a polish and expanded upon version of all of this. I call it A Mortal Man’s Guide to Building a Masterful Upper ChestJust some of the things I’ve learned over the years.

Throw your email address into the box for the Athletic-Aesthetic Hybrid Workbook and honestly good stuff. [


xEmail privacy guaranteed, opting out is a breeze if you change your mind. This course also comes with a free subscription to updates: I send you totally cool and relevant stuff once in a while.

115 comments… add one

  • Doesn’t keepin elbows resting on the ribcage activate the triceps? Like in close grip barcell bench press.
    The body-elbows angle confuses me. Flaring at 90 doesn’t seem to work, shoulders get way too much into it. Keeping elbows touching the body seems to involve the triceps too much.The best I found was like 30.
    Can you clarify this? Thank you.

    Awesome article, cool insights.

    Reply
    • The closer the grip the more the triceps are involved. Basically the more flared they are, the more active the chest — as a whole — is.

      The reason for keeping the elbows in is stated in the article — the upper chest adducts the arm. The closer the arm is to the torso, the more “adducted” it is. Simple as that.

      I think 30 is fine for barbell work. Dumbbells, I’d like to keep it closer though.

      Reply
      • I believe the reason why keeping the arms tucked rather close to the sides works well to target the upper chest is because shoulder flexion is then emphasized (raising the arms up), with a bit of adduction too. I would have thought that keeping the arms tucked very close would lead to slightly less upper chest involvement and slightly more front delts…am I off track?

        Reply
        • Sven. Thanks for the reply. It’s a function of adduction. Front delts do get worked more. I’m going to expand on this in a revision.

          Reply
  • Holy hearts and rupees, you wrote another book, man! Funny thing, I was just looking in the mirror this morning and having wistful thoughts about growing some upper pecitude. This weekend after work, I’ll have to dig in and dissect this monster information bomb, and get to work with it.

    Merci beau coup, as always.

    Reply
  • Great article Anthony! I liked it especially since this applies to me so much… Very in depth as well. Dude we have pretty much the same body structure and it looks like the same mind set as well that just about every article you write applies very well to me and my training. Thanks… Maybe a lat development article in the future? Good stuff man!

    Reply
    • Perhaps. But I haven’t had as much trouble in that area. I love pulling so it gets done.

      Reply
  • Would Fatgripz be appropriate with the presses? I never quite know if there is an advantage to pressing with the Gripz…

    Reply
    • You could use them if you wanted to. The big advantage with pressing with the fat grip is that it locks in the wrist which locks in the chain and keeps everything a bit tighter.

      Reply
  • Good article!

    I do have a question though; in some of your articles you refer to muscles as tonic as phasic, and the pectoralis (both major and minor) are considered tonic. Why, then, should we be concerned about overly strengthening them and making them prime movers in upper body pushing?

    Reply
    • Well, they ARE the prime movers in upper body pushing, depending on what direction you are pushing in.

      But to answer your question, because for those of us with lackluster upper chest, it’s more of a psychological thing. Looking good in a shirt, you know. And without one.

      Reply
  • Cool article, Anthony.
    I was wondering if a Reverse Grip Bench Press (possibly done on an incline bench) was of any use when trying to build the upper chest since you can’t really flare the elbows on this exercise and the pinkies face each other the whole time?

    Btw, your blog is awesome.
    Greetings from Germany

    Reply
    • Technically, yes. But I don’t like them all that much. Leave the fancy stuff for dumbbells.

      And thanks. Glad to have you. I’m a big fan of your beer.

      Reply
  • Helder Luis June 9, 2012 3:32 pm

    Awesome post, i believe it’s best article i’ve ever read about upper chest development, very complete, i feel the pain of upper chest being hard to develop while lower chest grows just by looking at it :) i’m going to start aplying this precious knowledge you gave here. I was for sure abusing the high inclines and giving my shoulders all the work. Almost everyone forgets about activating the muscles the right way and the mind-muscle conection. Thanks a lot for this article.

    Reply
  • Anthony- This post is awesome, easily the best post I have ever read on upper chest activation/development (and since the idea can be applied to all muscle groups, this is definitely one of those articles that I will bookmark and come back to often). Being as how I have been completely obsessed with this exact thing for the past month or so I am kinda jealous I didn’t think of writing something like this- oh well, I’ll just link to you from my website.
    I’m glad to see that you can acknowledge that there often is more to building a great body than just “hitting the compound lifts” and letting the cards fall as they may. Specific results requires specific action- that will never change. Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for posting here, Eric. It’s a philosophy that I’ve overlooked, which is why I preach about it. Specific. Specific.

      Reply
  • Jesse Plunkett June 10, 2012 3:38 am

    Great article anthony, I could really benefit from a lot of these ideas.

    Reply
  • what about bodyweight exercises? does pushup with my feet elevated hit my upper chest? :)
    thanx..

    Reply
    • Yes. Hits more of the middle fibers, according to Bret Contreras’s self research. And, of course, contraction strength isn’t as large compared to using weights.

      Reply
  • GREAT article, thank you. I know you just wrote this huge article, as well as the 242 method but would you consider writing or commenting as to how you would combine some of your principles from both into one plan of action? I.e., my 4 marriage lifts would be rack deadlift, overhead squat, chin-ups, and incline barbell bench (with the DL/OHS having alternating light/heavy days). So that would take care of the main two days, and the “do whatever” non spine loading stuff for the upper chest would fall on the remaining two days. This is where I’m getting stuck due to information overload. =) Thanks.

    Reply
    • I’ll do this more in an update. But here’s a rundown:

      Incline DB or BB = marriage

      Everything else just groove for reps on low intensity days — squeeze presses, unilateral inclines, etc…

      Reply
  • Wow you honestly write the most incredible articles. This is so brilliant. The idea of using isometrics to reprogram muscle activation and thus fixing a hypertrophy problem is genius.

    One qualm, however. I DO NOT at all like your amount of lumbar hyperextension doing those V-Presses with the dumbbell. Don’t want to cause a new problem trying to fix an old one.

    Reply
    • Thanks Drew. Really appreciate that.

      On the lumbar hyper extension, I’ll respectfully disagree. My abs are tight. Glutes are locked down. Sure, I’m in hyperextension, but I know how to keep my body grounded. Perhaps I should touch on this in an update to the post. I’ll keep this in mind — thanks for the idea.

      Reply
      • Huh…interesting. I mean I obviously realize you know more about me on the subject, but it just seems counterintuitive. My lumbar spine has been causing me a little bit of discomfort lately and the thought constantly going through my head is “Am I going into too much flexion? Am I going into too much hyperextension while swimming?? What’s the damn problem???” but from what you’re saying it sounds like you’re argument would be that intra-abdominal pressure is the most important thing? I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts, because I’m really sick of the nagging pain in my lower back. I’d love a post on the subject. Regardless, keep up the good work! (But on a similar subject, Bret’s article that went live on T-Nation today pretty much shot down my thinking as well)

        Reply
        • Well, not saying hyperextension is always encouraged, but by keeping tight glutes and locked in abs, your minimizing the vertebrae’s chance of herniating by reducing the range of motion possible.

          Reply
  • Talal (KonEl) June 10, 2012 11:59 pm

    You mentioned ditching dips and such for a while. What do you think about planche progressions exercises? Would you ditch them too? At the end of the day I think the front delts and traps play a big role but I’m not quite sure what it hits in terms of pecs, probably lower.

    On that note however, if you can do basic free handstand pushups, it’s actually easier to lower into about a 60 degree lean and do pushups in that position. Definitely easier than the equivalent planche pushup (of any level) and maybe hits the upper chest more.

    Reply
    • Planches are cool. I wouldn’t think they would negatively impact anything.

      Reply
    • Anthony,

      I really got a lot out of your post on upper chest size and strength. I’m incorporating your ideas into my routine and feel the excercises are very beneficial. I re-read through the post every workout and seem to find a new point each time.

      Would you share your thoughts on age? I’m a 47 year old guy that’s got some problem areas like upper chest. Should routine, frequency, sets, reps be modified to reflect age? I feel diet is a huge part of the answer but I haven’t found a formula that works yet.

      Thanks for any info!

      Reply
      • Well to build the upper chest, you need to build muscle. It’s possible at your age. Usually older peeps need to use more volume and a lower % 1RM to respect the tissues and recovery.

        Reply
  • Lots of good info for a much needed area for my physique development. I really like the principles behind this article and I also am starting to really see where isometric and real low level excercises can really finish off a physique.

    Reply
  • Great article Anthony! You are truly killing it lately man. Your approach to almost every sort of training is constantly illuminating light bulbs in my head. I suffer from a lack of upper chest development as well and can’t wait to get going with this. Kudos!

    Reply
  • Excellent article, Anthony! I really think you’ve got something going with this muscle activation in regards to hypertrophy as someone mentioned above. It’s pretty awesome you’re pioneering a new angle. This concept is so versatile. It could be done for the back, legs, etc. Awesome job! This article reminds me why I followed you in the first place. Not that your other articles haven’t either. It’s just that I really appreciate the innovation and thinking outside the box.

    I’m in for the experiment. I’m excited. I think I’ll be doing the high frequency sample routine. I’ll let you know how it goes in about eight weeks!

    Reply
    • Well, I’ll take the compliments, but I certainly didn’t pioneer the stuff. It simply is ignored by most people think that the only thing that matters is plates on the bar.

      Reply
      • Sorry about that. And I had a feeling that I was wrong when I said it too :[. But you are bringing it to people’s attention for sure, so thanks for that. I need to read more fitness blogs and books. I’m losing my edge ఠ_ఠ.

        Reply
  • What about pectoralis minor? That would mean a superset of pullovers with a downward shrugging action at the top of a dip ala Kelso’s course.

    Reply
    • The pec minor doesn’t really run the length of the upper chest. It’s size isn’t really going to affect much outside of maybe near the shoulder.

      Reply
  • I tried out several of your exercises yesterday and I loved it! For the first time I could feel my upper chest working. However, my shoulders felt really banged up the entire session. I dont normally have any shoulder problems but yesterday if I wasnt very mindful of my scapula I would have to stop the set because of shoulder pain.

    Reply
  • Great article. Next month is ‘aesthetics month’ to work on lagging areas. I’ll be hitting up these exercises with vigour.
    Cheers

    Daev.

    Reply
  • Anthony! I bring good news. I was just doing the incline press and my father just told me that I wasn’t pushing evenly! This is great! The bar was lower on my right side when I pushed it up. It was a problem I was trying to fix recently. But it seems it’s gone. AND I felt my upper chest working wayyy more intensely than before. It was easier to “call upon” the muscle. I applied the same focus as I would and it was extremely easy to use that muscle! I’m ecstatic.

    And this was just on day one. I love the Modified Svend Press so much now. It’s done wonders to my upper chest activation so far. I’ll keep you posted for sure!

    Reply
  • Sorry for the double post, but I meant that I WAS pushing evenly. I made a mistake in my excitement. Sorry about that.

    Reply
  • Benjamin Schnare June 13, 2012 4:17 am

    Finally got to read this, great information, thank you for writing

    Reply
  • Stopped reading when I got to “For starters, although still considered part of the pectoralis major, the clavicular pectoralis is actually a separate muscle with a separate nerve innervation.” Separate innervation does not mean separate muscle. The pectorals major is ONE muscle. Full stop. The clavicular portion is not a separate muscle. This is basic anatomy 101. Further, if you’re going to plagiarize stuff word for word from T Nation, at least admit it and don’t act like it’s your own material.

    Reply
    • Eric, credit is given (and linked to) and the entire section sits in a quote box. Perhaps you stopped reading because you can’t read well, in general?

      Reply
  • JohnPGemini July 10, 2012 5:47 pm

    So how is the progress so far with these? is it actually worth it to try when Im bench pressing 315lbs (plus) … I have seen great results in Spec Work outs like HSS-100 … But if I pick the Spec work out, how would you fit in the rest of the muscle groups?

    Reply
    • Progress has been good. Might want to check in with JC Deen, as I know he’s doing stuff with this information, too.

      You would have to give me the workout to see. Usually specialization workouts are meant to put everything else on maintenance.

      Reply
  • I’m weak. I couldn’t commit to forgoing bench pressing.

    Luckily, I stuck to close-grip pressing with lighter poundages and reverse-grip pressing on higher loads, and I can feel my upper chest in these movements very well.

    Now I can feel my chest without activation in these movements as well as dumbbell pressing. Thanks AM.

    Reply
  • Hey Anthony, still exploring your site and finding gems like this. My chest has always been THE biggest concern of mine. To the point where I stopped lifting weights for years after only starting for a month because I was worrying about my chest getting bigger.

    Am in week 3 of intermittent fasting (thanks for your articles and chaos bulk PDFs!) and weight training and I have to admit I’m already feeling better about it, especially due to my upper chest work. This article really helped get my head around it all.

    Anyway, excuse the ramble. I was just wondering about a spotter for incline BB press. You APPEAR to workout alone as do I. Because of the line the bar takes and where the bar is reset afterwards I’m worried that when it gets heavier I’m gonna struggle/it will be dangerous without a spotter. What are your thoughts on this?

    Cheers

    PS interesting that someone mentioned lumbar hyper extension because I have to admit, I thought the lordosis was considerable. And as for abs and glutes, don’t they bring the pelvis into posterior tilt and lower lordosis? (I’m someone who suffers with a ‘too straight’ spine). Just sayin…you obviously know what you’re doing/how it feels etc!!

    Reply
    • Abs and glutes posteriorly rotate pelvis, yeah.

      As for your concern, I never EVER max out. Or come close to maxing out. I don’t do the incline press for absolute strength. It gets stronger. But always through submax training.

      Even then, I have the pins set at a height that allows me to drop the weight on them. Power racks are wonderful creations.

      Reply
  • Cool, cheers. Really quick reply as always. Much appreciated.

    Reply
  • Quick question on the workout; when you write that we should execute a 5 second isometric hold, do you mean that we should execute this hold for every rep or is this 5 second hold something we do in addition to the reps?

    For instance, I run through the three sets of 15 v band presses and then go for a 5 second iso hold one time at the end?

    Reply
    • For activation exercises, it’s all about feel. Feel. Feel. Whatever helps you get a better feel. Iso holds help feel, which is why I like them as much as you can tolerate them.

      Reply
  • I dont get exactly what is the third day of exercices in de bonus bodybuilder routine. Work up to a heavy set of 6 what is that mean..only one set of 6? Im french so maybe i just dont get it lol

    Reply
  • Great article.

    As F.M. Alexander taught, USE determines everything.

    My first stumbling steps into physical culture were an obsession with pushups, which started at age 11, three-and-a-half decades ago.

    I’ve done millions (maybe!) of conventional pushups, and consequently my upper chest lags, the middle pecs having learned to do all the work, all the time.

    I’m now re-educating my USE – I stumbled across your blog, found your ideas very helpful – thanks!

    I’ve been doing something a bit like your Modified Svend Press with a heavy little sandbag and getting good activation of upper pec out of it – didn’t realize until I read your analysis WHY it was working.

    Reply
  • Are prominently visible collar bones a sign of under developed upper chest muscles or they just indicate one being skinny?

    Reply
  • So am is skinny or need to work out upper chest or both?
    (Picture came out little weird)

    link to pic-

    http://i1277.photobucket.com/albums/y492/Vik-r/08062013010_zpsdf8ba904.jpg

    Reply
    • Can’t tell much. You need like a full body shot so I can see proportion of eerrrthang. Email me if you wanna

      Reply
  • Very interesting article Anthony, I’d love to try it, but I don’t go to a gym. I exercise at home, doing several variations of pushups (with some pushups handles to reduce stress on the wrists), squats, crunches, and sometimes I use a some very interesting things I bought called AkroWheels (like the AbWheel, but with looks like a pair of barbells, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9ZbDGyDEy8).

    So… what about training chest with push ups and simple home equipment? What would you suggest that could be good to try? Are these wheels really good or am I just getting myself tired in vane?

    Reply
    • My thoughts are that you can’t unscrew a screw without a screwdriver. This guide necessitates a screwdriver.

      Push-ups aren’t enough. You must look to the planche.

      Reply
  • Hey Ant. Just wondering if you have any links to the Bret Contreras close grip bench press info. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Search Google for T-Nation Bret Contreras Best Chest Exercises

      Or something to that effect. It’s an article he wrote for them.

      Reply
  • Hi Anthony..
    I really liked ur article and followed exercises bt i hav an issue as my inner upper chest is developed but my outer upper chest is flat near pec delt tie in area
    Any exercise that could help me put mass on that area
    Any suggestion wud be lifesaver

    Reply
    • The isolation you talk about is impossible, as the fibers run that way. Any exercise you do to target one end of the fibers will hit them all. You just need to grow your chest. Get strong on dips and full range of motion presses.

      Reply
  • I have tried contracting my upper Pec when doing heavy one arm Overhead Presses but I flared My elbow!

    Now I have this pain UNDER my Delts whenever I try to press incline or overhead but only in the last part of the movement, like from 90 degrees to lockout.

    What should I do? I have been taking Ibuprofen (an anti inflammatory) and have avoided all pressing for like a week but I still cant press overhead or incline without some pain or weakness.

    (It dosen’t seem like a Pec tear because there is no bruising/swelling or deformation)

    Reply
    • Don’t take an anti-inflammatory, first off. Second, your problem can be many. If your elbow caved out, you likely don’t know how to create torque in your shoulder when pressing.

      Reply
      • OK thanks, do you have any advice on how long it will take to heal? and is there anything i could do to speed it up? Thank you for your advice :)

        Reply
  • Wow. This is an excellent breakdown and analysis.
    I’m going to implement this in my strength training routine.
    We’ll see what the results are at the end of December.

    Reply
  • Is the above workout regimen included or available in book form

    Reply
    • I have a book coming out about the upper chest. Design is being finalized as we speak. I’d expect it within a week or two.

      Reply
  • Played with the activation as I read – wonderful. Never would have tried it if you didn’t lay out the principles.

    You are a subsistence hunter of information, Anthony.

    Reply
  • Great article! one question
    low to high cable flyes or high to low cable flyes?
    Ben Pakulski goes for high to low in respect to upper chest
    What’s your opinion?

    Reply
  • Trying this out. Do you have any before and after pictures of your chest?

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, no. It doesn’t occur to one to take a picture of a bony chest. I just have the picture that’s the cover for the book to show that I put some muscle up there. It’s since not as prominent though, as I fell in love with ring training and less with proportion.

      I don’t claim to have a giant chest, either. These are just a combination of thoughts I gathered from sitting in a spot where I wanted to build muscle.

      Reply
  • I was wondering if you think diamond pushups, handstand pushups and and perhaps dip variations (leading forward more or straight bar dips) would be enough for improving the upper chest?

    I really want to keep things simple and struggle with how to program all the different exercises…. But my upper chest is lagging.

    Reply
    • Probably not. The upper chest likes freedom of sorts. The only exercise you listed that’s all that chest is the dip. You’d probably be best looking into gymnastics-planche type progressions. Those would do better than the lot. Dips are generally too tough on the lower chest (unless you’re on rings) in order to blow out the upper chest.

      Reply
  • It is def true that dif exercising develop different parts of muscle. I cant do behind the neck tricep ext for 1 of my arms because of mobility issues from an injury. Needless to say the longhead of my arm that can do this exercise it way more developed even tho thats the only exercise i dont do for that arm.

    Reply
  • This is an excellent article. I have been using this for 2 weeks now, and have stayed sore for days afterwards. I’m really thankful for the time you invested in writing it. Have you written anything for delts (rear in particular), traps, or rhomboids? Kindly, Chris.

    Reply
  • Would the decline push up be the best push up for upper chest since it has the most resemblance to the incline bench press? If not then what do you recommend as the best push up variations for the upper chest.

    Reply
  • I am a powerlifter and my chest is my weak point by a large degree. I have ALWAYS tucked my shoulders “back and down” so I think that is what cause this imbalance in addition to genetics. I just recently starting floor pressing because it allows me to flare my elbows out without endangering my pecs. It seems to be working, but it is too early to tell. Remembering that I am going to pure strength, what is your opinion on this? Great article btw. Loved it.

    Reply
    • my opinion is that i’m a terrible bench presser and not one to ask for in regards to powerlifting benching advice heh.

      Reply
  • I used the band activation exercise before I did incline dumbell press today, and it made a huge difference. I also found that squeezing my upper back together, like way up near the knobby bone at the bottom of the neck, really helped to get more feeling in the upper chest. Thanks for the advice!

    Reply
  • Do you have any videos showing how to properly perform these activation and base exercises?

    Reply
  • I especially like the info on activation exercises. I find over time that the weight used becomes primary over feeling the actual mind-muscle connection. So, I naturally would do some kind of activation exercise before and even in between sets of the bigger compound lifts to feel the upper chest work. I incorporated some of these new ones you wrote and it’s like the upper boobs get a full time pump!

    Great content. Just started reading your stuff and you’re very good at it man, keep it up.

    Reply
  • Awesome article Anthony!

    Reply
  • Awesome stuff! I did this in the weekend. The thing is that I feel today my shoulders sore. Does this means y didn’t do it correctly? I felt it on the workout in my upper chest, more on the activation part with the Svend press……

    Reply
  • Anthony,

    I love what you do, how you do it and then offering it the way you do.

    With the applause out of the way now, I want to ask you your thoughts on a controversial exercise. I admit that it can be terrible when done wrong, or even done right, because it can absolutely kill the shoulders or the presser; but setting those minor details aside aside (ha!), how do you feel about the Gironda Neck Press?

    I know you said not to “ever flare your elbows” and I can totally understand why, but for this as an activation exercise — where one would use light(er) weight — can you give any credence to this movement? When I do Gironda Neck Presses with little to no added weight — just with the bar — I feel my pectoralalis major immediately activated — majorly activated. Then it’s time to go to work.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Yeah, it’s going to hit the chest more than any other exercise. Like you said, the big question: can your shoulders take it? Start light and work up slowly. Focus on feel more than weight. Also listen to your body’s signals. For some it’s a no-no. Others can hack it. Scapula formation is a biggie here.

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Next Post:

Previous Post: