Lots of lifters want big chests. But in their quests for bigger, thicker pectoral muscles, they actually tend to ignore the upper chest. Sure, the traditional flat bench press and dumbbell flyes are plenty effective at bringing up your overall chest mass, because you can handle more weight. But if you’re looking for a complete, polished look, then dedicated upper pectoral work has to be a part of your program.
Gunter Schlierkamp, a professional bodybuilder, is a big proponent of balanced pec training. And while he’ll admit that flat benching is crucial for overall chest development, he says that the only way to improve your upper chest is to attack it with the same ferocity as your other body parts.
Here are Schlierkamp’s top six tips for blowing up the upper part of your pecs.
1. Always Start with Inclines
“If your upper pecs are really lagging, the best way to bring them out is to always start with incline moves,” Schlierkamp says. You can do this with a barbell, dumbbells or a Smith machine. Starting with incline moves will ensure that these underused fibers are fresh at the start of your workout, allowing you move the most weight possible to trigger growth. From there you can move on to flat and decline moves, where you’re likely naturally stronger.
2. Try Power Pressing
Think about this as you would the deadlift. With the deadlift, you work without the benefit of elasticity or momentum, pulling the bar from a complete rest on the floor. This builds strength and power quickly through the positive portion of the movement. Power presses are the same idea.
“Using a Smith machine or power rack, set the safeties to a point that only allows for a partial range of motion,” he says. “As you come down, let the bar settle completely before pressing hard back to the top of the movement.”
As you get stronger through each range of motion, lower the safety pins.
3. Use Dumbbells
“Using dumbbells will give you a completely different kind of tension and range of motion than a barbell will,” says Schlierkamp. “Make sure that you don’t get locked into using the barbell on inclines all the time, or any of your angles for that matter.”
4. Tweak Your Flyes
Incline dumbbell flyes are great for not only adding mass to your upper chest but also to “etch” some detail into your musculature. Schlierkamp does a variation where his palms remain pronated (palms facing away) throughout the movement. This version involves the front delts a bit more but, according to Schlierkamp, “facing the palm forward, it gives you even better tension in your upper chest and it stretches the upper pecs.”
5. Stay High on the Pec Deck
The pec deck—and similar flye machines—allow you to really bombard your inner chest and get a great stretch on your entire pectoral complex. Schlierkamp suggests keeping your elbows high and parallel to the floor, which allows you to bring the upper pecs into play as well.
6. Stretch for Size
It’s not just lip service: stretching after your workout will absolutely assist with muscle growth and recovery. Gunter says that this is especially critical after a grueling chest day. Giving your upper pecs a good stretch, particularly if they’ve been undertrained, will help to create an environment for much-needed growth.