Push Past Pec Plateaus

Are you bored with powering through the same old chest workout week after week? Tired of waiting in line for an open bench? Of course you are. The bench press at any gym sees more action than Patrick Ewing at the Platinum Club. And rightfully so. For building pectoral mass, the bench has no equal. But if you’ve hit a sticking point in your workouts, a little variety wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

In fact, stick to any workout for too long, and you’ll see your gains start to diminish over time. It’s only natural. Muscles are inherently lazy, and if you’re adhering to the same routine over an extended period of time, they’ll grow accustomed to the stimulus and won’t grow as fast as they had been.

Lifting heavier weight is one way to get past a plateau; switching up your workouts is another. To that end, we’re offering the following chest workouts. They’re unorthodox, sure. But if you mix them in with your normal chest routine, say, once a month, they just might provide the missing impetus needed to take your physique to another level.

“From an appearance point of view, flyes are important if you want to improve your pecs so they look better,” says Dave Harris, C.S.C.S. “Sometimes, with compound exercises [such as bench presses] it’s difficult to isolate a particular muscle group. In order to encourage the shape of specific muscles, isolation exercises are often more effective.”

The Workout
We offer two options, both designed to enhance the overall development of the entire pectoralis. If appearance is your primary goal, these routines should do the job. But improved looks aren’t their only benefit.

“Even if you’re trying to improve your bench press, flyes are important because they isolate the pecs,” Harris says. “When you bench-press, you’re using your shoulders, triceps and pecs. Somewhere in there is the weak link. The only way to strengthen a weak muscle is by isolating it, and the best way to 
isolate your pecs is by doing some sort of flye movement.”

When doing these exercises, it’s important to keep a few things in mind: Concentrate on proper form, focus on the muscle you’re working, and don’t try to lift more weight than you can handle. Whether you’re using cables or dumbbells, the movements are basically the same. Always keep a slight bend in your elbows, as if you’re hugging a barrel. And don’t straighten out your arms at the top of the movement. 

With cable movements, don’t cross your hands in front of your chest-simply bring them together and flex your pecs. With dumbbell movements, don’t bring the dumbbells together; to keep continuous tension on the muscle, stop before they touch, then squeeze for a peak contraction. Bringing the weights together can relieve tension from the muscle, which decreases the total amount of time your pecs are working.

As a general rule, rest for about a minute between sets. In Workout 1, the rest periods vary. Take two minutes after completing an entire set of multi-angle dumbbell flyes. You’ll finish the first workout with a “drop set” of standing cable crossovers-after starting off with a set of 20, you’ll be dropping your weight by increments of 15 percent for the next two sets. Go to failure on both of those.

You also might want to think about adding a couple of sets of bench presses after you complete either of these routines. We know, we know-that wouldn’t be an exclusively flye-based chest workout. But it’s a great way to get the most out of those pecs, for you’ll have exhausted the muscle over the course of the workouts.