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The Ultimate Chest Workout: Chest Exercises for Awesome Pecs

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The Ultimate Chest Workout: Chest Exercises for Awesome Pecs

The best types of chest workouts and chest exercises aren’t what most people believe. In this article, you’re going to learn what it really takes to build full, strong pecs.

 

“Help, my chest is too small!”

I receive those words, or something similar, at least 10 times per week. It’s by far the most common complaint among the guys that email and message me asking for help.

And I understand. Building a big, strong chest can be quite tough if you’re focusing on the wrong chest exercises and rep ranges (and if your nutrition is off, of course).

In this article, I’m going to share with you the chest exercises that have not only helped me build a full, strong chest, but have helped many of my readers and followers do the same.

You Don’t Just Want to Build a “Big Chest”–You Want a Full, Proportionate Chest

The first thing I want to address is the goal. Simply having a “big chest” shouldn’t be the goal, because just adding size willy-nilly won’t necessarily give you the look you want.

The most common mistake we want to avoid is building a big lower chest and small upper chest. Here’s an example of this:

no-upper-chest

Now, he doesn’t have a bad physique, and has clearly been working hard for at least a couple of years. But take a closer look at his chest. All his mass is on the lower, outer portions of he pecs, with little-to-none in the upper, inner portions.

Compare that now to a picture of Greg Plitt’s chest:

greg-plitt-chest

While the overall physiques aren’t remotely comparable, again look to the chest It’s actually not THAT much larger than the first, but it’s much better developed. But what’s the major difference here? The upper and inner portions of the chest.

“But wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “Isn’t the whole ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ chest thing a myth?”

Well, let’s take a moment to address that.

The Truth About the “Upper Chest” and “Lower Chest”

The “upper chest” debate has been going on for a long time.

Do you need to do chest exercises specifically for the upper chest? Or do all chest exercises stimulate all available muscle fibers? And even more to the point, is there even such a thing as the “upper chest?”

Well, I’ll keep this short and sweet.

First, yes, there is a muscle that forms what we call the “upper chest.” It’s known as the clavicular pectoralis. Here’s what it looks like:

upper-chest

clavicular pectoralis for upper chest

Despite what people might tell you, this muscle is not a part of the big chest muscle, the pectoralis major. While part of the pectoralis major shares nerves with the clavicular pectoralis, the angle of the muscle fibers varies greatly. Thus, certain movements can emphasize the pectoralis major, whereas others can emphasize the clavicular pectoralis.

Notice that I say emphasize, not isolate. That’s because all movements that emphasize one of the two do, to some degree, involve the other. But the bottom line is proper chest development requires a lot of emphasis on the clavicular pectoralis for two simple reasons:

  1. It’s a small, stubborn muscle that takes its sweet time to grow.
  2. The movements that are best for developing it also happen to be great for growing the pectoralis major as well.

Curious how this plays out in the real world? Well, let’s look to my own body as an example. First, check out the following picture of me, taken about 2 years ago:

chest workout

I looked decent, but look at the upper portion of my left pec (the right looks bigger than it is because of how I’m holding the phone). As you can see, I had a very bottom-heavy chest with not much to show for upstairs.

I started addressing this by following the chest workouts I’m going to share you with later in this article, and this was the result:

best chest exercises

See how much of a difference a full upper chest makes? And yes, that transformation was accomplished by doing exactly what I’m going to share with you here, and nothing else.

So, let’s get right to it then…

The Ultimate Chest Workout:
The Chest Exercises That Build Outstanding Pecs

I go over the science of this full on my article on muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth), but here’s the first thing you need to know:

If you want to build a big, strong chest, the majority of your reps should be performed with 80 – 85% of your one-rep max (1RM). This is the 4 – 6 or 5 – 7 rep range.

Pump away in the 10+ rep range all you want, and you’ll never have a great chest. I guarantee it. That’s why you’re going to see a lot of heavy weightlifting in my routine.

The Best Chest Exercises

The best chest exercises are few, and accomplish a very simple task: they maximally recruit muscle fibers, and allow for heavy, progressive overload without dramatically increasing the risk of injury. These exercises are…

  • Barbell Bench Press (Incline and Flat, free weight not Smith Machine)
  • Dumbbell Bench Press (Incline and Flat)
  • Dips (Chest Version, weighted if possible)

These are the exercises you must master if you want to build an impressive chest. Period. Forget cable work, dumbbell flys, push-up variations, machines, and every other type of chest exercise out there. They are not nearly as effective as the above three core, foundation-building lifts.

Why no Smith Machine, you ask? Simply because research has proven it inferior to free weight exercises in terms of muscle recruitment.

And why no decline pressing? Because the decline press not only reduces the range of motion of the exercise, thus reducing the amount of work your muscles have to do, it places maximum emphasis on the pectoralis major and minimum emphasis on the clavicular pectoralis, which simply isn’t ideal (if you want to build a really droopy, bottom-heavy chest, do a ton of flat and decline pressing and no incline pressing).

Now, many people are surprised to hear this advice of mine, and are even more surprised when they see my pictures and hear that was accomplished by doing nothing but the exercises listed above. That’s right–not a single fly, cable crossover, or machine rep was done.

Is building an awesome chest really that simple? Yep, it is.

(That said, I do think dumbbell flys and cable work has a place in the routine of an advanced weightlifter that has already built a big, strong chest, but we’ll save that for another article. In order to get to that point, it only requires the above.)

The key isn’t just doing the above exercises, however. It’s progressing on them. That is, increasing the amount of weight you can push over time. If you don’t get stronger, you won’t get bigger.

Now, a few tips in performing these exercises:

Barbell Bench Press

Many people worry that the Barbell Bench Press puts your shoulders at a high risk of injury. This is true only if your form is improper.

Here are the two major points of form that protect your shoulders when you’re performing the Barbell Bench Press:

1.  Keep your elbows at a 20 – 30 degree angle relative to your torso. The most common mistake people make is they flare their elbows out, sometimes approaching 90 degrees relative to their torsos. This dramatically increases the stress on your shoulders.

In case you’re not sure what the angles look like, here’s a picture from my book Bigger Leaner Stronger:

bench-press-form

The position where the hands are closest to the torso puts the arms at about 20 degrees relative to the torso. The next position out is about 45 degrees. And the furthermost position is 90 degrees.

2. Keep your shoulder blades pinched and your back slightly arched. You don’t want to flatten your chest out at the bottom of the lift, rolling your shoulders. Instead, your shoulder blades should always remain tightly pinched, which pushes your chest up, and you should always have enough arch in your lower back to fit a fist in the pocket between it and the bench.

 The final point of form that you should know is the bar must touch your chest every rep. Stopping short reduces the range of motion, which as you know, means less gains.

Dumbbell Bench Press

One of the big advantages of the Dumbbell Bench Press is that it allows you to increase the range of motion beyond the barbell press. Here’s how I like to perform the Dumbbell Bench Press (this is incline, of course, but you get the idea):

Technically my butt shouldn’t be moving–I was trying to move up in weight here and got a little overzealous–but what I wanted to show you was how I rotate my hands at the bottom of the rep and bring the dumbbells low. This increases the range of motion without increasing the risk of injury, and I’ve found this very helpful in progressing with the weight and developing my chest.

The Ultimate Chest Workout

A good chest workout trains the entire chest, with emphasis on the upper chest, and focuses on heavy weights. Just like any other muscle group, the chest can benefit from higher rep work, but you have to emphasize the heavy weightlifting if you want them to grow.

While I go over everything you need to program your own leg workouts in Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger (and provide you with an entire year’s worth of workouts that can, when combined with proper nutrition, help you put on 20 – 25 pounds of muscle in your first year of weightlifting), I want to leave you with a chest workout that will prove the effectiveness of what I’ve discussed in this article.

What I want you to do over the next 8 weeks is perform the following chest workout once every 5 – 7 days:

Incline Barbell Bench Press: Warm up and 3 sets of 4 – 6 reps

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 4 – 6 reps

Flat Barbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 4 – 6 reps

That’s it–just 9 heavy sets for your entire workout. If you’re an advanced lifter, or you feel you have more in you at the end of the workout, you can add 3 more sets (one more exercise, in this case, Dips), but don’t do more than that or you will likely wind up overtrained at some point.

Rest 2 – 3 minutes in between each set. This will give your muscles enough time to fully recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.

Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, you move up in weight. For instance, if you get on the incline bench and push out 6 reps on your first set, you add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set and work with that weight until you can press it for 6 reps, and so forth.

I guarantee you that if you combine that chest workout with a proper clean bulk nutrition plan, you will be very happy with how your chest responds. This type of training is the core of my Bigger Leaner Stronger program, and I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of guys email me, ecstatic that they were finally breaking through 1+ year plateaus with ease, gaining strength and size every week.

What do you think of my choices for chest exercises? What are your favorite chest workouts? Let me know in the comments below!

Want more ultimate workouts? Check out the following:

The Ultimate Arms Workout

The Ultimate Back Workout

The Ultimate Shoulder Workout

The Ultimate Legs Workout

 

How to get lean and build serious muscle and strength, faster than you ever thought possible…

Depending on how you eat, train, and rest, building muscle and losing fat can be incredibly easy or incredibly hard. Unfortunately, most people make many different mistakes that leave them stuck in a rut.

And that’s why I wrote Bigger Leaner Stronger for men, and Thinner Leaner Stronger for women: they lay out EVERYTHING you need to know about diet and training to build muscle and lose fat effectively…

The Book Bigger Leaner Stronger by Michael Matthews.

The Book Thinner Leaner Stronger by Michael Matthews.

admin I’m Mike Matthews and I’ve been training for nearly a decade now. I believe that every person can achieve the body of his or her dreams, and I work hard to give everyone that chance by providing workable, proven advice grounded in science, not a desire to sell phony magazines, workout products, or supplements. More about me.

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166 Comments
  • Sam L

    Great article definitely works I’ve been on BLS for a few months and love the chest days and the difference I see already! Equally my tris and shoulders have improved vastly too.
    More MM workout videos please… U r a very inspirational person and I’d rather c more of u working out vs a lot of the crazies out there with bad form doing their bazillionth (half) rep with way to much weight. Thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Sam! Really glad to hear it.

      Videos are coming! This week!

  • Nate

    Great article. Where did you get the blue shorts that you were wearing in one of the pictures? I agree with Sam L about seeing more videos of you lifting.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Nate! Those are from Zara, as are the red ones.

      Videos coming! I’m going to take Instagram vids of my daily workouts to show a couple reps of each exercise.

  • Joe

    Mike,

    Just great advice on the 20-30 degree arm angle to take stress off of the shoulders.

    “Tucking” the elbows will result in the bar contacting lower on the chest.

    Since you can’t rotate the weights on an Incline Barbell Press (like you did with the incline dumbbell press in the video), I assume you tuck your elbows on the Incline Barbell Press also?
    I ask because I have often heard people say that on IBP the bar needs to contact high on the chest to work the “upper chest”. It seems like that old advice kills the shoulders though!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Joe! It’s a major point for protecting the shoulders.

      Yes, I tuck the elbows on incline pressing. It’s especially important on this press because it can be really easy to flare the elbows out and bring the bar to your neck.

      The bar touches about the middle of my chest. I had shot a video and was going to embed it but Instagram crashed, yay. Next week. :)

  • Theo

    What’s the optimal angle for incline presses mike? I find 45 degrees to be harder on the shoulders.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah I like 30 degrees personally. I never go above 45 tho.

  • António Alves

    Hey Mike,

    Where should you grasp the olympic bar? Should both of your hands be on the opposite side of the “rings” on the bar?

    Great to hear that dips are not necessary, it was impossible to do the chest variation at my gym. By the way, is it ok to alternate between dumbbell and barbell DURING a workout? Let’s say I just finished my second set of dumbbell incline and another guy has just moved out of the only incline barbell bench of the gym, can I just drop the dumbbells and do the other 4 sets in the barbell bench (time issues)?

    Thanks a lot!

    • Michael Matthews

      I like a medium grip, a little wider than shoulder width.

      You could do that, but I prefer to finish one exercise at a time.

  • mahad

    Your body is the DREAM. what a great article. Thanks helped a lot!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks man!

  • Matt

    Great stuff. When you say one set of 6 reps, one out of the 3 right not all 3 and not the first, could be the last one for instance?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yes, exactly. It’s most likely going to be your first though, when you’re strongest. If you only get 5 reps sets 1 and 2, you’re probably not going to get 6 on set 3.

  • Francois

    Hi Mike! great article. I am also a big fan of heavy presses in the 5-8 rep range on the inclined and shallow declined bench (instead of flat) either with barbells or dumbells. However, I feel that I my inner portion is still lagging… Any advice on improving that? Are cable crossovers and close grip bench efficient for this issue? Thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Francois!

      Yes, if you need to emphasize the inner, this is where flyes and crossovers can be worthwhile. Close-grip bench is good for this too as you said (and it’s great for your tris as well).

  • Aras

    Great article once again, Mike! Couple questions: initially you mention dips as 1 of the 3 best exercises but then later you say (in the 8 week plan) to only include them if you’re advanced or have more left in the tank. So if I’m not advanced, do I not do dips or should I do them after this 8 week plan? Also, I don’t really see a big difference between the dips-chest version and the triceps version besides facing the other way on the dip machine. Sorry for being confused. Secondly, you recommend doing the bench press with elbows between 20-30˚, so do you mean like in a close-grip BP? Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Aras!

      IMO dips should always come after your heavy pressing, so what I recommend is most workouts, get you 9 heavy pressing sets in and then you can finish with dips if you have more in you.

      In the chest variation, you’re angling your body a bit forward as opposed to being completely upright.

      No, not quite that close. Check the picture I posted and you’ll see what I mean. It’s in between a close-grip position and the normal incorrect elbows flared position we see most people using…

  • stalvind

    I never had a chest before. I followed the BLS and did the 3 exercises listed above and can now pinch a pencil between my pecs :)

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome man, keep up the good work!

      • Trollslayer

        Michael I need your input. As I said my chest is a weakspot on my body compared to other areas. When I do these exercises, I do not feel my chest engaging. The next day, there is no soreness. It seems that my triceps and my delts are doing most of the work, my chest is not responding. I’m using a 20-30% angle like you said and a weight thats 4-6 reps. Had a couple of guys watch me in the gym and they say my form is pretty good. Any advice there? Id appreciate it. Thanks

        • Michael Matthews

          Slow chest growth is probably the issue I’m most often emailed about, haha. This is definitely the most common genetic weak point, and really just takes time and hard work to get through. In my opinion, it takes 1-2 years to build what we would consider a solid chest, and 3-4 to build an awesome chest.

          Don’t be discouraged by that though. As long as your diet is right and you’re getting stronger each month, your chest WILL grow. It just grows slower than most people prefer.

          Here’s one little trick you can do:

          On the 3rd day after chest day, start your workout with a chest warm-up and 3 heavy sets of incline barbell press. Then move on to your normal workout. This won’t be enough to interfere with your next chest day, and can give you a little boost.

          Soreness isn’t necessarily an indicator of a good workout. Genetics, nutrition, and conditioning all play a role.

          Check out my article on this:

          http://www.muscleforlife.com /reduce-muscle-soreness/

          As long as you’re getting in your 9-12 heavy sets per workout with good form, you’re doing it right. And you should see results to prove it–your strength should go up and you should gain muscle. That said, if you’ve been training for quite some time, I recommend bumping the workouts up by 3 more sets. Just add one more exercise, and do 3 sets.

  • Paka Soon

    Hey Mike,

    GreIat article. ‘ve been doing y chest routine twice a week. On day 1 I do barbell routine and day 5 I do dumbbell routine. Is this too much?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Paka! Hmm well if you’re doing Day 1 again 2 days after Day 5, then this is a bit too much. I would recommend 9-12 heavy sets day 1 and 6 heavy sets day 5. This will prevent overtraining.

  • Mike

    I usually stick with dumbbells..easier overall to limit form mistakes and love the range of motion. Put an emphasis on the incline work as you detail.. the last few months and have seen more results than ever. Really appreciate the help!

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome, that’s great! Keep up the good work!

    • Michael Matthews

      DBs are great and yup, incline pressing is the key. Keep it up!

  • António Alves

    Looking at the bodybuilding.com videos for the dip and dip-chest variation I can’t see the difference. Whenever I did dips I did feel my chest stretch but I always felt triceps were being worked more, and it is impossible for me to do dips in a chest workout if it is a chest/triceps day.

    I think this article was really good, and I like the way you use pictures to really show how underdeveloped muscles look like. I think it would be a good idea to do similar articles for the other muscles groups like legs, explaining why those 3 exercises are enough and why things like the thigh abductor are useless.

    Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      No worries just leave the dips out then and replace them.

      Yup, more articles like this are on the way!

  • Stronger

    awesome article! You say to do the above chest exercises for 8 weeks. Can you continue to use that chest routine for chest days for an entire year or does it have to be changed up at all? You say that progressive overload is necessary, and that theres no such thing as needing to change exercises up if eating right. So basically I will see results with the above routine if done for an entire year yes?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! While changing up exercises isn’t as important as some people claim, I do recommend changing your routine every 8 weeks or so. There are benefits to varying your emphasis on incline vs. flat presses, barbell vs. dumbbell, and the inclusion of dips.

      I go over this in my book Bigger Leaner Stronger and give a full year’s worth of workouts in the bonus report that comes with the book.

      • stronger

        thankyou, I bought the book last night and loved it. Thanks for attaching the bonus report that gives a year plan for workouts, im excited to try it out.

        • Michael Matthews

          Thanks so much! Definitely let me know how it goes!

  • Mario

    I’m glad I found this article but I have a question about the progression. You mentioned that as long as we can do one set of 6 out of the three then we should add another 5 pounds. I thought in the book you mentioned that we should only move up in weight if we can do 3 consecutive sets of 6 rep?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Mario!

      Sorry for the confusion. I didn’t make this clear enough in the book. You want to move up in weight after hitting your FIRST set of 6 reps. Then you add 10 pounds (5 pounds to each size of the bar; each dumbbell).

      The reality is training to 3 sets of 6 reps isn’t BAD–it will still work–but you’ll make faster strength gains doing the above.

      I’m going to make this clearer in the second edition of BLS, which I will be starting on soon.

      • Kevin

        So essentially until we hit 6 reps in the first set, we will mostly likely be lowering the weight for the 2nd and third sets or remaining at the same weight until 6 reps in the first set. Correct?

        • Michael Matthews

          No, you shouldn’t have to drop weight if you’re taking the proper 2-3 minute rest. For me, progress usually goes like this:

          4-4-4
          5-4-4
          5-5-4
          5-5-5
          6-move up-4-4

          Etc.

          Of course it’s not always nice and linear but it is more often than it isn’t.

          • Kevin

            This is what just happened to me.

            I went 4 reps for the first set, absolute failure. I barely got the fourth rep up. it took everything. I was only able to get 3 on the 2nd set so i dropped the weight on my third set. My question is if im suppose to go to absolute failure on my first set or save a bit for the second and third? what should i do in the situation i just stated above?

            thnx

          • Michael Matthews

            No worries. Give every set your all–push as hard as you can while maintaining form.

            If you barely get 4 set 1, drop weight and work with that weight until you can get 5-5-4 or 5-5-5 and then you should be able to move up and get at least 4-4-4.

          • Wade L

            Thank you so much for that clarification! Makes so much more sense!

          • Michael Matthews

            My pleasure! Let me know how it goes!

      • moss

        hey mike! when’s the second edition of BLS due for release, and any chance of colour photos?

        • Michael Matthews

          It will be Q2 book and I don’t plan on putting in color photos, no. Not sure what to add in color haha.

  • moss

    nice article and nice results!
    what about reverse-grip floor press in lieu of any form of bench press,
    ditto for weighted-vest, feet-elevated push up.
    I’m asking because I don’t have a bench and don’t want one!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! If you don’t have a bench I suppose you could do floor presses. And yes, using a weighted vest with push-ups is a good way to increase the load. I talk about this here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /the-ultimate-bodyweight-workout-routine/

  • Matt

    Hey Mike, I’ve been following your program for over six months now, so far so good!
    I’m having some issues with the dumbbell press exercises though. I’m quite easily lifting the weight but getting the dumbbells in position is becoming more difficult. I’m using the same technique as you are: pushing them up with the knees. But especially with the flat dumbbell press this is becoming too hard and I need to ask other people for assistance every time.
    Is there some support exercise I could do to make the initial move easier? Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome Matt, I’m really glad to hear it!

      Hmm good question. I never did any support exercises, I just take it slower on my flat presses. I’ll get a video of it next week so you can see.

      I don’t really KICK them so much as just rock them back into place, you know?

      • Matt

        Cool, thanks for the quick reply; I’m looking forward to seeing the video next week!

        • Michael Matthews

          Cool, look for it! :)

  • owenjerome

    Thanks Mike! Am going to start this week!

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome, let me know how it goes!

  • Jesse

    Forget the picture of Greg Plitt, you are an inspiration all by yourself, Mike!

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha thanks Jesse!

  • ry

    You dont like flyes or cables?

    • ry

      and can you do on of these articles for back?

      • Michael Matthews

        Yup, it’s next on the list. :)

    • Michael Matthews

      No, not for building mass and strength.

      • ry

        so could I do bb bench, incline bb, then incline db and finish it off w db flat? making sure i dont do more than 12 sets?

        • Michael Matthews

          Yup, exactly. You could finish with flys if you’d like–3 sets, but save them for last.

          • ry

            but stay within your recommended reps 4-6?

          • Michael Matthews

            Actually no on this exercise as this puts a lot of stress on the shoulder joints. 8-10 reps for flys.

          • ry

            is tht the same for shoulder flyes? side raises? 8-10

          • Michael Matthews

            Depends on if you can keep your form in at 4-6. If you can, then stick to 4-6 as shoulders are a bitch to grow. Gotta hit them heavy.

  • mike

    Thanks for all the good advice. BLS has become my go-to resource. I am sixty years old, but still am seeing
    good progress. I have reread the section
    on three workouts a week and still am confused.
    You say do the following:

    Set 1 for muscle A and then rest 60 seconds

    Set 1 for muscle B and then rest 60 seconds

    Set 2 for muscle A and then rest 60 seconds

    Set 2 for muscle B and then rest 60 seconds

    And so forth…

    So for chest and triceps workout day what does that really
    mean?

    Thanks.

    Mike

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Mike! I really appreciate it. That’s awesome you’re rolling on the program.

      Sorry for the confusion. It works like this:

      Chest set 1
      Rest 60
      Tris set 1
      Rest 60
      Chest set 2
      Rest 60
      Tris set 2
      Rest 60

      Etc.

      You can extend the rest to 90 seconds if necessary.

      Make sense?

      • Mike

        Thanks! No problem, I was probably the only person that didn’t understand it. Makes sense now.

        • Michael Matthews

          Haha no worries let me know how it goes.

  • Tim

    Michael I love your ideas and advice!! ^^

    Though I’m currently following wendler 5/3/1 with bench as my main exercise…
    Would this cause me to emphasize the lower chest area to much?

    I started lifting 1,5 years ago…
    Am 23 years old, 1.82m and weight 210 pounds with abs, yay ^^

    I spend most of my time on cutting since I weighed 230 pounds 2 years ago…
    Since I started lifting weights I lost 40 pounds of fat and gained 20pounds of muscle…

    My 1 RM’s are:

    385 squat (a few hours ago)
    243 bench
    463 deadlift

    My main goal is emphasizing on strength gains rather than the visual gians ^^
    Though my chest is lacking when you “see” my physique…

    Currently my bench day goas like this (once a week)

    Bench 5/3/1 + jokersets and 1 down (1st work set) allout set

    Close-grip paused bench: 2 heavy sets (6 – 10 reps)

    Incline paused bench: 2 heavy sets (6 – 10 reps)

    Dumbbell incline bench: 3 high rep low weight burn sets (15 reps)
    Dumbbel flat bench: 3 high rep low weight burn sets (15 reps)
    Dumbbel flat flyes: 3 high rep low weight burn sets (20 reps)

    Thanks in advance for your opinion and advise ^^

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Tim!

      Great on your stats and what you’re doing. Awesome gains so far and nice 1RMS!

      Wow you’re hitting your chest HARD. Personally I would reduce the volume and focus a bit more on the incline. I would do the Big But Boring approach…

      • Tim

        Thanks Michael for you quick respons!

        Hope you had a great NYE!

        So what you’re saying is doing the flat bench 5/3/1 and then Incline bench as assistance with a BBB approach to it?

        And thanks for the compliments!

        • Michael Matthews

          YW! I did, thanks. You?

          Yup, exactly. That’s what I would do. Incline barbell, incline dumbbell. and dips, BBB style.

  • Sandra Marr

    What do women look like after a couple of years I wonder. I am following your programme and very happy with it, but it would be great to follow in the footsteps of a women who has the equivalent ideal body. What do you think of the following article, they are saying do upright seated chest flyes instead, is it nonsense that chest presses can make a woman’s chest wider? I hope so as I am enjoying the chest press. Thank you.

    http://liveanddiet.com/2013/08/weight-training-for-women-chest-press-technique.html

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah that article is nonsense. Women’s pectoral muscles are so small that they simply can’t build a “wide chest” without steroids.

      For instance, look at this professional bikini competitor’s chest:

      http://bretcontreras.com/wp-content/uploads/Ashley-IV.jpg

      Sure, a bit much, but realize this is a girl that has spent 10+ years lifting heavy weights, and whose livelihood depends on looking like that.

      All women on my program will notice is a bit of a boost in the chest, which they are usually happy about. :)

      • Sandra Marr

        Thank you, your comments are reassuring. I’ll carry on as I am!

        • Michael Matthews

          YW, sounds good! Let me know how it goes!

  • Tronk

    The best Christmas gift I received this year was your book the Shredded Chef, fantastic, all easy to follow and sectioned out, will definitely be investing in more of your books now.

    Thank you

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much! I really appreciate it!

  • Jonathan

    Hi Michael – another great article. Quick question – I’ve been gradually more and more of your recommendations – low reps at 80% etc, diet….the one thing that I’m still doing differently to you is how I break down my exercises in the schedule. I’m trying to plan a new routine based on what you advise in your BLS book – in the past I’ve done four days with two varying workouts. Mon & Thur is chest & tris, rest Wed, Tues & Fri are back / shoulders and biceps. Abs were on each session.
    Your advice on reps in the 4-6 range has been great – but I’m still struggling to get the results I want – particularly in the chest. So I’m planning to give your five day schedule a go. You only recommend doing chest once per week – did I understand that right? If it’s a problem muscle group for me, should I be doing it more than once? Same with abs – I’ve always done them on every session at the beginning and end – just twice then?
    Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Jon!

      If you’re giving your major muscle groups 4-5 days of rest before training them again, you can do that. But you would have to switch to a push-pull-legs routine so you don’t skip shoulders or legs.

      That said, you can also stick to my BLS routine and just add in some weak point training on Thurs or Fri, where you start with a warm up and 6 heavy sets of chest, and then move on to your regular workout.

  • Octavio Bravo

    Great article Michael! I used to do a lot of flat bench press but have started incorporating decline & incline and flyes into my workouts. I am the same as when you started, a bottom heavy chest. I’ll will start implementing the tips you’ve shared. One thing I did notice is as you’ve stated where I’ve flared out my arms at 90 degrees so will start working on correcting my form. Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Great Octavio, let me know how it goes!

      And definitely keep those elbows in–it protects your shoulders!

  • Carmine Pari

    Thanks Mike. Over the past 5 months my chest has improved more than it has over the past 30 years. I am in great shape for my age, but I never had a great chest. Now I think my chest is looking “pretty’ good. I added two things to my Mike Matthews workout that has really improved my chest: I decreased the angle of my incline benching from about 45 degrees to about 20 or 25 degree, and I added the decline dumbbell presses. I found the higher angle on the incline benching was working more shoulder. Decreasing the angle seems to work more of my upper chest. I did not have a nice cup and sides, but the decline dumbbell presses have improved them. I also do the dips as you recommend, of course.

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome Carmine, I’m really glad to hear it.

      I also prefer a 30-degree angle on the incline because too high places too much emphasis on the shoulders.

      Interesting on the decline presses. I’ve never been a fan because they have a reduce range of motion and the pec major is better stimulated by the flat and incline presses.

      Yeah I prefer dips over decline because it helps build the sides and bottom, but also works the rest of the pecs.

      Keep up the good work!

  • David Tripp

    Excellent article, Mike – thanks! Especially like the reminder about angle of the elbows, as I think this is something I’ll need to correct after years of poor form and resulting discomfort in my left shoulder and numbness and tingling running through my pinky and ring finger… 20-30 degrees, 20-30 degrees…!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks David!

      Yeah elbow angle is very important. You will notice an immediate difference…

  • Colin

    Work all over the world. So never have the opportunity to use weights. But must say press ups and dips work for me. I am 50 but still have a body that my son wants, all by following your advise. Thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s great. Bodyweight training works really well. I talk about it here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com /the-ultimate-bodyweight-workout-routine/

  • Ed

    My gym does not have an Incline Barbell Bench but it does have a Smith Machine. Should I go ahead and use the Smith Machine for the Incline Barbell Bench Press. I know the Smith Machine is not optimal but is it better than nothing or do you have a recommendation? Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah, I would simply because incline barbell is a really important press. Smith isn’t ideal as you know, but it’s better than not doing any incline barbell pressing.

  • Ed

    Do you have an opinion on what is sometimes referred to as a Bench Press Machine (NOT the Smith) where each arm moves independently with a handle for each hand to grasp and each side is plate loaded–at the end of the press, the hands end up fairly close together? The reason I ask is that if I don’t have a spotter (I go early in the morning) I’m reluctant to go heavy on the barbell bench press. Thanks.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah, not a fan as barbell press is just better…

  • Faizan

    I do these all and add on other exercises too but one thing is , I really find declined bench press effective for me ,I feel my chest burning out when i do close grip declined bench press, my chest gets very very thick.. Why is it so…?? O.o Should i stop doing decilnes??

    • Michael Matthews

      Remember that burn doesn’t really mean much beyond the fact that lactic acid is building up in the muscle. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get bigger and stronger from the workout.

      Decline isn’t horrible, it’s just not necessary. I haven’t done a single decline press in 3+ years and my chest has dramatically improved…

  • Huge

    Great article ! But i have one question is that the gym room which i usually have my training got no barbell , i know that’s ridiculous , therefore i would like to ask if incline barbell press can be switched to other exercises ?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      Yeah you can do dumbbell presses instead. Or go to a different gym. :)

  • Trollslayer

    Michael, I am so glad I ran across this. I have found it very difficult to build my chest. Most chest exercises I do, I feel no activation of my pectoral muscles, and when I do, its usually the lower. I am going to give this a serious go over the next few months and let you know how it goes. Thanks for the amazing and well-delivered information.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks man! I totally understand. Let me know how you like this routine!

  • Joe

    Mike,
    From past posts, you have helped me understand that as I have been getting older, 4-6 reps has been getting too much on my joints and that great gains can still be made if I use a rep range of 6-8. Since I switched to a 6-8 range, my joints feel, much, much better, so thank you for that advice.
    On this workout: If I do a rep range of 6-8, for 3 sets, on 3 different exercises, I will be getting as much as 72 reps. Since the ideal number of reps per week for a body part is 60, what do you suggest I do? Should I drop a set from one (or two) of the exercises, and if so, which one(s)?
    Also, in BLS you recommend chest dips, but for this Ultimate Workout, Chest Dips are not included. Is there a reason for this, or is it just that your thinking has evolved since BLS to where Chest Dips are just not as important as the three exercises you have listed for building the “Ultimate Chest”?
    Thank you so much for all of the advise you continue to offer.
    Joe

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Joe! I’m glad to hear you’re doing well with the 6-8 rep range. 72 should be fine. Let’s see how your body responds. It becomes a problem when you start going over 90+ reps per workout.

      Dips are great but for this workout I just wanted people to focus on heavy pressing that’s all. :)

  • Guest

    Your selection of exercises is exactly what I came to over the years of frustration with weak upper pecs. :)

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice!

  • Leonty Deriglazov

    I came up with the same set of exercises over the years of frustration with flat upper chest. Combining inclined barbell bench press with inclined dumbbell press in one workout came as a surprise though. Will try that!
    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Michael Matthews

      Nice, let me know how it goes!

  • ms

    hey Michael, i just wanted to let u know that i started to take N-O xplode pre workout and it gives me the energy to do more than 7 exercises in a moderate to high weights in the chest work out and now ur telling me to do 3 to 4 sets, so is that enought or it will be considered as a low training? or should i stop taking the pre workout since it gives me the energy to stay 2 hours at the gym and more!

    • Michael Matthews

      I’m not a fan of that product but if you like it, that’s good.

      You want to do 9-12 heavy sets per chest workout if you’re going to follow my advice. Stick to the 4-6 rep range.

      • ms

        thank u for ur reply but i did 12 heavy sets yesterday on the chest workout and i felt that i have energy to do more sets but i didn’t because i decided to follow ur chest workout routine, so is that okay or should i do another 3 sets since i have the energy?
        I have another question plz, i do abs training 3 times a week, 12 to 15 sets and 15 to 20 reps per workout, is that considered as over training? if yes how many times and sets should i work my abs! thank u :)

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah that’s okay. You should finish your workout feeling energized, not completely drained. Trust me–stick with 12 heavy sets per major muscle group trained.

          Abs 3x per week should be fine. They recover very quickly.

          • ms

            thank u so much, but i have another question plz, what do u think of Amino fuel liquid, i just bought it today and stacked it with my NO Xplode and whey protein. any suggestions?

          • Michael Matthews

            My pleasure! I don’t know much about that product but if it’s just a BCAA product it’s unnecessary.

  • Michael C

    These exercises are likely the MOST common chest exercises to do. If the issue is with upper chest development (like picture 1) shouldn’t we include something else? I imagine the dude in picture 1 does the above presses, and is at least pushing himself enough to get decent development. what am I missing?

    • Michael Matthews

      Most people focus on flat and decline presses and flyes, and most people perform exercises with terrible form and lighter weights, which dramatically reduce their effectiveness.

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  • Chase Millard

    Michael, I’ve spent a some time reading through your articles. Lots of great stuff. One thing I would like clarification on is that of the timing of each rep, particularly on the negative part of the rep. I can assume you won’t recommend dropping the weight and bouncing off the chest like a douche bag, but I would like to know what you recommend. I ask because I have done a lot of reading on the benefits of really controlling the negative part of the rep, some even say to control it down for 6+ seconds, maximizing time under tension (TUT). What are your thoughts?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Chase!

      I like a standard 2-1-2 timing. No douchebag bouncing and no superslow garbage either.

      The extreme TUT training has been debunked. One of a few studies I’ve seen on the matter:

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21993022

      • Chase Millard

        Thanks for the prompt response and link!!! I’m going to implement your workout philosophy for the next few months, will report back with results to confirm for any skeptics out there that your philosophy is legit. Thanks again dude, keep up the good work.

        • Michael Matthews

          YW! Awesome man let me know how it goes!

  • Gabriel Garcia

    Michael, I bought your book “B,L,S” and was reading chapter 19 where it talks about proper form for bench press. The book says “Your elbows should be pointing out from the body at about a 45-60-degree angle (between parallel and perpendicular to your torso). . . .” but the article says to keep them 20-30. Would you be able to clarify this?

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  • fransmart@sky.com

    Hi Michael. I bought your BLS book and I am tempted to give your BLS routine a run but it seems that It calls for training a bodypart only once every seven days i.e.

    Day 1-Chest&Abs + Cardio
    Day 2-Back&Calves
    Day 3- Cardio
    Day 4-Shoulders + Cardio
    Day 5-Legs + Cardio
    Day 6-Rest
    Day 7-Arms&Abs

    Based on the above recommed training split muslces are only being worked once a week every 7 days. This seems to go against a lot of the other optimal training frequency protocols I have read from other source which recommend training a muslce twice a week or at least every 5th day.
    Have i read something wrong here, are some body parts supposed to be trained ogther like legs and shoulders on the same day for example?
    Thanks

  • FS

    Hi Michael. I bought your BLS
    book and I am tempted to give your BLS routine a run but it seems that It calls
    for training a bodypart only once every seven days i.e.

    Day 1-Chest&Abs + Cardio
    Day 2-Back&Calves
    Day 3- Cardio
    Day 4-Shoulders + Cardio
    Day 5-Legs + Cardio
    Day 6-Rest
    Day 7-Arms&Abs

    Based on the above recommed
    training split muslces are only being worked once a week every 7 days. This
    seems to go against a lot of the other optimal training frequency protocols I
    have read from other source which recommend training a muslce twice a week or
    at least every 5th day.

    Have i read something wrong here,
    are some body parts supposed to be trained ogther like legs and shoulders on
    the same day for example?

    Thanks
    PS Thanks for removing earlier post with the blunder =)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      Like “ideal” rep ranges, optimal training frequency is a hotly debated subject. The bottom line is it boils down to workout intensity and volume. The lighter the weights and fewer the sets, the more often you can train the muscle group.

      In the case of BLS, you hit your muscles hard, with about 50-60 reps per workout, with all reps recruiting maximum muscle fibers (due to the load). The reality is unless you have superhuman recovery, you just won’t be able to do these workouts more than once per 5 days. Once per 7 days is probably a LITTLE more rest than some people need, but I think it’s better to err on that side than the side of overtraining.

      The bottom line is EVERYONE that follows the program makes rapid strength and size gains. Even long-time lifters.

      That said, the one thing that we sometimes do is add 6 additional chest sets 3-4 days after the chest workout. You would do that first and then move on to your normal workout.

      • FS

        Thanks a lot Michael. A bit of an eye opener for me.

        • Michael Matthews

          YW. I understand. :)

      • FS

        One more question sorry. I am just about to start a fat loss phase. Should i still use the same seven day template above for fat loss or is this too much when restricting calories. If this is covered in BLS just let me know and I’ll get the answer from there.

        • Michael Matthews

          Cool and nope your schedule looks perfect for fat loss. Stick to the BLS program and macros and you’ll do great.

      • Nikhil Singh J

        Micheal mattheews sorry my english is not very good plz help me the second photo of your article is look same my chest problem plz help me .plz can you tell me more how i build muscle ni centre

        • Michael Matthews

          Slow chest growth is probably the issue I’m most often emailed about, haha. This is definitely the most common genetic weak point, and really just takes time and hard work to get through. In my opinion, it takes 1-2 years to build what we would consider a solid chest, and 3-4 to build an awesome chest.

          Don’t be discouraged by that though. As long as your diet is right and you’re getting stronger each month, your chest WILL grow. It just grows slower than most people prefer.

          Here’s one little trick you can do:

          On the 3rd day after chest day, start your workout with a chest warm-up and 3 heavy sets of incline barbell press. Then move on to your normal workout. This won’t be enough to interfere with your next chest day, and can give you a little boost.

  • FS

    Hi Michael

    In order to incorporate your
    linked routines (Chest,Back,Shoulders,Legs,Arms) for all muscle groups in
    conjunction with your recommended frequency a muscle will only be getting
    worked only once per week/ every 7th day as rest will need to be factored into the
    week also.

    This seems to go against all
    other material I’ve read which calls for a frequency of at least twice a week/
    minimum every 5th day for optimal protein synthesis and training frequency.
    Most of these other material sources say that hitting say chest for example
    only once a week only works for those using steroids. Normally the recommended
    routines to achieve such frequency would be and upper/lower or push/pull split
    as opposed to one muscle group per day.

    Can you share your thoughts and opinions
    on this please?

    Thanks

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  • Jeff Blakey

    Would it be acceptable to replace the flat bench with dips ?

    • Michael Matthews

      I wouldn’t say it’s a good replacement, but dips are a good exercise.

  • Donald Booth

    I like this chest workout because its all three of my favorite chest workouts and don’t have to do any flyes! Hey Mike would it hurt to cross overs once in a while because there another one of my favs for chest?

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha nice! That’s fine, you can finish with 2 sets 8 to 10 reps.

  • Tom

    Michael, do you have any tips for fixing ‘droopy’ pecs apart from simply focusing on incline bar/dumbell? I’ve been trying to correct for a while now, and my pec major just seems to grow so easily, I haven’t been able to even it out. Cheers.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yeah focus on the incline and stay lean.

  • DevilDevine

    http://youtu.be/rT7DgCr-3pg

    Is this correct? As i am a small guy myself and sometimes find it hard to touch my chest without discomfort in my shoulder. I also find it hard to control my elbows not to flare :/ im sure im doing something wrong

    • DevilDevine

      Having said that, i am pinching my shoulderblades and keeping my chest up. Had to drop the weight in order to do this but the way I see it, i am in a constant quest for perfect form. Still got complimented on my chest since starting BLS though:)

      • Michael Matthews

        That’s good. Keep your elbows at about 40 degrees as well and don’t roll your shoulders at the top and you’ll be good to go.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s completely false. If your form is correct, you will NOT cause an injury by touching the bar to your chest. Read more about proper form here:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/how-to-increase-bench-press/

      • DevilDevine

        Thanks for clearing it up. This discipline makes you a better man as you have to constantly criticise your form. Ego has no place at the gym:) tc

        • Michael Matthews

          YW. I agree.

  • Steve Pittelli

    I finished 8 weeks of this and I was going to switch to doing flat bench first, so flat barbell press, incline barbell press, incline dumbbell press and weighted dips – does that sound good?

    • Michael Matthews

      Yup! That’s a good variation of the workout. How did you do?

      • Steve Pittelli

        I did really well. I went up a good amount of weight for both incline barbell press and incline dumbbell press. About two weeks ago I decreased weight by about 10 pounds on both flat and incline barbell press because I wasn’t touching my chest each rep so I wanted to fix that

        • Michael Matthews

          Awesome, that’s good. Form>weight.

  • Henry

    Hey man this looks great! I’ve been doing this regimen for over two months now. Although I do look more cut, I haven’t noticed much difference in terms of my chest size and I tried maxing out the other day, and I don’t think I’ve gotten any stronger (although it might have just been a shitty day since I barely ate breakfast before I lifted).

    Anyway, here’s my chest day and I repeat these weekly but different reps. 1st and 2nd week is 3 sets of 15, then 3rd and 4th week 3 sets of 12, 5th week is 3 sets of 10 negatives and then 6th week is 4 sets of 8 and then 7th week is 4 sets of 6.

    it’s flat dumbbell bench superset with dumbbell chest flies, then we go to incline dumbbell bench, then hammerstrength chest press superset with dips( as many as I can. Usually I can’t get all of the reps). then cable chest flies superset with pushups to finish up. What’s your opinion on that? Maybe I should just keep doing reps of 8 and 6s. For 8, I’m doing like 70lb dumbbells for flat bench and for 6s I’m doing 75 lb dumbbells but I have to drop down to 70 after the 2nd set.

    • Michael Matthews

      I don’t like that type of periodization. I would recommend sticking to exactly what I say here and make sure you’re eating enough food as well:

      http://www.muscleforlife.com/the-best-way-to-gain-muscle-not-fat/

      • Henry

        I have few more questions for you, man. 1. do you have a substitute for the incline barbell bench? I know you already have the incline dumbbell one in there but I was wondering if I can do anything else besides that. I don’t have a spotter for the barbell one so I’m a bit fearful of it falling on me on my last rep since I can’t just drop the weights like I can for the dumbbells. 2. How long do you think it’ll take before I can see some results? I’m going to the beach in less than 2 months and I would like to see some results before that.I already have a bit of chest but I need to work on the upper part for it to stand out. 3. What angle would you say is appropriate for the incline dumbbell bench? the video above seems to be a bit of a lower angle than I’ve been doing.

        • Michael Matthews

          Regarding the spotting issue, what you want to do is end your bench, squat, and military press sets (the only exercises where you need a spot) with one rep still in the tank–that is, end your sets when you struggle for a rep and aren’t sure you can get another. You shouldn’t need a spot for any other exercises.

          Or you can always ask for someone else in the gym to give you a spot. I do it all the time. The last resort is the Smith Machine. :)

          Otherwise you can do 3 more sets of incline DB presses.

          You should see a difference in 2 months. You’re not going to build a massive chest in that time but it will be noticeable.

          I like ~30 degrees. I find 45 too high.

          Hope this helps! Talk soon!

  • Jason Brown

    any recommended angles for the incline press? 45 degrees? 60?

    • Michael Matthews

      I like 30 – 35.

  • Andy

    I used to be fearful of heavy reps on barbell exercise, and I can see in the comments that others have this fear as well. The first time I failed to get a rep up without a spotter was actually a pretty liberating moment. I found it extremely easy to simply roll the bar off me, set it on the floor, and then do a little deadlift/shrug motion to set the bar back on the pins. Obviously better to leave one in the tank as you suggest, but I don’t think there is any reason to be paralyzed by the fear of a barbell being stuck on your chest.

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha nice. Yeah, it’s not a big deal. Just annoying.

  • Hoda

    I love this article! I started this three weeks ago, I was a bit skeptical but it really does work. Best of all it isn’t too labor intensive. And I love that you went into decline presses and discussed its ineffectiveness because I was torn in the past if I should do them and I was informly told it was the best exercise for the chest. So glad I can skip them, lol. Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! I’m really glad to hear it. Keep up the good work!

  • Renier

    First of all,Thank you very much for posting these articles, they have been really helpful for me and I have made really good progress on the gym since I was working in a really high rep range 8-12 and this was really uncomfortable because I wanted to go more heavy.

    I have been reading your articles and I think they are great, but I would like to know some things:

    1-¿What do you Think about doing squats 2 times per week?

    2-¿What do you think about doing shoulder press and military press in the same shoulder day?

    2-¿What do you think about doing a chest workout with flat and incline press with dumbbells and barbells( 4 exercises of 3 sets = 12 sets)?

    3-Im about to start cutting and I would like to drop to 6-7% bodyfat, any advice to go bellow 8-10% bodyfat?

    I weigh 180 pounds with 15-16% bodyfat,175 cm, 18 years old, I have 1 year of lifting weights.

    Sorry about my grammar, And best wishes to you sir from Panama. Thank you very much.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks so much! I’m glad to hear it.

      1. You can do this but you have to reduce volume. You couldn’t do 2 BLS legs workouts every day 7 days. Maybe once every 5 days at best.

      2. That’s fine but your front delts don’t need much more. They get slammed on both chest and shoulder days.

      3. Yeah check out my articles on weight loss. Belly fat in particular.

      Hope this helps! Talk soon!

      • Renier

        you have no idea how much this means to me, for real, thank you for your great answers, I will check your article and share the web with my friends, one more thing, I don’t want to be annoying asking to many things, but:

        1-¿What do you think about doing a chest workout with flat and incline press with dumbbells and barbells( 4 exercises of 3 sets = 12 sets)?

        Again I appreciate so much your great answers, have a good day.

        • Michael Matthews

          My pleasure!

          Yes that workout is fine.

  • Ryan

    Great informative info here. With my workout schedule being MON,TUE,THUR,FRI with rest on WED and WEEKENDS how would you split up the workout for each day? Thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      I would do…

      Chest & tris
      Back & bis
      Shoulders
      Legs

  • Jason

    I don’t have access to an incline barbell set up (though I do have an incline bench for the dumbbell set). What would you recommend as an alternative?

    • Michael Matthews

      I would do this:

      3 sets incline DB press
      3 sets flat DB press
      3 sets flat BB press
      3 sets dips

      • Jason

        Thank you!

        • Michael Matthews

          YW

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