Top 5 Chest Exercises

Here are 5 great exercises you can do to develop a strong, defined chest!

You knew it was going to start with Bench Press, right? It’s the runaway favorite lift for your chest. It also works your triceps and shoulders.

Set yourself up so your upper back and butt are firmly on the bench. Your feet are planted on the ground. Your shins should be perpendicular to the ground. You don’t have to have the huge back arch that powerlifters like to use, but you should arch a little. Keep your shoulder blades packed tightly together and down. This helps make sure your shoulders remain in a stable position.

Your head should be on the bench. Your eyes should be just past the bar. Pick a spot on the ceiling and focus your vision on it. Grip the bar tightly in your hands, which are a little bit further than shoulder width apart. The distance is going to be different for everyone. Comfort is the main thing you want. At the bottom position of the lift your forearms should be perpendicular to the ground.

You don’t want your upper arm too far away from your sides. You don’t want to look like a scarecrow. This puts the shoulder in a position for potential injury. You also don’t want your upper arms too close to your ribs. Keeping them in too tight takes emphasis off the chest and puts it more on the triceps.

On to the lift itself! Unrack the bar and extend your arms fully. Lower the weight in a controlled manner down to your mid-chest. Let it touch your chest gently and then drive it back up to the starting position. Not touching your chest shortens the range of motion. I hope it’s obvious why you don’t want to let the bar slam into your chest. If not, just know that it’s dangerous and painful.

For your last repetition, make sure you fully extend your arms. Then rack the bar. Trying to rack too early is a good way to get injured.

Inhale at the top position. Exhale as you drive the weight up.

Incline Bench is up next. It’s similar to the flat bench but it emphasizes the upper part of your chest. The degree of incline will vary depending on the equipment. Find an incline that’s comfortable for you. A steeper incline is going to put greater emphasis on your shoulders. You’ll notice the steeper it is, the more closely it resembles a seated shoulder press. The flatter the incline, the closer it will be to a flat bench.

Again, pack your shoulder blades together and down. Upper back and butt are in contact with the bench. Slight arch in your back. Feet firmly on the ground. Eyes focused on one spot on the ceiling.

Unrack the bar. Extend your arms. This time you’ll lower the weight to your upper chest, just below your collarbone. Touch and drive it back up. Again, breathe in at the top, breathe out as you drive the weight up.

Flys are a good chest isolation exercise. The bench and incline bench are compound lifts because they use more than one muscle group. Flys isolate your chest. There are a bunch of ways to do them.

To do them on a bench, grab a pair of dumbbells and lay flat on a bench. Start with your arms straight out in front of you, with your palms facing each other. Put a slight bend in your elbows. Maintain that slight bend for all the repetitions. Lower your arms so your body pretty much looks like the letter T, if someone were to view you from above. You’ll feel a stretch in your pecs. Squeeze your pecs to bring the weights back up to the start position. Exhale as you raise the weights. Inhale at the top.

You can do them on an incline bench also.

Other variations will have you using a cable machine.  An advantage of using a cable machine is you’ll be under constant tension. Try the different ways and see which feels best for you.

Push-ups are a staple chest exercise. Like the bench, they work your triceps and shoulders as well. Most people just use their bodyweight, but it’s possible to add weight if you want to.

Start with your hands on the floor, a little bit wider than shoulder width apart. The exact distance will be different from person to person. Find the distance that’s comfortable for you. Your body should be straight. Keep your abs tight, flex your legs and glutes. Lower yourself by bending your elbows until your chest is just off the floor. Push hard to extend yourself to the starting position. Try not to tilt your head too much. Tilting it up so you’re looking straight a head, or tucking your chin into your chest can put a strain on your neck. Breathe in at the top, and out as you push up.

Push-ups are very easily scaled to make them easier or more difficult. Essentially, tilting your body so your upper body is higher than your lower body makes it easier. An example of this would be if you put your hands on bench. Or if you did push-ups on your knees. Tilting so your feet are higher than your upper body adds difficulty. If you put your feet up on a bench, this would make it more challenging.

The last chest exercise I’ll talk about today is dips. For bench dips, start with your hands on the bench. Your legs will be out in front of you. Having them straight makes the exercise more difficult. Having your knees bent makes them a little less challenging. Lower yourself by bending at the elbows until your upper arm is about parallel with the floor. Push hard into the bench to drive yourself to the starting position.

If you’re using a dip station, your body will be more vertical but you still lower yourself by bending at the elbow and drive yourself up by extending your arms. These are a progression from bench dips. You want to avoid swinging with your legs which uses momentum instead of muscle. You can keep your legs straight or you can bend at the knees. For more of a challenge you can do weighted dips. You can hold a dumbbell between your crossed ankles but using a belt to hold the weight is a better solution.

Inhale at the top, exhale as you drive up.

So there you have it. Five great exercises to help you build your best chest ever. You don’t have to do them all in order to develop your pecs. These are just tools you can use. You’ll find you’ll prefer some more than others. Some will just feel more comfortable.

Try ‘em out and get to work!

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Intro To The Gym

Happy New Year! If you’ve decided to make 2019 the year you get (back?) in shape, that’s great.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re new to the gym. It can be intimidating at first,  but just like anything else, keep going and you’ll soon feel comfortable.

1. Welcome! It’s awesome you’re taking your first steps towards being a stronger, more fit version of you. Take your time and get a good feel for the layout of the gym. Even if you got a tour when you signed up for your membership, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the gym. Most gyms are set up similarly. There’s usually an area for stretching. A cardio area with treadmills, elliptical machines, bikes, stairmasters, etc. There’s a free weight area with squat racks, benches, barbells, and all that good stuff. There’ll be an area with the strength machines also. Checking out each area will save you time and you won’t have to wander around searching for the area with the thingamajig.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask. The trainers and other employees know the gym. If you’re unsure how to do a lift or how to use a machine, or can’t figure out what muscles that machine is supposed to work, ask. None of us is born with knowledge. You can also ask other gym goers. Just be sure to wait until they’re resting between sets. Nobody likes to be interrupted during a set. If you’re already a gym veteran: be nice. You were new once, too.

3. You’re going to be sore. If you’re coming off a long layoff from training, it’s inevitable. It’s okay. As you get used to working out you’ll get sore less often, and when you do, it won’t be as intense. A simple and effective way to deal with soreness is to walk. It’s low impact, it gently works your whole body, and it gets the blood flowing all over.

4. Start off conservatively. I know The Rock trains for hours every day, but you’re not there yet. Pick 3-5 compound lifts (e.g., squats, rows, bench press) and start with 2-3 sets of about 10 repetitions. At this point you’ll be getting used to working out so focus on only a few lifts. Get comfortable with the movements. Ingraining proper form now means you won’t have to unlearn bad form later.

5. No curls in the squat rack. I know, I know. You wouldn’t dream of doing barbell curls in the squat rack. I wrote that for someone else.

6. Be patient. You didn’t get out of shape in one day. You’re not going to get in shape in a day. That pump you feel right after your workout is great. Your body’s increased blood to the muscles you’ve just worked. Enjoy it briefly in the mirror in the changing room. It’s not permanent. Achieving great results takes more than a session or two. You will get there. Just be patient and consistent.

7. Enjoy the process. The process, the journey, whatever you want to call it, it’s going to take some time. So find a workout program that you mostly enjoy. I say “mostly” because you’re not going to love it every single workout. If it’s done right, it’s going to be challenging.

8. Track. Doing the same exact workout with the same exact weights over and over is not going to help you progress. You want to gradually ramp up the volume in order to keep the progress going. The best way to do this is track your lifts. There are apps for you smartphone or you can go old school and use pen and paper. Either way, take note of the sets, repetitions, and weights you use. You’ll know what you did last time so you won’t have to guess this time. And you can keep pushing yourself to improve.

9. Be consistent. Not every workout is going to be amazing. There are going to be days you won’t feel like going. Especially in these winter months when it’s cold and dark when you wake up. Get up and go. Stick with your program. A terrible workout is way better than no workout. Establish a routine and get locked into the new habit. This is how you get results.

10. Run your own race. Two people could do the same exact training program, follow the same diet, get the same sleep, and they’ll still end up with different results. Don’t worry about what the other guy or woman is doing. Focus on you. It’s not fair, but so what? There’s nothing you can do about it. Give your best effort each session at the gym. Eat in a way that supports your fitness goals. Get plenty of rest so you’re recharged.

It’s awesome you’re making it happen for ’19! Stick with it and you’ll get there. If you have any questions, if I can help in any way, send me an email jquinn.fitness@gmail.com.

Switch It Up

Being consistent is the key to making progress over time. But it’s hard to be consistent. There’s a never ending stream of distractions. Even if you manage to mostly ignore them and stay on plan, eventually boredom sets in.

You’ve been sticking to your training and food regimen and it’s getting you results. But it’s becoming harder and harder mentally. You feel a little bit like a drone. What should you do? You can focus and grind harder.

Or you can switch it up.

There are certain fundamentals that you’ll still need to adhere to in order to keep making progress. Working to get stronger over time is one. Energy balance, or eating in a way that supports your goals, is another.

The good news is there are countless ways to work within these parameters.

The past few weeks I’ve definitely been in a low point in terms of motivation to train. I’ve been trying to buckle down and just do it anyway. The truth is, I know myself, and I’m not very good at doing things I don’t feel like doing. I grit my teeth for a while but eventually I get to a point where I think, “screw it”.

That tells me it’s time for me to switch up my workouts. I’m not saying you should do exactly what I’m doing. Your situation is your situation. Maybe you just need a week off from your routine and then you’ll be re-energized.

Instead of lifting three days per week, I’ll be switching to five days. The weekly volume (sets and reps of exercise) will be about the same. I’m trading three longer sessions for five shorter ones. Without flooding you with every little detail, it’s essentially alternating upper body and lower body workouts.

It’s not magic or a trick, just a little tweak to keep you more engaged mentally. You don’t want to change up your regimen constantly. If you’re always doing a totally new workout you’re always learning a new workout, not improving at a workout. Pick one and stick with it for several weeks or a few months. Squeeze all you can from the one you’re on now. Then make some changes to maintain your interest and enthusiasm.

 

Training vs. Exercise

Is there a difference between exercise and training?

Often they’re used interchangeably but there’s a subtle and important distinction.

Exercise is a means to its own end. Training is a means to a different end. In other words, you exercise for its own sake. Whether it’s running, swimming, biking, dancing, lifting weights or any other physical activity, you’re doing it because you enjoy it.

When you’re training, it’s for another purpose. It may still be enjoyable, of course. But you’re following a plan with a specific goal. For example, your bike workouts are to prepare you for a specific race.

Neither is better than the other.

 The reasons I have my clients train rather than exercise is because having a specific goal is really motivating. The goals are theirs, not mine. You’re not going to be motivated for my goals. At least I hope you won’t.

 When you have a goal in mind that you really want, a lot of awesome things happen. You have a deadline. It’s not “some day”, it’s a particular time. Maybe it’s 12 weeks, 6 months, or a year. In fact, it’s a great idea to have a mix of shorter-term goals on the road to your longer-term goals.

You can think of the deadline as a finish line, if that’s more appealing to you. Either way, it means that you don’t have time to mess around. Each of your training sessions is a step closer. If you skip a session, you lose a step. Sticking to the plan matters.

It helps you build your mental toughness. You learn to set aside your feelings and do the work. There will be days when you absolutely will not feel like working out. You may even hear a little voice in your head suggesting, “it’s only one day”. You learn to drown that out and push through any resistance.

You use your toughness and the knowledge of an upcoming finish line as fuel to keep you going through even the toughest workouts.

When you learn this, you can apply it to any aspect of your life. Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, regardless of how you feel at the moment.

Let me say again, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with exercising. It sure beats the hell out of sitting on the couch all day. It’s a great way to be physically active. It’s a great flipside to training.

Training is really taxing mentally and physically, so sometimes it’s nice to just exercise. You still get in your workouts but it’s not quite such a grind. Taking some time off to just exercise without a particular end goal can be recharge your batteries. But exercising all the time without a goal can become boring. It’s a good idea to use both phases in cycles. Alternating a few months of training with a few weeks of just exercise can keep you motivated and progressing without wearing you down for a long, long time.

Thanks for reading. Hope this helps. Any questions or comments, leave ‘em below.