The lowdown on lower chest
We all love chest training, don’t we? There’s a reason International Chest Day is universally performed on Mondays. After the weekend break, it’s the one body part we can’t wait to blast and pump up to mythic proportions. Oftentimes when we talk about specializing on a specific region of the pecs, the discussion centers on the upper chest. Yet there are also plenty of guys out there who aren’t satisfied with their lower pectorals. They want that meaty, full, hanging look that champions like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman, and Jay Cutler all had.
You certainly don’t want ‘man boobs,’ but rather, thick slabs of beef that jut out several inches in front of you. For most trainers, the lower chest will develop simply fine from standard flat pressing movements like the barbell and dumbbell bench press. If you have found that this area hasn’t responded in correlation with the rest of your chest, it’s time to specialize. For a period of 6-8 weeks, you should perform workouts dedicated to building the lower chest. Instead of doing the same lower chest workout, you will alternate the following two:
- Decline barbell press 4 x 12, 12, 10, 8 (increasing weight)
- Weighted dip 4 x 10-12 (increasing weight)
- Low cable crossover 4 x 10-12 (same weight)
- Decline dumbbell press 4 x 12, 12, 10, 8
- Hammer Strength decline press 4 x 10-12 (increasing weight)
- Push-ups, feet elevated 4 x failure
How to structure these workouts
These lower chest workouts will take the place of your regularly scheduled chest days for the duration you choose to follow them. Fear not, it’s technically impossible to isolate any one region of the pecs, so don’t worry about losing anything from the rest of your chest. Since the goal is to stimulate as much growth as possible in the time we have set aside to specialize on the lower chest, I recommend working it every third day. That is, if you do the A workout on Monday, you would hit the B workout on Thursday, then return to A again on Sunday, and so on. If it has to be every fourth day occasionally due to schedule conflicts, that’s okay. You just don’t want to let an entire week elapse between workouts, as has become standard for many trainers these days. Your chest certainly does not need a full seven days to recover, and you won’t be able to bring about significant improvement working it that infrequently. Now, let’s get into the selected exercises and how to get the most out of them.
Decline barbell press
First things first: I strongly encourage you to use a spotter for this exercise. In fact, if you can’t have someone spot you, drag a decline bench over to the Smith machine and do your declines there. With any type of barbell press for the chest, there is always the possibility of getting stuck at the bottom of a rep; and that’s a perilous situation to be in. Safety concerns and precautions aside, this is a fantastic movement for the lower chest. The bench has you facing down at a 30-45-degree angle, putting you in an advantageous position in terms of leverage. You will probably find you can press more weight on a decline angle that you can on either a flat or incline. Take a grip just outside your shoulder width and slowly lower until the bar touches your sternum, that line between the bottom of your pecs and the top of your abs. Keep your elbows flared out, as tucking them in will activate more triceps and less lower chest. Contract your pecs forcefully at the end of every rep and always lower the bar slowly and under control. Decline presses put your shoulder girdle in an awkward position, and loose form and bouncing here is to be avoided at all costs. Be sure to start light on these and ‘find your groove’ before you even think about going heavy.
When you step back and break down the dip with torso leaning forward to emphasize the chest, it’s really a decline press. Some of you will need to use only bodyweight for a time to nail the correct form down on these, and that’s fine. Eventually you will become better at dips and that’s when it’s time to strap some extra resistance on. When doing dips with an upright torso for the triceps, you would want to focus on the top half of the range of motion; locking out your elbows and flexing the triceps. You wouldn’t even necessarily want to lower until your upper arms were parallel to the ground. To shift the focus to the lower chest, lower at least to parallel, or even lower if that’s what it takes to feel a full stretch of the pecs. Push up with pure pectoral power and squeeze your chest at the top of each rep. Depending on the length of your arms relative to your torso, your arms may or may not be fully straightened at that point.
Low cable crossover
You may never have experimented with any variation of the cable crossover beyond the standard version: pulleys high, bringing the handles down and across your chest. Yet you can set an incline bench between the pulleys on their lowest setting to focus on the upper chest, and you can also set the pulleys down low, stand; and bring them up to meet at your sternum to target the lower chest. Once more, consider the angle of pull and you’ll see how the decline angle is simulated. Maintain a slight bend in the arms and be sure not to bend them any further as you bring the D-ring attachments up and in. It’s easy to start recruiting the biceps if you’re not careful, particularly as the reps get tougher to complete.
Decline dumbbell press
The first exercise of the B lower chest workout is the decline press, but now using dumbbells. Ideally, you would lay down on a freestanding decline bench (not one with racks for a barbell on either side) and have someone hand you the dumbbells. If you have no choice but to train solo, you will need to clean them up into position yourself. The easiest way to do this is to maneuver your legs under the roller pads with the dumbbells already in your hands, and carefully lay back into the start position to begin pressing. When you’re finished, do your best to carefully place them on the ground rather than toss them aside to bounce off the floor. Gym owners tend not to appreciate expensive dumbbells being dropped! You should find you can achieve an even better contraction in the lower pecs with dumbbells, as they allow you to bring your arms inward toward the center line of your body as you press.
Hammer Strength/machine decline press
We are working under the assumption that your gym has some type of plate-loading or selector stack decline press machine, since most do. If not, the Smith machine with a decline bench will suffice. You may notice that we started both workouts off with free weights, then moved on to a machine. That’s because free weights demand balance and coordination, a quality that rapidly diminishes over the course of any workout. We start with free weights while we’re fresh, then move on to machines that move in a set, guided track. You will find that you’re still strong on that second movement, whereas that would not be the case if you went heavy on a machine movement first and then proceeded to a barbell or dumbbell press. The Hammer Strength decline press is the best option in my estimation, so use that if your gym has it. The machine decline press will allow you to focus purely on feeling your lower chest contract and stretch with each rep. Take your time and really squeeze!
Push-ups, feet elevated
You will finish up with push-ups, your feet behind you on a box or anything that elevates them somewhere between 1-2 feet above your shoulders. This will give you – you guessed it – a decline press angle! There will be no need for any additional resistance stacked on your back, which would be quite a trick to do on your own anyway. The sets should be taken all the way to failure, meaning you keep doing down and repping out until you can’t budge your body an inch off the floor in spite of maximum effort. If you really want to put the final blowtorch on your lower chest with these, rep out to failure slowly, then pause on the ground for about 10-20 seconds before knocking out as many fast reps as you can. By then, your chest should be pumped up like a beefy balloon!
What to do after the 6-8 weeks?
By definition, any specialization routine should only be followed for a limited time. Otherwise, your body will fully adapt to the new, targeted stress on that area and further results will be negligible at best. After 6-8 weeks on this dedicated lower chest workout, resume your normal chest routine that should include both a flat and an incline press. You can still do one decline pressing movement on chest days, but that’s it. Assess your progress in this area after the 6-8 weeks. You should see significant improvement. If you still want more, give yourself at least 6 weeks back on a standard chest routine before revisiting the specialization program. Every time you complete a cycle, you should notice more thickness and fullness in your lower pecs. That’s the whole point! Work hard on this routine and you will reap the rewards with the lower chest development you’ve always wanted.