Looking good might not be your primary aim. But if exercise and an active lifestyle lead to good health and better aesthetics, I doubt you are going to complain. Now, boot camps, running, cycling, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and CrossFit will ensure your fitness. However, adding some isolation training to your routine will go a long way in helping you make targeted gains and shape up better. AK Abhinav, a strength and conditioning coach and founder of Bengaluru’s Namma X-Fit says that isolation training can achieve far greater muscle gains on the targeted muscle group.
Not only does isolation strength training ensures that you remain injury-free but since the philosophy of this system stems from body-building, it works very well as far as aesthetics are concerned, adds Abhinav. Over the next few weeks, in this series, we shall take you through isolation training for different areas of our body. This article focuses on how to chisel and strengthen your chest.
Also Read: The science of the pushup
The best point to start working on your chest muscles is the pushup— one of the most basic and extremely effective exercise movements, says Gautam Dagar, former Indian rugby captain turned fitness coach. “A lot of people struggle with pushups and that’s alright. If you can’t, do one of the easier variations such as standing pushups against the wall, knee pushups and elevated pushups till such time that you can start doing proper pushups,” he says.
Once you master the pushup with proper form and full range of motion, you need to start increasing the intensity and repetitions gradually. “Only when you can pull off three to four sets of 15 pushups with proper form, should you consider using external weights such as barbells and dumbbells. And remember, don’t go lifting big weights right at the beginning. Start with light weights, get your form right first and see how that feels before moving on to heavier weights,” adds Dagar.
Using machines for workouts draws a fair bit of flak these days, but Dagar says you could use them if you want. Dagar personally prefers training with free weights and advises the same to his clients. “Free weights are much more effective in my experience,” he says. Some of the most effective chest exercises with weights (either barbell or dumbbell) are the bench press, the inclined bench press, the declined press, the inclined dumbbell fly and the dumbbell pullover. Depending on whether you want to bulk up, shred or just maintain your fitness levels, the intensity and volume of chest workouts would vary. For bulking and mass gain, stick to heavy weights and low reps; for shredding switch to lower weights and high reps; to maintain your physique, stick to the standard three to four sets of 10 reps each with moderate weights of the prescribed exercises, suggests Dagar.
If you are still vary of going to a gym and don’t have access to weights, you could still achieve your goals with body weight workouts. “The pushup is a very effective exercise and it has plenty of variations that can easily help you reach your goals—whether it is gaining mass or shredding. Variations like deficit pushups, where you slow down the whole
movement and go down slowly over 5 seconds, then hold at the bottom of the push-up for another 5 seconds and then return to the starting position all in a smooth, controlled motion. This is a slow eccentric movement that engages the muscles for longer and hence causes muscle fatigue quicker. This kind of pushup helps you gain mass in the chest region. It is difficult to do high repetitions of this variation,” says Dagar. “Explosive pushups such as clapping pushups are performed at a faster speed and can be performed for higher repetitions, which makes them ideal for you if shredding is what you are after.”
All of this exercise is going to be futile if you aren’t eating right. Proper nutrition is non-negotiable when you are working out or else you won’t see any gains, warns Dagar. “Working out with poor nutrition, just like with poor form, could lead to injuries.” So, lift right, eat right and see the chest swell with muscle and pride.
Three chest workouts by Gautam Dagar
-2 sets of pushups.
-2 sets of bench press with light weight for good form.
Main Workout (8 to 10 reps for each exercise X 4 sets)
-Flat bench press (overall chest)
-Inclined bench press (upper chest)
-Decline dumbbell press (lower chest)
-Inclined dumbbell fly (upper chest)
-Dumbbell Pullover (shaping the obliques and lower chest)
Chest workout for bulking up (6 to 8 reps X 4 sets for each exercise)
Go heavy with the weights, low with the reps.
-Flat bench press.
-Fat bench dumbbell press.
-Inclined bench press
-Inclined dumbbell fly
-End with 3 sets of pushups till failure
Chest workout for shredding (15 to 20 reps X 5 sets for each exercise)
-Go light with the weights, high with the reps.
-Pushups (Flat/diamond/clapping pushups)
-Inclined bench press
-Decline dumbbell press
-Decline dumbbell fly
-Flat bench/Floor dumbbell press
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.