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Lagging Chest Muscles

Hi coach I have a lagging chest that I want to bring up. Right now I do Pretty basic lifts swiching between flat, inclined and declined press. I switch dumbbell and barbell every now and then, and then I mix in some cable flys too

My sets are usually 3-4 and reps between 4-8

In your opinion how can I stimulate new chest growth? More frequency? Exercise variation? Higher reps.

Thanks for any help.

All that variation is hurting you. Pick one barbell movement (Incline or flat). Build up your strength with that. (5x3, 6x3, 4x5, 5x5). Then do the opposite one (flat or incline) with dumbbells for 4x6-8. Bench twice a week. Eat food. Cheers!

While that is sound advice 9 times out of 10, I do not think that it will solve his issue. This is clearly an issue of not being able to involve the pectorals optimally in the big pressing exercises, compensating by using either the delts or triceps more.

Simply getting stronger on the big basic presses will simply make the dominant muscle group grow even faster and the pectorals will still lag behind; it fact if he only do the big basic press without addressing the mind-muscle connection issue with his pectorals the problem might be getting even worse by simply trying to get a stronger press.


Because, as I mentioned, the dominant muscle groups will get stronger at a faster rate. This will accentuate the difference between the dominant muscles (either delts or triceps, or both) and the pectorals, making the body relies even more on those dominant muscles.

The first time I bench pressed 405lbs I literally had ZERO pectoral development. That’s because I had monster delts from my 7 years training exclusively on the olympic lifts and having super strong and efficient shoulders and my triceps were also very dominant (I’ve always done way more triceps than biceps work ever since I was 15 and read an article saying that the key to getting big arms was training the triceps since they are 2/3rd of the upper arm mass).

To make my chest catch up to my delts I had to do a lot of mind-muscle connection work; isolation exercises for the pectorals and constant tension methods.

Basically to fix a lagging muscle group (assuming that the problem is from poor mind-muscle connection/improper recruitment and not insufficient training) you need to:

  1. Improve your skill at contracting that muscle (this means isolation work where the dominant muscles cannot compensate) as well a constant tension methods.

  2. Once you are better at recruiting and contracting the lagging muscle group you need to practice integrating that muscle in the big lift, this will require moving back down in weight on the big lift to focus on feeling the lagging muscle doing the work… the heavier you go, the more the body will want to go back to his default setting of utilizing the dominant muscle(s) to compensate. Pre-fatigue is also a good tool to use here.

  3. The third step, once you get a better feel for involving the lagging muscle is the big lift you need to gradually work toward maintaining the involvement of that muscle as the weight gets heavier (once again, the heavier the weight gets, the more you will tend to go back to your default neural programming). Here a contrast (1 lighter set, 1 moderate set, 1 lighter set, 1 heavier set, etc.) or pyramid (for example 12, 10, 8, 6) can work great. You are using the lighter sets to “practice” contracting the lagging muscle and you try to maintain the same feeling with the heavier weight.

  4. Finally once you are capable of maintaining the tension on the lagging muscle even with heavier weights you will focus on greating as much growth in that muscle as possible while still practicing doing the big lift with that muscle. The post-fatigue method is great here.

  5. When that is done you can focus on getting back into heavy pressing and now the chest will grow like everything else, maybe even more,

Here is an example of how it can be done… not that I only write down a sample of the chest portion of the workout, writing a full 5 phases program would be way too long and outside the scope of a forum.

Duration: 3 weeks
Approach: use more isolation work in your session to practice contracting your pecs, DO NOT focus on the weight, focus on contracting the pecs against a resistance
Frequency: 2 chest workouts (you can train another muscle with it, for example with delts the first session and with triceps on the second one) per week BUT do one isolation for the pecs (the one where you feel the contraction the most) at the beginning of every single workout for 4 sets of 8-12 reps… see that as “chest contraction practice”

A. Pec deck (this is to activate you pecs so that you can feel them more)
3-4 sets of 8-10 reps squeezing the peak contraction hard for 2 seconds on each rep. Don’t focus on weight, focus on contracting your pecs.

B. Decline bench press (to minimize deltoid compensation)
4 work sets of 8-10 reps, try to squeeze the weight up with the chest

C. Cable flies
4 work sets of 8-10 reps, squeezing the peak contraction 2 seconds and doing the eccentric in 4 seconds, focusing on maintaining pec contraction

D. Push-ups
4 work sets of max reps using a 3030 tempo (3 seconds up, 3 seconds down) focusing on contracting the chest. To do that imagine trying to bring your hands closer together as you are pressing up

Duration: 3 weeks
Approach: Pre-fatigue
Frequency: hit chest twice a week, also maintain the daily pec exercise as in phase 1

A. Pec deck (this is to activate you pecs so that you can feel them more)
3-4 sets of 8-10 reps squeezing the peak contraction hard for 2 seconds on each rep. Don’t focus on weight, focus on contracting your pecs.

B1. Squeeze press
4 sets of 8-10 reps, focus on squeezing inward during the whole concentric portion. Do the concentric (lifting) in 3 seconds to maximize the time the pecs are being contracted

30 sec of rest between B1 & B2

B2. Bench press
4 sets of 6-8 reps, try to get the same feeling as you did in the squeeze press

C. Cable cross-over
4 sets of 8-10 reps squeezing the peak 2 seconds. Focus on contracting the pecs, not moving more weight. Play with hand position to see where you get the strongest pectoral contraction

Duration: 3 weeks
Approach: contrast sets and pyramid
Frequency: 2 chest workouts per week, drop the daily chest exercise

A. Squeeze press
4 sets of 8-10 reps, focus on squeezing inward during the whole concentric portion. Do the concentric (lifting) in 3 seconds to maximize the time the pecs are being contracted

B. Bench press
6 sets
Set 1 = 8 reps, light, slower reps focusing on squeezing the pecs
Set 2 = 6 reps, moderate weight, focus on maintaining the same feeling as in the preceding set
Set 3 = 8 reps, same as set no.1
Set 4 = 4 reps, fairly heavy but still in full control, try to keep the same feeling as in set no.3
Set 5 = 8 reps, same as set no.1 and 3
Set 6 = 2 reps, heavy, try to keep the same feeling as the lighter sets

C. Decline bench press
1 x 10, 1 x 8, 1 x 6, 1 x 4, 1 x 2
Here all the sets are like a 7-8 on the effort scale. You leave around 2 reps in the tank on all sets so that you can focus on the quality of the contraction

D. Pec deck
3 sets of 8-10 reps with a 3030 tempo (3 seconds up, 3 seconds down)

Duration: 3 weeks
Approach: post-fatigue
Frequency: 2 chest workouts per week

A. Pec deck
3 sets of 8-10 reps with a 3030 tempo (3 seconds up, 3 seconds down)

B1. Bench press
4 sets of 4-6 reps

NO REST between B1 and B2

B2. Squeeze press
4 sets of 8-10 reps, focus on squeezing inward during the whole concentric portion. Do the concentric (lifting) in 3 seconds to maximize the time the pecs are being contracted

C1. Decline bench press
4 sets of 6-8 reps

NO REST between C1 and C2

C2. DB flies, or Cable flies, or Cross-over
4 sets of 8-10

Duration: 4 weeks

You will do bench press and decline bench with the following loading schemes:

Week 1: 1 x 6, 1 x 4, 1 x 2, 1 x 6, 1 x 4, 1 x 2
Week 2: 1 x 5, 1 x 4, 1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 1
Week 3: 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 1, 1 x 5, 1 x 3, 1 x 1
Week 4: 1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 1, 1 x 3, 1 x 2, 1 x 1

Then do 3-4 sets of 6-8 on incline DB press

Then you are fixed for life


Thanks so much for tak No the time to help

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CT, while it is true that BB exercises may not allow for optimal chest growth for some, how did you reach that conclusion based on his post?

He makes no mention of his strength levels, frequency, training age (stats).

Hitting chest 1x a week with a 3x5 scheme is not giving anyone but, rank beginners the best hypertrophic growth. If he were doing inclines with 315 lbs for sets of 8 and his chest was lagging then, BB movements may not be the best option.

He has posted his routine previously and while he is likely not an advanced lifter, from the material posted in his previous posts, he is not a beginner either.

And I selected more barbell exercises because the main objective of the plan presented was to improve the capacity to involve the pectoral muscles in the big basic pressing lifts.

The whole plan is not necessarily a “maximum hypertrophy” plan for right now. It is to fix a week link, that is likely due to improper recruitment of the pectorals and/or compensation by other muscles.

Of course I didn’t do a full eval. This is a forum, not my office. If I need to do a full analysis of every situation before answering people I will not answer anybody.

But when it comes to lagging muscles the main possible causes are:

  1. Insufficient training (likely not the case, especially since I’ve seen some of his previous programs)

  2. Injuries preventing optimal recruitment and favoring compensations

  3. Improper recruitment of the lagging muscle(s)

  4. Compensation with other more efficiently recruited muscles

  5. Very high ratio of slow twitch fibers in the lagging muscle

  6. Technical issues

As I mentioned, it is likely not no.1 since he has done plenty of pectoral training in the past

Could be an injury preventing optimal recruitment, but in all of his post he never mentioned a shoulder issue or something that would change recruitment so likely not no.2

Now, his pectorals could have a high ratio of slow twitch fibers. And since he is doing mostly lower reps, that might be one of the reasons for less growth in the pectorals although it still seem unlikely because, while some muscles differ in their fiber ratios, it’s rare to be VERY sow twitch dominant in one big muscle and normal in others. In any case, the plan I detailed still involve higher reps work which would help with that issue anyway.

It could be a technical issue with his pressing movements that would put more stress/stimulation on the shoulders. So that is definitely something he should look at. While my recommendations doesn’t include technique advice, quite a few phases emphasize using lighter weights on the pressing movements to work on better feeling the pectorals working. To do that he might have to make adjustments “by feel” in his technique to better involve the pectorals.

The plan I gave is specifically designed to address causes 3 and 4. BTW the daily extra work for the chest is NOT to directly stimulate more hypertrophy: it is muscle recruitment practice. Practicing contracting the pectorals to become more efficient at doing that (frequency , not volume is the key to motor learning and being better at contracting a muscle is motor learning).

I always found that if you have trouble feeling a muscle on an exercise like bench a slow eccentric and concentric takes care of the issue (5 up and 5 down).

Awesome stuff above for MMC.
When doing this 2x a week chest routine how would you structure the training week?

Day 1 Chest/delts
Day 2 quad focus lower body
Day 3 off
Day 4 chest/tris
Day 5 back/bis
Day 6 ham/hip lower body
Day 7 off

How many sets and rep range for other body parts aside from chest during this specialized period ?

That split looks fine. As for the number of sets, it depends on your training style. Heavy, going to failure, beyond failure, etc. I’d say that 9-12 sets is a good place to start. If you go to failure/beyong you might need to cut it down to 6-9

Thanks for the reply CT!!
Ok so for the

Quad day:
Front squats 3x6-8
Leg press low stance 3x8-10
Leg extensions 3x12-15
Walking lunge 2xamrap

Back/bis day:
Rows 3x6-8
Pull-ups 3x8-10
Lat pull down 2x12-15
Kelso shrug 2x12-15
Reverse flies 2x12-15

•Plus bi’s?

•or replace the shrugs and flies with barbell curls for 2x8-10 and concentration curls for 2x8-10

Hip lower body day:

Dead’s-maybe sumo 3x6-8
Straight leg deadlift 3x8-10
Seated ham curl 3x8-10
9 SETS +

•Possibly add another deadlift set in the beginning?

•do some prowler pushing at the end?