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Building The Middle And Upper Chest - "Filling In The Gaps"

 One of the most frequently asked questions that I get about chest training is how to build mass in the middle chest, filling in the gap between the pecs. And filling out the upper chest, creating that nice full square chest look. Rather then the droopy look that comes from over developed lower pecs.

Most people usually do not have much problem with the lower pecs because the bench press, which primarily targets the lower chest, is one exercise that always finds its way into everyone’s chest workout. This quickly becomes the yard stick by which you are measured by with the ever famous question... “how much can ya bench?”

A lot of the time the root cause for lagging middle and upper chest development is caused from not using a full range of motion when performing chest exercises like the bench press. This is a very common problem that I see this over and over again. Guys get caught in the temptation to see how much weight they can press, rather then how to effectively train for maximum muscle growth.

When you train too heavy you’ll be doing low reps and generally only moving the weight through a partial range of motion. So the muscles are not under tension long enough to achieve optimal growth. In other words, you are stopping short of stimulating your inner and upper pecs.

Note: there is a time and place for the use of heavy partial reps training (in more advanced workout routines), we’ll dive in deeper and discuss this in a future article. But for now simply stick to using full exercise range of motion for all lifts.

For your chest muscles to grow, they need to be worked through their full range of motion. At the bottom of the bench press rep your pecs need to be stretched by arching your upper back, pulling your shoulder blades back together behind you, and sticking your chest out as far as you can. For each rep see how much you can expand your chest at the bottom. Then straighten your arms and squeeze your chest muscles together at the top.

Another problem that can prevent you from activating the middle and upper chest muscles is grabbing the barbell too wide. This prevents you from arching your upper back and pulling your shoulder blades back together behind you. This also hinders the natural movement for your arms and shoulders.

A good guideline with gripping the barbell is to grip just wider then shoulder width, for most average sized guys this will be with the pinky finger on the rings of the barbell. Try it for your next chest workout, grab the bar with a medium width grip, pull your shoulder blades back, and stick your chest out as much as possible. You’ll feel a much better pump down the centreline of your chest and also work the upper chest muscles more as well.

Proper exercise form should be your primary concern with any workout, but choosing the best exercises is also vitally important as well. If the upper chest is lagging, then avoid all decline bench work. Do only flat and incline bench chest training.

Shoot for a repetition range of 10-12 reps per set. This will keep your muscles under tension long enough to stimulate optimal hypertrophy in the middle and upper chest muscles. If you can’t get 10 good reps on your own (i.e. no help from a spotter), then the weight is too heavy. Lighten up the weight so that you are within the 10-12 rep range. And always perform a full range of motion, constantly be thinking to yourself “stretch at the bottom” and “squeeze at the top”.

Training like this maybe like getting a low blow to the ego for some guys, after all, lightening up the weights and doing higher reps may not seem “hard-core” compared to doing a few short choppy reps with enough weight to make you turn blue in the face. But sometimes you need to tear down the ego in order to build up the body.