Secrets to a Colossal Chest with Mike Israetel


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Last time we learned how to Build a Bigger Back with Mike Israetel.

Which is great.

But we all know that deep down we care more about getting a Colossal Chest.

Just like the back there are some steps you can follow to help you construct a huge chest, to go along with your wide back. Mike again has provided some powerful training tips to take your pecs from puny to powerful.

Remember Mike and James Hoffman are coming to the UK to present in two seminars one in Brighton (18th May) and one in London (21st and 22nd May). You do not want to miss out on this, they will be covering all things relating to training, nutrition and recovery for bodybuilders and powerlifters. If you are serious about your own, or clients results you won’t want to miss it.

1) Flat & Incline Barbell Presses are King

For any muscle group you want to be using compound exercises,  Mike picks out Barbell Flat and Incline as being top dogs. They can be loaded heavy and can therefore really disrupt our bodies homeostasis to force growth.

However, studies have shown that decline varieties have maximal activation?

Mike answered:

“It very well might, but 1) Properly arching on the bench largely replicates this angle. 2) Sternal pecs are rarely a limiting factor in chest development, especially enough to warrant much independent focus”

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 14.37.47

Plus how much of a pain in the ass is it to set up a decline bench? You need a spotter and generally it is just not as safe a movement to perform. Mike does go on to say: “I think that barbells are a great staple for most…

“though there will be exceptions for sure”

There is never a black and white answer in fitness. Mike through his own experience and clients, has found these two varieties to provide the best chest development. However, that doesn’t mean everyone will and particularly in bodybuilding, individual difference can play a role in exercise selection.

For example, I personally get much more activation from my chest during a dumbbell bench press, something about the movement allows me to squeeze the pecs much more tightly. Others might choose to use machines, because their shoulders are not too healthy and so need the extra stability a machine can provide. Mike goes on to say:

“there’s lots of individual difference in responses and preferences to training”

[bctt tweet=”For a colossal chest stick to mainly flat and incline barbell press” username=”revivestronger”]

2) Learn to Arch and Retract like a Powerlifter

Mike advises:

“If you want your biggest chest, learn to arch and retract during pressing, like a powerlifter. A small arch and big retraction exposes your chest to more of the stress of the work, prevents your shoulders from taking over the movement too much and keeps your shoulder joints safer”

What a bodybuilder should bench like a powerlifter? — Yes, everyone should to some extent, because as Mike clearly pointed out it is safer, which means you are less likely to get injured and so can keep training. Now what does a powerlifting style bench really look like?

See also  Podcast 061: Mike Israetel – Q&A – perfecting your calorie surplus


  • Arch – powerlifters arch their backs hard to create a bridge (see above). This allows more weight to be lifted for a few reasons:
    • Due to the arch the force now gets spread to the feet and the upper back, making it more stable and allows for more force production, especially when you use leg drive.
    • The bigger the arch the smaller the range of motion (ROM), which means more weight can be used — however note that Mike said ‘small arch’ because as we learned before a large ROM is more effective for building muscle.
  • Retract – powerlifters pull back their shoulders (imagine pinching a pencil between your scapula) not only does this expose the chest more (preventing the shoulders from taking over), provide a stable base to press from, but it also protects the shoulders.

TRY THIS NOW: Whilst you’re reading this just try retracting your shoulders and slightly arch your back…

notice how your chest feels stretched? — That is a key reason for these two cues being implemented, they  allow for more of your pecs to be utilised.

Mike suggests, you should retract the shoulder blades and implement a small arch whenever the chest is your prime mover; yes that means when you’re doing a dumbbell fly you want to arch slightly and retract hard.

[bctt tweet=”For a colossal chest retract and arch hard” username=”revivestronger”]

3) A Big Stretch and Full Lockout on Each Rep 

That means no half reps, no cutting short at the top or bottom of the lift, go through the entire ROM. This tip is likely to come up frequently, because it is very important and so I will include it in every series. Too many people are cutting their muscle growing chances short by ego lifting. As Mike points out:

“If you’re into ego lifting, you’ll be giving up gains and getting hurt more often.”

So drop the act, lighten the load and use full ROM. Mike even says he “pauses every rep at the bottom for more stretch and safety” — maybe it is something you should try too.

[bctt tweet=”For a colossal chest avoid ego lifting” username=”revivestronger”]

So my fly technique may have gone out the window

Mike points out that “Strict dumbbell and cable flies are great for direct pec work, but the weight used is very far behind in priority to strict technique and full ROM.” See again how you need to start from the base up? Get your form right before you look to add load.

“If you use too much weight and your flies look like presses, you have a problem.”

Interestingly Mike pointed out in a later facebook post that the bicep will be working isometrically during a proper chest fly, and I personally have been noticing soreness in my biceps after my cable flies — this is a good sign that my technique is spot on.

4) Machines can be great for variation and for occasional intensity techniques like drop sets

As previously stated flat and incline barbell presses are going to probably be the basis of your programme for the most part, however that is not to say machines do not have their place. We want to ensure that now and then we introduce some variety into our programme, this really ensures we are maximising our muscle-building potential.

Variety can come from many places:

  • Rep ranges
  • Intensities
  • Volume
  • Exercise selection

The key is not to overuse variety, make sure you’re progressing for a good number of weeks (at minimum 4) before changing it up. Machines are a safe way to introduce a large amount of fatigue into the muscles, going to failure on a machine press is far safer than a barbell bench press for example. The closer we train to failure the higher the impetus for hypertrophy but we just cannot do it all the time, because it eats into our recovery and causes volume to drop too low.

[bctt tweet=”For a colossal chest machines can be useful at times” username=”revivestronger”]

Thus these intensity techniques should be used sparingly, a good way to think about programming may be to drop them in the week before you plan to deload.

See also  Podcast 127: Range of Motion w/ Mike Israetel & Nick Tumminello

5) Train Chest between 2 and 4 times per week

As was said last time body-part splits are not the ticket to size for most people. The deciding factor is most likely going to come down to your own lifestyle, if you can’t get in the gym 4 times a week then you cannot train your chest 4 times. So long as volume is equated you will most likely see very similar outcomes no matter if you train 2 or 4 times a week.

Another factor that would come into play is how much volume you need to put into your chest to make it grow, Mike states that we should use:

“Use a total of 15-25 sets per week”

If you are someone who needs 25 sets a week to see your pecs progress then you might find splitting that volume into more workouts suits you better, whereas someone at the lower end might decide to get it done in just 2. Again this all depends on your Maximal Recoverable Volume (MRV) the amount you can do and still recover from week on week.

OK so what if you want to hit your chest 4 times in a week, that would imply..

hitting it on consecutive days, with no rest in between?

How would you manage that? Mike answered saying “think it’s ok so long as the total volume is in check and that workout on the second side of the back to back isn’t very heavy”. By that he means that on the back to back session the second one would need to be ‘light’, it could be made light in many different ways e.g. lower RPE, reduced working sets, less stressful movement etc.

For example:

  1. Barbell Bench Press – 4×8
  2. Rest
  3. Incline Bench Press – 4×6
  4. Rest
  5. Barbell Bench Press – 4×6
  6. Cable Fly – 4×10
  7. Rest

You would be hitting your pecs 4 times in the week, with 16 total working sets and either a light movement or a rest day between days you work the chest. — Plus you can see the compound movements are given priority with much more volume assigned to them.

Mike goes on to say that we should use:

“6-20 reps at various times”

This spectrum of reps is going provide you the best combination of intensity and volume to get your chest growing, you can programme this in many different ways. As said last time for bodybuilders there are three main phases of training; Strength, Hypertrophy and Metabolic Stress. These can all be powerful ways to drive muscle hypertrophy, and can be put into their own phases:

  1. 5 to 8 Strength
  2. 8 to 12 Hypertrophy
  3. 12 to 20 Metabolic Stress
Mike and his Colossal Chest

Mike ends with:

“Just like with all other moves, getting stronger slowly over time with strict technique is the ticket to size.”


Do you need any help with the above? Do you have any questions you need answering? Hopefully it gave you some ideas about how grow a colossal chest.

Join my free facebook group or add me on snapchat (revivestronger) and ask your question there, I will respond asap. Or if you’re after a fresh training programme I have a free 4 week plan using DUP that you can download for free here.

Want more from Mike?

Add him on Facebook

Check out Renaissance Periodization


Remember Mike and James are coming to the UK to present in two seminars one in Brighton (18th May) and one in London (21st and 22nd May). If you’re serious about your training or if you’re a coach YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS THIS because you won’t get a better opportunity to learn from two of the best.

One more thing…

Do you have a friend who wants a colossal chest? Share this article with them and let me know what they think.

[bctt tweet=”Secrets to a Colossal Chest with Mike Israetel” username=”revivestronger”]

  1. M, Israetel. J, Hoffmann. C, W, Smith. Scientific Principles of Strength Training. 2015
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