Arnolds chest workout!

20-02-2015 | 
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I’ve never been a huge proponent of the theory “good structure = great potential”. True: Having an ideal bone structure may provide you some advantage, but it is not the most important prerequisite of building an excellent physique. Most bodybuilding champions had to overcome a lot of difficulties on their way to the top. I believe that success depends on blood, sweat and tears to 90 per cent, and only 10 % depends on potential or good structure. As for myself, I was not showing the faintest signs of a future bodybuilding champion when I first entered the gym. Not only I was thin, but my chest was flat and narrow as well. Based on my potential (or rather the lack of it), nobody would have thought that one day I’m going to have a 127-cm chest and I will bench press with 225 kg. But hard work and the unquenchable thirst for success may overcome any obstacle.

I’ve been fascinated by Reg Park’s fantastic physique right from the beginning. I was just as tall as he, so I set a goal to achieve a Mr. Universe physique like his or even better. Park’s physique was round and symmetric, and I can say without a doubt that he had the most amazing chest that time. He had massive, perfectly developed pecs and a huge chest. Standing relaxed, from the side, his chest appeared twice as thick as his waist. There were guys who had spectacular pecs, which made them look great on the front. But looking from the side, they just disappeared in the crowd, because their chests were lacking depth. Their hips and chest appeared to be about the same size.

One of the prerequisites of developing a spectacular chest is to make the ribcage as wide as possible, especially at the beginner stage, because the ribcage will make up the frame for the whole musculature of the upper body. If you want to grow your chest, back and shoulders as huge as possible, first you have to expand your ribcage as much as possible. And the chest can be expanded by a combination of exercises that trigger deep breathing and stretch the pecs. Heavy leg training – especially squats – induce deep breathing, and, as a consequence, your chest will rise and expand. I recommend that you do a set of dumbbell pull-overs after each set of squats in order to stretch your pecs and enlarge your chest as much as possible. Plus, you can also do pull-overs as a part of your chest program. This will be mentioned later.

If your chest is flat and lacks depth, you will need at least one year to expand it. If you only concentrate on your pecs from the beginning, that will strongly limit their size. This means, you better start doing pull-overs right on your first workout.

It’s much easier to develop the pecs themselves, but the larger the frame is, the more you can build on it. The pecs should be worked from all directions. Basic exercises like the bench press, incline press, decline press or dips on parallel bars are hard exercises and will stack more muscle mass on your chest. Flyes, cable crossovers or flyes on the pec-deck machine are rather for shape and definition.

In order to ensure your pecs are developing in a perfect and balanced manner, you should bomb it from all directions: From above, from below, from the outside and from the inside. Based on my experience, the following exercises are the most effective for getting mass, definition and shape. First, I’m going to explain the purpose and strict form of each exercise. Then, I will give some tips and hints on how you could use them in your training program, no matter which stage you are at.


For many years, this was the only chest exercise I would do. This exercise is the key to building massive pectorals. It works the overall chest, and it also stimulates the shoulders, the triceps and the back. You need to breath deeply for this exercise, which will expand your ribcage. I use a medium-wide grip, that is 20-25 wider than shoulder width on both sides. I take a deep breath and lower the bar to the highest point of my chest, below my nipples. Then, I push the weight while exhaling. I always begin with a warmup set of 20-30 reps with a small weight in order to pump blood into the muscles and to warm them up. I increase the load for each set and do 8 reps per set, except for the target weight, that is mostly 180 kg, with 6 reps. I rest for two minutes between sets and I do at least 6 sets, but sometimes I even go up to 10.


This is an unrivaled exercise for developing the pectoralis minor (the upper part of the chest). Some people prefer dumbbells, but I prefer to use a barbell. The grip width is similar to that of the bench press. I lower the weight below my collarbone, then push it with a crisp exhalation. I do 5 sets of 8-12 reps. Here too, I increase the load for each set. Now the whole chest is fully pumped with blood, from the breastbone to the lower end of the pectorals.


This exercise is excellent for shaping the exterior of the pecs. And, if performed right, it will expand the ribcage, too, increasing the depth of the chest. Lay down on a horizontal bench with a dumbbell in each of your hands, and hold them above your chest. While inhaling deeply, lower the weights as far as you can, with your arms slightly bent, preferably until they almost touch the ground. Return to the starting position while exhaling, and flex your pecs strongly at the top position so the inner region gets some stimulation, too. I do 5 sets of 10 reps.


This exercise works the overall chest, and it is particularly suitable for working the lower regions of the pectorals, which will give you that spectacular line that separates the pecs from the abs. This is the exercise which will in fact give your pecs that statuesque look. I use a 35-kg dumbbell as extra weight, and I do it in supersets with the flyes on horizontal bench. I do 5 sets of 8 reps each. I lower my body while inhaling deeply so that my pecs stretch to the greatest possible extent, then push myself back up while exhaling. After the fifth superset, my pecs are so full of blood that it feels like they are about to bounce out of my skin.


I finish the workout with an exercise that stretches the whole chest as much as possible. It is suitable for enlarging your chest, as it expands all the cartilage, sinews and other connective tissues, thus making the whole chest bigger, thicker and deeper. Strict form is particularly important in this case, otherwise it won’t trigger growth. Lie across a massive horizontal bench and grab one dumbbell with both hands. Support the plates at the top end of the dumbbell with your palms from below (palms are facing upwards and the dumbbell is in a vertical position). Start the move from a position above your chest and lower the weight below the line of your head while inhaling deeply, keeping your arms straight, as far as your pecs allow to stretch. Remember to lower your hips, too, while lowering the weight, and make sure you are keeping it down throughout the entire move. Lift the weight back again to the starting position with a crisp exhalation. I do 5 sets of 15-20 reps, with 30-second rest breaks. Between sets, I walk up and down and breathe deeply to keep my chest stretched out fully until the next set. The pain you will feel at your breastbone will be shocking: It will feel like your ribcage is going to burst; but in fact, this will trigger growth. (Warning: if you feel pain in your shoulders while lowering the weight, you have probably let the weight too low and you might get injured. This usually occurs if you are using a too heavy weight.)


  1. I train my chest three times a week, together with my back.
  2. I also do cable crossovers in the precontest phase, sometimes in supersets with pull-overs, 5 sets of 12-15 reps.
  3. You should focus all your mental power to the exercise you are doing. Don’t let anything distract you. You can chat after, but not during workout.
  4. You should always push yourself to do the last 2-3 reps, but you should not forget about the strict form either.
  5. Control your breathing all along. Inhale as deeply as you can, and keep your chest high in the case of each exercise. Never let your chest collapse. Proper position is an essential prerequisite of developing your chest.
  6. Beginners should follow a general basic program, which should contain both bench presses and pull-overs. After six months, you may add more exercises as follows:

Bench presses:

4 X 8-10
Flyes on horizontal bench: 3 X 10
Dips: 2 X 8-10
Pull-overs: 3 X 15

After 9-12 months, enhance your program as follows:

Bench presses:

4 X 8-12
Incline press: 3 X 8-12, 1 X 25
Flyes on horizontal bench: 3 X 10-22
1 X 25
Dips: 2-3 X 12-15
Pull-overs: 4 X 15

On intermediate level you may use my program as follows:

Bench presses: 6 X 20-30, 15, 10, 6, 6, 5

Incline press:

5 X 12, 10, 8, 8, 8
Flyes on horizontal bench: 5 X 10
Dips: 5 X 8
Pull-over: 5 X 15-20

These are the chest exercises that proved to be most effective for me. From time to time I would do more sets of some exercises or I would do more reps in the pre-contest phase to improve my muscle definition. Anyone who tries these exercises can achieve great results.

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