The 7 Best Insider Strategies to Beef Up Your Lower Pecs
How to smartly prioritize your lower pecs when genetics deals you a flat chest. Now in the August/September issue!
If I could grant you one wish when it comes to developing an individual area of your physique, I’d bet thicker pectoral development would come near the top of your list. In particular, few of us, I’d venture to say, are ever satisfied with the size and shape of our lower pecs.
But rather than offer you a treasure map to Aladdin’s lamp, which may be pretty useless anyways no matter how many times you rub it, I’m instead going to reveal seven strategies you can incorporate into your very next chest workout that take direct aim at the southernmost region of your chest. Whether your lower pecs are just growth resistant or simply have been
neglected in your training routine, now’s the time to slap on extra emphasis for advanced growth—no genie required!
First, discard old notions that one decline movement per workout is enough. For an intensive six- to eight-week blitz, you’ll consider multiple exercises that better target the lower
pecs from a number of different angles and intensities.
After all, to bring up a lagging area, it may be too late to pick your parents, but it’s not too late to rethink your approach to chest day.
BEST WAYS TO TARGET THE LOWER PECS FOR EXTRA WORK
Most lifters do a pressing motion from each of the major bench angles on chest day—flat, incline, and decline. That strategy may have worked for a while, or perhaps you always did declines last in that rotation, which over time caused them to fall behind in development. Regardless, it’s time to stop doing the same old stuff that isn’t working. Let’s take a look at some fresh approaches.
1. START YOUR WORKOUT WITH A BIG MOVE—FOR THE LOWER PECS
Most likely, you start your chest workout with a heavy pressing exercise, usually on the flat bench with a barbell or dumbbells. That hits the meaty mid-region of your pectoralis major, and because your energy levels are highest early in your workout, you’re able to put forth your strongest effort.
But the longer you train with a movement always done first in your workout, the more the marginal gains increasingly diminish, which is just a fancy way of saying you reach a plateau and further gains come to a grinding halt without a significant change in your routine. So, if you want to prioritize your lower pecs, doing a dedicated exercise to target that region—such as decline barbell presses—first in your routine makes sense.
If you typically do declines later in your training sessions, say third in your routine, you’ll notice immediately that you’re much stronger when you instead do them first. And that’s the idea: Address your target area with poundages they haven’t been previously exposed to, a stimulus sure to ignite growth. And since you’re doing declines first, don’t shy away from using a load that pushes your rep target to as few as 6. That is, if you normally do decline presses for sets of 10 reps, increase the weight and instead do them for 6 or even 8.
The combination of moving a decline exercise to first in your routine and targeting the lower pecs with a heavier load than normal by pushing the rep target down achieves a unique growth training stimulus guaranteed to increase the size of your lower pecs.
2. INCLUDE ANOTHER DECLINE MOVEMENT LATER IN YOUR WORKOUT
As mentioned, under normal circumstances you likely include a flat bench, incline, and decline exercise in your chest routine, but there’s no rule that you have to arrange your exercises like that. In fact, doing a second lower-chest exercise is another smart way to prioritize the lower pecs.
The secret, however, is to make it very much unlike the first. That is, if you’re using a decline bench set to a 35-degree angle on your first movement, look for variations that are very different that also focus on your lower pecs. For one, an adjustable decline bench set to a very modest angle—say, 10 to 15 degrees—moves the point of maximal stimulation to a slightly different area of your lower pecs. You can also try very different exercises, such as weighted parallel-bar dips, a machine decline press or one in which the handles move independently and allow you to sit sideways working each side unilaterally, or even use a steeper decline (within reason). Your goal: to work your lower-pec fibres in different ways for better overall development.
You can also change the relative intensity, which alters the stimulus on the muscle. If you did the first movement for sets of 6, use a load on the second movement for sets of 10 to 12. The multiple relative intensities also help to increase overall lower-chest development than always using the same relative intensity.
What you want to avoid is doing very similar exercises with a similar relative intensity. That can happen if you do both the decline barbell press and the Smith-machine decline press with the same degree of decline and for the same number of reps.
3. DON’T FORGET SINGLE-JOINT LOWER-CHEST MOVEMENTS
As with your normal chest routine, you can reduce triceps involvement and better isolate the pecs by including a single-joint exercise toward the end of your training session. Three good choices for the lower pecs are decline-bench flyes (here you can also adjust the bench angle to alter the point of maximal stimulus), cable crossovers (here you want to position the pulleys up high and pull low and forward), and decline-bench cable flyes.
4. DO A MAJOR INTENSITY BOOSTER WITH A DECLINE EXERCISE
Often, you add a major intensity technique—say, negatives or forced reps with the help of a workout partner—on bench presses, but there’s no reason you can’t instead use the decline. Negatives, where you lower a super-heavy weight very slowly and focus on the eccentric contraction, are highly effective for strength gains.
You can also try techniques focused on your sticking point with declines. Three that powerlifters use—reverse movements that eliminate the stretch reflex, partial reps that call for a super-overload over that portion of the range of motion in which you’re strongest, and isometrics, in which you generate even more force than you normally can but require you to press against a weight you can’t move—help you boost overall decline-press strength and can help build size, which can be especially effective during a training plateau.
5. FOCUS YOUR PUMP ON A LOWER-PEC MOVE
Going for a full-throttle pump toward the end of your workout triggers hypertrophy through a mechanism called metabolic stress. You may be unfamiliar with the name, but you’re certainly not unfamiliar with how it feels: skin about to burst with blood coursing through your pecs. The advice here is simply to make that movement one for the lower pecs. Because it’s done late in your workout, it’s typically a single-joint exercise, but that’s not a requirement. What is required, however, is that you plan a hurting on the target muscle via drop sets, supersets, forced reps, or another technique that pushes you past failure in a slightly higher rep range.
You just aim to keep the set going until you can’t compete another rep with good form.
I’m a big fan of cable crossover drop sets here, in which you quickly reduce the load by about 25 percent when you reach an initial point of muscle failure and continue on until you reach a second point of muscle failure. Do multiple sets like this and you’re going to increase the burn—and the next-day muscle soreness!
6. INSERT A REST DAY BEFORE YOUR NEXT CHEST WORKOUT
If you follow a normal work or school schedule, fatigue cumulates over the course of the week such that your Thursday and Friday evening training sessions often begin to quickly drag. You get behind on your sleep, and it just gets worse as the week drags on. When you’re tired, rather than pop a pre-workout to boost your energy, how about trying the old-fashioned method: taking a day off from the gym?
Competitive bodybuilders commonly use this strategy to bring up lagging muscle groups so they can attack them with fully topped off muscle glycogen stores and are well rested and ready to roll. By manipulating your training split, you can insert a rest day to emphasize a given body part. and feel more energized following a day in which you’ve completely rested.
7. TRAIN CHEST TWICE OVER THE COURSE OF YOUR TRAINING SPLIT
Here’s another strategy that focuses on your training split that can have short-term benefits. If your split is at least five days (typically intermediate to advanced level), you can arrange it such that you work your pecs twice over its course, while everything else gets trained just once. The extra volume—again, no longer than six to eight weeks—can spur additional gains.
If you decide to follow this approach, I recommend not simply duplicating the same workout again but rather, making them complementary. If one is heavy, the other is light. If one focuses on barbells and dumbbells, the other is heavy on machines and isolation movements. That ensures you will be working the target muscle—in this case, the lower pecs—in a manner that will better stimulate overall growth.
Sample Lower-Chest Focused Workout
Decline Barbell Press: 3 sets of 6–8 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Unilateral Leverage Decline Machine Press: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Machine Bench Press: 3 sets of 10 reps
Cable Crossover: 3 sets of 12 reps
Doesn’t include warm-up sets. Do as many as you need, but never take warm-up sets to muscle failure. Choose a weight so that you reach muscle failure by the target rep.