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Workout: Build Out Your Chest

If you really want to build your bench press, keep your muscles guessing.
Workout: Build Out Your Chest
James Michelfelder
Though commonly referred to as “muscle confusion” or simply “mixing it up,” the concept of changing your workouts regularly to ramp up muscle growth actually has a scientific name: “daily undulating periodization,” or DUP. Studies show that DUP—changing the sets, reps, and loads you use each workout—prevents your body from ever adapting to your training and forces consistentnt muscle growth. That’s the approach we took this month to unstick your bench press and bulk up your pecs. It’ll set you up for a new personal best in the lift in just three weeks. More muscle, less confusion.
To use DUP to increase strength, we're setting up three different workouts per week. You’ll do a “heavy day,” on which you’ll use heavy weights to stimulate your central nervous system and recruit maximum muscle mass. Then you’ll do a “volume day,” performing multiple sets with lighter loads to build work capacity. Finally, you’ll have a “power day,” when you focus on pushing weights as quickly as possible to help you overcome any sticking points in your bench-press range of motion.
While more traditional programs like linear periodization, which prescribes starting with lighter weights and gradually going heavier over time, remain more popular, research has been showing DUP to be more beneficial. In fact, a University of Arizona study found it to be twice as effective as the linear approach for building subjects’ bench press strength.
Perform each workout (Day I, II, or III) once a week. (You can do your lower-body training on the days in between.) Complete all sets for one exercise before moving on. Note that the sets and reps for some exercises change weekly.
Sets: 5 Reps: 2, 2, 2, 2, as many as possible
Grasp the bar with hands just outside shoulder width and arch your back. Pull the bar out of the rack and lower it to your sternum, tucking your elbows about 45 degrees to your sides. When the bar touches your body, drive your feet hard into the floor and press it back up. Use about 80% of your one-rep max weight, and do four sets of two reps. On the fifth set, do as many reps as possible. Increase the weight by a few pounds each week.

Sets: 4 Reps: 3, 2, 2, 2
Set up as you did for the bench press but double-loop a band around your arms just behind your elbows as shown. When you lower the bar, the band will stretch and help you lock out your elbows as you complete the lift. Work up to the heaviest weight you can use for three reps, then perform three more sets of two reps with that same load. Add five pounds to the load every week.
Sets: 4 Reps: 6
Grasp the bar with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart, and let the bar hang in front of your thighs. Bend at the hips and lower your torso until it’s nearly level with the floor. Bend your knees a bit to take tension off your hamstrings. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull the bar to your belly.
Sets: 4 Reps: 6–8
Hang from the bar with hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing away from you. Pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar.
Sets: 4 Reps: 6–8
Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand. Curl the weights up, keeping your upper arms at your sides.
Sets: 4 Reps: 6–8
Lie on a bench holding an EZ-curl bar. Raise the bar over and slightly behind your head so you feel a stretch in your triceps when you bend your elbows. Lower the weight behind your head and, without moving your upper arms, extend your elbows to lockout.
Sets: 4 Reps: 8
See Day I. Use about 60% of your max weight and perform four sets of eight in Week 1. In Week 2, do four sets of 10; in Week 3, do four sets of 12. Use the same load each week. In Week 4, start the cycle again with a heavier weight.
Sets: 3 Reps: As many as possible
Set a barbell in a power rack (or Smith machine) at about hip height. Lie underneath it and grasp the bar with hands outside shoulder width. Hang from the bar so your body forms a straight line. Squeeze your shoulder together and pull yourself up until your back is fully contracted.
Sets: 3 Reps: As many as possible
Place your hands on the floor about shoulder-width apart. Brace your core and hold your body in a straight line from head to toe. Lower yourself until your chest is an inch above the floor. Push back up.
Sets: 4 Reps: 15
Lie on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Keep a slight bend in your elbows and spread your arms wide, lowering the weights until they’re even with your chest. Flex your pecs and lift the weights back to the starting position.

Sets: 4 Reps: 15
See Day I.
Sets: 4 Reps: 15–20
Hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms at your sides. Brace your core and raise your arms out 90 degrees, keeping a slight bend in your elbows.

Sets: 4 Reps: 15–20
Bend your hips back until your torso is level with the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and raise your arms out 90 degrees.

Sets: As many as needed Reps: 50, 75, or 100 total
Hold an empty barbell with hands shoulder width apart. Keeping your upper arms at your sides, curl the bar until your elbows are fully flexed. If your current bench-press max is less than 200 pounds, perform 50 total reps, taking as many sets as necessary to hit that number. If you can bench 200–300 pounds, perform 75 total reps. If you can bench 300 pounds or more, perform 100 total reps.

Sets: As many as needed Reps: 50, 75, or 100 total
See Day I. Perform 50, 75, or 100 total reps according to your bench max, as you did for the curl, above.

Sets: 5 Reps: 2
Get into pushup position. Lower your body until your chest is an inch above the floor, then explosively press your body up so it comes off the floor and you can clap in midair.

Sets: 6 Reps: 3
See Day I. Perform six sets of three reps in Week 1, using 70% of your max weight. In Week 2, do eight sets of three, and in Week 3, 10 sets of three. Begin the cycle again in Week 4 with 2½–5% more weight. 

Sets: 5 Reps: 5
Grasp the bar with hands double-shoulder-width apart. Squat down behind it with feet hip-width apart and the bar against your shins. Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, extend your hips to begin standing as you pull the bar off the floor. When it reaches pants-pocket level, explosively jump and pull the bar up in front of your body. Allow the momentum to carry it up overhead, then extend your elbows to lock it out.

Sets: 5 Reps: 10 (each side)
Hold a dumbbell in your right hand and place your left knee on a bench. Brace your body by placing your left hand on the bench as well. Draw your right shoulder blade back and row the weight up to your side. Repeat with the other arm.
Sets: 3 Reps: 8
Hold dumbbells at shoulder level and dip by bending your knees; as you come back up, use the momentum to help you press the weights straight overhead.


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