The Square Chest Solution

The Square Chest Solution

Here are some quick and dirty tricks sure to get a strong chest.

Akash Vaghela Akash Vaghela · Mar 18th, 2019

Training Advanced
8 Mins


    A big square chest packed with muscle from top to bottom is the aspiration of many of our male muscling building members  at RNT.

    Here are some commonalities we have found in those who sport square chests. 

    1. Consider Using AROM vs. Full ROM

    You’ll often hear that you should use a full range of motion in order to place the greatest load on a muscle, and thus stimulate the best possible muscle growth. Whilst true, there is a problem when the information is misunderstood.

    It’s typically assumed that full range of motion is to be that of the exercise. Think ‘ass to grass’ squats or bench presses to the chest, for example. What this implies is that the range of motion is dictated by the external goal of the exercise being completed in a certain way. If you compete in a weightlifting sport like powerlifting, it’s absolutely necessary. But in the world of body composition, full range of motion should refer to the range a muscle is able to safely fully lengthen and shorten within during a given exercise. This is what’s known as your AROM, or your active range of motion.

    Assessing your AROM

    In order to find your AROM for a Chest Press, get set up and then (without any weight in your hands) pull your arms down into the bottom position of the movement. This will determine your AROM as the depth shouldn't change as weight is added.

    So how do you go about figuring out how far to lower the bar to actually work your chest, based on your mechanics?
    Some people will naturally be able to press a bar all the way to their chest because of the above and others will have to cut their ‘full ROM to facilitate their “AROM”. 

    This simple tip will save your shoulders and help your chest gains explode. Your next steps will be to progressively overload within your range and maintain perfect form!
    Ultimately, the exercise should work around your individual mechanics; you shouldn’t be adjusting your body into an exercise.

    The Rib Cage Impact

    For example, if we have two lifters, one with a large rib cage and one with a small rib cage, they will move the bar through a different distance if they followed the old ‘bar to the chest’ rule. They would also be biasing different muscle fibres, as well as potentially different muscles. 

    The chest muscle or your pecs is shaped like a fan, as per the image below. The more we lift our rib cage up, the more we favour the powerful middle and lower fibres, which allows us to be at our strongest. This is why a natural arch in the lower back is a good thing, provided you don’t have any back injuries.
    The Pecs of a larger rib caged lifter will also be in a more mechanically advantageous position to express their strength. On the other hand, someone with a smaller rib cage may struggle with preventing their shoulders doing more of the work while Bench Pressing.

    This difference in anatomy is why our principles surrounding muscle growth is three-fold. It’s progressive overload with perfect form using exercises that work for your body type.

    If you fail to pay attention to this, you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and effort applying progressive overload with very few results to show for it, and a growing injury list.

    2. Stop Using A Hammer For Every Job

    You wouldn’t use a hammer for every job around the house, and the human body is no different.

    Your ribcage alone plays a significant role mechanically as to how you’ll recruit chest musculature. 

    Someone with the larger rib cage will naturally place most of the work through their chest muscles as they are in a more advantageous position to work right from the start, versus a person with the smaller rib cage. In the latter person’s case, they won’t get the same effect, even when they arch their lower back. They won’t be able get those fibres to work as well, and instead, you’ll often hear these people complaining of sore shoulders from bench pressing.

    Now that we know this it would make sense that different people will require different exercises to get the most out of their chest development.

    The bread and butter exercises should always be the compound movements, as these are the ones that will pack on a lot of muscle mass. 

    These include barbell press variations, dumbbell press variations, floor presses, dips and push ups. With these movements, you can most effectively progressively overload your chest over time.

    The key to get the most out of them is to stay self aware in your training, learn what movements feel great, and settle on the ones you feel hit your chest the hardest. What you don’t want to do is be stuck in a box thinking the flat barbell bench press is the only option.

    3. The Icing On The Cake

    Free weight pressing movements are great, but if you only rely on them, you may be leaving a little on the table. When doing these, you will be challenging your pecs in their lengthened and mid ranges.. Cables and machines are required to train your chest in it’s short position (meaning, the muscle fibres are bunched up closely together as you ‘flex’) Which brings us nicely onto the icing on the cake for your chest training.

    Because machines can vary so much, Cable Flys are the most reliable way to train your Pecs in their shortened range. These would generally be implemented later on in the session and using higher reps.

    Lets also consider again that the chest is a fan shaped muscle, so the fibres are running in different lines. In order to bias certain parts of the pecs we need to align our upper arm path with the relevant fibres. This applies to both pressing and fly variations. This means that when varying the angle of a cable fly from low, medium or high, we can influence the region of our chest we want to train.
    If we want to favour upper chest development, we will need to move our arms into a path that directs towards the top of our collarbone (i.e. low to high), and if we want to favour our lower chest, the path would be towards bottom of the rib cage.

    Building The Square

    For best possible progress with your chest, we’d advise between 10-20 sets of chest work per week. You’ll note that goes against the typical 30 set chest workouts often pushed in the magazines, but the key here is quality.

    You’ll want to base the core of your chest workouts around compound lifts that work for your mechanics, and then sprinkle some isolation fly work for completeness. When programming, using a variety of rep ranges can ensure you're covering all bases  for the square chest you’re after.

    To finish, here’s a couple of sample Chest session to try…

    A – Low Incline DB Press, 2×6-8, 1×8-10
    B – Incline Bench Press, 2×8-10, 1×10-12
    C – High to Low Cable Fly, 2×12-15
    Akash VaghelaAkash Vaghela

    Akash Vaghela has spent 10+ years transforming bodies and lives around the world, and in May 2017, founded RNT Fitness to serve this purpose. His vision is to see a world transformed, where ambitious high performers experience the power of the physical as the vehicle to unlock their real potential. He’s the author of the Amazon best-selling book Transform Your Body Transform Your Life, which explains his unique and proven five-phase methodology, is host of the RNT Fitness Radio podcast, has been featured in the likes of Men’s Health and BBC, whilst regularly speaking across the world on all things transformation.

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