By Brandan Fokken
The chest … the thing that separates the men from the boys, at least in high school. Growing up the bench press was the staple exercise that when I started lifting pretty much put you in the hierarchy of things in school. Either you were good at it or you weren't. I benched practically every day. The thing is in the beginning I wasn't strong whatsoever! At the age of 14 I was at a friend’s house and he had his own bench set. He suggested we lift, so I obliged. I couldn't even lift 100 lbs. which was embarrassing. I was a great athlete but for the life of me I couldn't get that weight off my chest. Of course at school for a long time to come it was pointed out how weak I was and I got made fun of on the regular.
I decided that I was going to take control of the situation and better myself. I had always had aspirations to be big and strong and looked up to people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Hulk Hogan, and even Superman wishing someday I would be big and strong like them. So I got started. Through the years I have tried so many training variations I can’t even keep count, but in that time I've found what works for me. I was blessed with good genetics, but it didn't happen overnight. It took a lot of hard and YEARS to get to where I am today.
When I first started everything had to be as heavy as I could go every workout. My strength peaked when I was about 28 at a max bench of 430 for two reps, something I never thought I would see. As I aged I lifted started lifting smarter due to a lot of previous injuries, and it wasn't all about power anymore, but really trying to develop the kind of physique that I wanted especially when I started competing. I started experimenting with various techniques, set and rep variations, incorporating various angles, etc.
Although I do still go heavy periodically for various lengths of time or throw in a heavy set or two, I now focus on volume, the feel of the weight, and really getting a good pump when I lift and hitting my muscles at as many angles as I can. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he was able to obtain size from lifting basic movements and going heavy all the time, but his chest never developed the way it was in his prime until he changed up his set and rep pattern and started to incorporate more angles in his lifting protocol.
This is a workout that you could see me doing in the gym. I will do a pyramid set and rep pattern most of the time, but periodically may throw in 10 sets of 10 or 15 on something or drop down and do 5 sets of 5 or even 3 by 3. It all depends on how I feel, where I’m at in my season or if I areas I feel I need work on.
8-20 rep average
Barbell Incline: 5 sets 20, 12, 10,10,8
Flat barbell: 6 sets 20, 15,12,10,10
Machine Flies: 5 sets 20, 15, 12,10,8
Dips: 5 sets of 15 (if there is a weight belt available you can utilize this to make this exercise harder)
Standing Cable flies: 5 sets 15, 15,15,12,10
Close grip push ups on the end of a bench: 4 sets 20,15,15,15
I feel my upper chest is my weaker point so usually one day a week Ill incorporate one or two upper chest exercises into a workout. Usually shoulders or I also have a touch up day and do it that day. A favorite on this day is an incline hammer strength press where I angle myself facing the arm of the machine and do single arm presses back across my body at that upward angle and really squeeze it at the top.
DON’T be afraid to change your rep and set ratios, the amount of weight, equipment you use etc. Nothing is off limits. Be creative, pay attention to those subtle changes your body makes along the way, and have fun!