Chicago Personal Trainer Tip: 5 Biggest Mistakes in Building a Bigger Chest

By Jaymeson Anderson, Owner, Form & Function Training

Who doesn’t wish they could perform a few sets of chest presses or pushups per week and have the pecs and shoulders of a pro body builder?  For the vast majority of us, that’s never going to be the case. For a bigger chest, we must consider many aspects of strength training, including:

  • Proper diet
  • Amount of rest
  • Stimulation of growth hormones
  • Preservation of structural parts of the shoulder for continued chest expansion


As Chicago’s #1 personal trainers, we can help you avoid making the five primary mistakes in building larger pecs.

1) Lack of variety: When you are working out your chest in the gym, you’re mainly exercising your pectoralis major, anterior deltoids, and triceps, plus four “supporting” groups that include the serratus anterior, coracobrachialis, scapulae fixers, and trapezii. When you consider all these muscle groups, you cannot expect to fully develop your chest using classic pushups and flat barbell bench presses alone. Mix it up with some of the following movements:

  • Decline dumbbell press
  • Flat dumbbell press
  • Incline barbell/dumbbell press
  • Overhead dumbbell pullover
  • Extra wide cable fly
  • Block press
  • Barbell decline
  • 85% press
  • Plyometric pushups
  • Dips
  • Static holds

2) Not training legs with weighted movements: Legs, you ask? Isn’t this about building my pecs and shoulders? Yes, but you can find many major studies showing that document squats, sprints, resisted sprints, and dead lifts increase the natural release of growth hormone and testosterone more than any other exercises. These natural muscle-building hormones remain at high serum levels in the blood while you work out other muscle groups, like your chest, for example.

Leg training also improves your body’s metabolism, i.e. the body’s ability to send energy through the blood to working muscles. If you can fuel your muscles faster, you can produce force faster. If you can sprint faster and longer, you can bench press more weight and add more repetitions in a set.

Simply put, working the legs will make the chest and other muscle groups bigger and stronger, as well as perform longer. Failing to work the legs could inadvertently leave you with an underdeveloped chest and shoulders.

3)Not eating enough: You need to take in enough nutrients if you want major growth out of any muscle group, including the chest.

When you exercise with resistance, you break down small amounts of muscular tissue. In order to fuel the muscles during this breakdown, you need carbohydrates (sugar) and some fat. You will have the fuel to maximize your chest workouts if you eat the following about 90 minutes beforehand:

  • 70% complex carbs (oatmeal, brown/wild rice, white/sweet potato, etc.)
  • 30% simple carbs (fruit, honey, sugar, etc.)
  • 10 grams of heart healthy fat (olive oil, avocado, nuts, fish oil, etc.)

After your workout, you need enough protein to allow your body to repair the tissue in your pecs and supporting muscles, including your shoulders. Healthy protein sources include:

  • Lean beef
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Pork
  • Turkey
  • Dairy (yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, whey and casein protein)
  • Beans
  • Nuts & seeds

In general, you should consume .6-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day (based on age, weight, and training style). Of that amount, 30% of your daily protein intake should follow your heavy workout.

4) Not sleeping enough: You also need sleep (8+ hours on most nights) to repair muscle tissue.

While you sleep, your body also loads energy into your muscles. Muscular fuel, known as “blood glucose” (essentially natural sugars), is stored directly within the muscles that need to perform a given action during resistance training movements. Less sleep means diminished energy, which can mean fewer reps and less weight.

You get the idea. Now, go get some sleep!

5) Failing to ensure necessary flexibility, stability, and postural movements: Greater flexibility in chest movements mean the muscle groups work harder and longer with a reduced risk of major strain. As such, you’ll want to incorporate these stretches:

  • Standing pectoral stretch
  • Anterior deltoid stretch
  • Overhead triceps stretch
  • 2-way rotational stretches
  • Shoulder blade stretches

Just because your chest and shoulder muscles can press a certain amount of weight doesn’t mean they’re as adept at stabilizing it. Controlling weight is necessary for injury prevention and the transfer to everyday motion outside the gym. (Not everything you push with your chest will be as stable as gym equipment.)

As with stability and flexibility, good posture can prevent injury, improve size and development, and increase pressing power.

Overlooking any of these components can hold you back in the gym, so make time for these complementary exercises, because they will assist in your overall goal of building a bigger chest without injury.

In general, avoid these pitfalls, and you will have greater success in building your chest.  The guidelines above have been adapted by many of the best and strongest athletes in the world. This is really a small guide to get you started; your continued success lies in your willingness to research, learn, and apply the necessary dietary, resistance training, and recovery techniques. There is always a little more room for more weight on that barbell.

If you want help building a bigger chest and shoulders, contact one of our Chicago fitness trainers today to learn more.