Monday is Chest Day

Monday is chest day. In some ways, it’s my favorite body part to work. I think that’s because I can see my chest slowly firming up and getting larger. My daughter still thinks they’re “man boobs,” but I know better.

As I said previously, on a perfect morning, I get up at 4 a.m. I get a cup of coffee and a glass of water and slowly let my brain and body come back to life, usually by reading various online comic strips (Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Westward, that sort of thing).

I have a small notebook I always take with me to the gym to record my progress. In the morning before going to the gym, I write on the next blank page what weight training exercises I’ll be doing and the weight for each one. It looks something like this:

I should note that for dumbbells, the weights listed are most often, but not always, for each hand. For example, in the standard dumbbell bench press, I’m holding a 50 pound dumbbell in each hand, not lifting 50 lbs total. However, for the pullover, I am holding a single 70 pound dumbbell over my face while lying flat on a bench, then lowering it back behind the top of my head.

As far as my core/abs and cardio workout, they’re pretty standard so I don’t have to write them down ahead of time. Later, after the workout, I transfer what I wrote down about my actual performance in all resistance and cardio exercises and put into Google calendar. That way, I have a continuous record of my progress I can refer back to.

I have an old, extra-large t-shirt I typically wear to the gym. It’s comfortable and allows for a good range of motion, plus it’s long, so when I’m laying on a bench doing an exercise like dumbbell pullovers, I don’t have to worry about my “manly girth” being displayed for all to see (My body’s better than it was, but not perfect, and I still have goals I am shooting for).

Since it’s winter, I wear a light zip-up hoodie against the cold (at 5 a.m. in February in Southwestern Idaho, the temperature averages around 32 degrees F more or less). I also have a pair of standard gym shorts and a serviceable pair of cross-trainer shoes. I’ll spend more time on apparel in a future blog post.

Additionally, I take a plastic water bottle and a small towel. The water bottle goes with me for obvious reasons, and the towel is to lay on to soak up sweat and to clean up after myself when I’m done with a workout. No one wants to touch exercise equipment with your DNA all over it.

Thus armed, I drive to the gym, timing my arrival for just when it opens up.

I’ll talk about the social aspect of the gym and interacting with “the regulars” some other time, but it’s an interesting dynamic of being a denizen of the weight room at the same time Monday through Friday.

Some people think it’s important to do a warm up routine, usually on a treadmill or bicycle machine, before hitting the weights, but if I decide to warm up, I’ll do it using the first exercise on the list, going lighter and with more reps and then proceeding to my regular routine.

Since I’ve got a very narrow window of time to get all of my workout done, I typically launch into my first exercise on the list at expected weight.

Before getting started describing Monday’s actual workout routine based on last week’s “chest day,” I should share a couple of things. First, I almost never use barbells, and typically substitute dumbbells for any barbell exercise. I feel the dumbbells give me more control over the lifting movement, and since I workout without a partner, I have no one to spot me and help if I should start to lose control of a loaded barbell.

That preference may change over time, but I’m not going to perform a move or use a piece of equipment if I don’t feel confident in my ability to be effective and safe.

Also, until a week ago, the following was my typical chest workout:

    • Dumbbell bench press (55 lbs)
    • Dumbbell pullover (70 lbs)
    • Dumbbell incline bench press (30 lbs)
    • Dumbbell bench flyes (25 lbs)

I periodically change my workouts either because they have become stale or I’ve updated my personal knowledge about what would make a more effective weight training routine for a particular part of my body.

I’ll explain what I do and the promises and pitfalls of each exercise as I go along.

Oh. One more thing. As a general rule, I shoot for doing three sets of 8 to 15 reps per set. That is, I choose a weight for an exercise where on the first set I can do 15 reps max (and I usually stop at 15 even if I feel like I could push it one or two more reps) and for the third and last set, I can do no more than 8. I can’t remember the source right now (and a quick Google search doesn’t reveal it), but as I recall, this routine is a nice compromise between building strength and mass. Sometimes I’ll go heavier with fewer reps per set, and sometimes lighter, and somethings I’ll do four sets on a particular exercise. However 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps is my default routine (like in the film Pirates of the Caribbean, in this case, the “pirate’s code” is more of a guideline than an actual set of rules). Currently, I’ll rest no more than 60 seconds between sets, less if I’ve managed to catch my breath sooner.

Incline Reverse Grip Dumbbell Press

I recently read an article at the Flex Magazine’s website called On Trial: Incline vs. Reverse Grip. This short online piece, as the title reveals, compared the traditional incline press with a reverse grip bench press (either flat or incline) and, according to what Australian researchers reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the reverse grip press was superior in building a better upper pec (chest).

I decided to shift my chest workout around based on what I had read and since it is recommended that this particular lift be done early in the chest routine, I moved it to the head of the line.

Advantages: I really felt the difference, even after having performed this move only on one Monday. It’s still too soon to see if it will yield better results and more lean muscle to my upper chest, so I’ll have to keep you apprised as things go along.

Pitfalls: This exercise worked my chest so hard that I had to go lighter on this exercise than I had planned (Actually, when doing an exercise for the first time, a certain amount of adjusting the weight is expected). After the first set, I went from 30 pound dumbbells to 25s. Also, on the standard dumbbell bench press, although I normally lift 55 pounds in each hand, and I had planned to go down to 50, but after the first set, I had to lower the weight again to 40 lbs because my chest and triceps were more tired at this point in the sequence than they had been in the previous routine (which is probably a good sign).

Dumbbell Pullover

This exercise is something of a legacy. From what I’ve read, you don’t see many bodybuilders using it anymore. According to Schwarzenegger, it works the entire chest region and opens up the rib box. Since development of any muscle group can be terribly slow, especially for the older weightlifter, it’s difficult to say how effective it’s been, but I can tell you it gives the entire chest and rib area a terrific stretch and contraction on the lift and it is a challenging move.

Advantages: Supposedly is a great exercise for building mass and it gives a good stretch and contraction to the chest and rib areas.

Pitfalls: I’m holding 70 pounds of metal covered in plastic over my face, lowering it behind my head and lifting it back up. I’ve never dropped it, but there’s a risk of slipping while it’s over my face, so you want to be careful if you try this one. Also, I lower it only until I feel the stretch. Overextending the arms could damage my shoulders, and we older guys don’t recover from injuries as fast as younger athletes.

I should also say that I’ve modified this one so that I’m just lying on the bench as if I were going to do bench presses. I don’t feel comfortable extending my body the way Arnold did it (click the link for this exercise I provided above for details) and at 60 years of age, while I want to work hard, there’s no sense pushing it and getting hurt.

Dumbbell Bench Presses

This is a classic chest building exercise and I see it performed at my gym with dumbbells just as often as with barbells.

Advantages: The advantage of using dumbbells over barbells is that you can lower the weight more because you can move your hands to the sides of your pecs. There isn’t a bar that’s forced to stop because your chest is in the way. Also, as I said above, I feel like I have more control over the weights using dumbbells.

Pitfalls: As I mentioned above, I had to go 15 pounds lighter on this exercise because it’s occurring later in the routine and the reverse grip incline press took a lot out of me. It’ll be interesting to see, as I get used to the new workout, how my body will respond how soon I can go heavier and still stay within my set and rep guidelines.

Dumbbell Bench Flyes

This is another move recommended by Schwarzenegger and emphasizes the center and sides of the chest. I used to do flyes sitting in a Pec Deck machine, but I’ve been trying to move away from machines as much as reasonable, and I saw an advantage of doing a similar move with dumbbells.

Advantages: Although I use much lighter weights than with the pec deck, I feel I get a better stretch and compression to the whole central and side region of my chest. The trick to this one is after you’ve lowered the weight and you are pulling back up, tighten your chest muscles as much as you can to get the most benefit out of this move.

Pitfalls: As with the Dumbbell Pullover, DO NOT GO TOO HEAVY! The potential for tearing up your shoulders is very real if you overextend your arms. I start out holding the weights over my face and then slowly lowering them to my sides, elbows slightly bent. I only lower the weights until I feel the stretch across my chest. If you lower them until you start to feel pain, you’ve gone too far. Then I pull back up until the weights are nearly but not quite touching.

And So On

If you click a number of the links I’ve provide above or just do your own research, you’ll discover that there are many more chest exercises available. I’ve limited myself to the four workouts I’ve listed above both because I don’t have time in the morning for anything else, and right now, these are the exercises I feel comfortable using as far as effectiveness and safety.

Arnold now
Arnold Schwarzenegger training for the film Terminator Genisys (2015)

After I’m done with my chest workout, I move on to some ab or core work and then on to cardio. I’ll dedicate a specific set of blog posts to that part of my routine at a later time since they deserve their own emphasis.

As I mentioned, this is a new chest sequence for me, so I’m not sure how I’ll adapt yet. I’ve been doing the previous routine for maybe six months so I think it’s time for a change.

My next blog post is Tuesday is Back Day.

Oh, one last thing. The “featured image” at the top of the page is Arnold Schwarzenegger “back in the day” displaying is legendary chest. I’m not suggesting that you, as an older person, or I at age 60 years and counting, will ever look like that. The point isn’t to become some huge, muscular Greek god or transform ourselves into the Incredible Hulk. The point is to keep the muscle and bone density that age is taking from us (and maybe even to recover some of what we’ve already lost), to keep feeling younger longer, to acquire more energy and stamina, and to improve the overall quality of our lives. If we happen to also start looking a little better as things develop, so much the better.

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.

Amelia Earhart


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