Two Tactics That Got Jay’s Chest Growing
There are indeed some top pros who don’t put a whole lot of analytical thought into their training, but one thing I’ve learned from my many conversations with Jay is that he does. He understood very early on that just pushing up a bunch of weight on the bench press wasn’t going to give him the chest he needed, because it clearly wasn’t doing much after a couple of years. Jay was also well aware that a weak chest could very well hold him back from turning pro, as the NPC Nationals was even more competitive back then in the ‘90s than it is today. So he played around with many different variations in his bench press form until he eventually arrived at the style that allowed his chest to finally start growing to a respectable level of thickness.
One major technique adjustment he made was to keep an arch in his back when he did any type of press. “I found that I had to get my chest up higher than my shoulders or else my delts would always take over the movement,” he says. “I would say to myself, chest high, chest high, as a reminder of the position I needed to maintain during the set.”
The other form alteration he made is one that continues to come under a lot of fire from those who blindly accept that there is only one “right way” to perform an exercise— not using a full range of motion in his presses. As crazy as it sounds to those who can’t comprehend or won’t accept the fact that we all need to tailor exercises to fit our own unique structure and needs, a full range of motion would actually have prevented Jay from ever building his chest to its current dimensions.
“Just to use the bench press as an example since that’s the lift everyone knows best, when I used to touch the bar to my chest I could feel my shoulders and triceps working to get it moving back up again, not my chest,” Jay explains. “I found that if I stopped short an inch or two, I could keep the tension on my pecs and I could definitely feel them doing a lot more of the work.”
The same concept is why Jay doesn’t fully lock out his presses either. “At complete lockout of the arms, you bring the shoulders and triceps into the movement too much, not to mention the stress you put on your elbows.”
So even though “constant tension” seems to have become a dirty word that elicits the knee-jerk reaction of accusing the lifter of doing “brutal half-reps” by those in the online peanut gallery, Jay knows from his own experience that this was a key to his solving the puzzle of how to get his chest to catch up to his barn door-wide melon delts.
Jay Cutler won four Mr. Olympia titles and was renowned for mass with separation. Those aspects were clearly evident in the pec development he finally achieved and in this feature the now retired Sandow winner gets a lot of his chest by telling you how he put a lot on his chest. Here are his six core exercises. (Originally published in the February 2014 issue of MD Magazine.)
1) Incline Hammer Strength Press
I used to start my chest work with bench press but a few years ago, I was doing heavy flat barbell bench presses and totally dodged a bullet when I came very close to tearing my pec.” Not only was that the end of his flat bench days for good, it was also when he decided it was a wise move to start with a machine instead. “If I start on the Hammer machine and go pretty heavy on that, it means I don’t have to go as heavy in the exercises that follow to get the same feeling in the pecs that I’m looking for,” says Jay. “And at this point going as heavy as possible with free weights, more so barbells, isn’t the best idea.”
He usually starts off with two warm-up sets of 12-15 reps with two 45s on each side, then pyramids up for three work sets of right around 10 reps with three, four and four plates again. “I used to go up to five plates on this all the time, but usually I can get the feeling in the chest and the pump I’m looking for with four plates these days.”
2) Flat Dumbbell Press
For Jay’s flat pressing movement, he alternates between dumbbells and the Smith machine. With dumbbells, he always makes a point to keep his chest high and his back arched. “I love the deep stretch I get with the dumbbells on this exercise, but I’m still careful not to take the stretch down too far where it could be dangerous to the shoulder joints.”
Cutler used to warm-up with a pair of 100s, but he’s a little older and more cautious in general now. Instead, he warms up with 60s, and work sets will be with 100, 120, 140 and 160 pounds in each hand.
3) Dumbbell Flyes
Two pressing movements is all Jay does for chest now, as he’s learned both to get more out of less when it comes to exercises, and also to spend more time on the movements he finds safer and more productive. He will alternate between flat and incline dumbbell flyes, and on these he goes surprisingly heavy: 70, 80, 90 and 100-pound pairs of dumbbells. “I’m all about pumping and stretching a muscle when I train it, and these really open up the chest,” he says. “The more blood you can push into a muscle when you train it, the better your results are going to be.”
4) Machine Flyes
It might seem redundant to do a machine version of the exercise he just did with dumbbells, but machine flyes are actually different enough to warrant doing both in the same workout. Due to the inevitable pull of gravity straight down toward the center of the earth, there isn’t any effective resistance in the final third of the ROM in the dumbbell flye. A pec flye machine (I make a distinction here— the “pec deck” is the machine in which your arms are bent at an L-angle with fists to the sky) allows one to focus on squeezing the chest all the way to the very end. Note that Jay’s hands aren’t together at the end of the rep, even though he is at the point where his pecs are fully contracted. That’s because he’s consciously keeping his “chest high,” as we discussed earlier. When you hunch forward, as is often the case when attempting to touch the handles together, you bring in the front delts to take over for the fatigued pecs— not what you want to do!
5) Cable Crossovers
Because Jay does a substantial amount of volume for his chest as it is, he doesn’t always include the “7’s” that are part of his former coach Hany Rambod’s famed FST-7 training system. But when he does, cable crossovers are often the go-to exercise. “If you’re trying to achieve a maximum pump in the pecs, the cables are ideal,” explains Jay. “They give you that constant tension from start to finish with no resting point for the muscle, and you can do seven sets with very little rest between because there is no balancing necessary.”
6) Dumbbell Pullovers (not shown)
“I’ve always done pullovers, all these years,” Jay says. “And I really do believe they can help stretch out your chest and allow for more growth if you do them with a good pump in your pecs.” Since Jay also does dumbbell pullovers for his back, he points out the key difference. “When I do pullovers for chest, I have my palms cupped around the plates on the inside of the dumbbell. I lock my triceps out at the top of each rep and flex my chest. When I do them for back, I wrap my hands around the dumbbell handle so the lats get the stretch, and I never fully lock out my arms.” Most often, pullovers are the very last thing Jay does for chest.
Blow Up Your Chest Like Jay Did!
For many of you, building your chest to the level you want is no easy task, just as it wasn’t even for Jay Cutler. If you’ve been struggling with it and seeing little in the way of results, it would behoove you to apply the ideas and techniques that Cutler did to bring up his own chest to match the rest of his massive physique. Tweak your form, get your ego out of the way, and you can indeed start getting thicker, more impressive pecs today.
Jay’s Chest Workout— 2013
Incline Hammer Strength Press 2 warm-ups 12-15, 3 x 10-12
Flat Dumbbell Press 3 x 8-12 (usually 10-12)
Flat Smith Machine Press 3 x 10-12
Pec Flyes 3 x 12
Cable Crossovers 7 x 10-12 with 30-second rest between (FST-7 style)
Dumbbell Pullovers 3 x 12
Jay’s Chest Workout, Circa 1992— Age 18
Incline Dumbbell Press 4 x 10
Dumbbell Flyes 4 x 10
Pec Deck 4 x 10
Flat Bench Press 4 x 10
Cable Crossovers 4 x 10
Jay’s Training Split*
Day 1: Chest and calves
Day 2: Back and traps
Day 3: Shoulders and arms
Day 4: Legs
*Rest days are taken as needed. Sometimes Jay will run through all four days before taking a rest day.
The Flat Barbell Bench Press On Trial
The bench press has been known as “the king” of chest exercises for roughly 60 years now, and with good reason. It has packed more pectoral mass on more men than any other movement by an overwhelming margin. Jay gives it full credit for helping him build up his own chest in his formative years as a bodybuilder, yet he feels there comes a time when the drawbacks and potential risks begin to outweigh the benefits.
“I think once you develop a certain amount of size in the chest, shoulders and lats, your range of motion and flexibility become restricted and you begin to put more and more stress on the joints and connective tissues around the chest and front delts,” he says. “Everyone I have ever known over the years who has torn a pec did it on the flat barbell bench press, and these were all guys who were advanced in terms of both size and strength.”
In recent years he’s opted for the Smith machine version. “I only go up to three plates a side, and it’s all about reps and volumizing the muscle now,” he explains. “My days of worrying about how much weight I’m using and how my bench press compares to anybody else’s were over long ago.”