Build A Massive Chest and Pecs with Anti-Fly Chest Presses
Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.
When it comes to building massive pectorals muscles it’s tough to beat the basics such as barbell presses, dumbbell presses, weighted pushups, dips and chest flyes.
Unfortunately none of these variations fully maximize the various functions of the pectoral muscle fibers. That’s because the chest muscle’s two primary functions (although there are several smaller functions) are flexion of the shoulder/humerus and adduction of the shoulder/ humerus. Few exercises involve both of these functions simultaneously. In other words if you perform a chest press the force vectors involve predominantly gravitational forces attempting to extend your shoulder and humerus with very little force attempting to abduct the humerus. Chest flyes on the other hand involve mainly abduction forces that the lifter must resist by adducting the humerus with little emphasis on shoulder flexion. In other words, most traditional chest exercises are missing one or more desired force vectors thereby compromising the growth-inducing stimulus to the pectorals.
Fortunately there’s a solution, which simply involves combining force vectors that target both shoulder flexion and shoulder adduction. This is accomplished by using bands or cables to produce abduction forces against the arms while simultaneously performing standard chest presses with free weights.
I refer to this as anti-fly chest presses as the lifter is essentially resisting forces attempting to abduct the shoulders. This requires the lifter to isometrically contract the pectorals by intentionally and continuously emphasizing adduction of the shoulders to offset this unique form of lateral tension. In other words the movement feels like a combination chest press and isometric chest fly. Yes, it sounds complicated but in reality it’s quite simple.
Although there are numerous applications and combinations that could be performed, here are four of my favorite anti-fly chest press variations. No only do they address multiple functions of the pectorals throughout a single exercise but they’re guaranteed to spark newfound growth in your chest (provided you can handle the excruciating intensity).
Standard Anti-Fly Chest Press
The standard dumbbell chest press represents the go-to movement for combining with the anti-fly press. The abduction/anti-abduction forces can be applied to a number of variations including flat, incline, floor presses, decline, single, arm, and double arm versions.
Simply grab bands or cables (i.e. laying in between two cable columns), attach them to your wrists or forearms using wrists straps or arm slings (typically used for hanging leg raises) and perform dumbbell chest presses. The force of the cables will attempt to abduct your arms throughout the duration of each press. This will result in amazingly high levels of tension throughout the pectorals as you resist by isometrically adducting your arms (while holding them in a neutral position).
Anti-Fly Squeeze Press
The dumbbell squeeze press is one of my favorite exercises for developing the chest. That’s because pressing the dumbbells together resembles the contracted position of a chest fly. In fact this is perhaps the only traditional free weight chest press that simultaneously involves shoulder adduction and shoulder flexion forces.
Unfortunately, it’s quite easy to minimize the adduction/fly factor as it only requires minimal or moderate effort to keep the dumbbells pressed together. In fact once they’re locked in to each other the squeeze press can tend to feel more like a neutral close-grip chest press. Even using the muscle mind connection to isometrically contract the pectorals and simulate a chest fly can only do so much as there’s minimal force acting to abduct the shoulders.
This is where adding the anti-fly component by incorporating cables or bands with abduction forces maximizes the effects of the squeeze press. Instead of feeling like the dumbbells essentially stick to each other once they’re pressed together (as they would during traditional variations), you’ll be forced to squeeze the dumbbells together with near maximal effort and intensity throughout as anything less will cause the dumbbells to separate. Simply put, adding the anti-fly press component turns the dumbbell squeeze press into the exercise it was truly intended to be when originally developed.
To maximize the hypertrophy-inducing stimulus of each set you can also perform them in a biomechanical drop set fashion as shown in the video. In other words, once you reach failure or close to it on the squeeze press you should have at least several additional reps left in the tank on traditional variations. Rather than terminating the set, extend it further by performing normal anti-fly presses.
If you’re looking for a chest protocol that stimulates massive growth throughout the pectorals this may be the single most effective protocol I’ve ever used. The combination of metabolic stress, cellular swelling, mechanical tension, and overall muscle pump is through the roof. Just be prepared to fight with maximal effort on each and every repetition not to mention the heightened levels of pain you’ll be forced to tune out.
Anti-Fly, Anti-Rolling Pushups
This next one truly goes down as one of the most intense pushups I’ve ever performed as the intensity of muscular contractions in the pectorals is almost unbearable. In fact, if you have difficulty feeling the chest muscles contract (i.e. muscle mind connection) during pushups or any other horizontal pressing exercise, this will most definitely be the ideal remedy. Essentially we’re incorporating the anti-fly or anti-abduction component to pushups. However this only works if the apparatus the hands are placed on are not fixed but instead are free to move/roll laterally.
Although you can use dumbbells (non-hex versions are ideal as they must be perfectly round) or smaller rolling devices, the most challenging variation is using two barbells loaded with small metal weight plates on a slick surface as shown in the video. Besides creating an incredibly intense lateral rolling/abduction component that the lifter must resist throughout the duration of the set, the degree of instability is through the roof as even the slightest deviation in form will cause the barbells to move in an uncontrollable fashion.
Besides devastating every muscle fiber in your pectorals, this variation also does wonders for cleaning up your pushup mechanics as the lifter is forced to use incredibly strict and rigid form. Any asymmetrical pressing, wiggling, or cheating, will be almost instantly punished with something that resembles an ant-rolling faceplant. And yes it goes without saying this movement as well as all the exercises in this article are advanced movements that are semi-high risk if applied unintelligently to the wrong population. So use common sense when implementing.
Cable Resisted Anti-Rolling Partial Barbell Flyes
This one is less of a press and more of a fly. And for that matter it’s more of a partial or miniature fly as the range of motion is on the smaller end of the spectrum. But don’t let that fool you; these are deceptively devastating and difficult. The setup and possible options are almost identical to the pushup variation. Similarly, the barbell variation is the most advanced yet it also provides the most bang for your buck.
Simply perform a partial chest fly and momentarily pause in the semi-stretched position. Going too far could spell disaster for the shoulders so be careful not to overstretch. Perform the eccentric phase slowly as this will allow the muscle spindles to provide optimal sensory feedback about the degree of stretch that the lifter’s body can safely handle. The simultaneous stretch and continuous tension pulverizes the chest as the combination of muscle damage, mechanical tension, and metabolic stress this produces is inordinately high.
BASIC REGRESSION FOR PUSHUPS
Before you attempt either of the pushup variations described above I suggest getting comfortable with pushups on two barbells that don’t involve additional abduction forces.
In fact, many lifters may find these difficult enough as they’re are actually more unstable than the band or cable-resisted variations. That’s because the potential deviations to the barbells or more unpredictable (compared to the band/cable resisted variations) as each barbell tends to have a mind of its own when no additional forces are acting on them.
Single Arm Variations
If you’re hoping to incorporate anti-fly presses into your routine but aren’t keen on the idea of monopolizing half of the equipment in your gym at any one time, you can also perform them in a single arm fashion.
Each individual pectoral muscle will get worked just as intensely if not more so than the isolateral (double arm variations). However the unilateral variations provide a very intense stimulus to the musculature of the core as there are significant anti-rotation and ant-lateral flexion forces the lifter must resist to keep their body square. In essence it will feel like a combination chest press and Pallof press.
The same concept can also be applied to single arm kettlebell chest press which exponentially increased the difficulty and effectiveness of the traditional kettlebell press. Read more about this method here.
Anti-Adduction: Fixing Shoulder Crowding
Although most of the variations in this article address the anti-fly method (anti-abduction), the opposite method (anti-adduction) can also be used. Here I have one of my awesome clients Mitch Ellis performing a unique chest press using RNT by resisting adduction. This particular variation does wonders for teaching lifters how to use their upper back, rear deltoids, and rhomboids to pull the weight around the body and full retract the shoulders. Many lifters struggle to create the “wrap around effect” during chest presses especially during dumbbell and unilateral variations as they tend to crowd the shoulders.
Although the neutral grip position is my preferred grip position during dumbbell presses sometimes the neutral position can cause lifters to keep the elbow overly close to the body. In reality we want the elbow semi-close & tucked but without crowding the body in order to insure we still wrap the arm around the torso slightly to the side of the body. This fully engages the chest fibers & elongates the pectorals by allowing maximal contraction of the upper back during the eccentric phase of the movement. In other words it creates optimal levels of eccentric-induced co-contraction which is a critical component of muscle activation during any foundational movement.
Anti-fly chest presses are outstanding for producing enormous tension in the pecs as well as reinforcing a tucked elbow position which is useful for athletes who over-flare their elbows. The anti-adduction version in this video works on the opposite issue mainly over-crowding.
General Recommendations and Protocols
Anti-fly presses including each of the variations laid out above are incredibly intense and should not be abused with excessive volume and/or training frequency. Several sets of 5-10 repetitions on a single exercise will more than suffice for stimulating growth without impeding your local or systemic recovery abilities.
As far as loading is concerned, I suggest free weight loading with 60-75% of the load you would typically handle. In other words if you usually use 100 pound dumbbells to perform traditional chest presses you’ll probably want to drop down to 60’s-75’s at most.
The cable or band resistance should be moderate with enough tension to perform at least 5-6 reps with the load previously described but not so much that mechanics degrade. In other words use the highest amount of tension you can handle on the cable/band resistance without disrupting form and body mechanics. In fact if you were to take a video the movement it should look nearly as smooth and seamless as traditional chest press variations.