It’s always interesting to me to ask the various champions I interview how they prefer to train their chest muscles because chest has always been a difficult muscle group for me to develop. I always want to know what the other guys are doing. You never know when you might pick up something new that will help.
Some guys are power freaks, and will mostly handle monstrous poundages for low reps. Bertil Fox comes to mind as one pro who trains his chest this way. Then there are those who prefer light weight, high reps and lots and lots of sets. Serge Nubret is probably the best example of this mode of training. Without a doubt, though the preferred method of training chest is to use a variety of movements to hit the chest from various angles and to vary the reps from low to high. This approach seems to ensure that you hit all parts of the chest and the various muscle fiber types.
For Alq Gurley, Mr. Universe and recent third-place finisher at the Pro Ironman Invitational in February (which qualified him for the Mr. Olympia contest this fall), chest work is a combinations of the last two types of training. Like Serge Nubret he does plenty of sets — about 25 sets per chest workout — but he generally keeps his reps in the 10 to 12 range. He doesn’t pyramid down to heavy sets of five or six reps, as he worries about possible career-threatening injuries. And he doesn’t go up to 15 and 20 reps a set like Nubret, because he feels 10-12 reps are best for mass.
You’d definitely have to say that his method works well for him. His pecs are thick and full and developed in all sections, form side to side and top to bottom. He has a real champion’s chest, something you’d expect form a Mr. Universe winner. But like any bodybuilder worth his salt, he’s never satisfied with what he has and is always pushing for bigger and better development. If he were happy with his chest development, he wouldn’t be blasting his pecs with 25 sets a workout.
I recently interviewed Alq on the phone and got the goods o his chest-training methods. Like most champions today, Alq trains on a four-way split routine, training two days on / one day off. He likes to split his routine this way;
- Day 1: chest and biceps
- Day 2: back and triceps
- Day 3: rest
- Day 4: shoulders and hamstrings
- Day 5: quads and calves
- Day 6: rest
ALQ’S HEAVY CHEST WORKOUT
To give you an idea of what a typical heavy chest workout might be (there is no exact heavy chest workout — the exercises, sets and reps will vary session to session), Alq begins with the flat barbell bench press. He will then move on to Smith machine incline presses, followed by flat dumbbell flyes and pec-deck flyes, finishing with cable crossovers. Each exercise is done for four or five sets of 10 to 12 reps, pyramiding the weight each set.
To give you a clearer idea, Alq starts his bench presses with a light weight and does 12 to 15 reps as warmup set. Usually this is done with 135 ponds. for his second set he goes to two plates (225 pounds) and does another 15 reps. This is still considered part of his warmup. Now he’s ready to get down to the serious work of building his pecs.
For the third set he jumps to three plates a side (315 pounds) and aims for 12 reps. After a short break he moves to 365 pounds and gets about 10 reps. “That’s about as heavy as I’ll go,” says Alq. “I don’t particularly care about gong heavier than that because I’m concerned about injuries, as I have very tight muscles. I don’t want to tear anything and jeopardize my career.”
To complete his bench presses. Alq drops back down to 315 for his final s t and aims for another 10 to 12 reps. Keeping the reps in the 10 range with that kind of weight ensures his pecs are burning by the time he finishes his final set.
Since the bench press is his heavy movement of the day, he rests about two minutes between sets in order to allow for full recovery between sets and to permit the use of heavier weights. Alq likes to have his breathing and heart rate returned to normal before he attempts his next set. He trains with a partner, so by the time this partner completes his set and they change the weight, with a little extra time allotted for psyching up and getting mentally ready, it comes out to just about two minutes rest, a nice pace for off-season training.
Alq prefers to do his bench presses in constant-tension style. He presses the weight up to within two inches of lockout and lowers the bar slowly. He never locks out as he feels it in the joints too much, especially as the weights get heavy. “I believe in taking care of my joints,” says Alq emphatically.
His next movement is the Smith machine incline press. Although he is already warmed up from the barbell bench presses, Alq still starts light and pyramids up in weight each set. He feels he is susceptible to injuries and prefers to take the time to do a few extra warmup sets than to risk a career-threatening injury.
His pyramid on the incline presses looks like this: 135 for 15, 225 for 12 to 15, 275 for 10 to 12, and another 275 for 8 to 10. Then he drops back down to 185 pounds for his final set and does 15 reps. As with the bench presses he rests about two minutes between sets and does the incline presses i a four-fifths constant-tension style.
With the upper and middle pecs taken care of, Alq turns his attention to the outer pecs. These are trained with flat dumbbell flyes. Again he starts light and pyramids up in weight each set, but this time he might rest only 90 seconds between sets.
His pyramid with dumbbell flyes is: 50s for 10, 60s for 10, 70s for 10 and 80s for 10. “I try to get a good stretch at the bottom of my flyes,” explains Alq, “keeping tension o the pecs during the negative part of the rep. Then I squeeze my pecs hard and touch the bells together at the top. I don’t believe in trying to touch the elbows together or turning the wrists in any strange positions for fear of injury. For me, simple is best.”
The inner pecs are trained next with peck-deck flyes. Usually from or five sets of 10 to 12 reps are performed with about 90 seconds’ rest between sets. Says Alq’, “I like to use a weight I can’t manipulate, one that lets me stretch and squeeze my pecs with each rep. The weight will vary form machine to machine, as the leverages seem to be different on all of them.”
His final exercise, before he hits hi biceps, is cable crossovers, for of five sets of 10 10 12 reps. the way most people do cable crossovers make it primarily an inner pec movement. The way Alq does them, he works both the inner and outer pecs, and he works ore the middle and upper sections of the inner pecs.
To stress more of the outer pec, Alq steps forward several feet in front of the machine so that he has to reach back behind his body to grab the cable handles. to work the upper and middle sections of the inner pecs more, he pulls the handles in front of his chest, not down in front of the crotch. He holds the cable handles in the fully contracted position for a short count, squeezes hard and then slowly returns to the starting position, giving his pecs a good stretch along the way.
That completes his heavy chest workout. As you can see, by doing five chest exercises that work the chest form various angles, he ensures that all sections of this pecs get heavily worked . By the time he finishes this workout – 20 to 25 sets – his pecs are worked into the ground and pumped like Dolly Partons’ melons.
ALQ’S LIGHT CHEST WORKOUT
The main difference between Alq’s heavy chest workout and his light day is not so much the number of reps performed or the weight used, but is choice of exercises. The light chest workout consists primarily of various dumbbell presses and flyes, ad Alq feels he gets a better chest workout with dumbbells than barbells. He does ore exercises and works his chest from every conceivable angle. He also concentrates more on feeling his chest muscle work, although he still handles very heavy weighs for sets of 10 to 12 reps. He won’t though ever sacrifice form and feel for weight.
His first exercise is the flat dumbbell bench press, four to five sets of 10 to 12 reps. He pyramids up to 120 to 130 pound dumbbell for 10 reps and then drops back down to 80s or 90s for 12 to 15 reps.
His second exercise is incline dumbbell presses, four to fives sets of 10 to 12 reps. On this exercise he pyramids up to 110 pound dumbbells for 10 reps, and drops back to 80s on his last set for 12 to 15 reps.
His second exercise is incline dumbbell presses, four to five sets of 10 to 12 reps. on this exercise he pyramids up to 110-pound dumbbells for 10 reps, and drops back to 80s on his last set for 12 to 15 reps.
Incline dumbbell flyes are his third exercise. He performs four to five sets of 10 to 12 reps, sticking to dumbbells in the 60-70 pound range.
To work more lower pecs, Alq then performs decline dumbbell flyes, again four to five sets of 10 to 12 reps, using 60-70 pound dumbbells. ‘When I do decline dumbbell flyes,” added Alq, “I do two different movements depending on my mood and what I’m trying to accomplish. If I’m trying to shape the lower wall of the pectoral, I’ll do a supinating type movement. If I’m just trying to stretch the pecs and build overall mass, I’ll do regular decline flyes,” added Alq. “I do two different movements depending on my mood and what I’m trying to accomplish. If I’m trying to shape the lower wall of the pectoral, I’ll do a supinating type movement. If I’m just trying to stretch the pecs and build overall mass, I’ll do regular decline flyes.”
“On the light day I don’t train any quicker than on my heavy day,” Alq summarized. “I’m working more for detail and trying to feel the muscle more. I’m trying to isolate different sections of my pecs. In order to isolate, say the upper or outer or inner pecs properly, I have to feel that part of the muscle as I do the exercise. If I try to go too heavy, I lose the feel and the isolation effect I’m after.”
PRE-CONTEST CHEST TRAINING
Although it’s hard to believe, Alq’s pre contest training for chest increased even more in exercise choice and variety — what Al calls with a chuckle “very eclectic training.” He throws everything at his chest but the kitchen sink. ‘yeah,” he says somewhat mysteriously, “I do a myriad of exercises for my chest before a show, some of which I can’t disclose. You might say they’re my secret exercises, and they work really well at bringing out all the cuts, striations and detail in my pecs.”
When I asked Alq if he couldn’t discuss these secret movements, he answered coyly, “Most off my chest exercises are just the regular chest movements we’ve already discussed, but I do a lot unusual dumbbell flyes and cable work — both kneeling and standing — to hit my chest from every possible angle. It’s all angle work. And barbell work goes out the window until the show is over.
“My reps for most exercises will be in the 12 to 15 range, and my partner and I will train at a little quicker pace. as soon as he’s done his set, I immediately begin mine. There’s no wasting to time or energy.”
To intensify his training, Alq normally tries t do a forced rep or two on the last couple of sets of each exercise, and he practices iso-tension or squeezing and posing his muscle between sets. Iso-tension helps to add hardness to the physique and carves in muscle separation. Maybe once every third or fourth workout he may do a superset to shock the muscles in a different way, but most of the time he prefers to concentrate on simple sets. he finds that doing many supersets tears him down too much and makes it difficult for him to recover from this already intense workouts.
Prior to a show Alq’s weights will come down, partly because he is training at a faster pace and with a little more intensity, but mostly because he is consuming fewer calories and has less energy to train. Off-season he consumes about 8000 calories a day, with probably 300 grams of protein daily. that works out to about six meals a day, one of them a protein shake.
Three hundred grams of protein is only 1200 calories, so the other 6800 calories comes from lots of carbs and fats. Alq like other bodybuilders with fast metabolisms, such as Roger Steward and Larry Scott, finds he gains best on s diet high in fats.
“I totally believe in high fats for the guy with a fast metabolism, “I said to Alq.
“Gotta do it,” he murmured. “Gotta do it man. Otherwise I’d shrivel up and blow away and be a very irritable bastard (chuckle).”
Prior to a show Alq down to only 3000 calories a day, but the actually consumes more protein than during the off-season, about 340 grams of protein daily. He still doesn’t cut out all fat. He finds he actually gets harder consuming some fat. If he doesn’t eat the fat, he gets too flat and smoother and smaller.
His metabolism is so fast that he doesn’t ever need to do aerobics to get cut for his shows. He finds that hard contest dieting alone does it for him. Any aerobics he does are more for insurance and for his mind, to make him think he is doing everything possible to get ready for his contest.
So that’s the story of how Mr. Universe Alq Gurley trains his chest. Big pecs alone do not a Mr. Olympia make, but you can bet Alq’s big chest will turn heads at the big O this fall. If you you have problems with chest, give his multi-angle approach a try, but cut back on the sets by half unless you are a very advanced bodybuilder.