So you’ve followed your bench program for weeks. You’ve done the flat bench, dumbbell bench, incline bench, dumbbell fly’s, cable fly and loads of push ups. With all of that, you gained just a little strength and no noticeable size. You spent six weeks and hours of grueling “chest” workouts for next to nothing. You’re angry and wondering why that bodybuilder’s chest program from Muscle & Fiction didn’t work for you. I got news for you: you trained the wrong muscles. I know you were trying to get bigger and stronger in your chest, so you trained your chest. You were right in the muscles you trained; the problem is that you trained the wrong muscle fibers.
Your body is filled with different types of muscle fibers. These fibers will determine how big or strong you get. If you watch sports you may have heard the term “fast twitch” being used. Athletes, especially those who play power sports such as football, are considered to be fast twitch athletes. It’s not necessarily that these guys were born with more fast twitch muscles, but they trained the fast twitch muscles they were given more than you did. Because of this, these guys are bigger, stronger and faster than you and you’re about to follow yet another program from yet another muscle mag.
Each and every muscle group in your body has an arrangement of slow and fast twitch muscle fibers. If you are lifting for strength or size, the slow twitch are your enemies and should be avoided at all costs. The guys that dominate the slow twitch game are those skinny, long distance runners that you see. You can’t change the muscle fibers that are slow twitch or fast twitch, but you can decide which ones get activated and when they get activated.
The problem may be that you have been lifting in a way that activates mostly slow twitch muscle fibers and not the fast twitches that you want. You hop under a bar, load some weight on it and move it slowly up and down. Doing this is going to consistently leave your fast twitch muscle fibers sleeping and allow your slow twitch fibers to do the majority of the work.
There is a pretty simple way to get your fast twitch fibers fired up and working more consistently than they were. The use of ballistic and speed movements at the start of the workout will activate the fibers that your want to use throughout the remainder of your workout.
Ballistic movements are when you actually project your body from and object or an object from your body. Throwing medicine balls or doing plyometric movements will fire up the fast twitch fibers and get you on a correct path for the day. Before you lay down to do a heavy bench press, perform some medicine ball chest passes, some explosive bench presses with the bar or some plyometric push ups. The idea is to actually let go of the medicine ball, the bar or toss your body off the ground during those three exercises. By doing a ballistic movement, you will be eliminating that deceleration phase that is usually performed at the end of a movement. This will allow for you fast twitch fibers to get activated throughout the full range of the movement.
Begin to do these before any of your big lifts and you will notice a difference in your size and strength. Your nervous system will be ramped up and ready to go, so when you are ready to bench heavy you will be using the fibers you want. Don’t forget to be as powerful as possible during you heavy lifts to. If you are benching a heavy weight, you should still be trying to press the bar off your chest as fast as possible.
Stick with lower reps when doing your ballistic movements. You should be doing no more than 8 to 10 reps because you don’t want your power to start dropping off. It would be better to do 5 sets of 5 very strong and powerfully, as opposed to 3 sets of 10 slowly.
Just because the majority of this article talked about ballistic movements for the chest doesn’t mean it’s the only muscle they apply to. You should do jump squats before squatting, overhead toss before doing shoulders, or aggressive sled rows before you row. Its up to you to get creative, but remember to keep it ballistic and keep it fast.