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April 25, 2022
Do you have bad chest genetics, which makes every ounce of effort you spend building an impressive chest worthless? Well, one of the hardest lessons you’ll learn in life is that it’s not always fair. There are certain variables in our lives that we have zero control over, one of those being genetics. Our make-up of DNA and genes is literally what makes us who we are, and unless you’re part of some science experiment, your genetic make-up is 100% determined by your mom and dad’s genetics.
And your mom and dad's genetics were determined by their mom and dad. Basically, when you’re born, you get what you get. However, bad genetics doesn’t mean you can’t drastically improve; it just means you might have to try harder or do things differently. In this article, we’ll talk about how you can conquer the cruel hand of fate and build an awesome chest.
Here are some of the things we are going to cover in this article:
Let’s see how you can best play the hand God dealt you.
Genetics is the branch of biology that researches genes, genetic variation, and heredity, or how genes are passed from one generation to another. It can also refer to the genetic make-up of a specific organism. Either way, when we talk about genetics, we are talking about your DNA and genes passed down from your mom and dad.
We’re not geneticists but apparently, upon sexual reproduction, the mother will pass down an X chromosome, and the father will pass down either an X or Y chromosome. Within each of these chromosomes lies your entire genetic make-up; basically, the blueprints for your body to form. What is found in these chromosomes will dictate just about everything there is about you. Everything from your sex, height, bone ratios, amount of hair on your pinky toe - literally everything. It will even dictate your personality and how you react to certain situations.
Being that your genetics play such a large role in your “construction", they can have a major role in how you are able to perform as well as your physique. For example, if you're susceptible to chest fat, genetics may be to blame.
To be honest, it’s almost not even fun to read about the significant role genetics’ play in elite athletes as it’s almost a kind of a buzz kill. (Obviously we’re being a bit facetious as there’s obviously a lot more than genetics and we’re not downplaying the hard work at all).
For example, Michael Phelps is famous for having a greater-than-average lung capacity as well as a body that produces 50% less lactic acid, both of which allow him to work harder longer. Eddie Hall is famous in the strength world for having the “Hercules Gene,” which is really a mutated MSTN gene. This tells your body to produce less myostatin, which usually tells the body to stop growing muscle. With less myostatin, the body will allow more muscle growth.
In powerlifting, lifters who have a muscle insertion farther away from their joint are able to lift heavier loads with less force due to the mechanical advantage. In bodybuilding, an athlete who has longer tendons and a shorter muscle belly are able to create a higher bicep peak when posing. All of these can be advantageous to winning, yet you can’t earn them, as you’re literally born that way. That’s what we are talking about when we speak about genetics and sports.
On the other hand, “bad genetics” would basically be the opposite of all the above examples. Having a smaller lung capacity will never be good, and insertions can greatly affect our strength. For the chest, it can mean difficulty gaining mass or a “misshaped” chest.
At the end of the day, as harsh as it sounds, you’ll likely have to learn to live with the genes you were given to an extent. As “Instagram-ish” it sounds, you’ll never be truly happy until you love yourself they way you are. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t want to improve. There are some things that you can do to try to mitigate the effect of your bad chest genes. Let’s see how different genetic factors can affect your chest muscles’ response to lifting and what you can do about it.
Our muscles contain various types of muscle fibers, which offer a different set of benefits and negatives. These muscle fibers are Type I, Type IIa, and Type IIb. In this order, they range from smallest to largest; least fatigable to most fatigable; least force production to most force production.
Above is a very rough analysis of the fiber types, but you get the point; different muscle fibers are better performing different jobs. However, what’s most important in terms of bodybuilding is the ability for muscle fibers to grow. Type II fibers can grow significantly easier than your Type I fibers meaning they respond better to hypertrophy training. This also means that a muscle composed of more Type II muscle fibers will have more potential to grow.
The percentage of Type I to Type II muscle fibers of each muscle is pretty consistent for the vast number of people, with an estimated 5-10% discrepancy. For the chest muscles, the average make-up is about 60% Type II muscle fibers and 40% Type I muscle fibers. The obvious answer would be to try and alter the ratio and convert the Type I fibers to Type II. While this is being researched today, the best answer to if this is possible is “maybe, not really sure”. Studies have looked at this possibility, and the evidence is shaky at best. Regardless, we find it hard to imagine what that type of training would look like compared to what is already being done (there are only so many ways to train a muscle). The point being is that unless you are an extreme outlier, this isn’t going to be an issue for you.
Some guys will notice that they have a gap between their two pectoral muscles, while others will have pecs that look like they touch each other. This could be one of two reasons; both can be fixed, but one is just harder.
1) A Genetic Issue:
The first is a genetic issue and is similar to the above scenario with the insertion of the bicep. However, for this issue, the issue occurs with the origin of the pectorals. The origin of both pectorals sit on either side of the sternum, and the muscle wraps out around the body. What can cause a gap is if the origin occurs farther out on the side of the sternum. This will leave you an area in the middle where the muscles do not touch each other. Compare this with a set of pectorals whose origins are backed up against each other; no gap.
2) You Need To Train For A Fuller Chest:
You could just need to train your chest better with a full range of exercises to build a fuller chest. You may have neglected to use various chest exercises to hit from different angles and provide various stimuli. Therefore, the middle chest hasn’t been stimulated to the same degree as the other parts.
How To Fix A Chest Gap:
Both of the above will require the same answer which is to simply improve your training. The only difference is that you will need to work even harder if your gap is caused by genetics. Still, depending on how big the gap is, it may never be fully closed.
We’ll go over some chest specific exercises below but the key is to use a program with various chest exercises that allow the chest to be hit from various angles.
Also, check out this article to learn the best inner chest exercises!
Testosterone is the male sex hormone, and it’s what makes men, well, men. You’re probably aware of that, but many guys still seem to underestimate the effect of testosterone on the entire body. Or just don’t think about it. Well, it does - a lot.
Low testosterone levels can cause a multitude of problems in men, including:
None of these are good for training and can either directly contribute to poor chest development or indirectly. Regardless, studies have shown genetics play a large part in determining your serum testosterone levels (65%) and free testosterone (53%).
However, what this also means is there’s also a fairly big role that your environment plays in your testosterone levels. In other words, your behavior can either raise your T-levels or cause your T-levels to drop. Therefore, let’s look at both habits that can raise how much testosterone you have pumping through your veins as well as what can lower it.
What Can Lower Your T-Levels:
How To Raise Your T-Levels:
Basically, all the cliche parts of an unhealthy lifestyle lead to low t-levels and all of the cliche parts of a healthy lifestyle raise T-levels. Who woulda thought?
If you already do these and your levels are still low, you could contact a professional about testosterone replacement therapy. This will make a massive difference but take this seriously and talk to a professional. Luckily, the stigma has somewhat lifted of testosterone therapy for men, and there are many options, so do your due diligence.
The elusive “hard gainer”. Almost every strength coach goes through the same process when speaking about hard gainers (these are people who find it extremely difficult to gain weight). At first, they say that’s crazy, and it doesn’t exist, and most hard gainers just aren’t training properly or not eating enough. And this is very true, with a good portion of lifters claiming to be a hard gainer.
And then, eventually, they run into a guy who eats like a horse, trains hard, and just doesn’t grow. In addition, there’s also a huge range of lifters who fall across the entire spectrum in between from not “eating enough” to “a true hard gainer”.
For all of these lifters, the answer is relatively the same - the difference is how difficult it will be.
Get On A Proper Strength And Hypertrophy Program:
The first answer is to just make sure that you’re following a legitimate program that’s actually going to grow muscle. You need to get on a progressive overload training program that has you putting sufficient stimulus on your chest.
Track Your Calories:
As mentioned, a lot of hard gainers think they’re “stuffing their face,” but they’re not. This is similar to the guys who swear they’re only eating 2,500 calories when in reality it’s 3,500 and they gain weight. You may think you’re eating 3,500 calories but in reality are only eating 2,500 calories. Therefore the answer is the same; track your calories to determine exactly how much you’re eating and adjust
If you find that you are eating “enough” (more like how much you think you’re eating) but not gaining weight, you’re going to have to eat more...and then maybe even more. And then, maybe settle with the fact you’ll never be a mass monster. We have run into a few guys like this, where we have literally lived with them and see what they eat (enough to make us throw up) and they just don’t grow.
There are certain pharmaceutical options that can help but if you’re really eating enough and not gaining, you’ll need to speak to a specialist.
Regardless of what your issues are, there is one thing that you can change to make the most of what you have. That is to alter your training program to concentrate on your chest.
1. Increase Your Training Frequency And Volume:
The building volume is the primary driver that builds muscle mass; more training means better results. The best training frequency for a muscle group is twice a week for most people as studies have shown that this provides the optimal amount of volume while allowing rest.
However, if you are having issues with building muscle mass in your chest, you may need more. We would advise moving up your training frequency up to 3x a week to allow more quality volume. This might mean simply adding some chest flys at the end of your leg day.
2. Use The Entire Rep Spectrum (And Pay Attention):
When you train, be sure to use the entire rep spectrum. And we mean everything:
We suggest this to most people anyways to ensure they get a well-rounded stimulus on their chest muscles. However, for people with bad genetics, you may find that your body responds better to a specific rep range more so than others. In the past, it has been proposed that the muscle will respond better to a different rep range depending on the make-up of the muscle fibers. This doesn’t seem to be all that legit, but after being in strength training for so long, you realize that some people do respond very differently to different stimulus. So pay attention and see what happens.
We love this option because at the end of the day, you should anyways. Also, you might find what you need to grow your chest muscle.
3. Pick The Best Exercises:
You could also try using some better exercises for the chest muscle. As you’re having problems growing the muscle, you might need some very specific chest exercises. This includes some isolation work and some exercises you may be doing but with some simple alterations.
When most people think of “best chest exercises,” they think bench press. They’re right that it’s an awesome exercise, but it’s actually not as good of a chest exercise as people think. In fact, the bench press is much more of a tricep movement as the elbows are tucked to the side. In a second, you’ll find out why that’s not good for the chest.
Because you’re having issues with the chest, we need to train it using its primary function, which is transverse shoulder adduction. This is when the arms come out in front of the body like you’re going to hug someone or with a chest fly. Now going back to the bench press, the elbows are tucked into the body with the bench press, which greatly reduces this movement.
The best example of transverse shoulder adduction is going to be the cable fly mentioned above. Yes, you can do dumbbell flys, but we almost always suggest using the cable machine over dumbbells due to the constant tension cable machines provide. At the same time, try using a pronated grip next time you do the cable flys, as your chest will see more activation. Still, we would recommend doing a bunch of every type of fly. Decline flys (cable set high), incline flys (cable set low), unilateral, underhand, overhand…all of it.
You can also try doing some guillotine presses as well as Gironda dips. The guillotine press is basically a bench press, while the Gironda dip is basically a dip. The one common factor differentiating them from their counterparts is that you perform them with your elbows flared, the biggest no-no.
What this does is eliminates, or highly mitigates, the involvement of the anterior deltoid, thus leaving the chest to take over. Also, as mentioned above, this creates more transverse shoulder adduction. Combined, these two effects can really fire up the chest muscles.
Do be careful though and start with light weight when attempting these as they can add stress to your shoulders Also, only those with some lifting experience of at least 1 year should try these. And that’s one year of proper strength and hypertrophy training.
Here are the best chest exercises by regions of the chest:
As mentioned, while genetics can play a large role in your training, it’s never an excuse to not work for it. People often confuse different types of hardships as being an excuse to not try harder. At the end of the day, you may never be on the cover of a magazine (but in reality, very very few people are, even with amazing genetics) but you can always be better than you were yesterday. Unless your genetics prevent you from buying a gym membership, you can always crush it.
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