Bad chest genetics can simply mean the pecs don’t respond well or are difficult to grow, or it can mean a gap in the pecs or disproportionate lower to upper chest ratios.
In either case, it’s like you don’t have bad chest genetics, you’re just doing these 11 things wrong. So let’s first take a look at examples of bad chest genetics from professional bodybuilders, see if chest genetics can be fixed, and then show you exactly what you’re doing wrong so you can add mass to those lagging pecs.
Can You Fix Bad Chest Genetics?
It depends. Bad chest genetics will have a major role in determining the rate of growth that muscles can grow, their shape, and the amount of muscle that can be developed as a result of training. It is a variable in training that lifters cannot separate themselves as they are born this way. Genetics is a study that focuses on genes, heredity, and genetic variation. Genetics influences everything about an individual, from personality to hair color, height, and even whether someone is prone to chest fat.
Since the genes dictate the very core of a human being, they will also dictate whether an individual can easily build a barrel chest, and nothing can be done to change the genes of a lifter. Bad chest genetics will determine the insertion points of muscles, where the attachment points are, and the degree to which the heads of the muscles are separated.1 Genetics will even have a say on how the pectoralis major (chest muscles) blends with the front delts (front part of the shoulder) or how the muscle fibers cross at the sternum—the T-shaped bone in the middle of the chest that connects the ribs.
With all these factors, it is easy to see just how influential genes will affect the performance and gains that can be had. The good news is that bad muscle chest genetics can be fixed despite their influence on inhibiting muscle growth. Lifters with this shortfall would need to overcome their genetics by training harder and including techniques in their regimen to sufficiently activate their pecs and stimulate them to hypertrophy (muscle growth).
On the other hand, some individuals may have excellent chest genetics. Still, they are not training with enough volume or perhaps not training with the correct technique, which leads them to the notion that they have bad muscle chest genetics since they are not making significant gains. It is, therefore, prudent to establish that bad chest genetics have a hand in the reason for lackluster gains.
How to Tell if You Have Bad Chest Genetics
There are several ways for lifters to know that they have bad chest genetics. These include gaps in the chest, the distribution of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers in the chest, and disproportions in muscles of the upper and lower chest and nipple (location, shape, and size).
Gaps in the Chest
Gaps in the chest are caused by insertion points deemed non-optimal for a good thick chest. This gap, known as the ‘pec gap’ is between the left and right pecs—the reason is that the insertion points into the sternum are not close to one another, which results in a gap that becomes more apparent, especially when the pecs are fully developed or when one is lean. It may also be caused by the bone structure where the rib cage causes this gap. The gap is an undesired trait that no amount of working out will cause this gap to be filled as there is simply no muscle in that area.
Shorter clavicles (shoulder blades) will mean that there isn’t just enough room for the muscles to be grown and developed. An individual with longer clavicles has enough space and room to work with to vastly expand their pec muscles as opposed to one with short ones. Shorter and narrower clavicles are also usually a sign of a lifter with bad shoulder genetics and bad chest genetics.
Distribution of Fast and Slow Twitch Muscle Fibers
There are two kinds of muscle fibers—slow (type 1) and fast (type 2) twitch muscles that are found in the human skeletal tissue. Type 2 fibers are larger, contract at a faster rate, easily fatigued, and produce a greater force, whereas type 1 is smaller in size, don’t fatigue easily, and produces a smaller force. These muscles are further subdivided, but for this analysis, type 2 will be further divided into A and B—A being smaller in size, fatigued less, and producing a smaller force than B.
Type 2 fibers are activated with more ease and develop much more than their counterparts, which implies that a muscle with more of these fibers will be more likely to have hypertrophy. Depending on genetics, the chest muscles typically contain a mix of 60% of type 2A or 2B and the rest of type 1 fibers. Therefore, having more muscle fibers than the other due to bad chest genetics will hinder other lifters while others will get enhanced as a result of genetics and put in relatively effort for massive gains.
Disproportions of Muscle Presence in Upper and Lower Chest
Lifters may have muscles in the upper and lower pecs that are not uniform. One part of the chest may have more muscle fibers than the rest—that is, the upper and lower part of the chest. This bad chest genetics will result in an uneven chest, and one part of the chest is more difficult to develop than the other part since one part, whether upper or lower, is more developed than the other.
Nipple (Location, Size, and Shape)
The nipple location, size, and shape determine if an individual has bad chest genetics. The location of the nipple will make the chest muscles appear full or not. For example, when the nipples are located towards the upper portion of the chest, the pecs will appear larger than they actually are as opposed to an individual with the nipples placed lower.
Nipple size and shape are also other indicators of bad chest genetics. An undesirable trait would be to have large nipples shaped like a female. Another issue that may cause bad chest genetics is the abnormal growth of breast tissue in males in a condition known as gynecomastia.3
Genetic Conditions That Lead to Caving In or Out of the Chest
More extreme genetic conditions will cause individuals to have bad chest genetics, and these are more severe than just being aesthetic. These two conditions are outlined:
- Pectus excavatum—pectus excavatum is a condition where the middle of the portion (between the pecs) appears to have been scooped out due to the breastbone sinking into the chest cavity due to abnormal growth of cartilage which links the ribs to the sternum.4 This condition can cause heart problems or breathing issues.
- Pectus carinatum— the condition known as pectus carinatum manifests itself in the protrusion of the breastbone (sternum), giving it an appearance known as ‘pigeon breast’ or may also be known as ‘keel chest’.5 It is also due to abnormalities in the chest cartilage.
- Poland syndrome—individuals affected with Poland syndrome will have a part of the pectoralis major (chest muscle) missing, typically between the sternum and upper arm. This will usually give the chest a concave appearance.6
Examples of Bad Chest Genetics
On one end of the spectrum there’s individuals with good chest genetics that tend to have bodies with a natural V-taper look with wide shoulder blades, narrow waist, and muscular physiques and are typically strong individuals.
On the other hand, some individuals have a flimsy bone structure, narrow shoulder blades (clavicles), and tend to have flat chests. Individuals like this tend to have bad chest genetics and have put in extra effort to build chest muscle.
Top Bodybuilders With Bad Chest Genetics – Terrible Chest Genetics in Bodybuilding
Several top bodybuilders with bad chest genetics have terrible chest genetics in bodybuilding. These extraordinary individuals have gone on to become household names despite the biology that is against them. These include Lee Haney, Rich Gaspari, Dorian Yates, and Chris Dickerson.
Dorian Yates—Dorian is one of the most successful bodybuilders of all time but did have bad chest genetics. His chest was shallow, and his upper chest would seem to cave in compared to the rest of his chest.
Rich Gaspari— Rich has bad chest genetics manifesting in his nipples; his right nipple does not have an optimal placement and looks almost detached from his pec muscles. His lower left pec is not symmetrical with his right one as well. He went on to win the first Arnold Classic in 1989 and placed 2nd behind Mr. Olympia 3 years in a row (1986-1988).
Chris Dickerson—Chris Dickerson has a good lower body, but his upper body is lacking, although his back was impressive. He had bad chest genetics but made up for this with hard work and ideal proportions with his calf muscles similar in size to his biceps and neck.
Lee Haney—Lee Haney is among the most successful bodybuilders of all time. He had bad chest genetics, evidenced by a lack of muscle thickness in his lower pecs. However, he became one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time.
Terry Crews—Terry Crews is not a professional bodybuilder but an actor. He does, however, have a physique fitting of a bodybuilder. He does have the classic bad genetics, as a gap can be seen between his pecs due to the insertion points being far apart.
How to Overcome Bad Chest Genetics by Fixing These 11 Things You’re Doing Wrong
Instead of complaining and whining about how bad chest genetics are limiting their chest workouts and gains, lifters need to realize they’re doing these 11 things wrong and fix them. Individuals need to put the extra effort by increasing volume, cycling out exercises, and varying training techniques to ensure that they can overcome training plateaus and go against all odds and develop barrel chests.
#1 Increasing Training Volume
This is arguably the most important fault that lifters often face when it comes to working their chest muscles or any other muscle group which is not working the chest muscle enough. Training volume is the amount of work put into a muscle to activate it and stimulate it into hypertrophy— it is a product of the weight used per number of repetitions and the total number of sets and it is critical to ensure that the chest muscle receives adequate training volume to achieve hypertrophy.7
Those with bad chest genetics will need to work harder since the cards are stacked against them to ensure that they are hitting the muscle with the adequate volume required to grow.
#2 Increasing Training Frequency
In addition to volume, training frequency is an equally important variable that must be considered for lifters, especially those with bad chest genetics; however, this will also ring true for those with good chest genetics to benefit from their biological advantage. Many times most lifters do not hit the chest muscle with the frequency it demands to achieve results. They often then resort to blaming it on genetics.
To ensure that the chest muscles receive adequate stimulation, they will need to be trained with a frequency of between 2 and 3 times a week to ensure muscle growth and development.8 Including daily undulating periodization techniques—varying the intensity and volume daily will go a long way to improving hypertrophy. However, it is just as critical to ensuring adequate rest between the increased frequencies as the muscles will need to recover.
#3 Not Working All Heads of the Chest Muscle
This is a common problem with lifters who train their chest muscles for years without making substantial gains. Often, lifters would concentrate on the flat bench press that targets the chest muscles’ mid part. They will tend to neglect the upper and lower chests or not work these sections of the chest the way they do for the mid-chest.
These lifters would then tend to have either underdeveloped upper or lower pecs or have both undeveloped resulting in a chest that is not developed sufficiently. Neglecting the upper chest is one of the worst decisions a lifter makes in pursuing a large chest.
#4 Using Correct Scapula Positioning
The scapula (shoulders) play a critical role in the chest presses as they provide stability for the movement and are one of the main movers along with pec muscles and the triceps. However, a common mistake that many lifters make is that they rotate their shoulders because improper form leads to several issues.
Rotating the shoulders means that the shoulders are being recruited more than they need to in the press, which also leads to a less stable bench press that results in less pec recruitment and drive to activate them properly. In addition, the shoulders are in a compromised position which opens up the door for injury.
Lifters will need to ensure that they have retracted shoulders (pinched back) during the entire movement of the press while driving the upper back into the bench, thus guaranteeing proper tension is maintained at all times. This will allow for a more powerful, efficient, and safer lift.
#5 Increasing Mind Muscle Connection
Bad chest genetics will typically place the pec muscles at a biomechanical disadvantage during the bench press or any other chest exercise since the genes have rendered the muscles inefficient at accomplishing the movement.
Mind muscle connection is a perceived sense of muscle contraction during resistance training. It is the conscious focus of a muscle during a contraction when lifting a weight—as a result, this can cause increased activation of the muscle.9
Isolation lifts tend to induce a more mind-muscle connection than compound movements since these movements involve more than one muscle—the bench press is a compound movement. Including isolation chest exercises such as cable flyes and crossovers will allow the lifter to sense or feel the contraction in the movement optimally. Soreness that sets in after a workout will confirm which muscles are handling the load.
#6 Inadequate Range of Motion (ROM)
Using an inadequate range of motion in chest exercises is an issue that can magnify the problems caused by bad chest genetics. When an exercise is performed in a full range of motion (ROM), as in the case of the chest muscles, more fibers get recruited, and as a result, there is more activation which leads to hypertrophy and strengthening of the muscle.10
While the bench press is a foundational lift, it doesn’t allow for a full range of motion so be sure to incorporate dumbbell presses and flyes, in addition to other exercises that offer a fuller range of motion and peak concentric contraction.
#7 Addressing Mobility Issues
The mobility of joints is an important component of lifting weights and is often a big hindrance to developing chest muscles. Mobility issues in strength training result from tight or stiff muscles and joints which hinder the range of motion that lifters can put their muscles through, thus negatively affecting activating and stimulating the muscles to hypertrophy.11
Individuals with bad chest genetics would therefore be more vulnerable to tight muscles and should ensure that they adequately stretch their muscles before and especially after a chest workout. Including foam rolling and deep tissue massages will go a long way to loosening these muscles to allow them to work in an optimum ROM.
#8 Increasing Mass and Calorie Intake
Some apparent inadequacies are very apparent due to chest genetic factors that result in undesirable traits like chest gaps. These become very pronounced with lean individuals who have increased muscle mass and appear ripped.
One solution would be to increase the number of calories consumed, in essence bulking up and increasing the overall body fat percentage. This will help fill out the areas with gaps because no muscle can ever fill these gaps due to insertion points that are far out; as a consequence, the chest will have a more complete and smoother look. This should, however, be done in moderation to prevent someone from getting overweight and ruining the physique that they have worked for.
#9 Too Much Focus on Positive Training
Lifters may tend to exercise the negatives or eccentric (this is the portion of a lift where the muscles are lengthened under load) relatively quickly. To put this into perspective, when the bar is lowered as in a bench press—this should be performed in a slow and controlled manner—then pressed up more explosively.
The eccentric causes a majority of the damage to the muscles which leads them to repair and regrow much stronger.12 Therefore, if lifters focus on slowing the eccentric, they can develop and grow their muscles better.
#10 Cycling Out Exercises
Lifters often stay stuck in exercises they are familiar with until they eventually reach training plateaus as they get comfortable with a certain set of workouts. This also causes joint injury and fatigue since they are being worked unilaterally without variation. Alternatively, some lifters switch exercises too often, not giving the body enough time to respond to the movements.
Workout routines should be balanced between compound movements such as presses and isolation exercises like flyes. Regimens should be maintained for about 2-4 weeks before switching them, giving the muscles enough time to respond while at the same time they don’t plateau with the same set of exercises being repeated.
Incorporating cable cross-overs are excellent for those with bad chest genetics. As mentioned before, lifters with bad chest muscle genetics may be inefficient at bench pressing due to inadequate leverage as they may have flat rib cages. This is where cable crossovers come in—they allow these individuals to target the pecs effectively and bypass this issue.
#11 Taking Time Off Training
Some individuals tend to over-train, especially once they have hit training plateaus in which they are no longer making any substantial gains to their chest workouts. In addition, they should include this method to overcome bad chest genetics, trainers should take time off their training to allow the body to reset itself and come back refreshed for a new workout regimen.
Bad chest genetics is out of the control of the lifter and may make it more challenging to build a colossal chest; you’re doing these 11 things wrong, and making them right will enable them to overcome these hurdles.
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3Surgery, E. J. (2002, December 12). Gynaecomastia. Retrieved 2022, from <https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/pectus-excavatum>
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9Medicine, N. L. (2016, March). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. Retrieved 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6977096/>
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11Medicine, N. L. (2021, April 7). Strength Training versus Stretching for Improving Range of Motion: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18981046/>
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13Top Bodybuilders Who Overcame “Bad” Genetics.” YouTube, 5 August 2017. Accessed 30 March 2023. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BynHphf0BCo>
14Lee Haney – THE 8X MR OLYMPIA.” YouTube, 26 August 2018. Accessed 30 March 2023. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xLJyjHV1dbY>
15Behind The Scenes: Terry Crews is More Ripped Than Ever at 49.” YouTube, 30 July 2017. Accessed 30 March 2023. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDgGriH6Vx4>