Elite Trainer Gunnar Peterson Breaks Down Exercises You Need for a Superhero-Sized Chest

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  • Gunnar Peterson
    American exercise instructor
Photo credit: Men's Health
Photo credit: Men's Health

Superhero characters have become one of the top benchmarks guys use for #fitspo goals, and one defining characteristic of almost every powered-up do-gooder, from Superman to Captain America, is the big barrel chest and V-taper torso. So, most guys assume that the actors that play those character hit chest day with a tenacity that rivals their drive to fight crime—and that must mean endless reps of barbell bench press.

Personal trainer Gunnar Peterson, who has experience working with Hollywood muscle icons like Sylvester Stallone, Hugh Jackman, and more, says that's not necessarily the case. There's a lot more to building a superhero-caliber chest than barbell bench pressing into oblivion—so he's breaking down a few of his favourite muscle-building chest day movements with Men's Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

"It's always about the nuance," Peterson says. "People are going to get the big movements, especially if you're grow up playing sports. That's probably where your strength coach is going to steer you—bench press, it's a bench mark—but from there, it's on you. And you'll improve your bench if you start adding some of the tips we're going to show you here."

The exercises will train the chest, focused on these factors:

  • Angles

  • Bodyweight Training

  • Pre-Exhaust

  • Deceleration

  • Absorbing Force

The Angle-Changing Fly Dropset

This exercise gives you an opportunity to work the chest unilaterally (one side at a time). Move the cable to different levels, performing chest fly reps by pulling the cable in toward your midline. Your core will also face a challenge as you fight to keep your torso square—you can move further from the anchor to make this more difficult. Peterson considers this to be a finisher, meant to be performed after more taxing compound movements.

Works: Angles

The Pre-Exhaust Pushup Series

Think about this as a bodyweight movement to get your body prepped for heavyweight work, Peterson advises. Move your hand placement around on the ground as you pump through reps, from narrow to wide (just making sure that you use solid pushup form, engaging your core and glutes to maintain a straight back). Try 3 sets of 8 to 10 close-grip pushups, 10 to 12 wide stance reps, and 12 to 15 standard position reps. The close-grip reps shift the focus to your triceps, while the wide stance reps tax your shoulders and chest more. Once you move your hands back into the standard position, your chest is fatigued, making those reps even more challenging.

Works: Bodyweight training, Pre-Exhaust

The Plyo Med Ball Pushup

Take an athlete's approach to this next exercise (Peterson served as the L.A. Lakers strength coach from 2017 to 2020, so he's got plenty of experience in pro sports). Perform pushup reps with your hands on either side of the tool, but make use of the way the ball rebounds from the bottom position to bounce explosively up. Think about these cues Peterson uses to teach Samuel the movement: pushup, bounce, catch, and drive. Try 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps.

Works: Deceleration, Absorbing force

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