Skinny guys often have a hard time building a bigger chest. If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. This post reveals 9 common reasons why your chest isn’t growing.
Reasons for slow pectoral growth usually relate to poorly-designed workout and nutrition programs. In order to build a bigger chest, it is essential to reach a sufficient weekly training volume and follow a bulking diet that is rich in calories and protein.
In addition to each problem, I’ll also share solutions. These tips helped me to build visibly-defined and thicker pectorals.
- Common reasons why your chest isn’t growing usually revolve around poorly designed training and diet programs.
- Lift heavy on the compound lifts, supplement with isolation movements, apply regular progressive overload, optimize your training volume, lift with good form, and follow a bulking diet to ensure chest growth.
9 Reasons Why Your Chest Isn’t Growing
First I’ll explain how I came up with the list of 9 common reasons why your chest may not be growing.
I tracked down these Quora, Reddit 1, and Reddit 2 threads where people asked why their chest wasn’t growing.
I then compiled the responses and ranked them based on how often they were mentioned:
All responses are verified and backed by my personal skinny guy transformation experience.
The recommended solutions for growing a stubborn chest are also in line with general consensus from experts such as nutritionists, coaches, and powerlifters.
Below, I’ll explain each reason, and give solutions, for a chest that won’t grow.
1) Poor Exercise Choice
Insufficient exercise variety, or choosing the wrong movements, can be a major reason why your chest may not be growing.
A common mistake is to neglect compound exercises (like the bench press or dip) and focus on isolation-type movements (like the dumbbell fly).
Whilst isolation exercises can be great for defining muscles, compound movements should be the main focus in your chest workouts.
The opposite is also true. Relying on just the barbell bench press to build a bigger chest is a mistake.
Whilst bench pressing is a highly effective way to get bigger pecs, a 2020 study indicates that the best pectoral size gains are made when you perform a combination of chest compound AND isolation exercises.
- Aim for 75% compound exercises (e.g. bench press variations and dips) and 25% isolation exercises (e.g. dumbbell flyes).
- Do more push-ups if you’re training at home without equipment. Dumbbell push-ups are a cheap way to maximize chest activation at home.
- Combine push-ups with dumbbell exercises to build a bigger chest at home with minimal equipment. Many dumbbell exercises can work the pecs without a weight bench.
2) Lifting Sub-Optimal Sets And Reps
The number of sets and reps you complete each workout is also essential for building a bigger chest.
These are two essential components that make up your weekly training volume (i.e. how much work you complete).
It’s impossible to build a strong-looking chest without adequate training volume.
Additionally, studies have consistently demonstrated a dose-response to volume.
In other words, the greater the volume the more your chest will grow (assuming you aren’t overtraining).
So if you’re trying to bodybuild but your chest just isn’t growing, you should check your weekly volume.
- Beginners should start with 3 to 4 sets of 6-12 reps on chest exercises. Ensure you’re lifting a suitable weight as per the guidelines in the previous section.
- Aim to target the chest with 10-20 sets per week. Spread these sets over multiple training days.
If you’re interested, you can check out my home workout for skinny guys. It’s a free program that has been fully structured with the ideal number of sets and reps to build full-body muscle (including the chest!).
3) Lifting With Bad Form
Lifting weights with poor form could be another reason why your chest isn’t growing.
For example, this 2021 study showed that lifting with a partial range of motion (ROM) can reduce pectoral activation and growth.
An example of partial ROM is when you don’t allow your dumbbells to fully reach the chest line when performing a dumbbell bench press.
Other examples of bad lifting form include; bench pressing with the arms rather than the pecs and rushing through your reps.
- Lift with a full ROM. Reach full depth at the bottom of each rep. In a chest fly example, your upper arms should reach parallel to the floor before you lift them back up.
- Perform slow and controlled reps. Apply a 1020 tempo where the upward phase lasts for 1 second, the downward phase lasts for 2 seconds, with a 0-second pause in the transition.
- Practice mind-muscle contractions. Actively contract your pecs on the bench press and chest fly, rather than lifting with your arms.
- Retract your shoulder blades in bench exercises. Stick your chest out and plant your upper back against the bench for maximal pectoral activation.
You may also be interested in my other post for more tips on building a bigger chest with dumbbells.
4) Not Going On A Bulk
Bulking describes the process of overeating to get bigger and stronger. It serves as the foundation for any muscle and strength-building goal.
You could be following the highly optimized training program, but if you’re not on an effective bulking diet then your chest won’t grow.
Calories are needed to fuel post-workout repair and recovery. Protein serves as the raw building block for muscle growth.
Make sure you’re eating enough of both!
- Eat 5-15% more daily calories than is needed to sustain your current body weight.
- Ensure a minimum intake of 1g of protein per pound of body weight each day.
- You should ideally track your calorie and protein intake for the best results.
You can check out my guide to gaining your first 5kg of muscle for more tips on going on an effective bulk!
5) Not Lifting Heavy Enough
Another common beginner mistake that leads to sub-par hypertrophy (muscle growth) is lifting weights that are too light.
Lifting lighter loads can be great for a beginner to start resistance training. But if you’re serious about maximizing muscle growth, then you should move onto the heavy weights asap.
Your chest just won’t grow if you’re not using the correct amount of weight to challenge your muscles.
Therefore it’s always worth checking the weight load being used in your workout program if your chest isn’t growing.
- Use a weight that is heavy enough to fatigue you for sets of 5-15 reps, but light enough for you to maintain good lifting form. A good rule of thumb is to lift 50-90% of your 1RM for a given exercise.
You can check out my weight standards for a better idea of how much weight you should be lifting on popular chest exercises like the dumbbell bench press, chest fly, and chest dip.
6) Insufficient Progressive Overload
|Week||Weight (per dumbbell)||Reps Per Set|
Example of a progressive overload routine (increasing weight and reps) for a dumbbell bench press.
Not applying progressive overload is yet another mistake that can explain why your pecs aren’t getting bigger.
Overloading is when you increase exercise intensity over time to keep your muscles challenged as you get stronger. And this keeps them growing.
The most popular way is to simply lift heavier weights, increase reps, or both.
If you aren’t progressively overloading on your main chest movements (bench pressing and flyes), then your pecs are unlikely to grow any time soon!
- Aim to increase weight at least once every week. This shouldn’t be difficult as a beginner if you’re following a good nutrition plan.
- Add 5lbs to your compound exercises like the bench press or 2.5lbs for isolation exercises like the dumbbell fly.
- Make sure you can still complete all reps and sets with good form.
You may also be interested in my other post for other methods to overload a bench press.
7) Not Enough Chest Training Frequency
Extending from the previous section on training volume, how often you train your chest can also affect how much it grows.
For example, this 2016 study found that a low training frequency can result in a reduced growth rate.
Generally speaking, each muscle (including the chest) should be worked multiple times per week for the best gains.
With that being said, just remember to include an adequate number of rest days (see next section).
Although a high training frequency is recommended, working your chest every day will likely lead to overtraining, and this is not recommended for optimal growth.
- Beginners should aim to work the chest twice per week.
- Intermediates and above can work the chest 3 up to times per week.
- Ensure you rest the chest for at least 24 hours of rest between workouts.
You can check out my other post for more details on how many days to workout per week.
8) Following A Poor And Unrealistic Progression Plan
Natural muscle growth is inherently a slow process.
Even for a beginner who is still in the newbie gains period of accelerated gains, it can take up to 1 month or more to put on just 2lbs of lean mass (which is barely noticeable).
Additionally, the chest is one of the more difficult muscles to build.
My point is this:
Don’t fall for unrealistic promises from workout plans that promise a huge chest in 1 month.
Most of these programs work well for bodybuilders, but they’re way too intense for the average newbie (leading to overtraining and stunted chest growth).
Building a semi-respectable chest can take up to 6-12 months as a beginner.
- Follow a realistic progression plan that has you lifting heavy and overloading regularly, and stick to your bulking diet throughout.
- Keep track of the main signs of muscle gain to ensure you’re making progress.
9) Overtraining The Pectorals
Beginners often fall for the trap of believing that more time spent in the gym equals more growth.
This is completely untrue and it’s a one-way ticket to overtraining. And this can explain why your chest isn’t getting bigger despite a high training volume.
Remember- just like any other muscle, your chest needs rest in order to repair and recover after intense weight training. And it’s actually during rest periods that your body actively builds muscle.
- Structure your workout program such that your chest receives 10-15 weekly sets spread over 2-3 days with at least 24 hours of rest in between workouts. For example, you could do 4 sets of bench presses on Monday and Friday, and 4 sets of chest flyes on Wednesday.
The most common reasons why your chest isn’t growing almost always revolve around a poorly-designed workout and diet program.
Follow my training and dieting tips to ensure your pecs get bigger in the next few months!
You may also be interested in the downloadable Kalibre Blueprint PDF which details exactly how I gained 40lbs of lean muscle (it’s 100% free!). It details the exact exercises and nutrition (with printables) I used to go from skinny to ripped!