A bodybuilder’s chest is their calling card. There may be more individually impressive muscles — they say physique shows are won from the back, for example — but when you see a bodybuilder walking out under the lights, their pecs command attention like no other muscle.
Four-time Mr. Olympia winner Jay Cutler knew, and knows, a thing or two about training chest. In fact, his approach to everyone’s favorite international gym holiday might be what your workouts have been missing.
This is one of Cutler’s own bread-and-butter chest workouts, posted by the man himself on YouTube. You’ll also find out how to modify it to suit your needs, plus learn a thing or two about optimal chest training.
Before You Get Started
Take note — following your favorite bodybuilder’s training to the letter isn’t guaranteed to turn you into them. Whether it’s Cutler or another athlete, remember that there’s a lot more going into the physique they present than the workouts they perform.
Further, most bodybuilders don’t train the same way they did when they were getting started on their own fitness journeys. Copying the workout of a pro can be a fun challenge for yourself, but remember to manage your expectations about what you’ll get out of it.
Jay Cutler’s Chest Workout for Bodybuilding
At 45 years of age (at the time Cutler published the workout in 2019), Cutler is long into his post-bodybuilding retirement. However, you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at his training routines.
While he does note that he no longer needs to push his workout intensity as hard as he would if he were competing for a Sandow, Cutler is all about heavy, safe training to build consistency — and a pair of big pecs to boot.
Cutler’s standard chest day looks a little bit different from what you might see elsewhere. With so many years of training under his belt, he’s not afraid to move away from “popular” movements and stick with exercises that are comfortable, reliable, and allow him to progress his chest long-term.
- Donkey Calf Raise: 3 x 12
- Horizontal Toe Press: 3 x 12
- Hammer Strength Chest Press: 2 x 15 as a warm-up, then 3 x 10-12
- Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 x 10-12 as a pyramid with ascending weight
- Nautilus Neutral-Grip Chest Press: 3 x 10-12
- Cable Flye: 3 x 12-15
Right off the bat, you’ll notice that Cutler likes to begin his chest workouts with some calf training. This serves a dual purpose: it functions as a general pre-chest warm-up to increase core temperature and acclimate him to the environment of the gym.
Moreover, putting calves ahead of chest (or any other body part) lets Cutler prioritize them while he’s fresh, instead of relegating calf work to the backburner or tacking it onto the end of an already-tiring leg day.
How to Modify the Jay Cutler Chest Workout
To put it plainly, Cutler’s chest workout as written might not work for you. Whether it contains equipment you don’t have access to, more volume than you’re used to, or you prefer to blast your pecs without so much pressing, don’t fret.
You can still train like Cutler without copying his chest day rep-for-rep. Small modifications to his approach can make the workout more palatable for your particular needs.
As a Beginner
To say the quiet part out loud, you shouldn’t train like Jay Cutler if you’re brand new to lifting weights. However, it is fantastic to have a role model or goal you aspire to, and want to follow in their footsteps.
You can tune down Cutler’s chest day and turn it into something workable for a beginner while still keeping the workout similar enough.
- Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 x 6-8
- Machine Chest Press: 3 x 8-10
- Cable or Dumbbell Flye: 2 x 12-15
Two presses and a flye movement align with Cutler’s preferred approach to building his pecs. However, cutting down on volume and sticking to lower reps should make things much more suitable for a newcomer.
If You Have Different Equipment
Luckily, you can make a few substitutions and run a very similar workout even if you can’t get your hands on a Nautilus machine.
- Standing Dumbbell Calf Raise: 5 x 12
- Machine Chest Press: 3 x 10-12
- Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 x 10-12
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 x 10-12 as a pyramid with ascending weight
- Incline Hex Press: 3 x 10-12
- Dumbbell Flye: 3x 12-15
This variation of Cutler’s chest day can be performed in just about any commercial gym, or even at home if you have a good selection of dumbbells to work with.
Barring access to any kind of plate or pin-loaded machine, you can sub out the machine chest press for dips or remove the movement entirely.
To Reduce the Volume
If you want to try his training on for size but can’t stomach so many hard and high-rep sets, a bit of trimming around the edges should set you right.
- Donkey Calf Raise: 2 x 12
- Horizontal Toe Press: 2 x 12
- Hammer Strength Chest Press: 1 x 15 as a warm-up, then 3 x 10-12
- Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 x 10-12 as a pyramid with ascending weight
- Cable Flye: 2 x 15
By removing one of the three presses and cutting out a set here and there, you can run Cutler’s chest day without beating yourself up too much, and then add volume back in as your tolerance develops.
Note, though, that cutting down your exercise volume isn’t an excuse to take it easy in the gym. If you’re doing less overall work, make sure your effort is high and you’re not sandbagging the weights you use.
Jay Cutler’s Chest Training Tips
Providing a step-by-step workout is one thing. In his training vlog, Cutler goes the extra mile to explain some of the guiding principles behind his approach to chest growth.
Note that these tips don’t constitute Cutler’s entire approach to bodybuilding, nor will they necessarily work for you. They should, at least, provide some illuminating guidance for you to utilize in your own workouts.
Ditch the Barbell
Cutler remarks that he’s long since abandoned the barbell when it comes to training his chest:
“There’s no free-weight barbell pressing [in the workout], just for the safety factor…” he notes. While there’s nothing intrinsically injurious about working with the barbell, some lifters do find it to be uncomfortable on their shoulders or elbows.
As such, Cutler prefers to substitute dumbbells or machines instead. Dumbbells allow you to move your arms independently instead of being stuck with a fixed implement. Pressing machines often have angled handles, which can be more comfortable to hold onto while you press.
Finish With Flyes
Your workout is only as good as your warm-up, but how you finish up your day is a close second. For Cutler, flye movements are the best way to cap off a chest workout.
He remarks that by ending his session with cable flyes, he can fully fatigue every fiber in his pecs due to the extreme range of motion and excessive stretching that comes with flyes.
Whether you prefer to utilize cables or dumbbells, try adding a flye or crossover movement to the end of your next chest workout and focus on stretching your pecs as much as possible as you lower the weights.
Consistency Over Intensity
When he was preparing for a big competition like the Mr. Olympia, Cutler wasn’t shy about going hard and heavy during his workouts.
Outside of extreme circumstances, he speaks on the merits of consistency over intensity in the gym. Continuing to lift well into his 40s, Cutler knows a thing or two about taking his workouts in stride.
Remember that there’s a time and place for maximum intensity. You don’t need to push yourself for a new bench press personal record every time you set foot in the gym. Accumulating a large amount of high-quality workouts, even if you have to adjust your weights or take it easy, will yield better results long term, Cutler says.
Who Is Jay Cutler?
Even if you don’t know his name, you’d probably recognize his physique if you follow the sport of bodybuilding — and for good reason. Born in 1973, Cutler rapidly ascended to the top of competitive bodybuilding in the late 1990s and mid-2000s.
Cutler is about as pure of a bodybuilding “rags to riches” story as they come. Despite meager early placings at prominent competitions, you can clearly chart his ascension from the middle of the pack at competitions like the Olympia right up to the Sandow itself, a trophy he successfully defended multiple times:
Jay Cutler at the Mr. Olympia Bodybuilding Competition
- 1999 Mr. Olympia — 14th
- 2000 Mr. Olympia — 8th
- 2001 Mr. Olympia — 2nd
- 2003 – 2005 Mr. Olympia — 2nd
- 2006, 2007 Mr. Olympia — 1st
- 2008 Mr. Olympia — 2nd
- 2009, 2010 Mr. Olympia — 1st
- 2011 Mr. Olympia — 2nd
- 2013 Mr. Olympia — 6th
Cutler’s rise in the sport was more than most competitors could have asked for. He struggled for years to dethrone eight-time Olympia winner (and arguable bodybuilding G.O.A.T.) Ronnie Coleman before finally finding success in 2006.
[Related: Phil Heath vs. Kai Greene + Nine Other Bodybuilding Rivalries That Changed Everything]
His most impressive achievement, however, is probably the fact that Cutler is the only male bodybuilder to successfully reclaim the Olympia title after losing it to another athlete. His historic posing routine at the 2009 Mr. Olympia cemented Cutler as one of the greats.
Chest Like Cutler
With four Olympia titles to his name, Cutler definitely knows a thing or two about what it takes to build up your chest. Give his workout (or a slight variation) a shot and see for yourself.
Featured Image: @jaycutler on Instagram