It’s usually guys that are obsessed with building a big chest, but women need chest exercises too. Exercises that strengthen the pectoral muscles, the main muscles that make up the chest, must be strong for good posture. Plus, you need strong pectoral muscles for functional reasons.
Some women have the idea that strengthening and hypertrophying their pectoral muscles will make their bustline look smaller. It’s a myth that working your pecs decreases the size of your breasts. Breasts are made of glandular tissue and fat. If you experience a drop-in breast size, it’s because you lost weight, and body fat, from diet and training, not from doing exercises like chest presses. Any time you lose weight, you shed some fatty tissue from your breasts. It’s not possible to selectively lose fat from a particular part of your body. Where you lose fat varies with genetics. Some women lose more breast tissue when they lose weight than others.
Breast size is primarily determined by genetic factors, hormones, and body weight. If you take hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills, you may gain some breast tissue due to the hormones, particularly estrogen. When you lose estrogen after menopause, you may notice a slight reduction in breast size as you no longer have estrogen stimulating your breast tissue. Pectoral exercises do nothing to change the amount of glandular or fatty tissue you have in your breasts. It depends on your body fat percentage, where you store fat, and whether you’re using hormonal therapy.
What Can Chest Exercises Do for Your Breasts?
Why should you do them? Exercises, like chest presses, that work the pectoral muscles may give the illusion of a larger bustline. If you develop the large pectoral muscles underneath the fat and glandular tissue, it pushes the chest out slightly and makes the bustline look more prominent. So, pectoral exercises can improve the appearance of your bustline.
Can exercises that work your chest boost saggy breasts? You might notice, as you age, that your breasts don’t look as perky as they once did. Why does this happen? Your breasts are suspended from your chest by ligaments called Cooper’s ligaments. These thick bands of connective tissue stretch and weaken over time. This is often more problematic in women who have more breast tissue. When the ligaments stretch, your breasts fall lower on your chest. Training your pecs won’t directly affect Cooper’s ligaments, nor does it shorten them or make them stronger. Therefore, working your chest muscles won’t prevent or improve sagging. However, developed pectoral muscles give the illusion of firmer breasts.
What Are the Best Exercises?
To strengthen and improve the appearance of your chest, incline bench presses, with a 45-degree incline, are a must. This exercise mainly targets the muscles in the upper chest. You can use dumbbells or barbells for this exercise, but barbells are your best bet. According to EMG data from the American Council on Exercise, barbell bench presses activate the pectoral muscles more than presses using dumbbells. In fact, barbell bench presses were the most effective for working the pecs of the 9 exercises they tested. Be sure not to arch your back or let your elbows fall to the side when you press up.
Push-ups are an excellent body weight exercises that work the pectoral muscles. You can make a standard push-up chest focused and more challenging by placing your arms wider and slowing the tempo. Another way to make it harder and more chest focused is to elevate your feet a few inches off the ground when you do this exercise. According to the American Council on Exercise study, push-ups with feet elevated activate the pectoral muscles more than standard push-ups. Stability ball push-ups do too. So, don’t forget to add these variations to your routine.
Chest flies are another effective chest exercise. The best way to do them is to lie on a flat bench with relatively light dumbbells. You can do them lying on the floor, but you won’t have the same range-of-motion. You can also do them standing but it’s easier to cheat and use momentum when you’re standing. This isn’t an exercise designed for heavy weights. When you do flies, slow the pace and focus in on your chest muscles as you do each repetition. Another benefit of chest flies is they help you master scapular retraction, the ability to bring your shoulders together. This helps with posture. Good posture creates the illusion of being slimmer and have a larger bust size than you actually do. If you only do bench press, push-ups, and chest flies, you’ll give your pecs a good workout.
Keep Your Workouts Balanced
Just as not working the pecs isn’t a smart idea, overworking them isn’t either. When you train your pectorals, work the opposing muscles in your back too with an emphasis on the trapezius muscles. Some of the best exercises for targeting your traps are bent-over barbell rows, shoulder shrugs, and lateral raises. When you do shoulder shrugs, contract your shoulders at the top and hold for a few seconds. Trapezius training is important because these muscles stabilize the neck and shoulder girdle. So, keep your training balanced to avoid muscles imbalances that can lead to injury.
The Bottom Line
Chest exercises won’t increase your breast size but developed pectorals enhance the appearance what you have. Working your chest is also essential for posture and for better functionality, especially lifting heavy objects. So, don’t ignore your pecs. Train them hard but balance it out by working the trapezius muscles in your upper back too.
American Council on Exercise. “ACE-Sponsored Research: Top 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises”
Interactive Biology. “The Origin, Insertion, and Action of Pectoralis Major”
National Breast Cancer Foundation. “Breast Anatomy”