It’s no secret that guys who hang out in gyms are trying to build a big, strong chest. Having large, defined chest muscles they can flex makes men feel more masculine. You may not want bulging pecs like a male bodybuilder, but even if you’re a female, you can benefit from chest training and chest strengthening exercises.
Chest Training: Strength Training for a Beautiful Upper Body
As you know, weight training won’t increase the size of your breasts. Neither will those ads for supplements that supposedly help you grow bigger breasts – so don’t waste your money. Breasts are made of fatty and glandular tissue and the size of your breasts is mostly genetically determined, although hormonal fluctuations and changes in weight can change breast size to some degree.
Even though chest training won’t increase the actual size of your breasts, having firm, defined chest muscles can make the breasts you have look firmer – and that’s never a bad thing. Plus, strong chest muscles will help your tennis and golf swing and give you more functional strength to do the everyday activities you normally carry out.
So what ARE the best exercises for getting a more defined chest?
Chest Training: Chest Anatomy
The largest muscle in your chest and the one most chest exercises target is the fan-shaped pectoralis major, a muscle with two heads. The “pecs,” as they’re affectionately called, extend from the collarbone, or clavicle, and the tip of your upper arm bone, or humerus, and extend down across your chest where they connect to your sternum and ribs one through seven.
The pectoralis major is primarily involved in lateral, vertical, and rotational arm movements and with chest expansion when you breathe in and out. It also helps keep your arm firmly attached to your trunk. That’s pretty important, don’t you think?
A smaller muscle called the pectoralis minor lies underneath the pec major where it connects the third, fourth, and fifth rib with your scapula or collarbone. Its main job is to depress your shoulder girdle. Since it doesn’t attach to your upper arm, it isn’t directly involved in arm movements like the pec major is.
What EMG Studies Show About Chest Training
EMG studies measure the degree of muscle activation when you do a particular movement. The American Council on Exercise put nine different chest exercises to the test using the power of EMG. When they tabulated the results, the winner, by a hair, was the barbell bench press. This exercise elicited the greatest activation of the pectoralis major muscles. It was followed closely by the pec deck machine and bent-forward cable crossovers. Here’s a list of the chest exercises they tested in descending order from greatest to least pectoralis major activation:
. Barbell Bench Press
. Pec Deck Machine
. Bent-Forward Cable Crossovers
. Chest Press Machine
. Inclined Dumbbell Flys
. Suspended Push-Ups
. Stability Ball Push-Ups
. Standard Push-Ups
The push-ups were somewhat of a surprise, as you may feel like you’re working your chest muscles hard when you do push-ups, but these were unweighted push-ups. If you were to add a weight to your back, you’d increase chest activation more.
Chest Training: Strengthening Your Chest
While the barbell bench press offers the most pec activation, to develop strength and definition, do a variety of exercises that target your pec muscles. Although push-ups activated the pecs less than other chest exercises, don’t forget about the other benefits push-ups offer. A well-executed push-up works your shoulders, arms, upper back, and core. Plus, it’s a compound exercise that hits multiple muscle groups at the same time.
Even with barbell bench presses, the “king” of chest exercises, it’s best to vary the stimulus on your muscles by changing the grip or incline of the grip. For example, try flat barbell bench presses, incline presses, wide-grip, narrow-grips, and reverse grips to target the chest muscles in a variety of ways.
Make sure you’re using heavier weights that you can lift no more than 12 reps and do 2-3 sets of each exercise. The pectoralis major is one of the larger muscles and can handle more weight and volume. Another point to keep in mind – you’ll target the upper portion of your chest more using an incline position. Lowering the bench shifts the focus to the lower chest.
Chest Training: Another Reason to Train Your Chest
Even if you don’t want stronger, more defined pec muscles, there’s another reason to include chest exercises in your workout. If you work your upper back without working your chest, you risk developing strength imbalances that increase your risk for injury. Plus, strength imbalances in the upper body create postural imbalances as well. Most of us could benefit from a balanced strength routine with an emphasis on exercises that improve posture. How does your posture look when you look at yourself in the mirror from the side?
The Bottom Line
Are you including the most effective chest exercises in your workout routine? If not, why not? If you play any type of sport where you use your upper body, a strong chest will make you more competitive. How about all of the things you do around the house that use your chest muscles – pushing a lawn mower or lifting something heavy off the ground. Plus, you’ll like the way your upper body looks more when you have a strong chest.
Don’t forget the greatest discrepancy in strength between men and women is in upper body strength. You can help even the playing field a little more by strengthening the muscles in your chest. Make sure you’re giving your pecs the attention they deserve by doing a variety of chest exercises and varying your routine.
Make sure you’re training your chest at least once a week, preferably twice. Include bench presses, but also include a variety of other chest-targeted exercises so you’re working your pecs from different angles. By doing so, you’ll reap the benefits of having strong chest muscles.
ACE Fitness. “ACE-Sponsored Research: Top 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises”
Interactive Biology. “The Origin, Insertion, and Action of Pectoralis Major”
Bodybuilding.com. “The Ultimate No Fluff Women’s Training Guide: Part Four – Chest!”
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