Know Thy Pecs
The key to training each of your muscles is to understand their function and how they work. Your chest is no different. Here, we’ll go over your pectoral muscles, how to train them, and we’ll even dispel a few myths along the way.
The pectorals are your chest muscles. They begin at your sternum and connect to a tendon that attaches to the humeris bone in your upper arm. Each time your chest muscles contract, they essentially pull your upper arm bone forward and in front of you.
To get a feel for the full range of motion of your chest muscles, straighten your arms out to each side of you. Move your arms forward in front of you until your forearms cross. This represents the full and complete range of motion for your chest muscles.
We’ll just skip the rest of the anatomy lesson and get to what you really need to know. For your training, your pecs are essentially trained as a whole using exercises like the bench press, or you can use exercises that focus on your upper chest such as the incline bench press.
Aside from the upper chest exercises, there isn’t really as much specialization for the chest as one might think. Let’s take a look at the different chest specialization areas you might have heard of.
- General Pecs: You will train your chest muscle group as a whole using the flat level bench. This includes the flat bench press, flat bench flyes, dumbbell bench press, etc. Dips will also train your pecs with somewhat less emphasis on the upper chest.
- Upper Chest: You train the upper portion of your chest using an incline bench. Exercises such as the incline bench press, incline flyes, and incline dumbbell bench press will all emphasize the upper chest.
- Lower Chest: The lower chest muscle is a myth. It’s simply not there. The decline bench press will work your chest from a different angle, yes. But there is no such thing as a lower chest muscle that is distinct or separate from other chest muscles.
- Inner/ Outer Chest Muscles: Again, there’s no such thing as focusing on your inner or outer chest muscles. Many people believe that flat bench flyes will work your outer chest while the peck deck flyes work your inner chest. This is more of an illusion that comes from the fact that each exercise places greater stress on your chest at different points in the range of motion.
The whole idea of working the inner/outer chest is flawed because it assumes that you can flex one end of a strand of muscle and not the other end. When you muscles contract, the whole entire muscle contracts, not just one end or the other. You cannot contract the bottom of your bicep without the entire bicep muscle getting shorter. It’s just not possible.
There are generally two main types of movements that work your chest muscles:
Pressing Movements: These include the bench press, incline bench press, and all of their variations and different angles. Dips are also included in the category. Pressing movements tend to directly involve the pecs, triceps, and deltoids in the movement. Secondary stabilizer muscles include your lats, posterior delts, and other back muscles.
Leverage Movements: This means chest flyes. Flyes can be done using dumbbells on a flat bench, using a peck deck machine, or using the crossover cables. Flyes are an isolation exercise. Do your pressing movements first in your workout, and add in flyes only when you’ve progressed to the point where you’re ready for more.
A training program that uses a flat bench pressing movement, an incline movement, and some dips will fulfill your chest training needs for quite a while. Stick to these basic movements before you get too carried away doing cable crossovers or other flye movements.
And of course, I know I probably don’t need to keep saying this to you, but don’t get too carried away with working only your chest and your arms. If you want to be a bodybuilder, train your whole body. Don’t be a boobie-builder.
Focusing only on your chest and arms is bad for your body’s balance and posture. Paying attention to building a strong back will balance you out and even give you greater stabilizing muscles that will increase your bench press and strengthen your pecs even more.