A lot of you may be wondering “what’s the best day to train your pecs?” Well, Monday’s actually known as ‘international chest day’ by gym goers simply because men like to start the week off with their favorite body part. Why is the chest so popular? Well developed pec muscles give the body an impressive appearance whether you’re in a tight t-shirt or not.
So, let’s take a look in more detail and give you some workout tips to help you progress your pecs.
Chest muscle and functions
There are three main areas that are important when it comes to building a powerful looking torso from the front.
1. Pectoralis major. The pec major covers the front part of the rib cage and is what we most commonly think using when it comes to chest training.
The muscle is divided into three parts: upper, middle and lower. The functions of each part are all similar and the differences are small.
Entire muscle adducts the shoulder and aids in horizontal adduction. In simple terms, the muscles help move your arms in front of you and down to your sides. They also help rotate the shoulder inwardly.
The upper pecs (clavicular division): shoulder horizontal adduction when you move your arms in front, but especially at shoulder level; assists in the end phase of shoulder flexion, such as the part of when you lift dumbbells in front of you.
Middle pecs (sternal division): assists in shoulder extension, such as when you pull something from top to down.
The lower pecs (costal division) assists in shoulder flexion start phase, such as when you lift dumbbells in front of you in start phase.
2. Pectoralis minor. The pec minor is located right underneath the pectoralis major. It’s involved in many scapular movements such as downward rotation as well as keeping the scapular stable. People usually favor the pec major which means the pec minor doesn’t receive much attention when it comes to training.
3. Serratus anterior. This muscle covers the side of the rib cage. Its function is to upwardly rotate the shoulder such as when you move your arms over head alongside shoulder abduction (moving the arm away from the shoulder to the side). Having a strong serratus anterior helps to highlight both your abs and your chest muscles.
How to Train the Pecs
Fortunately, you don’t need to specifically train the serratus anterior as other exercises will also use it. This muscle is loaded performing exercises like the push-up and lat pull-down. Your training should focus on the pectoralis major muscle. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to train each of three parts of the muscle separately.
You can only change the emphasis of the exercise by changing the angle of the body. For example, when pec exercises are performed lying down on a bench a more horizontally (flat) body hits the middle pecs. Yet, with the bench declined the emphasis switches to the lower pecs.
Unfortunately, training the upper pecs is the most difficult as in different positions it’s loaded quite similar. Theoretically the upper part a little more works harder when the exercise is performed in an incline position and your hand spacing isn’t too wide.
Performing exercises in a standing position is a similar story. When the movement is performed higher up, the upper par is worked harder. At chest height and below, the middle and lower parts are hit harder.
Training sometimes needs to be separated to focus on the inner and outer parts of the pecs. This, however, is better focused on by more advanced gym goers.
The outer area is loaded heavier in the initial phase of chest movements while the inner receives maximal tension at the end of the movement. For example, during the first half of dumbbells flyes your outer pecs are worked harder, Though, the inner pecs are worked harder in the second half. By emphasizing one of the phases you can change the muscle area being stimulated.
Most people tend to have a well-developed middle and lower pecs, but less developed upper pecs. This makes the pecs visually droop.
If you’re interested in proportional chest muscles, then don’t forget to train the upper part and don’t worry about the lower. As we already know, each part will be difficult to isolate, especially the upper, but the upper makes the most visual difference. So, instead of just doing a horizontal bench press, try to include the incline bench press, too. This means that the load on the pectoralis major will be more symmetric.
For those who are more concerned with strength opposed to appearance it would be better to place a greater emphasis on the middle and lower pecs.
According to experts, women are slightly different. Firstly, you can’t enlarge your breasts by working out as they’re not made of muscles. Though, there are muscles underneath the breasts. Training the chest muscles, especially the middle and lower part, can help “lift up” the breasts. This is because the middle and lower part of the pectoralis major is located beneath the breast. Push -ups, crossovers and performing exercises with a declined bench will all help.
Building your workout routine
For a beginner I recommend performing 1-2 exercises, such as the dumbbell or barbell bench press or barbell for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
Barbell/dumbbell bench press: 2 – 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
Dumbbell fly 2 – 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
For more advanced athletes I recommend choosing 2-4 exercises, 2-4 sets and completing 6-12 repetitions, but you can also set of 4-25 repetitions.
Barbell incline bench press and
Dumbbell bench press OR
Dumbbell fly 3 – 4 sets of 6-12 reps.
Barbell incline bench press 3 – 4 sets of 6-12 reps.
Dips 3 sets of 6-12 reps.
Incline dumbbell fly 3 sets of 8-15 reps.
Your results will depend on your experience, gender, age, workout routine, etc. Chest muscle training can be divided into two groups: pressing (pushing) and extension-flexion exercises at different angles.
Greater emphasis should be placed on the pressing exercises, such as a dumbbell or barbell bench press. These compound exercises are far better when it comes to increasing muscle mass and achieving faster results.
When it comes to training, you can either train your full body or to split the days by muscle groups (split training). It’s not recommended to train the chest muscles on the same day (or one by one if you choose full body training) you train shoulders or triceps as they are all used in the same movements. Therefore, making progress in all of them at the same time will be difficult. Your triceps will be extremely fatigued after a good pec workout.
The normal recommendation is to train the chest muscles with the biceps or even the back.
A word on injuries
For those who train without drugs, the most common cause for injury is completing the exercise with incorrect form or using a weight that’s too heavy. If you do receive a shoulder injury then it’s heavily advised that you consult a doctor before exercising again. Those who already have had an injury or who wants to reduce the risk of getting one you can perform the exercises without completing the full range of motion. The shoulder joint is mainly overloaded in the initial phase of a movement when the elbows are below shoulder level.
In order to reduce injury risk, do not place your elbows that low. Even in recent years, many bodybuilders perform many exercises without the full range of motion in order to keep tension within muscle during the entire movement. If you’re a powerlifter though, it’s important to complete the entire range of motion as this is what you’ll have to do in competition.
In any case, if you’re looking to try something new then give it a go – it will be a very different experience!
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