Friday, April 4, 2008

The Chest Muscle and Exercises

Ask Glen!

Q. Glen, Can you Explain The Chest Muscles and Some Basic Exercises?

A.One of the largest muscle groups in the upper body, the chest muscles are made up of the pectoralis major and, underneath that, the pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major which is the larger muscle actually has two parts - an upper portion (called the clavicular head) and the lower portion (called the sternal head).

Now, just because there are two different areas of the chest, that doesn't mean you can separate them. Any chest exercise you do will work the entire area but, some exercises will stimulate the chest in different ways. For example, a chest press involves the entire pectoralis major with a focus on the lower portion of the chest. By moving to an incline position, you still work the entire pectoralis major, but now the focus shifts to the upper portion of the chest. That's one reason there are so many variations for each exercise - by changing the movement, the angle and/or the type of resistance, you'll recruit different muscle fibers and challenge your body in new ways.

The chest muscles are responsible for moving the arms across the body and up and down, as well as other movements like rotation and flexion. Most chest exercises will involve pushing the arms away from the body or the body away from the arms. Below are three of the most common chest exercises along with detailed step-by-step instructions and variations on each move.

Pushups are probably one of the most common exercises targeting the chest. The traditional pushup is a compound movement. The prime mover is the pectoralis major (the lower portion) and the other muscles that help in this exercise include the lower chest, the shoulders and the triceps. Pushups require upper body strength but, even more important, enough ab strength to keep from straining the lower back.

Step by Step: Pushups on the Knees

  1. Get down onto all fours and place the hands a little wider than the shoulders.
  2. Walk the knees back far enough that your body is in a straight line from the head all the way down to the back of the knees.
  3. Keeping this position, bend the elbows and lower the torso down towards the floor.
  4. Lower as far as you can or until the elbows are at about 90-degree angles.
  5. Push back up to the starting position without locking the elbow joints.

Do's and Don'ts

  • Do: Contract the abs to keep the back straight
  • Do: Lower the hips to keep the body straight
  • Do: Keep the neck straight
  • Do: Keep the upper body directly over the arms
  • Don't: Push the chin forward as you lower down
  • Don't: Arch the back
  • Don't: Sag through the shoulders or chest


  • Wall pushups
  • Incline pushups on the knees
  • Pushups on the knees
  • Pushups on the toes
  • Decline pushups on the ball

More Chest Exercises

Chest Press The chest press is very similar to a pushup except that you're pushing the arms away from the chest instead of pushing the body away from the arms. Like the pushup, the chest press is a compound exercise involving the joints of the arms and shoulders. The prime mover is the lower chest and the helper muscles are the upper chest, the shoulders and the triceps. The chest includes larger muscles, which means you can usually use heavier weights. But, you are limited by the strength of the arms as well so, if you're a beginner, you may need to start with lighter weights to get your form down and to allow your arms to get stronger.

Step by Step: Chest Press

  1. Lie down on the floor with the knees bent.
  2. Hold light-medium weights in both hands and begin the movement with the arms straight up towards the ceiling, elbows soft (not locked) and directly over the chest.
  3. Your knuckles should point to the ceiling and your palms should face away from you.
  4. Bend the elbows and lower the arms down until the backs of your arms just graze the floor.
  5. At this point, your elbows should be bent at about 90-degrees and your arms should look like a goal post with the hands in a direct line from the elbows.
  6. Feel your chest contract as you push the arms straight again. As your hands come back up, you'll bring the weights close together, but they won't touch.

Doing this move on a step or bench will allow you to get a fuller range of motion, but you never want to drop the arms lower than the shoulders because you want to keep the work in the chest area.

Do's and Don'ts

  • Do: Keep the abs contracted so that you don't arch the lower back.
  • Do: Keep the arms straight up over the chest.
  • Do: Keep the forearms perpendicular to the floor at the bottom of the movement.
  • Don't: Lock the elbow joints.
  • Don't: Grip the weights too hard as that can add stress to the hands and forearms.


  • Chest press on the ball
  • Barbell chest press
  • Incline chest press
  • Alternating chest press

More Chest Exercises

Chest Flies the chest fly is different from the previous exercises because it's an isolation movement, involving the shoulder joint. The prime mover is the lower chest and the helper muscles include the lower chest, the shoulders and the biceps. You will typically use a lighter weight here than you would with the chest press. The reason is that your arms are straighter, which adds a longer lever to the move and will require more control as you lower the weights.

Step by Step: Chest Flies

  1. Lie down on the floor with the knees bent.
  2. Hold light-medium weights in both hands and begin the movement with the arms straight up towards the ceiling, elbows soft (not locked) and directly over the chest.
  3. Your hands should be facing each other, the elbows slightly bent and pointing out to either side, almost as though you're hugging a tree.
  4. Keeping that same angle in your elbows, lower the arms down to about shoulder level or until you feel the backs of your arms just graze the floor.
  5. At the bottom of the movement, your arms should be open with a slight bend in the elbow, palms facing the ceiling.
  6. Squeeze the chest to bring the arms back up, stopping just before the weights touch. Make sure you keep the elbows stable throughout the movement.

Do's and Don'ts

  • Do: Keep the abs contracted so that you don't arch the lower back.
  • Do: Keep the movement slow to avoid using momentum.
  • Don't: Bend the elbows. You should keep a slight bend throughout the movement, but the elbows don't bend in this exercise.
  • Don't: Lower the arms too far below the shoulders. You want to keep the focus on the chest. When you drop the arms too low, you involve the shoulders and risk injury because your shoulders are smaller muscles and may not be able to handle the same weight that your chest can.


  • Chest fly on the ball
  • Incline chest fly
  • Chest fly with a band
  • One-armed fly

More Chest Exercises

Choosing Chest Exercises When you're setting up your program and you start choosing exercises, you may wonder how many to choose and which ones will work best. These basic guidelines will help you figure out how to choose the best chest exercises for your goals:

  • If you're a beginner, choose one chest exercise you think you can handle. Pushups are more difficult so you start with an easier exercise such as a chest press machine (if you're at the gym) or a chest press with dumbbells.
  • If you're more advanced, you might choose one compound exercise (e.g., a pushup) and an isolation exercise (e.g., chest fly).
  • If you're very advanced or you're working the chest separately from other muscles, choose three or more different moves (e.g., pushups, chest press and chest flies)
  • As you get stronger, you can add more challenging variations such as one-armed moves, alternating the arms or trying a different type of resistance.

Any personal health questions or problems mental or physical or before starting any diet or exercise program. Please consult your physician !

My mission is to provide you with "Trusted Advice for a Healthier Life."

Yours in good health

Any questions?

Ask Glen!

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Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States
Is the Founder of Fitness Builders 4 Life,the WorkOut GEM,G350,G180, G90, Eat 4 Life, Clean, Lean & Mean & Ask Glen. The mission of the Fitness Builders is to provide the community with health education and to empower people to change unhealthy lifestyles thereby increasing life expectancy. By educating the community on healthier lifestyle practices it is the intent of Fitness Builders to reduce the ravages of obesity, heart disease, cancer and other lifestyle or self inflicted diseases. Glen is also a AMA Certified Nutrition Specialist and a ACE, ACSM, NASM Certified Personal Trainer has 30+ years in Sports, Exercise Science and Nutritional Food Management, Learning and Mentoring Men and Women on a more Mental & Physical Healthy Life Style consisting of a low fat, low salt, Low carbohydrate, high protein, organic nutrition which also includes moderate exercise and mental awareness. Stay Informed, Live long and be Mentally and Physically Healthy! Any questions? Ask Glen!

Any Questions? Ask Glen!