The Anatomy of Your Chest Muscles, Explained (and How to Train Them)

There’s a purpose gymnasium rats all around the world have a good time “Worldwide Chest Day” each Monday. For physique-minded, stringer-tank-clad gymnasium bros and “how a lot ya bench?” energy athletes alike, the pilgrimage from the gymnasium doorways to the bench press is as sacred a ritual as whipping up a pre-workout protein shake. 

Highly effective, well-developed chest muscle mass steal the present at bodybuilding and energy competitions alike. However constructing spectacular pecs takes greater than cussed effort — you want a degree of information about your chest that’s greater than pores and skin deep.

A bodybuilder's bare chest.
Credit score: True Contact Life-style / Shutterstock

Contemplate this information to chest anatomy the reply to your prayers. That is all the things you have to know in regards to the chest muscle mass themselves, the rules of correct pec coaching, and the actions you have to plug into your exercise routine earlier than Monday.

Your Chest Muscle groups

To coach your chest optimally, you want an understanding of your individual anatomy. That’s, the construction of your chest muscle mass and their distinctive features. Your muscular system is, primarily, a collection of levers and pulleys. Right here’s how your chest is strung collectively: 

Pectoralis Main

When most individuals consider their chests, they’re considering of the pectoralis main. This tissue encompasses the vast majority of your higher anterior torso and is the prime mover of mainly all chest-focused or upper-body “push” workouts.

  • The place It Is: Your pec main originates in two places — the clavicle and sternum — and inserts down onto your humerus (your higher arm bone).
  • What It Does: Adducts and flexes your higher arm.

You may consider your pec main because the antagonist to your higher again. The place your again attracts your arm out to the facet or pulls it in towards your torso, your pecs carry out the other perform. To examine this, think about a push-up and a bent-over row facet by facet.

A muscular chest showing the pecs.
Credit score: MDV Edwards / Shutterstock

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Notice that your pecs have two distinct compartments; the clavicular and sternocostal heads. Each are a part of the pec main tissue, however canvass completely different parts of your higher torso. Whenever you hear about “higher chest” coaching, consider the clavicular head. There isn’t a distinct “decrease chest” space in your pecs, anatomically no less than, however the sternocostal fibers do run extra vertically and insert nearer to your stomach. 

Pectoralis Minor

Your pectoralis minor is a small, triangular muscle that sits immediately beneath the clavicular fibers of your pec main. Whereas the pec minor upholds most of the similar features as its bigger, extra superficial counterpart, its anatomical construction is a bit completely different.

  • The place It Is: Originates in your higher rib cage and inserts throughout the sting of your shoulder blade.
  • What It Does: Pulls your scapula ahead and assists with basic shoulder and higher arm stability.

As an assistive muscle, your pec minor works onerous to stabilize your shoulder when you carry out all method of urgent actions. Workout routines that require a great deal of shoulder flexion or scapular rotation, such because the incline bench press or front raise, will problem your pec minor as properly.

Different Vital Muscle groups

Whereas your pecs are solely composed of two distinct tissues, there are a selection of different muscle mass that help them in motion. These muscle mass are generally engaged throughout most chest exercises you’d carry out, whether or not as stabilizers or for producing assistive power.

Serratus Anterior

Your serratus anterior is a fan-shaped muscle that connects out of your shoulder blade to your ribs like an online. Your serratus works as an auxiliary muscle throughout sure chest actions, significantly once you enable your shoulders to protract freely; assume push-ups or flyes.

Anterior Deltoid

The entrance third of your shoulder muscle connects out of your clavicle to your humerus. Your anterior deltoid helps to boost your arm out in entrance of your torso. Any time you carry out a urgent train on your chest, your anterior deltoid will bear a portion of the load.

Finest Chest Workout routines

In relation to coaching a muscle, your train choices depend upon the anatomical perform of the tissue itself. You may’t make a muscle carry out an motion it isn’t designed to carry out within the first place.

As such, nearly all good chest-training workouts fall into considered one of two classes; presses and flyes. These two motion patterns cowl nearly all the things your pecs are in a position to do. Listed here are some stable pec-building picks:

General — Barbell Bench Press

Nobody train can do all of it, however the usual barbell bench press comes mighty shut. There’s quite a lot of the explanation why the bench press is the de facto pec-building motion. 

[Related: 5 Bench Press Programs to Build a Bigger, Stronger Chest]

Bench press stations are simple to search out, you’ll be able to load up with significantly heavy weights and, most significantly, the barbell bench press takes your pecs by a full vary of movement. 

How you can Do It

  1. Lie down in your again on a bench press station together with your eyes immediately beneath the barbell. Plant your toes firmly on the ground.
  2. Seize the bar with a medium grip (assume between 1 and 1.5 occasions shoulder width). Inhale, then unrack the bar by pulling it horizontally out of the rack till it settles immediately above your shoulders.
  3. Recycle your breath and brace your torso. Unlock your elbows and decrease the bar down slowly till it touches your torso between your nipple line and your sternum.
  4. When you make contact (or descend as little as you’re comfortably in a position), reverse the movement. Squeeze your chest and press the bar up and again to the beginning place.

Coach’s Tip: To stabilize your shoulders and generate extra power, pinch your scapulae collectively earlier than you unrack the bar. Consider attempting to carry a coin between your shoulder blades, and keep that place your entire time. 

Units and Reps: Attempt 3 to five units of 5 to eight repetitions with a decently-challenging weight. 

For Higher Chest — Shut-Grip Incline Bench Press

To construct a pec shelf that may make Arnold Schwarzenegger blush, you have to carry out workouts that leverage the clavicular head of your pec main and your pec minor concurrently. 

In brief, you want extra shoulder flexion. Engaged on an inclined floor helps you get there. Some useful lengthy derm information has proven that the incline bench press might elicit extra higher chest progress than flat bench variations. (1) Utilizing a detailed grip ought to encourage extra higher chest as properly, however this isn’t a tough and quick rule.

How you can Do It

  1. Sit down on a low incline bench, adjusted such that the bar is barely behind your head. Seize the bar with a shoulder-width grip.
  2. Unrack the bar (or name on the help of a spotter in case you’re lifting heavy) and settle it above your shoulders.
  3. Decrease the burden down so far as you comfortably can, taking care to tuck your elbows as you descend.
  4. Reverse the movement and press the bar again up till your elbows are straight.

Coach’s Tip: It may be a bit awkward to unrack the bar for the incline bench press. Enlist a spotter in case you’re lifting heavy weights.

Units and Reps: Go for 3 to 4 units of 6 to eight repetitions.

For Decrease Chest — Excessive-to-Low Cable Flye

Your chest might not have a definite decrease space from an anatomical perspective, however that doesn’t imply you’re out of luck if you wish to emphasize the decrease portion of your pecs. Happily, trendy scientific analysis is beginning to come round to the concept that you can develop sure areas of a muscle by intelligent train choice. (2)

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To set your decrease chest up for some actual progress, attempt the high-to-low cable flye. This motion locations your decrease pec fibers in a robust, leveraged place to contract. They need to bear a lot of the stress — and, thus, progress — right here. 

How you can Do It

  1. Find a twin cable pulley station and set the attachments at round eye degree. Face away from the machine, seize every deal with within the corresponding hand, and step away from the station to tug the cables taut.
  2. Your physique and arms ought to resemble a “T” within the beginning place. Lean ahead barely and hold your elbows principally straight.
  3. Draw your arms down and inward, sustaining a straight arm the entire manner till your palms come collectively at round waist peak.

Coach’s Tip: Cables present constant mechanical stress to your pecs. Capitalize on that and focus onerous on squeezing your chest. Some literature reveals that “attentional focus” might create extra muscle progress. (3)

Units and Reps: Ante up on quantity right here; carry out 2 to three units of 12 to fifteen repetitions with a reasonable weight. 

For Rookies — Dumbbell Bench Press

All roads result in Rome for first-time chest trainers (Rome being features, that’s). Any train you carry out will likely be efficient for a time primarily based solely on the truth that you’re new to bodily coaching within the first place.

So, your finest guess is to select a motion just like the dumbbell bench press that gives different long-term advantages. Dumbbells require you to actively stabilize the weights as you progress them by house, slightly than counting on the fastened path of an train machine. This may quickly have an effect on your potential to focus in your chest, however growing that stability early on is essential for laying a robust basis on your lifting profession. 

How you can Do It

  1. Seize a pair of dumbbells and sit down on the sting of a weight bench with the weights resting in your knees, toes on the ground.
  2. Brace your core and sit backward. Kick calmly off the bottom to propel the weights as you lie down on the bench, and straighten your arms to stabilize the weights above you.
  3. From right here, inhale and decrease the weights down towards your chest. Preserve your elbows immediately below your wrists.
  4. As soon as your higher arm is no less than parallel to the ground, reverse the movement, urgent each up and inward barely. 

Coach’s Tip: Decrease the weights down and out barely, then press up and inward such as you’re tracing a triangle together with your palms.

Units and Reps: 3 to 4 units of 8 to 10 reps ought to do the trick right here. 

Chest Coaching Ideas

In the event you strode into the gymnasium and bee-lined towards the bench press, you’d be on observe for a half first rate chest workout. Nevertheless, why cease at half first rate? Take your chest coaching — and the features that comply with — up a notch by adopting the following pointers and rules:

Safe Your Shoulders

Your pec main might not connect on to your shoulder joint, however your arm actually does (to not point out your pec minor, which connects on to the scapula). Performing presses with an unsecure shoulder place might hamper your efficiency or, in some instances, open you as much as damage. 

Skilled energy athletes like powerlifters depend on a “closed,” or retracted, shoulder once they try a heavy bench press 1-rep max. Drawing your shoulders backward and squeezing your higher again muscle mass provides you a steady floor to generate power from and will defend your shoulder joints from hurt as properly (be aware that there isn’t substantive analysis on shoulder place and charges of damage at that joint particularly). 

A muscular person doing barbell bench presses in the gym.
Credit score: YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock

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Earlier than you unrack your barbell or sit again to carry out some dumbbell presses, actively pinch your shoulders again and lock your scapulae in place. Your shoulder wants to maneuver freely throughout flye workouts and push-ups, so don’t fear about it there. 

Use Completely different Grips

In contrast to pulling workouts, your grip ought to by no means be the limiting issue throughout a chest exercise. However that doesn’t imply you must pay no thoughts in any respect to the way you maintain no matter you’re working with. 

When you’re warming up on your first train, take time to experiment with completely different grip types. The bulldog grip is a good possibility for sustaining joint alignment; chances are you’ll even attempt a reverse-grip bench press to emphasise your higher chest and put a brand new spin on the usual bench press.

Belief Your Spotter

Sure workouts, just like the deadlift, don’t have any sensible use for a spotter normally. In spite of everything, if the burden is simply too heavy so that you can elevate, it merely received’t budge off the ground. This isn’t the case throughout heavy chest coaching, although: if you end up on the brink of exhaustion, the burden you’re lifting is liable to come back crashing down on you. 

[Read More: The Best Online Workout Programs For Coaching, Cardio, Value, And More]

In the event you’re going heavy on a chest exercise, it’s extraordinarily clever to recruit the help of an excellent spotter. Not solely will they supply a safeguard towards accidents, spotters can even aid you make higher features by offering some mild help throughout forced reps or supplying you with the encouragement you have to make it by a three-round drop set

Press With Weights, Flye With Machines

Some motion patterns are higher suited to specific items of kit than others. Often, this limitation is the results of having to work round (or, extra precisely, below) the resistance supplied by gravity.

Gravity solely applies downward power. Whenever you’re performing a barbell bench press, this isn’t a lot of a problem, because you’re shifting the burden nearly completely vertically. Nevertheless, there’s a great deal of horizontal motion throughout an train just like the dumbbell flye.

This alters the resistance curve of the train. You’ll discover that dumbbell flyes are very onerous on the backside, and really simple on the high, as a result of the resistance (the dumbbell) is immediately above your pecs as they contract. Most flye actions are higher fitted to cables or machines, which apply constant stress from begin to end. This isn’t a tough rule, in fact, however it will possibly aid you squeeze a bit extra juice out of your exercise. 

A bodybuilder doing cable flyes.
Credit score: andreonegin / Shutterstock

[Read More: Build a Titanic Torso with These Bodybuilding Chest & Back Workouts]

For instance, a stable bodybuilding chest workout that makes use of a number of sorts of gear may seem like this:

  • Barbell Bench Press: 3 x 6
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 x 8
  • Cable or Machine Flye: 2 x 12
  • Diamond Push-Up: 1 x AMRAP

Your Takeaways

In some ways, your chest muscle mass are the primary impression anybody will get of your physique. They occupy useful actual property on the entrance of your torso and, for athletes, are integral to energy efficiency. 

  • Your pecs are composed of two particular person muscle mass, the pectoralis main and pectoralis minor
  • The pec main has two distinct heads which may affect exercise selection; the clavicular head (and your pec minor) make up the “higher chest.” There isn’t a decrease chest, anatomically talking.
  • Your chest primarily performs two distinct motion patterns; presses, which mix arm flexion and adduction, and flyes, which require shoulder adduction completely.
  • Most workouts that contain pushing a weight outward away out of your physique will work your chest to a point.
  • A superb chest exercise consists of each urgent and flye workouts, often in that order. 

Extra Coaching Content material


  1. Chaves, S. F. N., Rocha-JÚnior, V. A., EncarnaÇÃo, I. G. A., Martins-Costa, H. C., Freitas, E. D. S., Coelho, D. B., Franco, F. S. C., Loenneke, J. P., Bottaro, M., & Ferreira-JÚnior, J. B. (2020). Results of Horizontal and Incline Bench Press on Neuromuscular Variations in Untrained Younger Males. Worldwide journal of train science, 13(6), 859–872.
  2. Zabaleta-Korta, A., Fernández-Peña, E., Torres-Unda, J., Garbisu-Hualde, A., & Santos-Concejero, J. (2021). The position of train choice in regional Muscle Hypertrophy: A randomized managed trial. Journal of sports activities sciences, 39(20), 2298–2304. 
  3. Schoenfeld, B. J., Vigotsky, A., Contreras, B., Golden, S., Alto, A., Larson, R., Winkelman, N., & Paoli, A. (2018). Differential results of attentional focus methods throughout long-term resistance coaching. European journal of sport science, 18(5), 705–712. 

Function Picture: nazarovsergey / Shutterstock

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