Building muscle can be a time consuming process. It never seems to end, because you can always keep improving, right? The primary goal of lots of men is to develop their upper body. Here are a few exercises and tips to enhance your pectoral muscles (or pecs), the mighty muscles at the top of the rib cage that connect the chest to the shoulders and arms.
The bench press is a classic movement for building the chest. It’s typically done with a barbell and primarily works your pectoral muscles and the front portion of your shoulders. To start, lie on a bench with a bar above you. Your hands should be aligned on the bar, slightly wider than the shoulders. Make sure you press your lower back into the bench to engage your core.
Once you’ve lifted the bar, make sure it’s above your chest, not your head. Bend your elbows to lower the bar towards your chest, and make sure to keep your wrists straight. Your elbows should be at a 45 degree angle from your shoulder to help activate and optimize the correct muscles. As you lift the weight up, imagine that you are pushing it away from you, not lifting it.
A push up is essentially the same movement as a bench press, but lifts the body’s weight instead of a bar. This excellent exercise engages the majority of the muscles in your body when done correctly, but can also be modified to be performed from the knees in order to improve strength in this area. In the plank position, pull your shoulders away from your ears and tuck in your hips. Maintain the plank position, bend your elbows, and lower your chest towards the ground. Then, push the floor away to increase the activation of the pecs.
The pec fly can be done on a bench or on the floor. It’s a wonderful move that targets the inner portion of the pec muscles and also helps build shoulder stability. Start by lying on your back with a dumbbell in each hand. Straighten your arms with your hands facing each other above your chest, not your head.
Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, bring your hands outward until they are either below your shoulders or in line with them. Imagine you’re hugging a tree to move them back up together, keeping the slight bend in the elbow.
Dips are probably the most advanced of these movements. If you don’t have access to a dip bar, these can easily be done using your couch at home. Start steady on the couch with your hands on the edge, palms down and fingers pointing forward. Lift your hips off the couch and walk your feet forward, bringing your hips in front of your hands. Next, bend your elbows and lower your hips towards the ground. Once your elbows reach a 90 degree angle, lift your torso up straight. Bend your knees for a slightly easier variation, but keep the legs straight if you want more of a burn. Remember to keep your chest lifted so your shoulders don’t roll forward.
Mix it up
Now you have a few exercises to play with, try mixing these up into your workouts. Adding variety to your routine, even if it’s a small change, can work your muscles differently. In turn, this forces them to adapt and change, which helps them grow. Instead of always doing the regular barbell bench press, why not try switching it up and using dumbbells instead?
If you’re already comfortable with your normal push ups, try different hand positions to activate the pecs differently. Bringing the hands together during a push up will target the center of the pec, whereas a wider hand stance will activate the outer edges of the same muscle. Mixing up your exercise inventory like this helps to build a bigger and more balanced chest, so try these out next time you hit the gym!
Maddy has worked in the health and fitness industry for 5 years. She has a bachelors in Exercise Science and has recently received her Masters in Exercise Physiology. She has worked with a wide demographic of clients as a Personal Trainer and loves helping people reach their goals and continue to grow. She is an outdoor enthusiast and dedicates her workouts to rock climbing, hiking and whatever new experiences may come her way.
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