The pectorals—the broad, fan-like muscles that give definition to the chest—help make the male physique. The pecs aren’t just beauty muscles, however: Strong pectorals give you the strength to push open a heavy door, get up off the floor...or pick up your toddler.
Actually, the pectoral on each side of the chest consists of two muscles, the larger, more noticable pectoralis major and the thinner, triangle-shaped pectoralis minor that sits underneath. Both allow you to bring your arms closer to your body; they also help you breathe more deeply and completely. In addition, the pectorals help stabilize your shoulders and allow you to maintain a more upright posture.
Now that you know why you need to strengthen your pecs, here’s a workout that will help you get there. Don’t go for the heaviest weights you can lift; you need to maintain control throughout each movement in order to train safely. (If you need help with your technique, schedule a session or two with a trainer.)
Sometimes, the basics are the best—and nothing is more basic than the pushup. Pushups are the centerpiece of any serious pec routine, especially if you don’t have access to gym equipment.
- Kneel down on all fours with your hands about shoulder-width. Lean forward until your shoulders are directly over your hands.
- Extend your feet behind you, toes pointed forward, keeping your body in a straight line and your core engaged.
- Push up, keeping your head aligned with your spine, then slowly lower yourself until your chin or chest touches the floor.
Once you’ve mastered the standard pushup, you can up the effort level with these variations:
- Decline: place your feet on an elevated surface, such as an exercise bench.
- Diamond: place your hands directly below you with the pointer fingers and thumbs forming a diamond shape.
- Explosive: push yourself up so vigorously that your hands clear the ground, and then clap before they land.
- Medicine ball: place a medicine ball directly below your chest and push off from that; you can also place the ball under one hand at a time.
Another chest-building standard, the bench press is generally done with a barbell but can also be done using dumbbells.
- Lie down on an exercise bench, either flat or on a slight incline, with your feet on the floor.
- Grasp the barbell at slightly wider than shoulder-width with your palms facing away from you.
- As you inhale, lower the bar by letting your elbows bend out, stopping just as the bar reaches your chest.
- As you exhale, press the barbell until your arms are straight (don’t lock your elbows).
Another bench exercise, dumbbell flies can be done in either the flat or inclined position.
- Lie or sit on the bench with your back flattened against it and your feet on the floor. Hold the dumbbells, palms facing towards each other, by your armpits.
- Engage your core, then press the dumbbells outward, arms shoulder-width apart.
- As you inhale, slowly lower the dumbbells in an arc to each side until they are level with your chest.
- As you exhale, bring the dumbbells back up, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
Lying pullovers help you develop core stability and upper body flexibility while working your pecs.
- Lie flat on an exercise bench, feet flat on the floor, holding a dumbbell in each hand (palms facing each other).
- Push upward to bring the weights directly above you. Then, keeping your arms straight, reach backwards until you reach full extension.
- Return to the start position.
Often thought of as primarily a triceps exercise, dips also target the pec major as well as muscles in the shoulders and upper back. While dip bars are often found on gym-style exercise machines, you can get a set of bars for home use.
- Grasp the dip bars firmly and lift yourself up, head in line with your body and wrists in line with your forearms. Cross one leg over the other and engage your core.
- As you exhale, lower yourself by bending your arms while leaning forward until your shoulders are below your elbows.
- Pause before returning to the start position.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.