Fitness

Pectoral Muscles Training Tips: Why You Should Focus on Your Chest Muscles

When you look at a solid strength-training program, there’s one key part that tends to stick out: balance. That means training the front of your body (pectoral muscles in your upper body, quads in your lower) and the back of your body (back muscles like lats and rhomboids on your top half, hamstrings and glutes on the bottom).

Showing all muscle groups and movement patterns some love is important to help build strength and functional fitness across your entire body, says New York-based trainer and physical therapist Laura Miranda, D.P.T., C.S.C.S.

But when people feel weak in a certain area, they tend to shy away from exercises that target it. If you feel like you struggle with push-ups, for instance, you may tend to skip those pressing-type movements in your workouts—which, of course, makes it more difficult to gain strength in them, she says. And thus the cycle continues.

Building strong chest muscles—known officially as your pectoral muscles—is important not only because it’ll help you better execute some exercises, but also because it’ll help you with more everyday movements, too. Here’s what you need to know about this often-overlooked muscle group.

What are your pectoral muscles?

When people talk about their pectoral muscles (also called pecs), they’re actually referring to two different muscles, says Miranda: your pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.

Your pectoralis major is a thick, fan-shaped muscle that attaches from your upper arm, spans across the chest to your collarbone, and attaches to your sternum, the bone in the middle of your chest, she says. Your breast tissue sits above it.

“It’s a big chunk of muscle that a lot of people think is their shoulder muscle, but it’s actually their pec,” Miranda says.

Your pectoralis minor is “the little guy,” she says. This thin, triangular muscle is much smaller, and sits underneath the pectoralis major. It runs from your shoulder blade to your rib cage.

Both pectoral muscles share a similar function: They help you adduct your arms, or bring them close together to the center of your body—say, like when you clap your hands, or push your arms out in front of you with a chest press. Your pecs also aid in the inhalation portion of breathing, too, Miranda says.

What are the benefits of training your pectoral muscles?

Training your pecs will help you get stronger in movements that require pressing strength, whether it’s pushing your bodyweight off the floor, a pair of dumbbells, or even a heavy door.

“You’ll become stronger at what you’re doing—you’ll start to notice progressive improvements in how much weight you can lift or push,” says Miranda.

Because pecs help you hold things in front of your body, strong pecs can help you with lower-body exercises like goblet squats or front squats, says Miranda. That’s especially important if your upper body was the limiting factor in these exercises, like if your legs felt like they could rep out a few more goblet squats, but your upper body was already wiped. Outside of your workout, strength in your pectoral muscles will also come in handy when you have to lift a box or pick up your kid.

Your pecs also help stabilize your shoulder and shoulder blade, Miranda says, which helps guard against injury.

Plus, your pecs play a role in your posture, too. If you spend lots of time in a flexed posture, like looking at your phone or hunched over a laptop, your pecs tighten, says Miranda.

Tight pecs can pull your shoulder and shoulder blades forward, says Marcia Darbouze, P.T., D.P.T., owner of Just Move Therapy in Florida and cohost of the Disabled Girls Who Lift podcast. This can add to that hunched-over posture, as well as limit your range of motion when pressing weight overhead. Plus, if your pecs are tight, your other muscles—like your traps—have to work harder, Darbouze says.

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