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Getting at the CORE of athletics: Part # 4 – Developing the pectoralis (chest) muscles

Written by William Fredericks, MS, CPT-ACSM on Monday, 17 February 2014. Posted in The Perpetual Athlete

Getting at the CORE of athletics: Part # 4 – Developing the pectoralis (chest) muscles

Getting at the CORE of athletics: Part # 4 – Developing the pectoralis (chest) muscles
     The pectoral muscles can be some of the most difficult to develop in young athletes. Many spend countless hours doing pushups and bench press only to not see quality results. A thick chest is important not only for sport performance but also for appearances. Therefore the following blog will illustrate some helpful tips to developing your pectoralis muscles.
     There are two pectoralis muscles which include the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major is the larger and more superficial of the two muscles and therefore is the most important to develop. The pectoralis minor lies underneath the larger chest muscle and its major function is to hold the scapula in place during upper arm movements. The pectoralis major is a large fan shaped muscle that stretches from the middle chest to the shoulder. The pectoralis major originates on the sternum and inserts on the humerus just below the head of the bone. The major movement performed by the pectoralis major muscle is shoulder adduction in the transverse plane. For the layman, this is a pushing motion. Exercises which typically work the chest muscles are pushups, the bench press, incline bench press, and pectoral fly.
Text Box: Shoulder adduction      For those who have trouble developing the chest one of the key factors is posture. Correct posture is necessary to obtain maximum contraction of the pectoralis muscle. Muscles contract with greater force when the load is properly angled to that of the muscle fibers and those fibers have a sufficient amount of stretch to activate the proprioceptors. This is referred to as the stretch shortening cycle where the greater the stretch to a muscle the greater the force of contraction. The biggest mistake made is when performing a push up or bench press the shoulders roll forward which takes the stretch from the pectoralis muscles and places the weight demand squarely on the deltoid muscle (shoulder).
      Too correctly isolate your pectoralis muscles the proper posture involves adduction or retraction of the scapula (see picture).If you have followed my getting at the CORE blog postings before this is in agreement with the postural cue shoulders back chest out. The goal is to adduct your scapula and hold them together while you perform the chest pressing motion (pushup or bench press). Holding your scapula in adduction allows for greater stretch on the pectoralis muscle and therefore greater force production.
     Any chest routine should include an incline bench press. Because of the fan shape, the pectoralis major muscle can be broken down into an upper portion and a lower portion. When performing a pushup or a standard bench press (flat bench press) the lower portion of the chest receives the greatest amount of resistance. Adding incline to the bench allows for greater resistance to fall on the upper portion of the pectoralis major which helps develop a fuller looking chest. Standard inlcine benches tend to be at 45° angle which is sufficient but tends to place the load to a greater extent on the shoulders. An ideal angle of 30° is best for maximum upper chest development.
      An important aspect of developing a thick chest is volume of exercises. The more exercises performed the greater the hypertrophy. I suggest that you do two workouts a week that consist of 16 to 20 sets of chest exercises for maximum hypertrophy. A sample routine would include:
1.    Incline bench press – 4sets at 8-12 RM
2.    Flat dumb bell press – 4sets at 8-12 RM
3.    Pectoral fly (dumb bell or machine) – 4 sets at 8-12 RM
4.    Pushups to failure – 4 sets
    Well there you have it, some simple tips to develop a full chest. Be sure to practice holding proper posture for each of the exercises you choose to do and to work through the full range of motion. Have a healthy week!

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