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How to train your chest

"Yeah bro, I used to bench [insert absurd amount of kilograms] in high school, but I tore my pec". Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger became famous, there's been a common theme amongst males to achieve the biggest chest possible. However, this may come at a cost as many individuals rely on their ego to lift the weight rather than the chest. Consequently, poor form or exercise technique may result in an injury, and even worse, a smaller chest.

So how can we train the chest efficiently and safely? Let's revisit the anatomy to understand the function of the muscle. The pectoralis major is the superior most and largest muscle of the anterior chest wall. It is a thick, fan-shaped muscle that lies underneath the breast tissue and forms the anterior wall of the axilla.

The pectoralis major consists of two heads - the clavicular and sternocostal head.

  1. The clavicular head originates from the anterior surface of the medial half of the clavicle

  2. The sternocostal head originates from the sternum, costal cartilages and external oblique muscle.

From here, both the upper and lower fibers of pectoralis major insert to the crest of greater tubercle of the humerus. This dictates the function of the muscle as the pectoralis major flexes, medially rotates, and transversely adducts the arm at the glenohumeral joint. It is even considered as an accessory muscle of inspiration. Therefore, depending on the exercise we can bias certain functions and heads of the pectoralis major. The barbell bench press is not the only way to grow a big chest!

Your arm path will determine which division of the chest you are training as you can align the line of resistance with the intended fibers. Cables are an awesome way to train the chest as you can hit all three divisions by making adjustments to the cable height. Compared to a barbell, this is hard to replicate as your hands are fixed to the bar. This means you are missing out on the functions of adduction and medial rotation! Furthermore, cables provide tension throughout the movement providing a desirable resistance profile for the chest. Compared to a barbell bench press or dumbbell press, there is maximal resistance at the bottom stretched position, but this drops off at the top as you straighten your arms. This discrepancy in resistance profile is not present during a cable press. Check out our blog for a brush up on resistance profiles!

To train your chest fibers completely and safely, set up a bench between a cable set-up like the video below.

For the clavicular (upper chest) - the fibres run on an upwards angle, so you should move them from low to high.

For the sternal (mid-chest) - the fibres run at a parallel angle, so you should position these at chest height and move them together.

Finally, for the costal (lower chest) - the fibres run on a downward angle so you should move them from high to low.

Being able to train all fibres through a complete resistance profile presents a very low risk of injury compared to a bench press where there is a large increase in resistance as you lower the bar. Try these exercises out next time you're in the gym!

This is just one way and methodology of training your chest. The barbell bench press and other alternatives are still great exercises and may be a better choice for certain individuals depending on their physical capabilities and goals.

If you have any questions about this blog, don't hesitate to give us a call (07 3061 7128).

The information above is provided as general information only, and is not intended to be specific advice about your condition and body. For specific advice about your condition, we do recommend that you see your physiotherapist for a full assessment and management.

This blog was written by our physiotherapist, Andrew Phan.

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