Don’t Ignore your Chest: A Plan for Strong Pectorals

Your body was meant to be muscular!If you’re not challenging your chest muscles, have you asked yourself why? Are you bored with bench presses or frustrated with your results? Do you think a muscular chest is only for men or are you afraid you’ll get too big?

I’ve been focusing on my chest more over the last few months, and although I have more work to do, I’m seeing some nice results. The muscles in front of my underarms are firm instead of floppy. I can see some definition in my upper chest and have surmised that this has only helped my bust line! My goals are to improve my upper body strength and width while creating a toned, athletic look.

If you’re bored with your chest routine, you can overcome that by realizing that there are many different muscle fibers in your chest that need to be hit from a variety of different angles. You can do presses on different inclines, a flat bench, a decline bench, or seated. There are endless varieties of pushups, and you can always get some variety using FreeMotion machines, including cable crossovers and standing chest presses.

Achieving definition in your pectorals definitely takes more time than other areas, so you need to hit it hard and be consistent. You may also need a spotting partner if you really want to make strides. I didn’t start seeing results in my chest until I started using a spotter with barbell bench presses. A spotter helps you lift more than you can lift solo and helps you break through sticking points that keep you from lifting more. My post aboutusing spotters will help you get going.

You don’t see women with big chest muscles (with the exception of bodybuilders), so don’t worry about getting a big chest like a guy. The most you can expect are toned pectorals that will help you look more lifted, toned, and strong. Strong, toned arms without a firm-looking chest will not look athletic, you can be sure.

Mixing it up with Different Angles

As I said, the pectorals are composed of many different muscle fibers that you need to hit from different angles: the upper chest, inner chest upper area, outer chest upper area, and overall pectoral area that connects to the breast. You can hit your upper chest and your lower chest simply by changing the angle of the bench. It’s useful to know which exercises hit each area:

  • Barbell bench press – Entire pectoral muscle. This compound exercise is the foundation for any chest routine.
  • Incline press – Upper chest
  • Decline press – Lower chest
  • Seated chest press – Entire pectoral muscle
  • Cable crossover – Both the pectoralis major and minor, with emphasis on inner chest
  • Dumbbell flyes* – Inner chest definition
  • Pushups* – Outer pectorals with wide stance
  • Pullovers* – Outer chest upper area
  • Bar dip – Lower chest

* Superset this exercise with the bench press to really exhaust the pecs (superset = two exercises in a row without rest).

When performing chest exercises, do a warm-up set first with a light weight, followed by three sets using a weight you can lift with proper form for 10-12 repetitions. Stick to about four chest exercises per session, once or twice per week, and be sure to mix up your routine every three-four weeks by either changing the exercises, changing your grip, or using advanced techniques such as supersets. Check out my posts on plateaus for more ideas.

Where to find these exercises: Please see videos on or Muscle & Strength for instructions.

A word about machines: Integrate machines as part of your program, but not for every workout. The “pec dec” is appropriate to work in but puts your body in a fixed plane of motion. Use cables as much as you’d like.

A word about injuries: You can hurt your shoulders with chest exercises, particularly the bench press. Never let your elbows go past the bench (or past your shoulders on seated or standing exercises). Follow strict form and stop if you feel pain in your shoulder.

9 thoughts on “Don’t Ignore your Chest: A Plan for Strong Pectorals

  1. I’ve recently started doing a weight training program in lieu of running while I healed from an injury. One of my target issues was my abs and arms. But I also wanted to tighten up my chest. Losing over 100 pounds means that gravity takes it’s toll. I’ve started doing lots of chest weights and pec-fly machines in hopes that works.


    • Thanks for writing Lisa. I can only say how amazing your transformation is and how much I admire you. Keep up the weights and you’ll see those loose areas transformed as well. You’re doin’ it right!


  2. Lisa,

    Running will become more efficient and easier once you gain more strength in your upper body.

    Suzanne, while I LOVE working chest, because of the “forward emphasis” of most of our activities in today’s world (computers, driving, etc.) I find it’s important to train back twice as much. Pulls and rows in a variety of planes keep upper body strength balanced.


    • Right you are, Deb. Thanks for pointing that out. My next post will probably be all about back workouts, as I’ve found some fabulous ways to burn it up!

      My main point is that while it’s important to have a strong core and back and it’s nice to have sculpted delts, women often forget about working their chests or don’t want to. Particularly with weights, it’s important to be well rounded and work your entire body. A strong chest can contribute to overall upper body strength and posture…. and it can be fun doing it! 🙂


  3. I love weights! I haven’t been lifting much… in the traditional sense… but a weird thing happened. I finally met a gal pal who wanted to putz around w some weights. We were on the fly machine (I usually don’t use it) in front of the mirror (I typically avoid them) and was SHOCKED at my muscles! Like, uh, real definition. Weird actually…. weights/resistance help us get stronger & in my case, I’ve gotten leaner. Granted I still have a belly and an A$$, but I can see my muscles in my chest LOL Amen to pushups & weights!


    • Hot damn!! Definition is just what we’re striving for! You are doing all the right stuff – I’m going to be checking you out regularly as well :). Thanks for your stopping by!


  4. I swear that building up my pectorals via weight training has made “the girls” sit better on my chest wall. They are not as saggy as they once were from giving birth twice. Also, pushups have helped as well.


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