The first thing someone looks at when another person takes off their shirt (Guys or Girls, let’s be honest) is the center of their body. This could be their abdominals or their chest. And while the majority of the population doesn’t have shredded six-pack abs, the eyes are more likely to divert to the chest, pausing just a second before eye contact. Let’s be honest, building a big barrel chest takes more time, dedication, and consistency than getting six-pack abs.
Doing some sort of chest exercises seems to be the most popular activity inside the gym. It’s almost impossible to find a bench and it seems like every day is chest day.
Anatomy of the Chest
The pec major gets a lot of love. It’s one of the bigger muscles, it lies on the surface, and it’s an anterior chain muscle. My theory is if you can see it for yourself in the mirror, you work on it much more and harder than you would any of your posterior chain movements.
The pectoralis major is a large fan shaped muscled that covers the top of the rib cage and make up most of the pectoral region. This muscle has two heads. This means that it attaches in two different spots on the body that has very little movement. Otherwise known as the origin for your anatomy educated folk.
The pectoralis major attaches (inserts) the other end of the two heads into the intertubercular groove of the humerus. Together the two heads work to adduct and medially rotate the humerus bone at the shoulder.
The pec minor is a small triangle shaped muscle that lies beneath the pectoralis major. Because people can’t see it most are never aware that it exists. It attaches (originates) to the 3-5 ribs and connects (inserts) to the coracoid process of the scapula. Contraction of the pec minor causes shoulder depression. It causes a sad shoulder. hurr hurr hurr.
The serratus anterior lines the ribcage wall underneath the armpit. This muscle attaches (originates) to the 2-8 ribs while it inserts at the scapula border. This muscle is responsible for helping to lift weight over the head as well as holding the scapula against the ribcage.
Types of Chest Exercises
Almost all chest exercises can be divided into two categories. Presses and flies. That’s exactly how they sound. Presses involve the participant moving the weight directly in front of them while flies make the participant move only their shoulder blades, kind of like their flapping their wings. (If they had wings, I bet it’d be really cool to be able to fly.)
Chest flies make you good at giving hugs
We can change the portion of the chest muscle we want to hit by changing the angle of the body. Think of it this way: in whichever direction you press the barbell, that’s the portion of the muscle you will be targeting. Pressing it straight out in front of you? You’re going to hit the middle of the chest. Slightly above or below that will hit the upper and lower chest respectively.
Dumbbells Over Barbells
I prefer to use dumbbells in my chest exercises. Not only are flies impossible to do with a barbell, but I believe using dumbbells keeps the muscle tension even on both sides of the chest. Whereas when you use a barbell, it is very easy for your mind to take over and produce force with your dominant hand, leading to an irregularity in strength and possibly even size over long periods of time.
There is also something to be said about how nice it is to have your hands locked at a certain distance between them. With dumbbells your arms can move in or out, increasing or reducing the distance between them. While with the barbell they are in a fixed position and the tension is strictly put onto the muscles moving the weight up and down, not side to side.
I absolutely loathe doing presses on a smith machine, it feels so unnatural. The bar is locked into one plane of movement and doesn’t allow your stabilizing muscles to get any work at all. It is strictly about moving weight. On the bright side, if you want to go heavy and don’t have a spotter, the smith machine can be beneficial in that area as there is a built-in spotter essentially.
The chest is responsible for arm movement in front of the body, without our chest muscles we would look pretty weird as a species conducting arm movement everywhere except for out in front of us. Could you imagine trying to put a hat on our head without bringing our elbow in? It would be pure madness. I don’t think using strictly dumbbells, barbells, or smith machine is the way to go for chest exercises but to get a mix of the three and fully develop a balance between them so you can get the pro’s of each form of movement.