The chest muscles of humans consist primarily of the pectoralis major and minor muscles. The pectoralis major muscle is a thick muscle that makes up a large portion of the chest muscles, while the pectoralis minor muscle is a thin muscle that lies beneath the pectoralis major. Chest muscle exercises are performed to help these muscles develop and grow, along with maintaining a healthy and fit body. Push-ups are a great way to exercise the chest muscles because no equipment is necessary, and the only weight lifted is the person's own body.
The purpose of the pectoralis major muscle, located within the chest, is adduction (pulling toward the center) and flexion (bending) of the shoulder, along with the inward rotation of the shoulder. The clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle (the portion connected to the clavical bone [collarbone]) flexes the arm at the shoulder; while the sternal head (the part connected to the sternum [breastbone]) extends the arm at the shoulder. Both muscle heads medially rotate and adduct the arm at the shoulder. The role of the pectoralis minor muscle is to help the pectoralis major muscle with adduction, flexion, and rotation of the shoulder; that is, the pair works together to move the arm, being primarily responsible for moving the arm forward and downward. For instance, the chest muscles are used, along with other muscles, to push an oar toward and away from the body while in a rowboat. They are also used in part to swing a tennis racket, golf club, and baseball bat.
Exercising the chest muscles helps to keep the upper body aligned and well positioned with the rest of the body. Strong chest muscles allow for more strength for lifting, carrying, and other physical motions. Maintaining strong and flexible chest muscles also improves sporting and athletic events.
When exercising the chest, many calories are expended (burned) because of the great mass of these muscles, which include some of the largest in the upper body. In addition, when exercising the chest muscles, a person also exercises the shoulders and arms.
Individuals of all ages can benefit from exercising the chest muscles. Chest exercises help to develop and grow these muscles. They can be done by anyone, regardless of their size or fitness level. When starting a fitness routine, small weights should be used initially, and additional weight added as one gets stronger. For people wanting to develop a stronger body, weightlifting can be used to develop the chest muscles. Chest exercises are also performed to help counter muscle loss that occurs naturally during the aging process.
The chest muscles incorporate the pectoralis muscles (sometimes called the “pectorals” or “pecs”)—those muscles that attach the front walls of the chest with the bones of the upper arm and shoulder. The two main muscles are the pectoralis major and minor. The pectoralis major, the larger of the two chest muscles, is a thick, shell-shaped muscle located in the chest's anterior portion. It is positioned from the clavicle to the sternum. Located close to the skin's surface, the pectoralis major is attached to the upper arms. The pectoralis minor muscle is a thin, triangular shaped muscle. It is located under the pectoralis major (deeper under the skin), and is positioned just lower on the chest than the pectoralis major.
There are different types of exercises that benefit the chest muscles. A bench press or various fitness machines, such as the machine fly (or fly machine) are often used. On a bench press the individual “presses” weight away from his or her body while on the bench. The machine fly typically consists of two handles attached to extended “arms” that allow the user to bring them together while lifting a weight attached to a cable-and-pulley system. It may be beneficial to modify a chest exercise routine every four to six weeks. Some of the more common exercises for the chest include:
The chest muscles should not be exercised on consecutive days. At least one day of rest should be included between each day of exercising the chest muscles. In fact, the lifting of heavy weights, such as that done by weightlifters, should be performed with two to three days of rest in between each chest-exercising session.
Prior to starting a new exercise routine, it is recommended that an individual consult a trusted medical professional. Doctors can advise people as to whether they are physically fit and healthy enough to perform exercises such as those for the chest muscles. Physical trainers should be consulted to develop an individualized program for chest exercises.
Many videos and instructional manuals are available to help in the learning process. Instructions provide the correct form and technique that individuals should use with chest muscle exercises. Before attempting such
exercises, stretching exercises should be performed to help warm-up these muscles. Hold a stretch for at least 20–30 seconds, while breathing naturally and allowing the muscle to relax as much as possible. Repeat the stretch two or three times. More stretching should be performed after an exercise workout.
An injury to the chest muscles is possible, but can be minimized, or even prevented, with proper precautions. Always eat nutritious meals daily to supply vital nutrients to the muscles. Building muscles requires a steady supply of nutritious foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein-rich foods. Additionally, in order for chest muscles to be strengthened, sufficient rest is required between workouts. Generally, perform chest muscle workouts two to three times per week. If chest muscles feel sore, temporarily reduce the routine to once or twice a week.
Pain can occur in the chest muscle when pulled or torn, which occurs when a portion of the muscle is stretched beyond its ability. Cramps in the chest muscles also occur. Treatment for a minor injury to the chest muscles usually calls for rest. Anti-inflammatory medication may reduce the pain. Seek medical help if the injury is severe or pain remains after a few days.
Risk for chest muscle injury can be minimized by gradually building up an exercise routine. If the exercise feels comfortable for the chest muscles, then it is appropriate for one's level. Avoid overexertion and stop an exercise if pain is present. Mild discomfort is natural when doing exercises, especially when the muscle is being stretched.
Regular chest muscle exercises will keep these muscles toned. A heavy session of lifting weights for chest muscles may include only six to eight repetitions. For lighter weights, 12 to 16 repetitions may be possible. In each case, usually one to three sets will be performed. Lighter weights will tone the chest muscles, while heavier weights will provide more pronounced shape to the muscles.
Chest exercises help to maintain a proper body weight because many calories are burned during the physical activity. In addition, strong chest muscles allow people to perform better in sports and in the accomplishment of everyday activities.
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William A. Atkins, BB, BS, MBA