The pectoral muscles, which people often refer to as the pecs, define the shape and appearance of the chest. They also control several arm movements, including flexing and rotating the arm and bringing it in toward the body's midline (adduction).
Two muscles form the pecs. The pectoralis major spans from the shoulder to the middle of the chest, and the pectoralis minor is on the outer edge of the chest, just behind the pectoralis major.
To build up the pecs, people can do exercises that work the entire chest area. It is possible to target specific areas of the chest by using modified lifts.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, people should perform muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days of the week. One set of 8 to 12 repetitions (reps) is effective in resistance training, but 2 or 3 sets may be more effective.
This article describes five exercises that help people gain strength and definition in the lower chest.
1. Incline pushup
Pushups are a great multifunctional exercise because they work the entire upper body and back. Performing pushups at an incline will put more focus on the lower chest.
- a flat workout bench, jump box, or step platform
- Stand in front of the bench. Place the hands shoulder-width apart on the edge of the bench.
- Adopt a plank position by extending the legs backward until the legs and back form a straight line. Keep the weight on the balls of the feet.
- Slowly bend the arms to lower the chest toward the bench. Remember to keep the elbows and arms close to the body.
- Slowly push the body away from the bench, extending the arms but maintaining a slight bend in the elbow.
- Perform 8–12 reps for one set.
2. Decline dumbbell press
The instructions for this exercise call for dumbbells, but people can use a barbell instead.
Using a barbell will allow people to lift heavier weights for fewer reps, but dumbbells allow a greater range of motion, which may be a better option for people who want to target their lower chest.
- two dumbbells or one barbell
- one decline bench
- Set the decline bench at a 45-degree angle, and lie down on it with one dumbbell in each hand. Rest the dumbbells on the thighs with the palms facing inward. Remember to keep the back flat.
- Raise the dumbbells over the chest, extending the arms toward the ceiling. The hands should remain facing inward.
- Hold the dumbbells shoulder-width apart and rotate the wrists until the palms are facing away.
- To begin, bend the arms to form a 90-degree angle at the elbow. The dumbbells should be on the outer edges of the chest.
- On the exhale, use the chest muscles to push the dumbbells up. Squeeze at the top of the lift and hold for 1–2 seconds.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells to return to the starting position.
- Do 8–12 reps for one set. Rest in between sets.
3. Decline dumbbell bench press with external rotation
This move is a variation of the last exercise. It is slightly more complex than a traditional dumbbell press, so people trying this move for the first time might want to use lighter weights until they feel comfortable with the movement.
- two dumbbells or one barbell
- one decline bench
- Lie down on the decline bench with one dumbbell in each hand. Rest the dumbbells on the thighs with the palms facing inward.
- Raise the dumbbells over the chest with the arms extended toward the ceiling, keeping the hands in the same position.
- Lower the dumbbells into the starting position, but this time, keep the palms facing inward. Do not rotate the palms. The dumbbells should be parallel to the body.
- Inhale slowly.
- On the exhale, use the muscles in the chest to press the dumbbells up while rotating the palms outward to make the thumbs face each. Squeeze and hold for 1–2 seconds.
- Return to the starting position by slowly lowering the dumbbells while rotating the palms inward.
- Each set should consist of 8–12 reps. Rest in between sets.
4. Cable crossover
Cable machines offer a wide range of exercise options depending on the position of the pulleys. Setting the pulleys higher will put more emphasis on the lower chest while setting them lower emphasizes the upper chest.
The cable crossover works the muscles in both the lower and outer parts of the chest.
- a cable machine
- Position the pulleys above the head. Attach one handle to each pulley and then select the desired weight.
- Take one handle in each hand with the palms facing down. Stand in the middle of the cable machine and take a few steps forward to put a little tension on the cables.
- Step one foot forward.
- Lean forward.
- Extend the arms out to the side but keep a slight bend in the elbows. Do not let the elbows move behind the shoulders.
- On the exhale, bring the hands together in front of the body.
- Return to the starting position by slowly extending the arms and inhaling.
- Do 8–12 reps per set, and rest in between sets.
5. Parallel-bar dips (chest)
Parallel-bar dips activate multiple muscle groups in the chest, arms, shoulders, and back. During this exercise, remember to lean slightly forward on the dip to engage the muscles in the lower chest.
- a set of parallel bars
- Grip the bars, using the arms to push the body up above them.
- Slowly inhale while bending the arms and leaning the torso forward. Continue lowering the body until there is a slight stretching sensation in the chest.
- On the exhale, lift the body back up above the bars.
- Repeat as many reps as possible without overexerting the muscles.
Parallel-bar dips require a significant amount of upper body strength. People who do not feel comfortable performing a complete chest dip can try the variation below instead.
Parallel-bar dip variation:
- Grip the bars and jump up, so the arms are straight, and the body is above the bars.
- Slowly lower down by bending the arms and leaning forward. Continue until there is a slight stretching sensation in the chest.
- Instead of lifting the body back up, carefully place the feet on the floor and let go of the bars.
- Repeat as many reps as possible without overexerting the muscles. Focus on building strength and expanding the range of motion in the upper body before trying to perform a full chest dip.
The exercises above will work the lower chest when a person performs them correctly. It is best to add these exercises to a full-body strength training routine to achieve a well-balanced physique.
Individuals trying these exercises should remember to focus on executing each movement with proper form and technique. People can avoid injuries by not rushing through sets and by avoiding using weights that are too heavy. It is important to avoid training the same muscle groups multiple days in a row because muscles need time to recover after a hard workout.