At-Home Chest Workouts for Women
It’s no secret that arm day, leg day, and ab day get a lot of attention for strength workouts. Noticeably absent? Chest day. Admittedly, for most women, working out the chest is a tough sell (though not so for men). Arms, glutes, and abs all tend to take precedence. Yet, a strong chest is at the core of a stable and capable body, and it also helps to improve your posture. When you consider it from that perspective, devoting time to strengthening chest fitness is a more worthwhile endeavor than most of us even realize.
Contrary to popular belief, a chiseled chest doesn’t require confessing your allegiance to the bench press, either. In fact, there are an array of ways to build your pectoral muscles that don’t include hoisting a weight of any kind (think: push-ups and camel pose). Weights have a place, of course, but if you think you’ll need a spotter to work your chest right, think again.
If you’re tinkering with the idea of adding a chest day to your strength workout routine, it can be beneficial to understand the purpose of the body’s chest muscles. To help you start, we’re breaking down the basics of working out your chest.
Which muscles collectively make up your chest?
The chest consists of four separate muscles. The two primary muscles are the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. Collectively, these two muscles are your pectorals or “pecs.”
The pectoralis major is the hulking muscle that commands the space under your breastplate. Each side of your body is dominated by one of these fan-shaped muscles. Both are intrinsically linked to your body’s overall function, thanks to their attachment points at the sternum, ribs, clavicle, and humerus (the primary bone in your upper arm).
The pectoralis major separates into two “heads.” These heads are called the sternocostal head and clavicular head. The sternocostal head affixes to the sternum. It is responsible for bringing your arms toward your body’s midline and rotating your humerus internally. The clavicular head fuses to the clavicle. In addition to aiding the functions of the sternocostal head, it assists with flexing the humerus, which is responsible for allowing you to raise your arms.
Tucked beneath the pectoralis major is the pectoralis minor muscle. The pectoralis major is a triangular slab whose primary function is to bear down and open the shoulder blades. It also assists with breathing since it’s attached to the ribs and the coracoid process, a hook-shaped tissue that sits atop the shoulder blades. Rounding out the quartet of chest muscles are the serratus anterior muscles—located under the armpit along the ribs, also known as the “wing” muscles—and the triangular-shaped subclavius muscles—nested between the clavicle and the first rib.
Why are chest muscles important?
We give a lot of stock to the core when it comes to overall strength, but the chest’s role shouldn’t be discounted. Virtually all upper body movements, from flexing your arms to raising your hand, engage the pectoral muscles to some degree. To hone in on the importance of chest strength, here are four major benefits of investing in working out your chest.
1. You’ll make everyday lifting tasks easier.
Have you ever had to haul a mattress up a flight of stairs, lug a suitcase through the airport, or scoop up a wriggly pup? Believe it or not they all activate those chest muscles. You use your chest muscles every time you pick something up, hold something, or push something. Strong pectoral muscles are the key to making everyday tasks easier and more efficient. Also, efficient chest muscles can stave off injury to your neck and back!
For women with underdeveloped chest muscles, their shoulder muscles tend to overcompensate. This is especially true when they engage in tasks like lifting or pushing. This poses an acute risk for injury, especially as women age and their arm muscles begin to naturally weaken.
2. You’ll improve your posture (and breathing!).
Since your pectorals connect to your shoulders—the scapula muscles, for anatomy enthusiasts—your posture is intrinsically tied to your chest muscles. Your pectorals support your shoulder blades, so if they’re shortened (a real possibility for those of us hunched over a laptop, pecking at a keyboard all day), they pull down on the shoulder muscles, thereby initiating bad posture.
Good posture, in turn, bolsters the chest and opens the diaphragm. Remember: Your chest muscles (specifically the pectoralis minor and serratus anterior muscle) connect to the third, fourth, and fifth ribs. This means that strong chest muscles make it easier for you to take those next-level, tension-expelling breaths during yoga class. Any time you inhale, the pectoralis minor stretches, allowing your rib cage to expand.
3. You’ll give your bust a lift.
The myth that training your chest will flatten breast tissue is just that: a myth. Rather than flatten your breasts, chest workouts can actually give your bust a gentle lift by increasing the muscle beneath your breast tissue and improving your posture.
4. You’ll improve your surrounding muscles.
You may be targeting your chest, but depending on what exercises you choose to integrate into your chest workout routine, you’ll simultaneously be building a variety of other muscles. Chest exercises hit the arms and shoulders the hardest. Think for a second about push-ups. In addition to your chest, push-ups activate your shoulders (deltoids), the back of your arms (triceps), and abdominals. When done correctly, your lower back and core can also get in on the action. Virtually all workouts focused on your chest will work some variation of your upper body’s main muscle groups, making the chest an area you can feel good about working into your exercise routine.
How do you build chest muscles?
There’s a lot to consider when deciding what chest exercises to add to your fitness line-up. First, consider your goals. Are you in the business of sculpting your chest or simply strengthening it? Also worthy of some consideration is what equipment (or lack of equipment) you want to include. Do you want a mat-friendly, bodyweight-only routine, or do you want to integrate dumbbells, resistance bands, balance balls, and more? There are plenty of options for either adventurer (check out iFit’s trainer-curated chest workouts). To give you a general sense of what most personal trainers recommend for building chest strength, we’re highlighting three go-to exercises:
A personal trainer stand-by that sometimes gets a bad rap for being less-than-easy to execute (that’s the point!), the push-up is an obvious starting place for chest workouts. What the push-up lacks in novelty, it makes up for with its versatility and effectiveness. Not only does it put your deltoids and triceps to work, but it also strengthens the rotator cuff muscles that stabilize your shoulders. Working these muscles can ward off injuries when you’re lifting and pulling objects. In addition to being applicable to everyday activities, lifting and pulling are hallmark movements of virtually all chest exercises, so a push-up really is worth its weight in gold.
If the notion of push-ups has you considering scrapping chest day altogether, consider swapping out classic push-ups for modified push-ups. Pass on the by-the-book plank formation and try a set of push-ups on your knees. Still struggling? Try planting your palms on a stair or a footstool to do a leaning push-up.
2. Dumbbell chest press
You don’t need a bench press and home gym to nail this classic gym exercise. Hit the floor with nothing but a dumbbell set, and you’re good to go. As a bonus, when performing this move sans bench press, you won’t get any stabilizing assistance from your legs. This makes the exercise more of a challenge for your upper body.
Generally considered one of the most effective ways to sculpt your triceps, the dumbbell chest press also has the power to finesse the chest by working the pectoralis major. Grab a heavier weight set to bolster chest strength faster or a light set to encourage muscular endurance. Whenever you’re working with weights, it’s important to remember that muscles, tendons, and ligaments respond best to steady changes. Our bodies adapt to increases in load in a gradual way.
3. Chest fly
For women, the chest fly, an ultra-invigorating move that encourages you to extend your arms like wings, is often executed using a piece of gym equipment. For the home gym enthusiast, however, no machinery is needed. Instead, grab a set of dumbbells and drop to the floor (or a bench press, if you have one). In the absence of a machine, free weights will require you to stabilize your core and chest on your own. This, in turn, promotes faster results.
Chest openers like the dumbbell fly may help reduce upper-back pain and minimize tightness in the upper body. The chest fly also activates the shoulders and triceps. Specifically, chest flys assist with scapular retraction exercises. Personal trainers recommended these to improve posture. As always, prolonging power optimizes your results, so start with a low-weight dumbbell (three to five pounds). You may ultimately want to work up to a larger weight (eight to 10 pounds), keeping in mind that there is some potential for injury as you increase the weight. Many trainers recommend using a spotting partner when you begin increasing your weight.
Work out your chest with iFit!
Yes, leg and ab days will always be go-tos, but slotting in a chest day every now and then is well worth the effort. Between aiding with everyday tasks, like hoisting kids and wrangling the family pup, a strong chest can make life infinitely easier. To get chest strength routines that are good for use in your at-home gym or on the go, download the iFit app. Tap “Browse” and select “Chest” from the drop-down menu under TARGET AREA.