How to Build Chest Muscle

By Judy Fisk

Your chest muscles -- pectoralis major and pectoralis minor -- affect arm movement and help stabilize your shoulder. They enable you to swing a racquet or bat, throw a football or push a loaded baby carriage up a steep hill. For men and women alike, solid pecs also give the upper torso an impressively firm look. Because your chest muscles play a key role both functionally and aesthetically, it's important to build them. Body-weight exercises and basic resistance tools can help you get the results you want.

A Sensible Workout

Always precede your chest workouts with a warmup. Do three to five minutes of general cardio activity -- such as high-knee marches or light jogging -- to increase circulation and raise your core body temperature. When you break a light sweat, do some dynamic stretches to further stimulate your pecs. Start with your arms extended in front of your chest and then open them wide, lengthening the front of your chest. Repeatedly open and close the arms for a minute, aiming for smooth and continuous movement. After your chest workouts, use the doorway stretch -- gripping the door frame with one hand and slowly rotating away from the hand -- to prevent post-workout soreness and to maintain flexibility.

Progress and Expectations

Building chest-muscle mass takes time. Even programs that promise quick results require an investment of months, not weeks. The key is consistency, the use of targeted chest-muscle exercises and gradual progression. Ideally, work your chest two or three times a week on alternate days. Rest for 48 hours between workouts to allow muscle tissue to recover and heal, which leads to greater muscle mass. If you overdo it, you'll interfere with the healing and growth process and increase your risk of injury.

Perform two or three sets of each chest exercise, with a set consisting of eight to 12 reps. If necessary, use modified variations of exercises until you perfect your form and build strength. For example, stick with bent-knee pushups until you have the strength to perform a proper straight-leg pushup. When you master straight-leg pushups, switch up to decline pushups.

Body-Weight Exercises

You can work your chest efficiently and effectively using your own body as resistance. Classic body-weight exercises -- including basic pushups -- require little space and no expensive equipment. That means you don't have to take a break from your chest workouts when you're stuck working late at the office or away on vacation. Once you've mastered a basic pushup, you can progress to more challenging variations. As a general rule, when you are able to perform 12 reps with impeccable form, it's appropriate to ramp up the intensity. Experiment with tougher pushup variations, including decline pushups or pushups with a clap. Alternatively, try upping the intensity by wearing a weighted vest.

Using a Resistance Cord

Resistance cords are versatile, inexpensive, portable and easy-to-store. They also provide a safe and effective way to work your chest with added resistance. To perform chest flyes with a cord, anchor the middle of the cord securely to a point behind you at shoulder height. Move into a split stance with one foot slightly in front of the other and grasp one end of the cord in each hand. Extend your arms to the side at chest height with your palms facing forward. Keeping your elbows relatively straight, press the arms together in front of your chest. Hold briefly and return your arms to the start position. Repeat.

Working With Dumbbells

To better gauge the amount of resistance you're using, swap your cord for dumbbells. As a general rule, choose a weight that you can lift for a minimum of eight reps and a maximum of 12 reps. You can stick with chest flyes or do dumbbell bench presses. Grasping a dumbbell in each hand, lie on your back on a bench. Start with your palms facing forward, your elbows pointing downward and the weights just touching your chest. Extend your arms, pressing the dumbbells toward the ceiling, at or slightly below eye-level. Slowly return the weights to your chest to complete one rep. Once you can perform 12 reps without sacrificing on form, try increasing weight. If you're benching significant weight, work with a spotter.


About the Author

Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.

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