Chest exercises — which are the best for hypertrophy?

Chest exercises — which are the best for hypertrophy?

Often when doing chest exercises, training only partially stimulates the true potential of these muscles. In fact, numerous exercises can be proposed to develop the pectoralis major in all its anatomical portions.

In this article, in addition to describing the most popular exercises, we will analyze other movements that see the pectoral as an auxiliary muscle.

Pectoral anatomy and function

The pectoralis a muscle about 3 cm thick that has a fan shape and occupies most of the anterior chest wall.

When the upper limb hangs down the side it has a quadrangular shape, while it becomes triangular when the limb is raised horizontally.

This muscle has three different origins:

  1. The main belly comes from the external surface of the sternum and the costal cartilages, more precisely from the second to the seventh, this part is called the sternocostal part ;
  2. another portion derives from the medial third of the clavicle, called the clavicular part ;
  3. finally, a thinner muscle tract originates from the anterior lamina of the sheath of the rectus abdominis muscle, called the abdominal part.

The winstrol depot form a smooth surface directly below the skin of the chest which will converge laterally by inserting itself on the crest of the large tuberosity of the humerus.

Shortly before their insertion, the beams cross. Consequently, at the insertion point level, the bundles coming from the abdominal portion will be higher than those coming from the clavicle.

It is curious to note how this intersection of the insertion bundles is also visible through the skin.

Again, this feature allows the muscle to act on the upper limb, which hangs down the trunk, moving it in the ventral direction.

Furthermore, this crossing represents an important protection mechanism against a sudden hyperextension, since the breastplate extends only when the arm is fully raised.

In the chest exercises when all the beams contract, their function is to move forward and towards the midline of the arms, as, for example, in the stroke of the breaststroke swim.

When the arm is raised laterally, the breastplate becomes an important adductor, since, in this case, both in the launching and in the pushing movements it starts operating from a situation of maximum relaxation.

When both upper limbs are fixed, for example when doing a climb or doing a pull-up, the pectoral muscles raise the body, assisting the latissimus dorsi, the large dentate and the trapezius. In this condition, origin and insertion are reversed (Netter 2014; Tittel 1987).

Chest exercises: flat bench presses with a barbell

Flat bench press with a barbell is the most well-known, used and abused exercise for training the pectoral muscles.

In this article, we analyze which working angles should be used to optimize the quality of this muscle group. For the biomechanics part of the bench press, we refer the reading to this article.

In the flat bench, the most stimulated and most stressed portion is the abdominal and sternocostal one. This is because the angles that are created due to the arching of the spine allow you to put more focus on this muscle portion.

This does not mean that the clavicular bundles do not work, on the contrary, their function is to assist the thrust. They are simply recruited less.

Furthermore, by maintaining the so-called closed packed position and pushing with the lower limbs towards the shoulders, activating the spinal erectors and emphasizing the arching of the spine, it is possible to further lengthen the breastplate by optimizing its activation.

Still, always in this position, the backbone is also recruited. Consequently, this muscle will not act as an antagonist but will have the function of a synergistic muscle at the push. In particular, its function as an interrogator is used with insertion on the small tuberosity of the humerus, rather than with a pushing action  (Tittel 1987). Furthermore, the backbone tensioned by the partial rotation of the humerus will be more active in its function as an adductor of the humerus to the torso.

Another point to analyze is the width of the grip, the wider the grip, the greater the recruitment of the chest fibers. On the contrary, if the hands are brought together there will be a greater emphasis on the triceps.

However, with a very wide grip, it is of fundamental importance to also have a strong brachial biceps, since the long head of the biceps, but also the short head, act as stabilizers of the shoulder.

Finally, if during a push action the shoulder is not stable, it is difficult to conclude the action successfully, also risking to incur an injury.

Chest exercises: stretches on a 45 ° inclined bench with two dumbbells

Another of the chest exercises of considerable importance is the two-dumbbell stretches on the bench inclined at 45 degrees.

We speak in particular of this exercise because we believe it is an excellent method to place emphasis on the clavicular part of the breastplate.

In addition, the use of the dumbbells helps to optimize the proprioceptive component with respect to the use of the barbell or with the help of the Smith Machine.

Furthermore, the bench has a slope such as to allow an optimal elongation of the pectoral’s clavicular bundles keeping it active as the primary motor of the movement. Here the deltoid is a secondary agonist, so the two muscles do not reverse roles, which could happen if the bench inclination is increased.

Obviously also the sternocostal bundles will be involved in the push, while the abdominal ones will have a secondary role.

A 1995 study of the chest exercises showed that there is actually a greater activation of the clavicular part in the inclined bench compared to the bench declined using a 40 ° angle (Barnett, Kippers & Turner, 1995).

Furthermore, another study from 2015 found that the clavicular part of the chest was more active when the concentric phase of the exercise was carried out. Finally, they saw that there is a good activation of the brachial triceps and anterior deltoid during the eccentric phase (Lauver, Cayot & Scheuermann, 2015).

Crosses on a bench inclined at 15 ° with two dumbbells

Crosses are a very common exercise in resistance training, they are a valid method to optimize the stability of the shoulder and to give a different hypertrophic stimulus to the muscle using a different working angle.

Also in this case, based on the inclination of the bench, the clavicular bundles are activated more than the abdominal ones, while the sternocostal ones remain the most active.

In this isolation exercise, the synergic muscles are less interested therefore it is of fundamental importance to focus the work on the chest.

In addition, the latissimus dorsi is implicated in the adduction of the humerus and also acts as a stabilizer of the shoulder together with other synergistic muscles. In fact, it is very important to perceive the activation of this muscle to avoid shoulder injuries while keeping the focus on the chest.

Still, another point to analyze is the amplitude of the opening of the upper limbs in the crosses, this amplitude remains correct as long as the head of the humerus remains in its anatomical seat. Therefore, the activation of the shoulder muscles and the mobility of the subject ‘s upper back must be such as to allow the body to maintain the correct position.

Finally, once it reached the maximum opening, the return phase must stop before the upper limb is perpendicular to the ground. In this case, the muscle tensions would be canceled by the lack of tension brought by the disadvantageous lever, a condition sought in this exercise.

Chest exercises: Pullover on bench with a dumbbell

The pullover tends to be used as a backbone muscle exercise, however, this exercise can be a valuable aid in chest training.

As already mentioned, the primary agonist remains the latissimus dorsi, but how can it be used to the best within the chest exercises?

Analyzing the anatomy and biomechanics of the breastplate we can see how the clavicular bundles are involved in all those upward push exercises. In fact, this happens because, in the eccentric phase, this muscle portion is subject to an elongation which allows good recruitment.

Likewise, in the pullover, the bib will be stretched in its entirety. However, in this case, in order to allow the muscle to stretch optimally, the subject must have excellent mobility of the shoulder joint and the dorsal spine.

Consequently, in order to allow the breastplate to optimize its work, the shoulder blades must not remain stressed during the eccentric phase.

In fact, they will have to gradually detach themselves as the handlebars are brought downwards, even making a small extrapolation of the humerus. In this way, the clavicle is released and the clavicular bundles can be stretched.

On the contrary, when starting the concentric phase, the shoulder blades must be gradually brought back in place, assisting the movement with the help of the latissimus dorsi and shoulder blade collators.

Here, it is necessary to keep the shoulder joint stable.

In addition, once the movement with the upper limbs perpendicular to the ground is finished, a slight internal rotation must be performed and the pectoral muscles voluntarily activated, implementing what is commonly called peak contraction or peak contraction.

Still, we have a positive note of this exercise is its ability to expand the chest taking into account the subject’s mobility. In fact, by orienting the pelvis in line with the shoulders or even lower, the anterior kinetic chain can be stretched allowing the intercostal muscles to also stretch, thus inducing a series hypertrophy of the fibers of the intercostal muscles.

A 2011 study also analyzed the activation of the breastplate and the backbone on the pullover. The article shows how the pullover with the barbell manages to optimally activate the breastplate, and that muscle activation is strictly dependent on the lever angle (Marchetti & Uchida 2011).

Furthermore, among the chest exercises, I consider this method useful for the transference it has on the bench press since another muscle is involved in this movement: the large dentate. An important scapula stabilizer (Tittel 1987).

So, to exploit the potential of this exercise as a work to optimize the quality of the bib, I recommend inserting it as the last. This is because, in my opinion, it is possible to exploit the use of the bib more if the latter has already been activated by other exercises, or it can be included in a work of agonist-agonist superseries [link superseries].

Chest exercises: front risers with a barbell with supine grip

The front elevation with supine grip is another exercise that has as its primary agonist a different muscle district to the pectoralis major, in this case, it is the deltoid, mainly the anterior portion (Tittel 1987).

How does a shoulder exercise become a chest exercise?

The moment the humerus is overstretched, the breastplate is automatically stretched due to its insertion on the crest of the great tuberosity of the humerus.

In fact, using this movement to increase the focus on the pectoralis major can be an excellent strategy to improve the quality of the clavicular bundles that intervene in the final phase of the movement, helping to bring the upper limb over the shoulder.

In reality, by keeping a constant contraction of the pectoralis major, it could be possible to focus the work thanks to a muscular synergy between the two mainly involved thrust muscles: pectoralis major and deltoid.

Furthermore, a no less important role must be attributed to the brachial biceps which, as previously described, is useful for optimizing the stability of the shoulder.

Also, in this case, I recommend inserting this exercise as the last one in the list of exercises for chest training, always to make more use of the use of the chest if this has already been activated by other exercises, or, as already explained previously, can be included in a work of agonist-agonist superseries.

Final conclusions on the exercises for the bibs

Briefly summarizing the above concepts we can affirm how the work with the flat or declined bench allows a greater activation of the sternocostal and abdominal bundles.

Instead, the clavicular beams are activated purely in work with the bench tilted.

Finally, accessory exercises can be a valuable aid to optimize the muscle quality of this muscle district, despite the fact that they see muscles different from the pectoral as primary agonists.