Training Articles

5 Exercises to Sculpt Your Chest

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Traditional bench-pressing done with heavy weight on a barbell and lowering it all the way to the chest results in easily preventable shoulder injuries. Without getting too detailed, lowering a heavy barbell all the way down to your chest stretches and places a great deal of (loaded!) strain on your shoulders, while simultaneously forcing them beyond their normal range of motion = bad combination! There are much safer, and more effective ways to challenge your chest. Traditional exercises such as seated chest presses or barbell bench presses can certainly work your chest but, on the other hand, taking away a little stability (by using a Swiss ball or training one arm at a time, for example) challenges your entire nervous system and forces your body to utilize spinal, shoulder, hip, and even knee and ankle stabilizers - all while giving your chest an incredible workout. Most of the exercises in this workout follow this school of thought; give them a try and see the difference!

The workout

Warm up with five to 10 minutes of cardio work. If you are doing a chest-only workout, start with one set of each of these exercises, using weights that allow you to complete 10 to 15 repetitions, and gradually work your way up to two to four sets. Make sure you are fatigued - but still able to maintain proper form - at the end of each set. For one-arm flyes and presses, do one side, immediately followed by the other side, to complete a full set. You can do one set of each exercise and repeat them all, or complete all sets of one exercise before moving onto the next; it's up to you. Since the push-up exercises use only body weight, work on gradually increasing the number of repetitions you are able to do, until you can complete about 20 of each. If you are combining these exercises with a full-body workout, try doing incline flyes, one-arm stability ball presses and/or push-ups with rotation for the chest portion of your workout.

Exercises

One-arm flyes
Using one arm increases the intensity of flyes - you will probably need to use a lighter weight than you would for two arm flyes. If a bench isn't available, you can do these on a stability ball, or even on the edge of a stable (not glass!) coffee table.

Starting position: Lie on your back on a flat bench, knees bent and feet flat on the bench. Rest one hand on your hip and extend your other arm - holding a dumbbell - straight up over your chest with palm facing in. Squeeze your shoulder blades together against the bench, keeping your chest high.

The exercise: Maintaining a slight bend in your elbow, lower the dumbbell toward the floor (visualize a big hug) until your elbow reaches shoulder level. Keeping your shoulder blades squeezed together, slowly return weight to starting position. Repeat

Caution: Do not let your elbows travel below shoulder level when lowering the dumbbells.
 

Medicine ball push-ups
Combining a stable (the floor) and unstable (the ball) surface presents a new stimulus for your chest, making your pecs work even harder. If you do not have a medicine ball, try using a basketball, soccer ball, etc.

Starting position: Get in push-up position with hands about shoulder-width apart. Place the medicine ball under one hand; the other hand is on the ground.

The exercise: Draw your abdomen in toward your spine, squeeze shoulder blades together, and lower yourself toward the ground by bending your elbows. Keep your torso tight throughout the movement and don't let your back arch or sink. Lower until your chest is even with the medicine ball, and slowly return to starting position.

Tip: If push-ups bother your wrists, use a dumbbell to hold onto instead of placing your palm flat on the floor; this will alleviate some of the pressure by lessening the angle of your wrist.
 

Incline flyes
Incline exercises are a good staple for any chest workout. The incline plane brings a different stimulus to your pecs and involves the shoulder muscles as well. Set your incline bench to about a 30-degree angle; if the incline is too high, you will focus more on shoulders than chest.

Starting position: Lie back on an incline bench with feet flat on the floor. Holding dumbbells, extend your arms up over your shoulders (not your head) with a slight bend in your elbows, palms facing each other.

The exercise: Draw your belly button in and your shoulder blades together. Keeping elbows locked, slowly open and lower your arms toward the floor. Pause when hands are even with your shoulders. Return to starting position, keeping shoulder blades squeezed together throughout the entire motion. Repeat.

Tip: Keep your hands over your shoulders during the entire exercise; do not let the dumbbells travel up over your head.
 

One-arm stability ball presses
Using a stability ball as a bench and working only one arm at a time makes this exercise very challenging - you will use your entire body for support and stability.

Starting position: Lie on a stability ball so your shoulders and head are supported. Holding one dumbbell, get in a bridge position by squeezing your glutes to keep your hips flat and parallel to the ceiling, and placing feet shoulder-width apart, knees directly over your ankles. This position should be maintained throughout the entire exercise. Hold the dumbbell straight up above your chest, palm facing your feet, and rest your other hand on your hips.

The exercise: Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower the dumbbell by bending your elbow down and out until it forms a 90-degree angle. Do not let your elbow lower past your shoulders. Keeping your shoulder blades together, hips up and torso tight, press the dumbbell back up to starting position. Repeat. Tip: Do not let your hips sink during this exercise. Tip: Keep your glutes tight and torso parallel to the ceiling. Tip: Keep your wrists directly over elbows during the entire exercise.


Push-ups with rotation
This is a great twist (no pun intended!) on the regular old push-up.

Starting position: Get in push-up position on the floor, with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart (start on your knees if necessary). Draw your abdomen in toward your spine and lower yourself until your elbows form right angles.

The exercise: Using your arms, push your body back to starting position and continue the motion by extending one arm straight out and up toward the ceiling, so your upper body is perpendicular to the floor. Hold this position for two seconds and return to starting position. Repeat.

Caution: Do this exercise slowly and with control - focus on quality instead of quantity. If you go too fast, you run the risk of flinging your body back too far and hurting yourself.