Whether you’re a recreational gym goer looking for a well-rounded physique or a bodybuilding/physique/figure competitor looking to shore up weak areas in order to win a show, one area of the body’s musculature is almost always difficult to develop: the upper chest.
The pecs are bound to look fuller and more impressive when the region that attaches to the clavicle is more prominent, but for some reason, that part doesn’t seem to respond like the rest of the muscle. To improve this area, one simple prescription is given time and time again.
When it comes to targeting the upper chest, inclining your bench isn’t the only factor to consider. Your anatomical structure, as well as your biomechanics and ranges of motion on specific exercises, are critical factors to consider.
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Which Muscles Are Found in the Upper Chest?
When we talk about the upper chest, we are referring to only one muscle: the pectoralis major. The pec major, on the other hand, is composed of three distinct portions of muscle fibers known as heads, the arrangement of which determines their function (i.e., the mechanics you need to use to develop them).
From top to bottom, the pec sections are as follows:
When you think of a Clavicular Head, the first thing that comes to mind is a (Upper Chest)
The fibers start on the clavicle also known as the collar bone and run diagonally downward to join the humerus also known as the upper-arm bone.
Sternal Head: (Middle Chest)
The fibers start on the sternum (breastbone) and travel to the humerus (arm bone) (just below where the clavicular head goes).
The Head of the Coast (Lower Chest)
Fibers connect the rib cartilage and the external oblique muscle to the humerus.
To improve the upper chest, you’ll want to focus primarily on training the clavicular head, but also on the sternal head, which covers the upper portion of the sternum.
How Do You Work on Your Upper Chest?
For at least a half-century, people have believed that any chest exercise done on an incline bench targets the upper pecs. Arnold attributed his impressive upper chest to incline presses and flyes, which are still popular among bodybuilders. Indeed, some incline is necessary to get the clavicular pec fibers working against gravity as efficiently as possible, but elevating your bench is only one part of the equation.
Note that the key to targeting a specific area of the chest is understanding where to look from an anatomical standpoint—that will indicate what pec fibers you’re training. Arm path will be important, but sternum angle and ribcage depth are anatomical variations that will have a significant impact on how you recruit the pecs.
The pecs tend to gain mechanical leverage by using the ribcage as a fulcrum, which allows them to pull the arm forward when it’s behind you and also across your body when it’s in front of you. When you spread your elbows, you move the pecs away from the ribcage, removing the fulcrum and forcing you to rely on your anterior deltoids. This is common mistake most people make when they’re performing an incline press, and this is one of the reasons why there is conflicting research on the effect of incline angles on chest recruitment.
You can choose your own degree of incline, but if you spread your arms too wide on your incline presses, you won’t effectively target the upper chest.
Along with your arm path, the angle of your sternum and the depth of your ribcage should be taken into account. Yes, we realize that sounds very technical and complex, but it’s not that difficult to evaluate.
The amount you incline your bench is determined by your sternum angle and ribcage.
Standing in front of a mirror, turning to one side, and taking your shirt off is all it takes to determine your own sternum dimensions.
Examine the position of your collarbone in relation to the bottom of your breastbone and lower ribs. If it’s behind these bones, you’ll need a steeper incline than if the two are nearly parallel. And if your clavicle is slightly ahead of your sternum and ribs, you may only need a few degrees of incline because your chest is already on an incline.
However, don’t rely solely on bench angle. Please note that one of the most common cheats is people arching their back and completely negating the incline on the bench.
So, once you have discovered the correct bench angle, make the most of it by keeping your back flat against the bench (even though, alas, it will force you to go lighter and use stricter form).
Keep in mind that the orientation of the pec fibers determines how you move to work the muscle. The fibers of the various pec major heads do not all run in the same direction, as shown in the diagram above. The fibers of the clavicular head run at an upward angle (diagonal), rather than side-to-side like those of the sternal head. Using an incline bench isn’t as important as ensuring your arms are moving along the path of the upper-chest fibers.
The clavicular pec is unique in that it arises from the clavicle rather than the sternum, and this gives it a more upward line of pull, which means you’ll use low-to-high motions. You can accomplish this by using a cable, an incline on a bench, or by adjusting your torso position in a machine. The bottom line is that you must press at an upward angle [to target the clavicular fibers].
Stretching Your Upper Chest
Before doing a chest workout, an object (for example,a ball) to help release some of the tension in the pecs, and also stretch the muscles with active movement (rather than passive, static stretching). The combination will increase the range of motion available for your exercises while also starting to pump blood into the area to warm it up.
Smash Your Chest
Step 1: Obtain a foam roller, softball, lacrosse ball, or other firm but rollable object that can move around under your muscles. Place the object under your left pec as you lie facedown on the floor. Now, without causing pain, place your weight on the object (the intensity should be around a 7 out of 10). Extend your left arm down by your side, palm facing up at the ceiling.
Step 2: Raise your arm out and upward toward your head, palm facing the floor. You should feel your pecs stretching against the ball’s tension.
Raise your arm until it is overhead, then rotate your wrist until your palm faces in again.
Reverse the movement.
Step 3: Continue to move your arm back and forth over any particularly sensitive areas until they relax a little. Work your left pec for 60 seconds, then switch to your right pec.
Shoulder Circles with Bands
Step 1: Stand with both hands outside shoulder width, holding an elastic exercise band (or dowel). Draw your ribs in, tuck your pelvis parallel to the floor, and brace your core.
Step 2: Raise the band over and behind your head as far as you can while keeping your arms straight. To bring the band back in front of you, reverse the motion. Perform three sets of ten reps.
Dumbbell Incline Press with Semi-Pronated Grip
According to a renowned expert, a relatively narrow grip targets the upper chest better because it allows the elbows to stay closer to the body, preventing the front delts from taking over the movement. When pressing with a barbell, he recommends a grip just outside shoulder width. However, narrower arm paths work better with a neutral grip [palms facing each other] or semi-pronated grip [palms somewhere between facing each other and facing straight forward], whichever is more comfortable for you. In this case, dumbbells are a better option than a barbell for targeting the upper pecs.
Dumbbells allow you to easily assume a neutral or grip, whereas a barbell locks your hands in a fully pronated position and this encourages the elbows to flare out.
How to Perform the Dumbbell Incline Press with a Semi-Pronated Grip
Step 1: Put your bench to an angle of 30–45-degree. The angle of your bench should be depending on your sternum angle. Once you have done this, grasp a pair of dumbbells and lie flat back on the bench. At this point, you are to make sure that your entire back is in contact with it—do not arch your back so that your lower back rises off the pad.
Step 2 Start with the dumbbells just outside your shoulders and your elbows bent, your forearms/wrists should be placed in a semi-pronated (or neutral) position.
Step 3: Press the dumbbells straight up until your arms are of full lockout. Note that you are to carry out this step while keeping your elbows at 45 degree. Lower the dumbbells under control until they are just above and outside your shoulders.
Step 4: Try to maintain a natural, comfortable wrist position as you press and lower the dumbbells. Make sure it is something between neutral and semi-pronated. The dumbbells allow you to make adjustments in the middle of the set.
Sets/Reps: 3–4 sets of 6–8 or 10–12 reps, training to failure.
HOW CAN I BUILD MY UPPER CHEST AT HOME?
Chest exercises performed at home without the use of any equipment
The classic push-up and all its variations are one of the best exercises you can do to improve the strength of your chest. Changing your body position as well as the time duration you perform the exercise will target different areas of your chest for balanced upper body strength.
Before we begin the workout, here are some different ways to do push-ups.
1. Push-ups on a regular basis
This classic bodyweight exercise is one of the best way to keep your chest fit at home. Push-ups on a regular basis is done for full-body or upper-body workout. Make sure to use a wide grip, as this will engage your chest muscles more than a narrow grip.
The higher you raise your feet, the more difficult the exercise.
2. Push-ups on an incline
If a standard push-up is too difficult for you to begin with, try an incline push-up. The steeper the incline, the less body weight you’ll need to work with to push. This is also an excellent exercise for toning your lower chest.
3. Push-ups on the decline
What goes up must eventually come down. These push-ups will help you specifically target your upper chest and deltoid muscles. It also adds more of your body weight to the exercise than a standard push-up, making it more difficult.
4. Push-ups with a plyometric incline
Are you prepared to spring into action? Push-ups can be done in a variety of fun and fantastical ways, such as clap push-ups. These powerful plyometric bursts will have your muscles firing on all cylinders.
5. Push-ups while under tension
Slowing down a movement and paying attention to proper form, believe it or not, will result in excellent conditioning results. Lowering yourself very slowly into a push-up and returning to your starting position will increase your muscle mass advice from a trainer
Count three seconds as you lower yourself down — pause for about two seconds at the lowest point of your movement — then count three seconds as you push yourself back up to your starting position.
Chest workout at home (no equipment needed)
Perform three rounds of the exercises listed below for effective workout. Be sure to maintain proper form throughout each exercise, even if your body begins to tire — remember, form trumps speed!
i. 10 regular push-ups followed by 60-second star jumps can also be added.
ii. 10 incline push-ups followed by 60-second star jumps
iii. 10 decline push-ups followed by 60 seconds of star jumps
iv. 5 regular push-ups with timed rest
v. Thirty mountain climbers.