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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Chest Training

Today I am going to talk about chest training. I recently did a course and learned quite a bit. Guys love to train their chest, and I can understand why. I am thinking that most people just think of it as an aesthetic feature, but the chest is a large muscle group that burns a lot of calories when you train it. It also helps strengthen your shoulders as well.

The chest aka "pectoralis major" is a large muscle group that is attached to your clavicle, sternum and ribs. There are a number of ways to train the chest, and there are a number of ways to put your shoulder at risk if you are not careful but we will get to that in a minute.

The most beneficial exercise for the chest is anything with a pushing motion to it like a pushup, bench press or dumbbell press. Exercises with a pushing movement uses more than one joint at a time, involves more muscles, will work on strength and hypertrophy, and it replicates real life movements.

Most people will benefit with just the pushing exercises, even though there are a lot of other exercises as well like the fly. Flys can be done standing at a cable machine or on the bench with dumbbells. Even though I really like this exercise, for most people this is not a good one because 1. they do it wrong 2. they have bad shoulders and this exercise can put their shoulders at risk 3. they use extreme range of motion, meaning that the elbows drop way too low which again puts the shoulder at risk. For the experienced weight lifter this is a good exercise to help sculpt the chest and shoulders and put on mass and for most bodybuilders, their bodies are used to the stress and flys are a great benefit to their routine.

Cable flys are a good option because the advantage to this exercise is that there is continuous tension. When starting this exercise, pull one side of the cables down with a bent elbow, then the other. Get into position with one leg straddling forward and press forward with bent elbows. Think about hugging a big tree, that should be the motion. This exercise also targets the shoulders and biceps. Again, avoid dropping the elbows too deep.

Pushups are my favorite chest exercise. This exercise works additional joints as well as working with your body weight. Pushups not only uses your chest, but it uses your shoulders and triceps and is one of the only exercise that works the serratus anterior. This muscle is largely responsible for the protraction of the scapula, like when you throw a punch. Your scapula moves forward and around the rib cage. This particular muscle is usually neglected and can cause an imbalance with the shoulder blade.

Pushups can be done so many ways. For a beginner I will set them up on the smith machine using the bar to do a pushup. The higher the bar, the easier the pushup is and as the person gets stronger, the lower the bar can go until they can do it on the floor. If you try this exercise on the smith machine, make sure that you have a medium grip with your elbows slightly tucked in which will make it easier on your shoulders. Keep your back straight and stay up on your toes, when you lower down, the bar should be at chest level or just below. There are so many other ways to do pushups, like on a ball, bosu, floor, holding dumbbells etc. But maybe that will be another blog :)

Bench press or dumbbell press is another great exercise. First of all, you want a neutral spine when you lay on the bench. Your hand should just be able to slide under your lower back. You also want your shoulders down and back. Most people should do this exercise with a medium grip which means your elbows can tuck in slightly so the shoulders are at a safer position. With the bench press the bar should come to the lower part of the chest, same with the dumbbells. Feet should be flat on the floor unless you have super short legs like me, then they can come up on the bench. Keeping the feet on the floor will help keep the spine neutral. Avoid dropping the elbows too deep, especially with the dumbbell press. This movement can cause the shoulder joint to open up and cause a lot of pain and damage.

If a person has shoulder problems and finds that training the chest is painful, try partial range of motion training. This is also good for people with too much flexibility in their shoulder. Lay on the floor with dumbbells or a bar, the floor will act as a guide to how far the elbows can go. There you have partial range of motion training, not hard at all.

The 2 exercises that are big concerns and now makes sense to me are the pec deck machine and decline bench press. The pec deck is a popular machine but the two big concerns with this one is 1. the position of the arm in externally rotated which makes it easy to separate the shoulder, 2. uses extreme range of motion. Careful using this machine. There are better ones than this one like the machine fly. The decline bench is also a concern and trainers should keep this one in mind because 1. the shoulder is at a greater risk for impingement. Shoulder impingement simply means that certain structures within the shoulder are being "pinched" 2. for older adults or people with high blood pressure the head lower than the heart is not a good idea. Can cause dizziness, can raise blood pressure or heart rate too much.

Usually the decline press is used in an aesthetic point of view. Guys like this exercise because they want to create that shelf look under their chest, but as long as you train your chest with all the different options out there, you don't really need this exercise. For a lot of guys, the lower part of their chest is usually covered by extra body fat and when the body fat is lost, this part of the chest will be visible.

Hope you learned a lot. Happy training :)

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