Women tend to hit the weight-room floor less frequently than men, and when they do, they often avoid the chest. After all, you don't want a manly looking physique, which is often defined by big pecs. However, neglecting the chest during your gym session is a mistake that you can't afford to make. Not only does working the chest improve your posture and muscular balance, it also makes you more self-sufficient when it comes to daily tasks, such as moving furniture. The chest consists of two muscles -- the large, fan-like muscle called the pectoralis major and the thin, triangular muscle that lies underneath, the pectoralis minor.
Importance of the Pectoralis Minor
The pectoralis minor works with a muscle located on the outside of the ribs called the serratus anterior, to manipulate the scapula, or the shoulder blades. If your pectoralis minor becomes short due to a rounded shoulder posture, improper breathing or muscular imbalances, it can feel tight and eventually cause painful shoulder impingement and winging of the scapula. As strange as it may sound, a poorly developed or tight pectoralis minor can also affect your gait by causing disfunction in the hip flexor, known as the psoas, and inhibiting swinging of your arms as you move. Your pectoralis minor can also play a role in back pain. It is essential in proper breathing technique, but when you can't activate it properly other muscles take over and cause the quadratus lumborum to become inhibited, resulting in lower-back pain.
The classic dip targets the triceps at the back of your upper arms as the primary mover. Change your angle slightly and you'll put more emphasis on the pectoralis major and minor. If you are new to dips, start by using an assisted pullup and dip machine. Stand on the stationary platform and place your hands on the parallel bars that are near your hips or thighs. Keep your arms straight as you step onto the movable platform. Bend your elbows to lower your body down and slightly forward. When you feel a stretch in your chest, push back up to straight arms to complete one repetition. Make this move a part of your regular upper-body training routine, doing at least one set of eight to 12 reps twice per week. Over time, you can progress to chest dips from freestanding bars.
The cable fly primarily targets the pectoralis major, but uses the pectoralis minor as an assisting muscle. To do the exercise, you'll need a dual-cable cross machine with handle attachments. Place the pulleys at the highest point on the post and grasp one handle in each hand. Step to the center of the cables and hinge slightly forward from your hips. Hug your arms together until your hands touch, keeping the elbows fixed in a slightly bent position.The elbows should point out to the sides at the bottom of the movement. Open the arms until you feel a stretch in the chest to complete one repetition.
An important step in developing the pectoralis minor is increasing flexibility in this short muscle. Stretching exercises, such as the doorway chest stretch, help open up the pectoralis minor. To perform the stretch, place your left shoulder against the opening of a doorway with your left elbow bent and left hand pressing into the wall. Lean your left shoulder into the wall as you turn the right side of your body away from the wall. You can also stretch the pectoralis minor by grasping a rope or yoga strap with a wide overhand grip and then raising the rope overhead and pulling it back and away from your head. Hold these stretches for 10 to 30 seconds at a time. Repeat to accumulate a total of 60 seconds for each stretch.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.