If you are bored with the same old pec deck routine, don't dismay. There's actually a wide array of exercises you can do for your pecs that don't involve touching a dumbbell. To challenge yourself, try a new exercise every four to six weeks or do more than one each session.
If you want to use a machine that doesn't involve a form of pec decks, try the chest press. Most gyms have a seated chest press machine, but some have a newer version instead of, or in addition to, the seated press that allows you to adjust your position anywhere from inclined to flat. For proper use, align the handles with your nipples -- which are right where they should be since all that pec work has kept your breasts perky.
Your elbows should be out to your sides, just slightly below your shoulders, and bent between 80 and 90 degrees. Inhale as you press the handles away from you until your arms are extended. Don't lock your elbows. Then inhale as you return to the starting position. These machines can allow your elbows to extend too far back, which could cause shoulder injury. Make sure to control the return and stop when your elbows are in line with your shoulders.
You probably know that push-ups work your pecs, but maybe you've been avoiding them because you're afraid of embarrassing yourself by having to do "girl" push-ups on your hands and knees. That's one modification that makes them easier, but another is the inclined push-up with your hands on a bench or step. The higher the elevation, the easier it will be. An added benefit of inclined push-ups is that they work your clavicular pecs, thereby giving you a sexier collar bone area. As you get better, progress to push-ups in standard form and then to declined push-ups with your feet elevated. To emphasize your pecs rather than your triceps, keep your hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart and come down until you feel a tightness across your chest.
Of course, if you really want to run with the guys, you have to "bench." This isn't necessarily as hard as all that grunting and groaning make it sound, but if you doubt your ability, use an unweighted barbell to start. Lie on the bench with your feet flat on the floor -- keep them elevated if you have back problems. For the bench press, your starting position is up, but on the lowering movement, follow the same alignment as you did for the chest press machine. Don't bring your elbows below your shoulders. Though you'll see people "cheating," you should always do a weighted bench press with a spotter. Other common, and dangerous, mistakes include arching your back, bouncing the bar off your chest or locking your elbows. The first two can be avoided by using a proper amount of weight.
You have a couple of options on the cable machine. Stand equidistant from both sides so that your arms can extend perpendicular to your torso when you are bent slightly forward at your hips. Grab the stirrup handles with an overhanded grip while keeping your elbows slightly rounded, and then pull the cables down until your fists meet, or almost meet. Another option, depending on the type of machine available at your gym, is bilateral or unilateral cable presses. Standing with your back to the pulley, lunge forward on one leg, keeping your elbow(s) out to the side and your fist(s) in line with your nipples. Press your arm or arms out, keeping them in line with your chest.
Weights and Reps
Choosing the right weight is especially important with pec exercises, because too much weight can hurt your shoulders. It could be even worse if a barbell comes slamming down on your chest. Whenever you're trying a new exercise, the weight you pick should allow you to do eight repetitions using proper form. If you can't do eight reps with proper form, use a lighter weight. If you can do more than eight reps with proper form, pick a heavier weight.
Figure on doing two sets of eight reps, building to 12 reps in each set before moving on to a heavier weight or a more challenging exercise. As you get better at maintaining form, you can play with heavier weights for fewer reps. Always exhale on the exertion and inhale on the return. Adding grunts to bench presses for greater effect is optional!
Nancy Cross is a certified paralegal who has worked as an employee benefits specialist and counseled employees on retirement preparation, including financial and estate planning. In addition to writing and editing, she runs a small business with her husband and is a certified personal trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA).