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Chest Exercises to Help Tone and More

Whether a man or a woman, strong, developed chest muscles are a plus. Learn how to sculpt your pecs in part 4 of WebMD's Fitness Series.
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WebMD Feature

Sure, chest exercises help give a man a nice physique, but working out the chest can help women, too, by lifting sagging chests and breasts. 

Think of anything you do that involves pushing and you've discovered what you use the chest muscles for. Whether it's pushing a lawn mower, baby carriage, or grocery cart, strong chests help us perform these tasks.

In addition, chest muscles are essential in sports like tennis, free-style swimming, and all sports where you throw a ball.

"Just because of the forward motion of daily life, the pectorals tend to get used," says Richard Cotton, an exercise physiologist in San Diego.

Things like driving or working at a computer all day keep chest muscles activated at a low level. That's good and bad, he says.

"The challenge is too much pec exercise," says Cotton. For example, someone who sits at a computer eight hours a day can really suffer negative effects from having continually engaged pectorals.

Posture Is Key

"We tend to get shorter muscles from working keyboards," he says. Shorter muscles mean a tighter chest and that usually translates to weak back muscles.

This can become a postural problem, having rounded shoulders and not being able to stand upright. It can also lead to shoulder injuries as the arms suffer a decreased range of motion.

When sitting at a desk, be conscious of posture, says Lisa Cooper, fitness director of Little Rock Athletic Club in Arkansas.

"Think about dropping your shoulders down and pulling your shoulder blades back and together; visualize holding a pencil between the blades while keeping your abdominals engaged to support the back," she says.

Cotton says working the chest is great when done in balance.

"Chest exercises need to be integrated into a whole-body workout including other major muscle groups, especially the abdominals," he says.

Cooper agrees.

"People need to think of working muscles in pairs, doing equal amounts of exercises with opposing muscle groups. If you're working chest, you should also work back. If you're working biceps, you should also work triceps."

And, she says, if you alternate between the two opposing muscle groups, you don't have to rest between sets, which can cut down your workout time.

If done correctly, many chest exercises simultaneously recruit and work other muscles groups.

"If you're pushing a car or a lawn mower," explains Cotton, "naturally the back and abs are also very activated. Having weak abs is going to hurt your back."

Chest exercises primarily use the chest but recruit supporting muscle groups to assist. In a push-up, for example, not only are the pectorals engaged but the abdominals, the latissimus dorsi in the back, the deltoids in the shoulders, and the triceps in the back of upper arms are involved.

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