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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.

Posture Is Key continued...

Experts say pectorals are not usually a neglected group among those developing a workout program. Quite the contrary 

"The show muscles [such as pecs and abs] are usually something that people that are motivated to exercise are going to try to build -- men especially," says Cotton.

Many men focus solely on their upper bodies and particularly their chests, says Cooper, because they can see the progress.

But everyone should be wary of sacrificing balance in a zealous desire to have a nice chest.

"This is not a muscle group you want to overemphasize to the detriment of the opposing back muscles," Cotton says. "You should balance the two for a healthy program."

For women, chest exercises, done in balance can help to lift a sagging chest, strengthening the muscles that help lift the breast tissue, particularly in someone who's overweight, losing weight, or has just had a baby.

"Getting the chest in shape lifts the chest," says Cotton. "It may appear that you have a bigger chest (whether you're striving for that or not), but it's a healthier look. It's better posture."

Women concerned with building bulk shouldn't be, he says.

"Only 10% of women actually gain significant muscle mass doing chest exercises," says Cotton.

"You'd have to be on a pretty serious body-building regime to get that bulk," says Cooper. "And you'd have to be genetically predisposed to it."

"It would take heavy weights and low repetitions to create size," says Cooper. Women are generally doing higher repetitions with lower weights so bulk is not really an issue.

Don't Forget to Stretch

Regardless of which muscle group you're working, stretching is an important component of a comprehensive strength-training program. Be sure to complete each workout with stretches for those muscles you've taxed. 

Chest stretches would include standing in a doorway, elbows bent, palms on the inside of the doorway. Lean out to open the chest while straightening and holding with your arms. Another is to stand with your arms by your sides, palms facing backward and press back and long with your arms while lifting your chest slightly.

For beginners, perform two sets of either the push-up or the dumbbell bench press followed by two sets of the incline dumbbell chest fly. Intermediate and advanced exercisers should perform three sets of push-ups and/or the dumbbell bench press followed by three sets of the incline dumbbell chest fly. Both beginners and advanced should perform eight to 12 repetitions of each exercise. Once you can do 12 repetitions with good form, increase the weight used.

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