Powerful Pecs

Strong chest muscles look good and feel good By R.J. Ignelzi Union-Tribune Staff Writer 2:00 a.m. July 28, 2009

A Well-Developed Chest Does More Than Just Look Good

Strong pectoralis muscles, the large muscles at the front of the chest that attach to the upper arm and shoulder, help you put some “oomph” into daily activities. Although you push a wheelchair, shopping cart, baby stroller or lawn mower with your arms, it’s actually your chest that’s doing most of the work.

Contrary to what some believe, chest exercises aren’t just for vein-popping, body-building guys. Anyone can benefit from a regular chest workout, including women. Strong pecs not only help defy gravity, but they also make the most of what God gave you.

Weak or tight chest muscles can sabotage your posture. When your chest is tight, a common plight for desk workers hovered over computers, your shoulders pull forward making you appear rounded and hunched. Tight chest muscles often translate into weak back muscles. Because chest muscles aren’t used often in daily activities, it’s important to do specificexercises to strengthen and stretch them because they can atrophy.

To help you develop a strong chest, we offer some previously published favorite exercises from the weekly Firehouse Fitness column:

Pec And Shoulder Stretch

The move: San Diego firefighter Bruce Pollett performs a pectoralis stretch while lying supine on a foam roller.

Works on: Pectoralis and shoulder flexibility.

Level of difficulty: Easy.

Precautions: Do not do this exercise if you have a history of shoulder dislocation or instability. Setup: Lie on the floor with your back to the foam roller. Position yourself so your head and pelvis are supported by the roller.

Steps: Bend the knees to 90 degrees and spread the feet more than shoulder width for stability. Flatten the lumbar spine with a pelvic tilt, using the abdominals to rock the pubic bone closer to the belly button. Hold the lumbar spine flat against the roller throughout the entire exercise. Bend the elbows to 90 degrees, rotate the shoulders so palms are facing up, and drop the forearms to the floor if possible. Slowly raise the arms above shoulder height. Stop and hold 15-30 seconds when you feel a good stretch.

Repetitions: Hold each stretch 30-45 seconds, repeat five times.

Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press

The move: San Diego firefighter and paramedic Mark Tomasello demonstrates an upper-body strengthening exercise performed with dumbbells.

Works on: Chest and triceps strength, shoulder stability and coordination.

Level of difficulty: Advanced

Precautions: Caution must be used with any pre-existing upper extremity conditions that limit arm motion. A bench that can change angles is optimal, but a flat bench may be used.

Setup: With dumbbells in each hand, lie back on the incline bench. Press the weights up toward the ceiling and hold them directly above your head.

Steps: Using a five count, slowly lower one dumbbell toward the body until the elbow bends to 90 degrees. Return the arm to an extended position. Alternate arms and repeat.

Repetitions: Perform three sets of 10 repetitions on each arm.

Options: Increase the weight of the dumbbells, and/or change the angle of the incline bench. A more advanced technique is to slowly lower the weight as before, but on the return motion, raise the weight explosively to develop power. Take care with this last option; it can produce muscle soreness and has a higher potential for injury. Consult with a certified trainer before trying this option.

Upright Push-Up With Resistance

The move: San Diego fire Capt. Greg Lloyd performs a push-up in a standing position with body-weight resistance.

Works on: Pectoralis, triceps and core stability strength.

Level of difficulty: Advanced

Precautions: This is a deceiving exercise. It is very demanding on the elbows and a challenge to the shoulders and torso to stabilize throughout the range of motion. Introduce the exercise in a near upright position and progress conservatively in your forward lean as your strength improves. Ensure the rope is in good condition and that its attachment point is solid.

Setup: Tie a knot in each end of the rope. Grab an end of the rope in each hand and stand facing away from its point of attachment. Straighten the arms and bring them to chest height. Walk forward until the rope is taut. Lean into the rope and take a small step back. Square the feet to the shoulders and tighten the abdominals to hold the torso straight and rigid throughout the movement. The body should be in a “plank” position.

Steps: Slowly perform a push-up with an emphasis on keeping the arms and torso stable.

Repetitions: Three sets of 10.

Options: Try different heights of the rope’s attachment point to change the angle of resistance.

Push-Up With Added Resistance

The move: San Diego firefighter Jeff Akens performs a standard push-up with added resistance from elastic tubing.

Works on: Pectoral and triceps strength.

Level of difficulty: Moderate

Precautions: Do not let the lower back sag during any portion of the push-up. Keep the head in line with the spine. Do not hold your breath.

Setup: Kneel on a mat and place the tubing around the back at shoulder-blade level. Hold one end of the tubing in each hand. Assume a hand-and-knees position. Place the hands slightly wider than, and just below shoulder height. Keep the elbows close to the body (upper arms should be no more than 45 degrees from the torso). Perform a slow and controlled push-up, keeping the torso and legs rigid.

Steps: Perform a push-up with slow and controlled movements.

Repetitions: Three sets of 10.

Options: Try different tubing thicknesses and tensions to personalize your workout.

Chest Stretch

The moves: San Diego firefighter Jason Shanley demonstrates a chest-opening stretch to reverse prolonged sitting posture.

Works on: Stretching the chest (pectoral) muscles and increasing abdominal control of the low back.

Level of difficulty: Easy

Setup: Stand, one foot in front of the other, facing a corner. Your front foot should be about 6 inches from the corner. Place both palms and forearms flat on the walls, with the elbows slightly below shoulder height. The hands should be directly above the elbows and elbows held at a 90-degree angle.

Steps: Tighten the abdominal muscles to flatten the arch of the low back and hold this controlled position throughout the stretch. Transfer weight from the back leg to the front, and allow the front knee to bend slightly. Continue to move forward in this way until you feel a stretch across the chest and both shoulders. Keep the head centered over the spine and look forward on a level plane.

Repetitions: Hold the stretch 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat five times.

Precautions: Do not perform this stretch if you have a history of shoulder dislocation or if it causes shoulder pain. Do not let the low back arch, and remember to breathe.

This Article was taken from the Heath Section of the San Diego Union Tribune, Tuesday July 28, 2009. R.J. Ignelzi: (760) 476-8206.