Bodybuilders train for appearance and gymnasts train for function. The appearance and development of their muscles reflect this difference. Although both male bodybuilders and male gymnasts have impressive muscle definition at the chest, bodybuilders are usually unable to perform the isometric holds, handsprings, bar maneuvers and catch and release moves of gymnasts. Different training techniques and goals influence the differences between the pec muscles of the two types of athlete.
Bodybuilders usually stick to a weight-based training protocol, lifting dumbbells and barbells to build strength and create proper proportions. Gymnasts may lift weights, but only as a way to augment bodyweight training. Male gymnasts, in events such as the still rings, parallel bars and high bar, suspend themselves in mid air using their pecs as well as many other muscles. Gymnasts must perform exercises to train their chest to help perform these moves. Gymnast pec training recruits more muscles and stimulates the central nervous system in every exercise, leading to muscle growth that permits function.
Bodybuilders conduct chest workouts carefully planned to hit all angles of the pectoral muscles. A bodybuilding chest workout not only focuses on strength, but also on symmetry and size. Exercises are chosen not because they increase function, but because they create a specific appearance. The upper portion of the pec muscle is often a focus of bodybuilders because it creates a larger, thicker look that creates an impressive V-taper — increasing the illusion of a small waist. A gymnast is not concerned with appearance; rather, he approaches training with function in mind.
Because the ultimate goal of bodybuilders is to reach an ideal-looking form, bodybuilders pay close attention to how the pecs appear in relationship to other muscle groups. Gymnasts aim for function, which means they may have disproportionately large shoulders in relationship to their chest muscles. Events such as the pommel horse and still rings require exceptional shoulder strength. Moves used to build strength in the shoulders, such as dips, pushups, handstand pushups and pull-ups also build the pecs of gymnasts. These moves, however, are not always used by bodybuilders.
The point of gymnastic training is to become more effective at performing specific movements. Building muscles that are unnecessary to those movements may only add weight and bulk that impedes performance in the sport. A gymnast would never follow a bodybuilding protocol to train the chest because it would not serve his needs.