Do you wish you had more strength to push your body up — whether it's from a chair, a table or the ground — or more definition between your chest and your abs? Either case is a great reason to do a special lower chest workout twice a week.
Your Lower Chest Workout
Unless you really feel a need to define your chest or strengthen yourself for pushing at a downward angle, you don't necessarily need to do special lower pectoral workouts. Just rotate through a variety of chest exercises during your normal workouts, working your pecs from a variety of angles, and you'll be fine.
If you do want to develop your lower chest specifically, you should still keep doing the twice-weekly full-body strength workouts recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — these are vital for maintaining a strong and healthy body. Just add the lower chest workout in with your other exercises. If you're doing weight-training splits, add the lower pec exercises to what you're already doing on chest day.
The number of repetitions to do isn't set in stone. In general, if you're looking to build strength or muscle size, at least one set of eight to 12 repetitions is a good place to start. You can add more sets as your body adapts to the workout. If you're more interested in building endurance, you can use higher repetitions and correspondingly lighter resistance.
1. Decline Bench Press
In a 2012 study sponsored and published by the American Council on Exercise, researchers named the bench press as the best exercise for isolating your chest, period. Another study, published in the 2016 issue of the European Journal of Sport Science, found that a flat bench press activates your lower pectoralis, but shifting to a decline bench worked that angle of the muscle a little bit more.
- Carry the dumbbells with you, holding them close to your body as you carefully position yourself on the decline bench. Or, even better, have a spotter hand them to you once you're in position.
- Press the dumbbells straight up against gravity; they'll be centered over your lower chest. Your palms should face toward your lower body.
- Bend your arms and lower the weights, keeping your wrists positioned over your elbows. (The weights will move down and out as you lower them, as if they were outlining two edges of a triangle.)
- Press the weights back up to complete the repetition.
If you don't have access to a decline bench, you can do this exercise on a flat bench instead. If you don't have access to a barbell setup, do a dumbbell press instead.
2. Elevated Push-Ups
- Place your hands on an elevated surface. The higher the surface, the easier the exercise will be. Some examples of suitable surfaces include weight benches, aerobic steps, a couple of sturdy chairs or even the kitchen counter.
- Walk your feet back until your body is straight from head to heels. Then adjust your body position, scooting forward or back as necessary, so that when you bend your arms your chest will lower straight to your hands.
- Keep your body straight as you bend your arms, lowering your chest toward your hands and the elevated surface.
- Straighten your arms and press your body away from the elevated surface, completing the repetition.
3. Cable Crossovers
Another one of the top chest exercises in the aforementioned ACE study was bent-forward cable crossovers. If you bring your hands down just a bit, you can mimic the angle of a decline press or elevated push-up.
- Position yourself between two high cable pulleys. You'll need a D-ring handle on each pulley.
- Step forward on one foot and hinge slightly forward from the hips. Keep your back flat.
- Swing your arms together in front of you and slightly down; your hands should line up together, or just slightly overlap, at about navel level.
- Maintain a slight bend in your arms as you spread them apart, elbows pointing back toward the pulleys, to complete the repetition. Do not let the pulleys draw your arms back into a stretch; that places your shoulders in an unstable position.
4. Chest Dips
Here's another body-weight exercise you can do to work your lower chest. Chest dips also work your triceps, of course, but by using wide bars and letting your arms flare out to the sides, you boost chest involvement at an angle that emphasizes your lower pecs.
- Position yourself between a pair of normal or wide dip bars.
- Grasp the bar on each side of you and put the weight of your body on your arms.
- Straighten your arms, if they aren't already straight — but don't lock them out. This is your starting position.
- Bend your arms, letting your elbows flare comfortably out to the sides, and lean forward a bit as you lower your body toward the floor.
- Stop as your shoulders break the plane of your elbows, or when you feel a slight stretch in your shoulders — the choice depends on your shoulder stability and training goals. If you're not sure which category you belong to, go with the more conservative first option.
- Straighten your arms and press yourself back up to the starting position.
This is a challenging exercise. If you can't lift your full body weight, you're not alone; you can place an aerobics step or small plyometrics box under the bars and press against it with your feet to help offset some of your weight. And some assisted pull-up machines have a setting that lets you use them for doing dips, too.
- American Council on Exercise: "ACE-Sponsored Research: Top 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- European Journal of Sport Science: "Influence of Bench Angle on Upper Extremity Muscular Activation During Bench Press Exercise"