Stop trying to hide a bony chest with scarves and turtlenecks. From bench presses and push-ups to dips, there are plenty of exercises that can add size to your chest. Keep your workouts varied and increase your energy intake to build lean mass.
Building muscle can help improve the appearance of a bony chest. Work your pectoral muscles twice a week or so, increase your energy intake and prioritize compound exercises, like the chest press, to gain lean mass.
Strength Training Is a Must
The pectoral muscles give your chest its size and shape. The pectoralis major, which is the largest muscle in this area, allows you to move your arms in different directions and pull them close to your body, explains a recent study published in BioMed Research International in April 2019. The pectoralis minor, a smaller muscle in the chest region, contributes to arm and shoulder movement.
Resistance training can help strengthen these muscles and promote hypertrophy, making your chest appear fuller. At the same time, it may improve body composition, or fat-to-muscle ratio, and help you build a well-rounded physique.
The key is to gradually increase the weight or resistance to keep your muscles guessing and prevent plateaus. Or you can regularly change the number of sets and reps, try new exercises, increase training intensity and so on. This concept is known as progressive overload and plays a key role in hypertrophy, or muscle growth.
A bony chest can affect your confidence and self-esteem. To fix this problem, work your chest muscles two or three times a week on nonconsecutive days. New Mexico State University recommends 8 to 12 repetitions per set to increase muscle size and strength. Rest for two or three minutes before you start a new set.
If you can easily perform 12 reps of a given exercise with perfect form, add more plates to the bar or use heavier dumbbells. Your muscles should feel tired by the last 2 reps or so.
Exercises for a Bony Chest
As you might have guessed, some chest exercises are more effective than others. According to a small study conducted by the American Council on Exercise in October 2012, barbell bench presses produce the greatest muscle activation. Bent-forward cable crossovers and exercises on the pec-deck machine yielded similar results. Therefore, you may use these exercises interchangeably.
The barbell bench press is pretty straightforward. If you work out at home, you can use dumbbells instead of a barbell. In fact, there are dozens of ways to do this exercise, depending on what equipment you have available — but they are not equally effective. You may also try incline or decline bench presses, use different grip widths or change the position of your arms to target your pecs from different angles.
For example, ExRx.net states that barbell decline bench presses recruit the pectoralis major to a greater extent compared with the barbell incline bench press. A wider grip decreases shoulder involvement and allows you to lift a heavier weight. Placing the feet apart gives you more support.
While it's true that most chest exercises require gym equipment, you can still get a decent workout at home. The key is to be creative. Consider using a suspension training system, resistance bands or exercise balls. Adjustable dumbbells are a great choice for at-home workouts.
If you have a bony chest, you may need to slightly increase your energy intake, see how your body reacts and then adjust your diet accordingly. Track your daily meals as well as the amount of protein, carbs and fats consumed each day.
Chest Workout Ideas
Depending on your fitness level, consider starting with body-weight exercises or movements that require light-to-moderate weights. Increase the load and exercise difficulty as you progress. Here are some chest exercises you could try:
Move 1: Incline Push-Ups
- Stand facing a table or another elevated platform.
- Place your hands on the edge of the table. Position them slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Bring your feet back into a plank position, with your arms and legs fully extended. Your body should form a straight line.
- Bend your elbows to lower your chest toward the table.
- Straighten your arms to return to the starting position.
- Perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps each.
Use a lower table or platform to make this exercise more challenging or a higher platform to make it easier.
- Start in a plank position with your arms straight and your thighs on a stability ball. Position your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Bend your knees and cross your ankles over the balls. Your knees should form a 90-degree angle.
- Lower your chest toward the floor by bending your elbows. Keep your back and hips straight.
- Push your body up, returning to the starting position. Repeat.
- Perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Move 3: Resistance Band Chest Press
- Wrap a resistance band around something sturdy, such as a pole or doorknob.
- Grab each end with your hands.
- Take one step forward and push the band in front of you with both arms. Keep your back straight and your chest up.
- Hold the contraction for a second or two, relax your arms and repeat.
- Perform 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps each.
Move 4: Barbell Incline Bench Press
- Lie on an incline bench with your feet planted on the ground.
- Place your hands on the barbell wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Lift the barbell from the rack and lower it toward the upper chest with a slow, controlled motion. Ideally, the bar should slightly touch your upper chest.
- Press the bar until your arms are fully extended. Repeat.
- Complete 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Keep the barbell in line with your wrist and elbows when you lower it to your chest. Use a narrower grip if your arms are short or a wider grip if you have longer arms.
Move 5: Bent-Forward Cable Crossovers
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart between two opposing high pulley attachments.
- Set the desired weight at the pulley machine. Take one step forward, as illustrated by the American Council on Exercise.
- Grab each handle and then slowly bring your hands together, squeezing your chest muscles. Bend your elbows slightly.
- Return to the starting position with a slow, controlled motion.
- Complete 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Move 6: Pec-Deck Flys
- Adjust the seat of the pec-deck machine and set the desired weight.
- Sit on the machine, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your forearms on the pads at your sides.
- Squeeze your pecs and slowly push your forearms toward your chest to bring the pads together (don't let them touch), as recommended by the American Council on Exercise.
- Bring your arms to the starting position with a controlled motion and repeat.
- Perform 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions each.
Avoid arching your back or leaning forward as you bring the pads together. Contract your chest muscles for a few seconds at top of the movement.
- BioMed Research International: "Anatomical Variations of the Pectoralis Major Muscle: Notes on Their Impact on Pectoral Nerve Innervation Patterns and Discussion on Their Clinical Relevance"
- Loyola University Medical Education Network: "Pectoralis Minor"
- Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness: "Strength Training and Body Composition in Middle-Age Women"
- University of New Mexico: "The Mystery of Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy"
- New Mexico State University: "The Benefits of Strength Training and Tips for Getting Started"
- American Council on Exercise: "Top 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises"
- ExRx.net: "Bench Press Analyses"
- ExRx.net: "Incline Push-up"
- ExRx.net: Decline Push-Up (on Stability Ball)
- ExRx.net: "Barbell Incline Bench Press"