The best way to add size and strength to your chest is to press, press, do a fly, and press some more. But to build a well-defined chest that stands out, you need to target the lower chest —the area of the muscle that sweeps from under the armpit (near the serratus muscle) to underneath the nipple. Neglect the lower chest (and the upper chest, for that matter), and you won’t have that large and full look that bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Franco Columbu made famous. Also, a larger chest is a stronger chest.
The pecs are large fan-like muscles with two heads — the clavicle and the sternal head. To isolate the lower chest (sternal) requires you to change the angle of your press to emphasize this neglected part of the chest. You do this by either performing exercises on a decline bench or leaning forward with traditional exercises like dips and pushdowns. Here are five of the best lower chest exercises that do just that.
Best Lower Chest Exercises
The decline bench press is often overlooked in favor of the flat or incline version. And that’s a shame because you’re leaving gains on the table. Although the flat version works the lower chest, the decline variation really focuses on the lower chest because the angle changes the pressing path. Plus, the elbows flaring out allows for a great and more intense stretch of the entire chest muscle. As a bonus, the decline bench is known to be a bit more shoulder-friendly compared to other pressing variations.
Benefits of the Decline Bench Press
- Less strain on the anterior shoulder if shoulder pain is an issue for you.
- Effectively targets the lower chest muscles.
- Reduced stress on the lower back because of the decline angle.
How to Do the Decline Bench Press
Lay face up on a decline bench with the feet secured to avoid sliding off the bench. Get your eyes underneath the barbell, take a wider than shoulder-width grip, and set your shoulder blades together. Allow the shoulder and elbow joints to bend as you lower into the bottom of the press, with the elbows underneath the barbell. When in the bottom position, press the barbell back up to lockout position and repeat.
Dips are often referred to as the squats of the upper body — they target all of the major muscles in your upper body and can be easily scaled to suit beginners and advanced lifters. The long range of motion of the dip puts a greater stretch on the lower chest and triceps for more strength and hypertrophy potential. Leaning forward here targets the lower chest, but this puts the anterior shoulder at risk, so be careful.
The Benefits of the Dip
- Improved lockout strength for exercises such as the bench press, overhead press, and Olympic lifts.
- Build strength and muscle mass in the chest, triceps, shoulders, and back.
- You can adjust this exercise to work more of your lower chest muscles by leaning forward.
How to Do the Dip
Stand between the dip bars and grip firmly, and engage the upper back by keeping your chest up and shoulders down. Squeeze the bar and press yourself upwards while maintaining a forward lean to target the lower chest. When approaching lockout, flex the back of your triceps, pause for a second, and slowly lower down and repeat.
The decline dumbbell fly is a fly variation performed on a slight decline, which targets the lower chest muscles slightly more than the flat and incline variations. Like the decline bench press, this exercise decreases strain on the anterior shoulders compared to the incline version. Because the triceps and shoulders are less involved, this isolates the lower chest muscles even further.
Benefits of the Decline Dumbbell Fly
- Isolates the lower chest muscles.
- The decreased strain on the anterior shoulder as compared to the incline fly variation.
How to Do the Decline Dumbbell Fly
Lie supine on the decline bench with a pair of dumbbells held using a neutral grip near your chest and with your feet secured at the end on the bench. Then press the weights to the lockout position. Lower the weights laterally, maintaining a slight bend at your elbows to avoid elbow strain. When the dumbbells are at chest level, squeeze your chest muscles, bring the weights back to the starting position, and repeat.
This exercise stretches the chest muscles from the start and takes you through a large range of motion for better muscle-building potential. Plus, due to the constant tension of the cable machine, your muscles are under tension longer for improved hypertrophy. Keeping a forward lean and a bend in the elbows will target the lower chest muscles further.
Benefits of the Cable Crossover Fly
- Keeps tension on the working muscles as opposed to the dumbbell fly variations.
- Isolates and takes the lower chest muscles through a larger range of motion compared to the dumbbell variation.
How to Do the Cable Crossover Fly
Set the handles at both ends of the cable machine at the highest level. Stand in the center with a staggered stance and take hold of both handles. Lean your torso forward, keeping your spine in neutral, and bend your elbows slightly too. Keeping your core tight, pull both handles down and across your body and squeeze the chest muscles at the end of this movement. Slowly reverse to the start position, keeping the bend in your elbows, and repeat.
By slightly adjusting the triceps pushdown, you will target and build the lower chest. With the jackhammer pushdown, you’ll take your elbows out wide and lean the torso forward. This angle isolates the lower chest muscles and reduces triceps involvement. Plus, the constant tension of the cable machine and the large ROM makes this an effective lower chest builder.
Benefits of the Jackhammer Pushdown
- The ROM and the constant tension of the cable machine mean more hypertrophy potential.
- This exercise is effective at isolating and strengthening the lower chest area.
How to Do the Jackhammer Pushdown
Stand in front of the cable machine and use the same handle as you would for a triceps pushdown machine. Stand close to the machine with the cable over your shoulder, lean the torso forward and take a firm grip of the handle. Let your elbows flare out. At the top of the movement and then push down to extend the elbows. Slowly come back to the starting position by opening the chest and bringing the elbows out and up.
Anatomy of the Chest
Your chest is a large superficial muscle running at different angles with multiple attachment points. Understanding what they are and how they work is important in obtaining a stronger chest. The chest is made up of two muscles, the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor muscle.
The pectoralis major is a large superficial muscle located on the anterior surface of the thoracic rib cage. The Pectoralis minor is a superficial muscle on the anterior aspect of the chest, located deep to the pectoralis major muscle. The pectoralis major has two major heads, the clavicular head, which is in the upper region of the chest, and the sternal head is in the middle to lower chest region. The clavicular part of the chest helps to flex the extended arm up to 90 degrees, while the sternal head assists in the extension of the flexed arm by pulling it down.
The Benefits of Training Your Lower Chest
Besides building a bigger and fuller chest, there are many important benefits from focusing on your lower chest 9and your chest in general).
As it’s one of the largest muscles in the upper body, the chest plays a major role in assisting good posture as its length and strength dictate your shoulder position. The pecs, along with the upper back and shoulder, help to stabilize the entire shoulder joint.
Strengthening and lengthening the chest muscles support deeper breathing through expansion and contraction of the ribcage. Your pecs are attached to your ribcage, which expands with every breath, and if they are tight or short, this will affect your ability to breathe deeply.
Improved Athletic Performance
As the pecs are your hugging muscle, their size and strength help tackle and fend off opponents of the football field. And they assist in hitting a tennis ball, throwing a football and baseball faster and harder.
How to Warm-Up Your Chest Before Training
Performing some light sets or ramp-up sets with exercise you’re about to do is one way to warm up. Not only will ramping up sets grease the groove and help you decide your working weight for the day, but the extra volume is helpful for fat loss and hypertrophy goals. Here’s an example of ramp-up sets for Decline Bench Press:
- 10 reps with an empty barbell
- Eight reps with 135 pounds
- Six reps with 155 pounds
- Five reps with 165 pounds
- Four reps with 175 pounds
Another way is to do some upper body drills that train shoulder and thoracic mobility to get the blood moving through these important areas. Exercises like an inchworm with a push-up, spiderman with rotations, wall slide, band pull apart variations, and front and side planks are great to train before training the lower chest. https://www.youtube.com/embed/un2a4DJKSkc
More Chest Training Tips
Now that you have a handle on the lower chest exercises to strengthen and develop your chest, you can also check out these other helpful chest training articles for strength, power, and fitness athletes.