The Best Chest Workout for Women
Despite the fact that pecs are literally front and center, they're pretty easy to ignore, especially in this day and age when booty workouts reign supreme. And breast owners in particular may be guilty of skipping regular chest workouts. "There is a bit of a misconception that, since we have breasts, we don't need to train pecs," says Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S., a certified personal trainer in Denver.
But don't be fooled — training the pecs is important for everyone. All people have a large, fan-shaped pectoralis major muscle on either side of the chest, directly beneath the breast tissue. A smaller muscle, known as the pectoralis minor, is located in the upper part of the chest, beneath the pec major. Collectively, these muscles are known as the pecs, and they cover the entirety of your chest. As such, they help you stand slouch-free, carry out daily tasks, and even breathe easily.
So, if you've been neglecting those muscles, it's time to mix some chest workouts with weights into your routine. Below, find out why your pecs are worthy of your attention in the first place, according to fitness experts. Then, once you're inspired to make some gains, break out your dumbbells and a medicine ball and try this chest workout for women, demonstrated by trainer Jenny Gaither, founder of the Movemeant Foundation. (No weights? Try these resistance band chest exercises instead.)
5 Benefits of Chest Workouts for Women
1. You'll improve your posture.
When it comes to posture, the back and shoulders get all the attention. However, as one of the largest muscles in the upper body, the pecs play an equally important role in maintaining posture and upright stability, namely by supporting the scapula (your shoulder blade) and the shoulder joint itself.
"Every muscle that surrounds the scapula and shoulder is going to be important for stabilizing those joints," says Joel Seedman, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and owner of Advanced Human Performance in Suwanee, Georgia. "If one gets weaker, then you will have offset tension across the joints."
And if one muscle becomes overly shortened or lengthened, it won't matter much if they're strong or weak — the pecs won't be able to sufficiently do their job. The biggest culprit of shortening? Your computer. When you slouch over it all day, you simultaneously shorten your chest muscle fibers and lengthen your back ones, says Seedman. So if you work a desk job, all the more reason to mix some chest exercises for women into your training regimen. (Related: The Strength Training Routine for Perfect Posture)
2. You'll breathe easier.
When you fix your posture, you also open up your chest, which makes it easier to take deep, quality breaths. The pec minor in particular is especially helpful, as the smaller, triangular muscle attaches at the middle of your third, fourth, and fifth ribs. Any time you breathe in, the pec minor stretches, allowing your rib cage to expand.
"If the pec muscles are overly shortened, then breathing will be significantly impaired because you're not going to be able to open up the diaphragm," says Seedman. "But if you're lengthening those chest fibers, breathing and the ability to improve oxygenation to all your muscles is going to be greatly improved." Kind of an important reason to do chest workouts with weights.
3. You can make your breasts perkier (if you want).
Seedman says many women and other breast owners shy away from training their chest because they think their breasts will shrink, but that's actually the opposite of what can happen — chest workouts for women are kind of like a non-surgical method of breast augmentation. (Plus they might just help you finally conquer that elusive pull-up!)
"What you're doing is pushing the breast tissue up and forward more, so it gives the illusion that your breasts are bigger," he says. Plus, adding muscle to your chest helps elevate your breasts, "almost acting like a push-up bra."
And don't forget: Adding muscle beneath the actual breast tissue doesn't take away from the breast tissue itself.
4. You'll make daily activities easier.
Outside of the gym, your pecs play a major role in a wide variety of daily activities, from loading grocery bags into the house to pushing open a heavy door or lugging a suitcase around an airport. "Pretty much any upper-body activity or motion that we do involves the pectoral muscles to a significant degree," says Seedman.
The primary functions of your pecs are to flex (raise), adduct (bring back), and medially rotate (turn inward) your upper arm. So, "if you think of picking things up, holding things, squeezing things, or any kind of movement that involves pushing, the pecs are involved in all of that," says Thomas.
That's why, if your pecs are weak from disuse, the simple act of carrying and loading grocery bags into your house can feel like a challenge. From a purely functional standpoint, you'll make your day-to-day way easier if you add this chest workout for women to your exercise agenda.
5. You'll train other muscles.
Sure, pecs are big, important muscles, as explained above. But they also matter because they call a bunch of the surrounding muscles into action — namely the shoulders, back, and triceps — which makes any chest exercise a fantastic all-over upper-body movement.
Example: Seedman says one of the best exercises to strengthen triceps is actually a chest press. And research backs him up: A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research found that different chest press variations are more effective for targeting specific muscle groups than others — including the tris. Using surface electromyography, a method for measuring muscle activation during exercise, the researchers found that a dumbbell chest press is best for those who want to build up their chest, whereas a Smith machine or barbell setup is the ideal way to perform the move when that horseshoe look in your triceps is the goal. If you're in the former group, definitely steal some of the best dumbbell chest exercises for women below. (P.S. These 7 gym machines are actually worth your time.)
The Best Chest Workout for Women with Weights
You might think you need a gym full of equipment to do a chest workout with weights, but for this one, you just need a couple items. You can do this best chest workout for women at home with just a set of dumbbells, a medicine ball, and a Swiss ball. Each of the chest exercises for women below strengthens the muscles behind your breasts — as well as a bunch of other important upper-body muscles — so you'll come away from this stronger all around.
How it works: Three days a week, do 1 set of each of these chest exercises for women back-to-back, with no rest between moves. After the final exercise, rest for 30 seconds, then repeat the full circuit three more times for a total of 4 rounds.
You'll need: a pair of dumbbells, a medicine ball, and a Swiss ball
Medicine Ball Push-Up
A. Start in a push-up position with left hand on top of a medicine ball, right hand on the floor. Engage legs and draw belly button up and in.
B. Keeping body in a straight line, bend elbows and slowly lower down to the floor as far as possible. Press up through both hands to return to the starting position.
Do 8 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
A. Lie face-up on the floor with knees bent and feet flat, holding a medicine ball at chest.
B. Keeping lower back pressed into the floor and core engaged, explosively throw the ball straight into the air as high as possible. Catch with straight arms and immediately lower back to chest to return to the starting position.
Do 20 reps.
Single-Arm Chest Press
A. Hold a dumbbell with left hand and lie on back on a Swiss ball. Raise hips so that body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders. Hold the dumbbell at chest and draw shoulder blades down and together.
B. Press the weight straight up, then lower back down to chest to return to the starting position.
Do 8 reps. Switch sides; repeat.
A. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and hold a pair of light dumbbells in front of thighs, palms facing away from body.
B. Keeping core engaged, draw shoulder blades down and back while lifting the weights above head in a Y position. Return to the starting position at a slow and controlled pace.
Do 20 reps.
A. Place two dumbbells shoulder-width apart on floor. Start in a table-top position, with shoulders stacked over hands, each of which is gripping a dumbbell. Knees are bent and stacked directly under hips.
B. Step one leg back at a time to come into high plank position on palms. Feet should be slightly wider than hip-width apart. Engage quads, glutes, and core, and tuck tailbone slightly.
C. Pull shoulders down and away from ears, and slowly bend one elbow back, keeping arm close to side as you pull dumbbell up toward hip. Make sure to keep hips stable and avoid swaying to the side.
D. Return to the start position, placing dumbbell down softly. Repeat the row on the opposite arm. That's one rep.
Do 8 reps.
Rear Lateral Raise
A. Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding dumbbells with palms facing forward. Bend knees, shift hips back, and bring torso close to parallel with the ground.
B. Without moving torso, raise arms straight out to sides to shoulder height. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position.
Do 20 reps.