The chest is probably one of the most noticeable muscle groups on both men and women. A developed chest just looks powerful and makes the other muscle groups look more defined and stronger by default. There are tons of ways of building the chest but properly done, the cable crossover can give you the biggest bang for your buck. This is an exercise you might be able to do on your home gym if it has the right equipment.
First, it's important to know a little bit about the chest and how it works. The chest itself is made up of two similar muscles, one on top of the other.
These are the Pectoralis Major and the Pectoralis Minor. The Pectoralis Major is as the name implies, the big one and is split in half at the center of the chest with each half making up the front part of the chest.
The Pectoralis Minor is the smaller muscle that runs under the Pectoralis Major. It is connected in several places including to the ribs at the bottom and to the top of the front part of the shoulder blade.
Each has different jobs. The Major allows you to turn you arm inward and to pull your arm forward and down. The minor lets you pull the shoulder down and also helps to hold the shoulder down whenever you are pushing down with your hands. Part of the pinching feeling in your chest when you do a proper pushup is the engagement of the Pectoralis Minor.
Different positions in the cable crossover machine can target different areas of these two muscles. How you position your hands, your back and even how you stance your feet can impact how you hit these muscles for different results. As with every exercise, proper form is the most important factor to pay attention to.
The Pectoralis Major kind of fans out from the area around the armpit. Therefore, for each exercise you want to make sure that the arm movement of the exercise follows the lines of the muscle fibers. So exercises for the upper chest will have the arms come up and across whereas exercises for the lower chest will have the arms moving downwards and inwards.
There are dozens of different cable crossover exercises. Each of them will hit a different area of the chest muscles which you may heard referred to as the "upper", "middle" and "lower".
Each exercise will have specific tips for things like hand position, foot position, breathing techniques and where to position the machine. There are some general tips that apply to every one of these exercises and in fact, should be applied to every exercise always.
These tips are:
Before listing exercises there is a final tip. The amount of exercise that you use for chest exercises will vary by a number of factors. If your goal is to add strength and bulk, you should be looking to go pretty heavy but not so heavy that you are unable to use proper form.
Your weight should be enough to cause fatigue by the 6th to 8th rep. If you get to rep 4 and you are dying, lighten up. If you are still cranking reps at 10 or 11, go heavier. Don't be shocked if you are using different weights for the exact same move on different days.
One of the best kinds of cable crossover is the one which is also the most common. It's the basic exercise for cable crossovers. It really works the upper part of the chest as well as the rear shoulders. This is a great chest exercise to add to your workout to get some variety. That will help promote muscle growth.
Here's how to complete the exercise. First, set the cable to the middle to lower range. Choose your weight and make sure that both sides are even. Stand in the middle of the machine with your back straight. Foot position is entirely up to you but staggered feet may help with balance on this one.
Lean your upper body slightly forward keeping your butt tucked back and your back straight and flat. Your palms will be facing each other as you pull your arms straight around to the mid chest area. (Straight arms here means as straight as possible without locking the elbow or shoulder. A slight bend is perfectly fine if needed.)
Once your hands reach the middle of the chest, they should cross each other slightly. As you bring your hands together, you should be exhaling.
Then you should slowly inhale and slowly return to the beginning position. Returning to the starting position should generally take twice as long as the other part of the exercise. Every moment here should be slow and controlled. This way, you can really isolate some of the chest muscles and work them to their max.
Throughout the exercise, your elbows should be slightly bent. You don't want to keep them straight or too bent. This slight bend will help you to target your chest muscles.
Check out this video from Fitocracy which helps to show the proper form for this exercise:
This is a great variation of standard cable crossovers. Adding an iso hold can make a huge difference with this exercise. This exercise also works the upper part of the chest as well as a little bit of the shoulders.
Set the cable machine to the lower portion and adjust your weights. With this one, the focus will be on isolation of the muscles and focusing on the contraction so you can go lighter than you normally do. Grab one cable handle and then stretch out to reach the other one. Slowly and smoothly bring yourself into the starting position.
Next, make sure you stand in the middle of the machine, chest out, shoulders back and down and back straight. Your thumbs will face each other as you slowly bring the them toward each other, just below waist/hip height.
At the top of the exercise, you should cross the right hand slightly over the left and then reverse on the next rep so that you are alternating the cross of the hands for 10-12 reps. In this way, you'll be targeting the two pec muscles in an even manner.
Then, pause for a brief second at the top of the exercise to contract your chest muscles. Really squeeze the muscles at the top of the movement. You can do this by thinking about squeezing your arms together and thinking about the chest muscles squeezing together.
Mark Coles from Mark Coles M10 has some great tips for cable crossovers here:
The lower chest is one area which everyone should try to isolate with some exercises. It is often an underdeveloped muscle which affects the overall look of the chest. This is a great variation of a cable crossover which helps to target the lower chest muscles.
To start off the exercise, set the cable machine to the upper position. This is a short range of motion exercise and you do not need a heavy weight. If you keep proper form, you will find that it really doesn't take too much weight. The key here will be focusing and keeping your moves focused on the muscle group you want to work without letting anything else take over.
Overall this exercise has similar positioning to the other exercises but keep yourself more upright rather than leaning forward. You want to bring your shoulders slightly forward as if you were leaning forward slightly. The position is similar to if you are doing some chest dips.
For the exercise, bring your arms down to about hip level and back up to just below shoulder height. That's the entire movement - short and focused. Be sure to keep your elbows slightly bent throughout the movement.
Never forget to breathe out during the exertion and always keep your focus on the muscle group you are working. Play around with foot placement and remember that the position of your hands will activate different parts of the muscle fiber.
Vince from V Shred has some awesome tips and demonstrates the best form to use for this exercise
Another great exercise which is going to target the upper chest are low to high cable crossovers or cable flys. For this exercise, your arms are following the line of the muscle fiber so it really is a great way to target the upper chest.
First, make sure that you have set the weight to the appropriate amount. You want to start off with a relatively light weight, especially if you're just starting to do this exercise. Starting off with light weights will help you focus on getting the proper form and developing your mind-muscle connection. Also, make sure the cables are set at the lowest height setting possible.
Next, grab one cable handle and then reach over to grab the other one. You want to begin the movement by having your palms facing up with your arms slightly out from your sides. Get a solid stance with one foot in front of the other and a straight spine.
During the movement, bring your arms up and together. Your hands should almost meet at the top of the exercise. Try to make sure that you are following the curve of those muscle fibers in your pecs.
At the top of the movement, try to squeeze the muscles of your upper chest together. You want to really get a good contraction here at the top of this exercise. Then you can slowly let the cables down towards the starting position. Try to make sure that your return movement is around twice as slow as the movement towards the top of the exercise.
Make sure that you are keeping your shoulders back throughout the exercise. That is really going to help you to ensure that you are working on your chest muscles. Your arms should still have the same slight bend in them during this movement.
Scott Herman from Muscular Strength does a great demo of how to do this exercise here:
Cable crossovers are one of the best exercises that you can do to target some of the different parts of your chest. For this kind of lighter exercise, you might want to think about putting it closer to the end of your workout after you have spent some serious energy on big compound movements like bench press with a barbell or dumbbell.
These exercises will help to max out your pecs and give you the variety you need in your workout routine to really help to stimulate growth and muscle development in the chest.
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