The chest is one of the most noticeable muscle groups on the human body. Our upright walking and forward posture adds the apparent nature of the pecs.
However, the form of the chest also makes it a muscle that stand out amongst the rest. Having a sagging chest can appear very awkward. It may have a drooping or sagging look. Fortunately there are some exercises that can help define and activate this muscle area.
There is a common understanding surrounding the chest that says this muscle is divided into upper and lower regions. While this is partially true, the reality is a bit more intricate.
The pecs are divided into pectoralis major and minor. Even further, the pectoralis major can be divided into the sternal head and the clavicular head. The sternal portion of the chest is what laymen would consider the 'lower' chest.
This area makes up a majority of the pectoralis major and can provide an excellent shape to the chest muscles when activated properly.
The key to activating the sternal head, or lower chest, properly lies in understanding how the muscle fibers connect. The fibers of the lower chest start in the upper-arm/shoulder region and connect to our sternum in the middle.
Now that we know a bit more about how the muscles of the chest work, we can see that exercises that follow the movement of these fibers will inevitably work them in a more targeted manner.
In the case of the lower chest, exercises that bring the arms down at an angle will stress these muscles. Those are exercises which will be activating that area of the lower chest.
Another thing that is so important to remember is that it is critical to focus on the activation of these lower chest muscles during an exercise. This mind-muscle connection can help to increase the potency of an exercise and workout overall.
A lot of people aren't used to making that kind of connection between the muscle and their brain, especially in the lower chest. This is something that you need to practice again and again. It needs to be developed.
You need to think about the muscle fiber being stretched as you complete the movement, and you need to focus on feeling the contraction of the muscles at the top of the exercise.
This may also mean that you need to put your ego behind you and go for some lighter weights. That way you can really focus on building that connection.
Once you do have a great mind-muscle connection with the muscles in the lower chest, you'll be able to feel the fibres stretching and working during these exercises.
The barbell bench press is the hallmark exercise for the chest. By performing this motion in a decline position, the lower chest is targeted more directly. This is still the go-to exercise to build a great lower chest.
You're going to want to do this on a decline bench, so make sure that your feet are securely placed in between the proper spots on the bench. That way you won't roll off the bench.
The grip that you want to use is a medium width one. That means that your upper arms and forearms will be at a 90 degree angle when you get to around the middle of the exercise. Grab the bar and lift it straight up.
Should you lock your arms out at the top? Opinions vary, but I would argue against it because of the strain it puts on your elbows. Instead, focus on squeezing your arms together and contracting your chest muscles together at the top. This will help build your inner chest as well as improve that mind-muscle connection.
Lower the weight slowly to your chest as you inhale. The bar should lightly touch your chest. Make sure you don't bounce it off of your chest because that can lead to injury. The bar should touch the lower area of your chest. Don't go lower past that or else you won't be targeting the right muscles.
Want to see this exercise in action? Scott Herman from Muscular Strength has a few great pointers:
The decline bench press can also be performed with dumbbells in order to target the lower chest. Dumbbells help to put more individual stress on each pec as there is no stabilizer between the two sides of the muscle. For this reason, more effort needs to go into stabilizing the dumbbells. Studies have shown that doing chest exercises with dumbbells have high rates of muscle activity because of the high stability requirements (1).
Using dumbbells can also help you to contract your chest muscles at the top of the exercise. This is because you can bring the weights in a bit more and bring your arms together slightly more. It's a great way to target the inner lower chest muscles.
The motions for both barbell and dumbbell decline bench press are relatively the same. Start with the dumbbells at shoulder-width and push them up using your pecs. Instead of locking out your elbows at the top, squeeze your chest muscles together. If you're having trouble doing that, you might want to look at using lighter weights.
Bring the dumbbells back down to your lower chest. Make sure that you always keep your forearms perpendicular to the floor. You should generally go a little bit slower on the way down.
One of the trickiest things about this exercise is getting the dumbbells and setting them down afterwards. Make sure that you get on the bench with the dumbbells. Rest them on your thighs as you get your legs into position. Don't grab them off of the floor since you could hurt your rotator cuff. Also, don't drop them onto the floor when you're done the exercise. Rest them back on your legs when you're finished the exercise, then do a sit-up to get up.
Here's a few more great tips from Joe Tong at Instructional Fitness about how to do this exercise in the most smooth and effective way:
You might think of dips as mostly a tricep exercise, but they are one of the best bodyweight movement for hitting the chest. Small tweaks in this iconic exercise can help shift the activation focus to the lower pecs.
The way to help to activate the muscle fibres in the lower pecs is by leaning slightly forward while performing the dips. This way, you're positioning your body as if you were doing a decline bench press. It's pretty much the same position.
To do the dips, make sure it's on a parallel bar. Then lift yourself up to the starting position. Position your body slightly forward and bend your knees. You want to lower yourself as you keep your elbows fairly close to the body. Try not to let them flare out too much. The bottom position will be when your shoulders are just slightly being stretched. Avoid going too far down on this exercise.
For a lot of people, don't a few good reps of dips is a very tough task. So what if you're not ready to do a full set of dips? If you're working out at the gym, you might have the option of using the dip machine.
However, if you're working out at home, one of the best things to do is do a few reps of full dips until you reach almost failure. Then, put one leg on the ground, applying a bit of pressure on it. This way you'll be doing dips with most of your bodyweight but not all of it.
If you can't reach the floor with your leg, you can put a stool under the parallel bar and then put your leg on that to do a dip without your full bodyweight. This is a great way to do the exercise and will help you build up the muscles needed to do full dips in no time.
As with any of these lower chest exercises, focusing on the muscle area while performing this exercise can help ensure it is being targeted. It's part of that mind-muscle connection.
The guys at Buff Dudes have some great dips and demonstrations about how to do dips to target your chest:
There's another kind of dip which can help you with your lower chest. Many people will find it difficult to achieve a posture in the traditional dip position that targets the lower chest. Straight bar dips are a great alternative that forces activation of this region. So if you're having trouble getting the right lean-over position to target your chest, try straight bar dips.
But, the thing about straight bar dips is that they also require more strength than regular dips. Since they're that much more challenging, make sure you can do a full set of 8 to 10 dips before you try these.
These dips are performed on a straight bar which is at around the height of a bar on a bench press rack. You can get a grip around shoulder-width.
First, bring yourself to the top of the exercise, without locking out your elbows. Then, you'll want to straighten your legs out a bit and bring them slightly forward. As you do that, lean your torso forward and bring your body down by bending your elbows.
You should be going down until the bar almost touches your chest. Then exhale and bring it back up. See what I mean by challenging?
The position forces the torso near the arms, successfully activating the lower pecs. Just like regular dips, make sure you keep your elbows in and not flared out to the sides. Also, try not to shrug your shoulders as you lower your body to the bar.
Want to see a bit more? Here's a great demo from Daniel at Fitness FAQs that also gives a great comparison between regular dips and straight bar dips:
The push-up is another iconic chest exercise that can target the lower chest specifically with just a minor tweak. Push-ups have been shown to be one of the most effective exercises you can do for your chest. Also, there are a ton of variations you can do which can give you varying degrees of intensity (2) and target different muscles.
I know what you're thinking: why would I do incline pushups for lower chest? Everyone knows that you do an incline bench press to target the upper chest, not the lower chest.
But actually, by increasing the height of the torso during a push-up, the body puts more emphasis on this lower chest area. If you think about it, the position that your arms and torso have during an incline pushup is the same as in a decline bench press. Now you know that it will definitely target those muscle fibres in your lower chest.
Similar to a push up, start by putting your hands about shoulder-width apart on a sturdy bench or box. The incline created by leaning on the bench should be enough for this exercise. Make sure you have shoes that have a decent grip too.
While keeping your body straight, lower your body toward the bench by bending your elbows. The top of the movement will be when your chest lightly touches the bench or box. Then bring your body back to the starting position, without locking out your elbows.
As with any of these exercises, keep your mind focused on the muscles in your lower chest contracting, especially at the top of the movement. You can squeeze your chest muscles at the top of the movement to get that much more out of it and target a bit of your inner chest.
Check out a nice and clear demo from LiveStrong of how to do a good incline pushup:
Cable pulleys allow users to target muscle groups and areas on a level that other equipment can’t match. These are great exercises to do to really concentrate your work on the lower chest because you can isolate the muscle. There are way fewer stabilizer muscles being used. Research has shown that incorporating a variety of chest exercises into your routine will help to target different muscles in your chest (3).
Cables are also great to use at the end of a workout. After you have finished doing heavy weights on a decline bench press, these kinds of exercises are perfect to squeeze out just a bit more from your lower chest workout.
To get setup, set the cables to the highest position that they can be set. Start off with a lighter weight to see how the exercise goes. Then grab each handle and lean your body forward with one leg slightly in front of your body. That will help with your balance.
Keeping your elbows bent, bring your arms down. Aim for your hands to meet slightly in front of your stomach. It's kind of like you're trying to give a big bear hug to someone. Obviously you'll want to avoid smacking your hands together at the top of the exercise. Bring the cables down smoothly and let them back up a little bit slower.
It is important to squeeze the pecs during this exercise. That way, you'll be contracting the fibres in the lower chest and building that mind-muscle connection.
The guys from Anabolic Aliens have some great tips and an awesome demo of how to do these (and a couple other awesome lower chest exercises which we've talked about):
The lying decline cable fly is another great exercise for targeting the lower pec area. You can do it on a decline bench, or even on a flat bench. A flat bench will still work pretty well because of the position of the cables.
Start by positioning the cables at the lowest level that they can be put. Then grab the handles with a neutral grip. Once you have the handles gripped firmly, you can get on the decline bench (if you're using one for this exercise). Make sure your legs are firmly in the leg supports before you start. Then lie down.
You should start with your hands together. Then, bending your elbows slightly, bring your arms back. Your arms should be parallel to the floor during the movement. Don't lower the cables too far to the floor - you don't want to stretch your shoulders that much.
Then you can bring the cables back together, just above your lower chest. You'll want to bring the cables slightly up during this part of the movement.
During this exercise, an individual must maintain a straight posture in order to put the focus on the lower chest. Also, it's important to try to focus on using your elbows rather than your hands to bring the cables together. It's all about that mind-muscles connection.
Coach Kozak from Hasfit has an awesome demo of this exercise in this video here:
Lastly, the D2 Flexion Pattern describes a movement of the arm that flexes the lower chest and shoulder muscles. This is an exercise that's often used when doing some physio work on your shoulders. However, it also is great for working the lower chest. Plus, if you are working through a shoulder injury, this is a great option to work your lower chest.
Put the cables at the lowest position they can be set. With one arm, grab the handle with a neutral grip. You'll only be doing one arm at a time with this exercise, so you can really target the muscle fibers.
Pull the handle up towards the ceiling. Then let it down towards your stomach. The motion can be likened to taking a sword out of a sheath on the other side of the torso, raising it in the air and then returning it to the sheath at hip level.
This movement is similar to the high to low cable fly except it's done with just one arm. This exercise can also be done with an exercise band or a similar style of resistance.
Jeff Cavaliere from Athlean-X has an awesome demo of what this exercise will look like:
A sagging lower chest is something many bodybuilders and amateur lifters alike wish to avoid. As a very noticeable muscle group, a disproportionate chest can be quite apparent.
By the same token, a well formed and strong lower chest will help to fill out the entire pec area. The key to fixing these lacking problems is by using exercises that help to target the lower peck area. Many of these exercises see the arms being raised from a higher to a lower position while remaining close the the body.
As a portion of the pec that doesn't get much direct work, it is important to focus on this area when performing targeted exercises. This mind-muscle connection can help to make that hard work in the gym pay off even more.
1. Saeterbakken, Atle H. A comparison of muscle activity and 1-RM strength of three chest-press exercises with different stability requirements. Journal of Sports Sciences, 2011. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640414.2010.543916
2. Ebben, William. Kinetic Analysis of Several Variations of Push-Ups. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2011. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/fulltext/2011/10000/Kinetic_Analysis_of_Several_Variations_of_Push_Ups.31.aspx
3. Tillaar, Roland Van Den. The Sticking Region in Three Chest-Press Exercises with Increasing Degrees of Freedom. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2012/11000/The_Sticking_Region_in_Three_Chest_Press_Exercises.7.aspx
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