A well-rounded workout program is essential, regardless of your training goals. This means paying attention to all of your muscle groups equally, which is something both men and women can struggle with.
For men, the chest and bis can sometimes take priority over leg day. For women, on the other hand, chest training sometimes isn't nearly as exciting as lower-body workouts.
But while the chest may not be the most glamorous of the muscle groups, the pectoral muscles are undeniably important and shouldn't be forgotten in your quest to sculpt shapely legs and build a round booty.
In fact, contrary to popular opinion, building chest muscles benefits women just as much as it does men. We'll talk about this in more detail soon.
This article will discuss:
- What are the chest muscles?
- Benefits of chest workouts for women
- 8 best chest exercises for women
- Best chest workout for women
- Programming tips
What are the Chest Muscles?
The pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and serratus anterior comprise the chest muscle group. Here's a closer look at each muscle and its functions.
- Pectoralis Major: The larger of the two pec muscles, this fan-shaped muscle makes up most of the chest. It has two heads: the lower (sternocostal head) and upper chest (clavicular head). The pectoralis major is involved in any movement that brings the arm up, requires your arm to reach or press forward, or brings your arms across your body. It also plays a pivotal role in lifting and supporting the breasts.
- Pectoralis Minor: The smaller of the two muscles, this triangular-shaped muscle is under the pec major and attaches to your ribs and shoulder blade. It works to pull down, spread apart, and stabilize the scapula.
- Serratus Anterior: This muscle, commonly referred to as the boxer’s muscle, isn’t actually part of your chest. But it’s an important muscle that wraps around your ribs and attaches to the sides of your shoulder. This means that it plays an important role in chest exercises. The takeaway here: Don't forget your serratus anterior exercises!
Why are chest workouts for women important?
To understand why chest workouts are important, we first have to mention that every muscle group mustbe strengthened. Training your entire body, like in this full-body workout program for women, will ensure you don’t have muscle imbalances that could lead to pain or injury. Interestingly, this is one of the most common causes of injuries for everyday gym goers.
And when we say injury, we're not talking about a catastrophic injury in which you can immediately tell something horrible has happened. We're talking injuries in which you wake up one day and wonder why your shoulder (or whatever muscle) is hurting.
Push-pull training your back and shoulders, but forgetting your chest will throw your upper body out of whack. Neglecting chest workouts will cause a significant imbalance in the push-pull muscles of your upper body. This can even make it harder to perform your favorite lower body compound movements like a deadlift, as the chest plays a supporting role for the back muscles.
We also know some women worry they will get too big and bulky from training their upper body. By now, hopefully, you have realized this is not the case. And if you haven't realized this, please read our guide on how women can build muscle as it will certainly put your mind at ease.
Strong upper arms and a defined chest and back will not only help you stay injury free, but they will also help with a confident, proud posture as you build a toned physique.
Benefits of Chest Workouts For Women
Still not convinced that chest workouts are a must? You will be after reading about these 6 great benefits.
1. Improve posture:
The chest muscles connect to the ribs, and strengthening them will help you sit up with your shoulder blades pulled back. Think of times when you're sitting at a desk and realize your shoulders are slouched and rounded.
Strengthening your pecs will give you that proud chest posture that will also help your confidence. Remember, standing up straight is hard if your muscles aren’t strong enough to do so.
2. Fix muscle imbalances:
Chest and back, push and pull, quads and hamstrings, biceps and triceps. These are all muscles and movements that work together to maintain balance in your body. Some women may give more attention to their back and shoulders, while some may opt for all leg days. But equal attention to all your muscle groups is essential.
This is especially relevant if you sit at a desk all day. Your chest muscles will shorten as your back muscles lengthen. This means the pecs won’t be able to do their job when you ask them to, which is all the more reason not to skip chest workouts. Trust us, you don't want to have to deal with a muscle imbalance.
3. Lead to better breathing:
Improving your posture is also going to have a direct effect on taking bigger and deeper breaths. The pec minor and its attachment to the ribs will allow your rib cage to stretch and expand. If the muscles are shortened, your diaphragm will have a more challenging time opening up for those big deep breaths.
4. Lift breasts:
The pec muscles play a pivotal role in lifting the breast tissue up and forward. When trained and developed, these muscles can essentially act as a push-up bra since the tissue sits on these muscles.
A common misnomer is that lifting weights may shrink your breasts. Let’s abandon that thought now, as that is not the case.
Chest workouts can strengthen your weak muscles, relax the antagonist's muscles, increase blood flow, and even increase neck mobility.
5. Increase strength:
During exercises like a bench press, the chest muscles are hard at work. But they are not the only muscles working during these movements. Your triceps and shoulders will also see considerable increases in muscle strength.
This increase in strength will have a direct carryover into multiple exercises. You will get better at push-ups, deadlifts, and other pulling exercises that require the chest to work as a synergist.
6. Make everyday tasksmore manageable:
As we briefly mentioned, the pec muscles are responsible for raising your upper arm, bringing it back, and turning it inward. These movements are second nature to most of us, meaning you may not even think about them while doing them.
But the pecs are hard at work during everyday tasks like holding things, picking things up, and reaching across your body after grabbing something off the floor or from the top shelf.
Strengthening these muscles will make all of these tasks more manageable. Seeing physique changes and strength gains in the gym is awesome, but it’s the other 23 hours of the day where we'll likely see the most benefits.
8 Best Chest Exercises For Women
Whether you're a gym goer or an at-home exerciser, we've got plenty of moves to help you strengthen your chest. And don't forget your chest stretches afterward!
1. Barbell Bench Press:
We love the bench press, but if for whatever reason you're unable to perform them, we've included somebench press alternativesfurther down on this list. Find the one that works best for you for feeling your muscles activate during the exercise.
In addition to the barbell bench press, you can use dumbbells or kettlebells, and there are several different bench press grip variations, like the close grip bench press, to try.
How to do the Barbell Bench Press:
- Lie down on your back on the bench and plant your feet flat on the floor. Reach for the bar and position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back flat, lift the bar off the rack and center it over your chest.
- Slowly lower the bar by bending your elbows until the barbell touches your chest. Make sure not to bounce the bar off your chest. Pausing for a second may be beneficial to control the weight.
- Drive the bar back overhead to the starting position without completely locking your elbows. Keep a slow tempo through both portions of the lift to ensure tension is constantly on the pecs.
2. Incline Dumbbell bench Press:
Dumbbell chest exercises are extremely versatile and great for both the gym and at home. The dumbbells in this exercise give your body a bigger range of motion and can provide a deeper stretch of the chest fibers. This move has multiple variations, including a neutral grip, kettlebells, and a barbell bench press.
Another great variation of the bench press is the single-arm version, which you can perform on the floor or on a bench. Alternating arms is a great way to identify muscle imbalances.
How to do the Incline Dumbbell Bench Press:
- Set your bench to a 45-degree incline or slightly lower if you have shoulder issues. Sit back on the bench holding your dumbbells in each hand.
- Use your knees to kick them up into position as you sit back. Place your feet on the floor with your knees bent. Starting with your arms bent at a 90 degree angle, and the dumbbells around shoulder height, straighten your arms to push the dumbbells up.They should finish close together but try not to bounce them off of each other.
- Keeping the tension on the chest, lowerthe dumbbells back to the starting position. Repeat.
There are many different push-up variations, and if you have to start modified with your knees down, don’t feel bad. Do them and progress like any other exercise until you can do them on your toes.
You can then start on an incline and work to regular push-ups on the floor. Down the road, you can add medicine ball push-ups, clap push-ups, and even weighted push-ups. There's plenty of opportunity for progressive overload, no matter your starting point. Push ups are incredible for improving your upper body strength.
How to do a Push-Up:
- Start in a high plank position with your hands directly under or just a hair wider than your shoulders and your feet hip width. Keeping your butt tight, back flat, and core engaged, bend your elbows and lower your body toward the floor.
- Keep your elbows pointed to a 45-degree angle, and ensure your hands stay flat on the floor.
- Make sure your body is one solid line, and once you are as deep as you can go (goal of nose close to the floor) with your elbows bent, press back to the starting position.
4. Dumbbell chest fly:
This chest fly variation is fantastic for the pec minor. Several variations include the incline fly, or using kettlebells or resistance bands in place of dumbbells.
How to do the Dumbbell Chest Fly:
- Lie on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand. Start with the dumbbells out to each side, a slight bend in your elbows, like you are making a T.
- Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, slowly raise your arms so your palms are facing each other and your dumbbells are over your chest.
- Slowly lowerback to the starting position. Repeat.
5. Low cable fly:
This cable fly variation is a great upper chest exercise, whereas starting from a high to a low position will be better for the lower chest. Try to include both in a routine to ensure you're targeting all of your chest muscles equally.
How to do Low Cable Flys:
- Lower the pulleys to a low position. Grab each handle and face away from the cable machine with your arms down at your sides. Take a step forward to put tension in the pulleys. Keep the knees bent softly.
- You can either use an underhand grip in which your palms face forward or an overhand grip when holding the pulleys. Starting with your palms just below your waist, keep a slight bend in your arms as you bring your hands up toward the midline of your body.
- You should finish in front of your chest and pause to feel the squeeze before lowering back to the starting position.
6. Dips (assisted or bodyweight):
Dips are like a vertical bench press and fantastic for the chest. They are also an amazing tricep developer, ensuring you will see a lot of bang for your buck with this movement.
Master assisted reps first if you cannot do bodyweight just yet.
How to do Dips:
- The setup will be the same whether you use the assisted machine or bodyweight. You will have your knees on the pad using the assisted machine, adding the necessary counterweight.
- To do bodyweight dips, grab the bars, jump up, and balance yourself while locking out your elbows. Make sure to keep pushing your hands into the bars. Lower yourself down by bending your elbows and leaning slightly forward.
- Lower until your shoulders are below your elbows, and press yourself back up to the starting position.
7. Machine chest press:
The machine chest press won’t be your go-to for strength, but it’s a fantastic isolation exercise to help finish your chest workout with a serious pump. Your gym may have multiple variations, including plate-loaded, incline, or cable variations.
How to do the Machine Chest Press:
- Each gym may have a slightly different machine chest press, but the concept and result will be almost the same. Set your seat to your desired position and ensure that your arms will be horizontal when you press.
- Keep your back flat against the pad and slowly press the handles out until your arms are nearly locked out.
- Slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat.
8. Dumbbell Pullover:
Fantastic for the pecs and the lats, the dumbbell pullover almost acts as a weighted stretch while strengthening these muscles. Only go as deep as you can to start, and try to get a little deeper each week.
Looking for a version that utilizes gym equipment? Try the cable pullover instead.
How to do Dumbbell Pullovers:
- Lie on the bench or the floor holding one dumbbell overhead by grabbing the inner plate with both hands. Start with the weight right above your chest with elbows slightly bent.
- Lower the dumbbell over and behind your head until it’s in line with your torso.
- Press through the hands and pull the dumbbell back up to starting position to repeat.
Best Chest Workouts For Women
We've includedtwo great workout options: a gym routine and an at-home option. The at-home option will require a set or two of dumbbells. Following the workouts, we've included essential programming tips that will ensure you successfullybuild muscle.
Gym Chest Workout:
Low to High Cable Chest Flys
High to Low Cable Chest Flys
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Dips (Assisted or Bodyweight)
Machine Chest Press
At-home chest workout:
Dumbbell Chest Fly
Dumbbell Chest Press
Single-Arm Chest Press
Balance is critical when programming your workouts. Try to do twice as many back exercises compared to push/chest exercises. All this means is that your back and shoulders need lots of love, and you shouldn't overdo your chest workouts in comparison.
Try hitting the chest once a week to start and then work up to twice a week, aiming for 8-12 sets per week if you are brand new to lifting, 10-16 for intermediate, and 16+ for advanced lifters. You can do one chest day per week, and then pair some chest exercises with your back day to save time and ensure you're getting enough volume.
As always, it’s important to remember that you want to push yourself, but don't overdo adding weight in the name of muscle hypertrophy. Slowly add it, making sure you control the reps and feel your pec muscles work. If you don’t, the shoulders will take over, which may lead to shoulder impingement or other muscle imbalances and injury issues.
Lingering questions regarding chest workouts for women? We're about to clear them up!
Can a woman tone her chest?
Absolutely! With a combination of diet and strength training, the pec muscles can be toned just like any other muscle.
Do chest exercises lift breasts?
Chest exercises lift the tissue surrounding the breast. They do not lift the breast themselves, but breast-lifting exerciseswork to build the surrounding muscles, which will have that effect to some extent.
How can women build chest muscles at home?
You can perform most of these exercises at home if you have dumbbells. If they are light dumbbells, focus on going extra slow and following higher reps to improve muscular endurance.
Be sure you also focus on achieving maximum muscular tension during the movement. Sprinkle in bodyweight exercises like push-ups as well.
What is the best chest exercise for women?
A foundational pressing movement will provide the most bang for your buck. Try a bench press, dumbbell bench press, incline dumbbell bench, or dumbbell floor press. See which one allows you to feel the chest working the best ad this will ensure muscle hypertrophy. Build your program out from there.
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