Not a single day passes by, when a youngster asks me for an exercise to build the lower, inner or upper chest. That’s another story, that there is hardly any overall development in the chest (or for that matter the entire body), to build anything specific at all.
On the other hand, this query of theirs is reinforced by a lot of magazines, articles & YouTubers, who prescribe some or the other exercise based on their personal choice.
Let me tell you which is the best exercise. Answer is all & none. What does this mean. This simply means that all the chest exercises will work the entire chest, and on the other hand there is no particular exercise which will build any particular area of your chest.
Yes, you cannot shape your muscle.
All the bodybuilding magazines and gurus use heavy words to describe their routine like, ‘build a chest like Everest’, ‘shape your chest like a slab of granite’, ‘build ripped inner chest’ and much more.
But please understand that you cannot shape a muscle, you can just make it bigger or smaller. You only have the size of the muscle to control or what we call as muscle hypertrophy. After getting bigger, what shape it takes depends on your genetics. That is why the biggest chest developments in any sport, let’s take bodybuilding, are all big in sizes, but of different shapes and form.
Use your common sense. Have you seen any person with ripped inner chest, but no lower chest? Or someone with big upper chest and no lower chest? It’s the overall chest development which matters. To get a ripped inner chest, add some mass to the overall chest development.
Please understand that there are two major muscles in the chest i.e. Pectoralis major and Pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major is the main muscle which is visible and is effected the most by chest exercises. The Pec minor lies, just below the pec major and is the hidden muscle. The pec major is a thick fan shaped muscle, which consists of two heads. One of the heads is called the clavicular head, which originates on the inside part of the clavicle (collarbone). The other head is called the sternal head, and it originates from three different areas, which include:
- Outside border of the sternum (breast plate)
- Costal cartilages of the top six ribs (cartilage extensions at the front of each rib)
- Aponeurosis of the external oblique muscle (fibrous tissue of the external oblique)
Both the clavicular and sternal heads of the pectoralis major muscle have the same two points of insertion. These two points of insertion are both located on the humerus, which is the long bone of the upper arm. The other point of insertion is the deltoid tuberosity, which is a triangular area located in the middle of the humerus.
The muscle is the same in both men and women, but in women it is not visible because it is covered by the breast tissue. Some individuals have long muscles with short tendons, while others have short muscles and long tendons. But you can’t do anything about it. Only surgery can correct it, and I don’t think anyone has done that before, just to build a bigger chest. The length of the muscle belly and the length of the tendon can differ for every individual, but the insertion of the muscle is virtually the same in everyone, differing only by a few millimetres.
One of the primary examples of this is the former Mr. Olympia Franco Columbu and Arnold. Both had a massive chest development. They used to do a very heavy chest routine. But if you observe closely Franco had a strange kind of a split between his upper and lower chest. It looked as if he had two chests. A lot of people attributed this to doing different exercises for upper and lower chest. Arnold, however did no such thing, neither did most bodybuilders after them, all with extreme chest sizes. Now, this is purely due to individual genetics, not due to any one exercise.
So, all those who are asking you to do a particular exercise to build a good upper chest or lower chest, are either confused or stupid.
You want a bigger overall chest development? Focus on lifting heavy weights with a slower tempo with complete range of motion. Your aim is to focus only on lifting heavy and giving it an intense workout. This will help you in building overall size, but not shape. There are very few people who lack a balance in upper and lower body chest development. Many who despite of the heavy chest development lack the upper chest development is again due genetics.
Every chest exercise you do will stimulate or workout the entire chest. Your muscles don’t work in parts. Pec major is one big muscle. It works as a whole, always and every time. So your incline exercises will workout your lower chest and your decline exercises will workout your upper chest.
Even if you do just one of type of exercise for your chest the entire life, you are still going to build the entire chest.
Different exercises do two major things, first, they do put a little extra emphasis on one area of the chest. So, a decline press will put extra stress on the lower area of the chest & and an incline will do that for the upper chest. But that does not mean that a particular area of the chest will work in isolation. The second most important part is to wave of boredom in exercise, which all the variety of movements do.
So, do you need a flat/incline/decline/crossover machine for building a complete chest. The answer is a definite No. So if your “chest day” involves a flat barbell and dumbbell press, an incline barbell and dumbbell press, a decline barbell and dumbbell press, dumbbell flyes and cable crossovers to hit the upper, lower, inner, outer, major, minor, bigger, smaller, taller, shorter and whatever other part of your chest you think needs to be hit, then you’re simply stupid.
You could see a number of people with excellent pectoral development with just flat movement combined with a couple of dips. Wrestlers in India have an excellent pec development, much better in most cases than the weaklings in the gym. Their primary weapon of choice, is just the basic Indian style push-ups, and a couple of flat bench movements.
Then there are other people who because of some shoulder injury, completely avoid the incline or flat barbell presses. But in no ways they lack their chest development. Remember, how you do it is more important in workouts than, what you do. Have you seen anyone with a flat lower chest and a big upper chest, just because he does incline presses?
Remember, you are anatomically and genetically different from the rest. If a chest exercise is considered great for chest developments of others, but is hurting your shoulders, then better stop doing it.
Leave your ego at the door, when you enter the gym. Shoulder injuries and chest workouts go hand in hand. I have personally had a major shoulder surgery because of the same, but am doing heavy chest workout since then. What I am now doing is just avoiding the movements that cause me pain and load my shoulders more than my chest.