By Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP
Part III of a six-part series. Check back next week for Part IV: Legs
Lotions, potions and creams galore. Some of us will slap anything on our chests to optimize that décolletage. Whether you’re skinny or average or hauling around a few too many fat cells, you can ditch the bottles and try a simple workout to tone, tighten and strengthen your chest. Working your chest means exercising the two pectoral muscles — pectoralis major and pectoralis minor — that lay underneath your breasts’ fatty tissue.
All you need is some elastic tubing with handles, 3-5 pound hand weights (heavier if you’re more advanced), a floor mat, and an ottoman or workout bench. Make sure you have plenty of room. All right, here we go.
Pec Press: This is a terrific exercise that you can do with everything from elastic resistance bands to barbells and dumbbells. You can lie on the floor or on a stability ball, an aerobics step, a workout bench or just an ottoman. Let’s just use single arm dumbbells and the floor for this exercise.
a) Lie on the floor with a dumbbell in each hand and place your feet flat on the floor. If you’re using a raised surface like a workout bench, you can keep your feel flat on the floor or up on the bench depending upon your level of comfort. Make sure the weights are at the shoulders with your upper arms at 45 degrees to the body with elbows forward of your shoulder line to prevent stressing your shoulder joint. Your palms are facing forward. Engage your core with a strong contraction of your ab muscles, while you tilt your chin ever so slightly toward your chest. Now you’re ready to lift!
b) Push the dumbbells upward toward the ceiling and take your time to maintain good form, never jerking your movements. The weights meet over the top of your chest following a little arc pathway. Straighten your elbows carefully and really squeeze your pecs as your two dumbbells meet in the center. While you’re lifting, your head and upper body never leave the floor/bench.
c) Now it’s time to lower your weights smoothly and carefully, maintaining good control of your arms, finally returning to start position. Try to practice 3 sets of 10 repetitions. More advanced folks can use increasing weights for the second and third sets.
d) Don’t overarch your back while you’re doing this exercise, and keep your arms moving in the arc and don’t let them fall out too far to the sides.
e) If you have to wiggle your body around to move the weights, they’re too heavy.
f) If you get tired, that’s OK. Just reduce the number of repetitions.
g) I highly recommend that you put the weights down between sets. You’ll want to rest for about 30-40 seconds before resuming your lifting.
Pec Fly: I always follow the pec press with the fly. It adds variety and gives you another opportunity to strengthen you pectoralis muscles while also powering up your core. Although it’s called the fly, I like to refer to it as the “hug”. You’ll see why shortly. Please make sure never to grab a weight that’s too heavy for you for this exercise, as your arms and chest will strain and hurt. Be conservative and use a lighter weight, working your way up to a heavier weight later if it’s safe and you desire to do so. Let’s start with your single-arm dumbbells.
a) Lie flat on a bench, stability ball, ottoman or aerobics step. You need some elevation because at one point your elbows will be below your chest line. Keep your feel flat on the ground while your head, shoulders and hips should never leave the surface you’re lying on.
b) Grab a dumbbell in each hand while your palms are facing each other. Straighten your arms so they are up over the center of your chest. Now bend your elbows slightly. Think of this as you hugging someone.
c) Lower the dumbbells out to your sides maintaining that slight bend in the elbows. Lower only to the point where your pectoral muscles will allow you, keeping your arms in line with each other.
d) Like you’re hugging someone, keep the elbows slightly bent as you raise your arms back up to the start position. As with the pec press, never slam the weights together. You can gently touch them in the center, but avoid jerky movements.
e) Practice three sets of ten repetitions. The more advanced can use increasingly heavier weights for the second and third sets.
If you want to use your elastic tubing, try this. Stand in front of a mirror if you can, just to check form. Grab your tubing and double it up in each hand. Keeping your elbows bent and at the level of your breasts, contract your pectoral muscles and engage your core as each hand pulls the elastic to that side. You’ll feel tension across your chest. Once you reach as far as you can pull, hold that position for 5 seconds, and then gently loosen the tension as you come back to start position. This is a nifty simple exercise you can do anywhere and anytime.
Finally, you know by now that one of my all-time favorite exercises is the push up. It nails six muscles at once — your pectorals, shoulders, biceps, triceps, core, and glutes. Refer to my blog Bye Bye Batwings for your push up “how to.” The more you practice your pec press and fly, the better you’ll be able to hammer out those push ups. Remember, this is all about strengthening your body, muscle by muscle. Pay attention to your chest and you’ll also be rewarded with a stronger core (which you’re engaging for pec exercises), better posture (thanks to those strong core muscles) and potent pecs to be proud of!