Form and Function Pec Workout

These two upper-body moves create a defined chest with real push-up power.

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No, training your chest won’t create cleavage or take you up a cup size as some workout programs would have you believe. But training your pectoralis major to be strong and shapely can define your collarbone area and add dimension to your décolletage.

Form: Banded Single-Arm Low-to-High Flye

Banded Single-Arm Low-to-High Flye

The pec major is the primary mover for any horizontal adduction movement, such as when you bring your arms across your body as if giving a hug, and most chest exercises target this motion — for example, presses, flyes and push-ups. However, the pec major is also responsible for shoulder flexion — raising your arm up in front of you — in conjunction with the anterior deltoid. This band exercise combines both these actions to emphasize the upper-pectoral area.

  • Attach one end of a resistance band to a sturdy object close to the floor. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, and position yourself at an angle to the anchor so that the line of resistance is both to the side and behind you, directly opposite the motion you’ll be isolating.
  • Hold the band closest to the anchor with your palm facing forward, arm straight and held away from your body at hip level. This lower starting position means less emphasis on the lateral deltoid and traps, and it better engages the upper-pec area more than the middle-/lower-pec area.
  • Keeping your arm straight, pull the band up (flexion) and across (horizontal adduction) your chest from hip to head level. This creates a diagonal line of motion opposite the band’s line of pull, thereby combining the two moves that target the upper pecs to give it double the work.
  • Because of the nature of the band, you’ll be working against the most resistance at the top. Take advantage of that force, and hold here for two counts before slowly returning to the start. This isometric squeeze can help you make that mind-muscle connection and really feel the activation of your upper pecs.
  • Keep your lower body as still as possible throughout the move; don’t use your legs to pop up and help move the band. If the resistance is too great, take a step toward the anchor to ease some of the tension or opt for a lighter band.
  • Sometimes that long muscle in your neck — the sternocleidomastoid — likes to join the party with this exercise, but since a thicker neck is probably not your goal, keep your gaze forward and avoid tucking your chin to reduce its engagement.
  • This move also can be altered to target the middle and lower pecs: Attach the band to a point above your head, and bring your arm across your body from high to low.

Sample Form Peck Workout

Exercise Sets Reps Resistance Rest
Dumbbell Flat Bench Press 3-5 6-12 moderate/heavy 1-2 minutes
Dumbbell Decline Bench Press 3-5 6-12 moderate/heavy 1-2 minutes
Decline Push-Up 3-5 10-15 bodyweight 1-2 minutes
Banded Single-Arm Low-to-High Flye 3 8-10 moderate 1-2 minutes
Banded Single-Arm High-to-Low Flye 3 8-10 moderate 1-2 minutes

Function: Plyometric Push-Up

Plyometric Push-Up

Reactive power might not seem important for the chest since we don’t typically run, sprint or jump on our hands, but developing power in the chest, shoulders and triceps can facilitate everything from throwing to passing to punching. Using plyometrics to train this skill might seem like a conundrum for the upper body, since plyos are essentially jump training. But here, a plyometric push-up makes sense because it doesn’t require any extra equipment and can be scaled back to be done on the knees, if needed. Position this exercise at the beginning of your routine when you’re freshest.

  • Start in a push-up position with your body in a straight line from head to heels and your hands positioned just outside shoulder-width apart, elbows pointing backward. Don’t let your elbows flare out because this will lift your shoulders, putting stress on your rotator cuff tendons.
  • Brace your core to keep your hips in position, then bend your elbows to lower yourself until your chest is a few inches above the floor and your elbows are bent out and back at an angle, like a capital letter “A.” If your elbows are too wide, it could stress your shoulders; if they are too close to your sides, it will reduce the emphasis on your pecs.
  • Quickly change direction by forcefully pushing up and away from the floor as fast as possible and with enough power to momentarily catch air. Make sure your body stays in a straight line from head to heels — don’t let your back arch or your hips come up to cheat.
  • Catch yourself on the way down with bent elbows, about halfway into the next rep so that you absorb the reactionary forces with your muscles instead of your joints and tendons. Slow yourself down and reset before the next rep to train your smaller stabilizing muscles to engage and decelerate your bodyweight.
  • Exhale with each powerful push off the floor to keep your abs engaged, thereby supporting your spine, and keep your gaze on the floor a few inches in front of your hands.
  • This move also can be done from your knees, but because there is a smaller range of motion, it will be quicker. Be ready to catch yourself on the descent.

Sample Function Pec Workout

Exercise Sets Reps Resistance Rest
Plyometric Push-Up 3-4 6-10 bodyweight 15-30 seconds
Band Power Shoulder Extension (Swimmers) 3-4 6-10 medium band 15-30 seconds
Medicine-Ball Chest Pass 3-4 6-10 6-12 15-30 seconds
Medicine-Ball Overhead Slam 3-4 6-10 6-12 15-30 seconds
Medicine-Ball Squat + Overhead Toss 3-4 6-10 6-12 15-30 seconds