January 02, 2022
Cavernous pecs don’t come easily. To get that depth, you’ll need to focus on developing the inner chest. And while definition of the inner chest is elusive, there are some key chest exercises and movements to take advantage of in effort of achieving this impressive aesthetic, which is the purpose of this post. We will present the fundamentals of chest anatomy, training tips and tricks, and 10 must do inner chest exercises that will help you carve those pecs.
The pecs, or pectoralis major, is what we know as the chest. It is the large, fan-shaped muscle that runs horizontally from the middle of the rib cage to the humerus bone on the arm. The chest (pec major) is composed of two muscle heads, typically thought of as the upper and lower chest. These muscle heads work together to perform rotation and pushing movements, like the bench press. But let’s dive deeper into chest anatomy to better understand this:
As you can see, for solid chest development, movement matters. To really stimulate the inner chest, you’ll need to perform movements that activate the sternal head.
Before we dive into the best exercises for the inner chest, here are a few factors to consider when training the chest.
Rep Range & Volume: The rep ranges of your workouts are usually determined by your own goals. Higher (8-15) reps are generally associated with hypertrophy, while lower reps (1-5) are usually key for pure strength gains. That said, muscle development relies on a variety of rep ranges.
Note: there is often confusion regarding the correct rep range to achieve hypertrophy. Muscle development depends not only on repetitions, but time under tension, as well as the muscle type. For example, smaller muscles, like biceps and deltoids, don’t respond well to low reps and heavy weights. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but it’ll help prevent injury and keep your exercises productive.
Grip: Another contentious topic, grip positioning is important during the bench press. Keeping your arms slightly wider than shoulder width is perfect for overall chest development. To emphasize the inner chest, shift to a more narrow grip. This grip also relies heavily on the triceps. You’ll need to drop the weight when using this grip.
Barbell vs Dumbbell: The barbell vs dumbbell debate is old as time. In general, both contribute equally to chest muscle activation and development, but there are slight differences. You can press more weight with the barbell, as dumbbells transfer the load across nearby muscles for stabilization and overall allows for greater range of motion. Again, an ideal workout will incorporate both. For the inner chest, the barbell is the way to go for consistent development.
Progressive Overload: This is the principle of increasing resistance across sets and workouts. You can increase the weight from set to set, but keep it minimal to maintain the rep range. Note that for the exercises here, you should stick to 10-15 reps, going close to failure for each set. It’s time to add weight once you can easily get through a set.
Progressive overload applies to weight, but includes other elements such as time under tension, rest time, time to failure, and more. You can combine methods, but don’t do too much in each cycle.
The following exercises were chosen because they present the greatest benefits to both inner and overall chest development; you can’t have one without the other. Ideally you’ll find a way to incorporate most of, if not all, into your chest routine. Variety promotes gains in strength and size, and helps to prevent plateaus. The chest responds well to variety.
The push-up tops this list because it is the foundation of chest development. And the close grip is the best push-up for the inner chest. While it won’t give you anywhere near the gains of free weights, it will teach you perfect form, provides a solid base, and can be done anywhere. You may be surprised how many push-ups you can’t do.
How to do close grip push ups:
The bench press is the ideal free-weight exercise for overall chest development. It acts heavily on the sternal head, which is what we want for the inner chest. While the bench press doesn’t act directly on the inner chest, it develops the strength that supports the exercises that do.
How to do bench presses:
Note: You should rotate between barbell and dumbbell bench press, as both are good to do for your inner chest. Barbells will allow for greater loads (generally speaking), which is great for development, but dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion and thus increased stretching and contraction tension.
Flys are the best exercises for really focusing tension on the inner chest. Cable exercises provide constant tension, meaning the muscle stays stimulated throughout the entire range of motion. Finally, through the cable machine you can explore a variety of exercises that may add value to your routine.
How to do cable flys:
Another foundational exercise - everyone should know how to perform the dumbbell fly. The dumbbell fly takes advantage of arm rotation to really hit the inner chest. Keep in mind you’ll be working against gravity with this one.
How to do dumbbell flys:
This variation of the bench press is another foundational movement that does work to the inner chest, as well as the triceps. This is a good place to start if you struggle with other exercises, or only have a barbell. Remember to decrease the weight for this, probably 30% than your normal flat bench weight
How to do close grip bench press:
Similar to the close grip bench press, the hex press takes advantage of dumbbells and transfers tension differently. What really makes this exercise special is that you will be pressing the dumbbells together the entire time, which is great for muscle activation and the inner chest. Basically, it adds another element of contraction.
How to do hex presses:
This variation of the basic cable fly adds a bit more shoulder and lower chest, while still emphasizing the inner chest - or in other words, the lower-inner chest. Stagger your feet and lean forward slightly for a bit more stability and power generation.
How to cable flys high to low:
Yet another variation of the fly, this truly is a distinct exercise and requires practice. Isolateral movements allow you to focus on weaknesses that persist on one side of the body. You also get to perfect your range of motion. This exercise can be done from an upright standing position, bent over standing position, or with a bench set up next to the cable machine in a lying position.
How to single arm cable flys:
Related: Best Cable Chest Exercises
Great for both chest and back, the pullover activates much of the chest from a slightly unusual angle, while preserving arm rotation so you’re still hitting inner chest. Overall, you can think of this one as an upper-inner chest exercise.
How to do dumbbell pullovers:
Similar to the hex press but with a plate, and usually performed standing upright (but can be done from a seated or incline bench position). You can also use a dumbbell, as seen in the pic above. This exercise is great for burnouts/conditioning or finishing movements.
How to do plate presses:
Here is a workout that will remind you why you love chest day. You can do this up to twice per week. This should be part of your building/conditioning phase. Keep your rests to ~2 minutes. You can add in exercises for the triceps as you like.
Note: Always stretch and warm up with light or bodyweight
Related: The Ultimate Chest & Tricep Workout
Stretching and warming up before any workout is a must to avoid injury and get the most from your workout. You can do both at once with active, or dynamic, stretching. You don’t need to spend more than a few minutes, and don’t over-stretch.
Some good stretches before a chest workout are:
These are dynamic stretches, so you will be moving in and out of the stretch, not holding the stretch for extended time.
When warming up, less is more.
Warm up/ramp up sets: It’s also a good idea to do a few warm up sets of a given exercise, keeping the weight low and working up to your working weight.
Related: Dynamic Warm Up Exercises
As mentioned a few times here, the inner chest is not something you can hit separately and call it a day. To get the inner chest developed, you’ll be working the whole chest. This is key, so beware of overtraining. Here are a few things to remember from this post:
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