A topic that has piqued the interest of many gym-goers, and especially men who want defined, plate-of-armor pecs, is the lower chest.
In the pursuit of a well-rounded, strong, and aesthetic chest, the lower chest often comes into discussion. However, its existence and importance are subjects of debate and confusion.
In this episode, I’ll bring clarity to the concept and explore the best ways to improve the lower chest area.
Can the lower chest be emphasized in our training? And if so, what exercises work best for it?
If you’ve been pondering these questions, this episode holds the answers. Tune in as we delve into the intricacies of lower chest workouts, providing you with practical guidance for your training regimen.
0:00 – Please leave a review of the show wherever you listen to podcasts and make sure to subscribe!
1:16 – Is there such a thing as the lower chest?
8:02 – What is the best way to improve the lower chest area?
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17:13 – The best exercises for the lower chest
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Ep. #1075: The Ultimate Guide to Lower Chest Workouts
[00:00:00] Hello, I’m Mike Matthews and this is Muscle for Life. Thank you for joining me today to learn about something that is on the mind of many men in gyms everywhere. And that is how to get a better chest, a bigger chest, a stronger chest, a more proportionate chest, a more aesthetic chest. And in today’s episode, I’m gonna focus specifically on the quote unquote lower chest. There’s a lot of talk about developing the upper chest. I’ve written about this. I’ve spoken about this. If you wanna learn about developing the upper portion of your chest in particular, just head over to legionathletics.com and search for Upper Chest, and you can find stuff that I’ve produced on that.
But in today’s episode, I’m gonna talk about the Lower portion of the chest, which is something that I have not specifically written or spoken about. I haven’t recorded an episode like this before, and so I thought it would be worthwhile because [00:01:00] I get asked more often about developing the upper chest, but many people, usually guys, uh, also will ask about developing a better lower portion of the chest.
Can that be emphasized in our training? Should it be emphasized in our training? And if you are going to emphasize it, how do you go about that effectively? Okay, let’s start this discussion by answering the first question that should be answered, which is, is there such a thing as the lower chest? Well, to answer that, let’s talk about chest anatomy.
So when we refer to the pecs, the PECS major, Muscles, the large fan shaped muscles of the chest. We are referring to muscles that have two main sections. They have two heads to use the technical term, the clavicular head or the upper pec, that’s the upper portion of the chest and the sternocostal head, which is the middle portion, as [00:02:00] well as the lower portion of this muscle.
And many scientists take this further and they also divide the sternocostal head into two subsections. The manubrium portion, which makes up the bulk of the sternocostal head, the middle portion, and the abdominal portion, which is the small region at the bottom. Of the pec and just a little interesting anatomical side.
Research shows that the pecs in particular have a lot of variability in terms of how they develop, how they look, how they attach to the skeleton. In fact, according to some research, the pecs are six times more likely than any other muscle group to look and to connect to the skeleton in different ways.
And so that helps explain why we see a lot of variability in Pec development, uh, in various people, uh, that we see in the gym and that we see online. And that is also one of the reasons why we can all build [00:03:00] big and strong pecs, but we can’t necessarily build the exact type of pecs that we might want, that we might see, uh, on someone else in the gym or online.
Their pecs may be materially different than ours in terms of structure, and ultimately that is going to dictate how these muscles look when they become well developed. And so anyway, the pecs have these distinct portions, this upper portion, this middle portion, this. Lower portion, and that has led many people to believe that we can emphasize these different portions with certain types of exercises.
For example, you’ve probably heard that if you want to emphasize the upper portion of your pec, you want to do incline. Pressing or you wanna do reverse script pressing. And if you want to emphasize each of the portions equally, maybe with a slight emphasis on the middle portion, you should do flat pressing.
And if you want to maximize lower chest [00:04:00] development, you want to do decline pressing or dips. And there’s actually some truth to this because studies show that the incline bench press, for example, is particularly effect. Diviv at training the upper portion of the PECS and that the flat bench press is highly effective at training your pecs as a whole.
But it does tend to emphasize the middle portion of the muscle and the primary reason for why incline pressing and reverse grip pressing emphasizes the upper portion of the pex. And why flat pressing emphasizes the. The middle portion, uh, more so than the upper or the lower, has to do with the anatomy of these different muscle heads and the angles in which they connect to the skeleton.
And I, I don’t need to get into the details here, but suffice it to say that due to anatomical differences, meaningful differences between these different muscle heads, they [00:05:00] can be. Targeted, they can be emphasized with certain exercises. Now, what about the lower portion of the chest of the Pex, which is the focus of today’s episode?
Well, let’s talk about the decline bench press, which many people say is fantastic for developing, for targeting. The lowest portion of the chest, but research shows that that is probably not the case. For example, in one study that was conducted by researchers at the University of Queensland, they found that the flat and the decline bench press were similarly effective at training the Sternocostal head of the Pex, including.
The abdominal, the lowest portion. There’s another study that was published in the European Journal of Sports Science that found that the decline bench press is no more effective at activating that lowest portion of the Sternocostal head of the PEX than the flat bench press. And studies like these have led many people in the evidence-based fitness [00:06:00] space to say that, trying to emphasize the lower portion.
Of your Pex is mostly a fool’s errand that you should just stick with the flat bench press instead of the decline bench press because of a greater range of motion and just better all around efficacy, and that you should also work in some incline, bench pressing, maybe some reverse grip bench pressing.
To emphasize the upper portion of the PS, and that has been validated in scientific research that does work, and that also is useful because the upper portion of your PEX can lag behind the middle and the lower, but primarily the middle, the. Biggest portion of your PEX in development. If you don’t include some exercises that target the upper portion, order that activate the upper portion of your PEX more than just a traditional flat press or a decline press, if you’re doing that or a dip or any variation of.
Pressing Really, that [00:07:00] doesn’t put you in an incline position or doesn’t involve that reverse grip. And I had that problem years ago because for many years I did a lot of flat pressing, basically no incline pressing whatsoever, no incline, barbell pressing, no incline dumbbell pressing. Just a lot of flat and a lot of variations of, of flat presses.
And that did produce a fair amount of. Growth. My chest got big, but it had a. Bottom heavy look, it didn’t look proportional. When you looked at it from top to bottom. The, the middle was quite pronounced, the bottom was quite pronounced, but that upper portion was significantly less developed and it, it looked a little bit odd.
If you really looked at it, maybe you wouldn’t notice it immediately. You would just think, oh, that dude has a big chest. But if you inspected my pecs, You would see that the upper portion was quite flat, quite underdeveloped, and then you just had this [00:08:00] big bulbous middle portion and lower portion. I mean, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but that’s at least how I perceived it.
And I corrected that with a lot of incline pressing, some reverse grip as well, but mostly just a lot of incline pressing. And in my experience, most men and women have the same issue. If they’ve been training for some time and they’ve been doing a lot of flat pressing and they need to do a fair amount of incline pressing to balance out all the flat pressing, maybe decline pressing as well that they’ve been doing.
But, and this is why I’m recording this episode, there are many people who have underdeveloped lower portions of their chest. And they want to know the best way to correct that. They’re doing a lot of incline pressing, they’re doing a lot of flat pressing. Maybe they’re doing reverse grip, pressing in some other variations, and it is not producing the lower chest that they want, the look that they want, and so they want to know.
Is that possible? Well, the scientific evidence doesn’t make [00:09:00] this abundantly clear. There’s not a cut and dried answer that I’m aware of in scientific research, but if we look at what we do know based on the existing research, I do think it’s possible. And this is why I mentioned earlier. That the different segments of your chest, of your pecs work differently based on what types of movements you’re doing.
And particularly this is gonna be movements with your arms and shoulders. So for example, in a study that was conducted by scientists at the University of Wallen Gong, experienced, weightlifters performed a series of movements against varying levels of resistance while researchers measured. Muscle activation in each segment of their pecs.
And what the researchers found is that the lower segments of the pecs, right, the abdominal portion were most active when the people performed shoulder abduction, which is pulling your arms to your sides. So imagine your arms are out. To your sides [00:10:00] parallel with the ground, and then you bring them to your hips.
That is shoulder abduction. And the researchers also found that the lower portion of the PS were highly active during shoulder extension, which is where you bring your arms in an arc from out in front of you. So if you straighten your arms and put them out in front of you and then you move them.
Downward to your sides and even move them back behind you. So that arcing motion is shoulder extension as well as horizontal shoulder flexion from 30 degrees of shoulder flexion. Uh, confusing. I know. But that’s basically moving in the same way as you would on the decline. Bench press, if you can just imagine that motion.
Now, some people might represent that research as definitive evidence that you can indeed target the lower portion of your PECS by simply mimicking those types of movements, doing exercises, uh, using resistance, obviously, uh, with those types of movements. And that’s not completely unreasonable, but unfortunately it is not that simple.
[00:11:00] Because that study only measured muscle activation. And of course muscle activation is necessary for muscle growth, but simply demonstrating muscle activation does not necessarily mean you are going to produce muscle growth. There’s more that is required to grow a muscle than merely activating it. And also we have to remember that the study I just mentioned was not a strength.
Training study. It didn’t look at how these different exercises trained the PS and how much muscle growth occurred as a result, it simply looked at muscle activation in the pecs and how it changes based on different movements. Now, that said, It is evidence that we may be able to target the lower portion of our PEX just as we can target the middle or the upper portion of our pex.
Theoretically, we should be able to do this given what we know about the anatomy of the Pex, and given some of this research on how these different segments of [00:12:00] the pecs become more or less active depending on how we are moving our arms and how we are moving our shoulders. And so my recommendation then is this, if you feel like the lower portion of your PEX is lagging, it is not developing proportionately compared to the middle portion in particular, maybe even compared to the upper portion.
You’ve been doing a lot of flat pressing, a lot of incline, pressing, maybe some other variations that are meant to emphasize the middle or the upper portion of the pecs, and that has. Not been enough to get the look that you want because of this lagging lower portion, then you certainly can incorporate or prioritize certain exercises that theoretically may, maybe even should activate the lower portion of your packs more than other exercises that you might do.
And before I get to the specific exercises, let me just comment quickly on incorporate, prioritize. So in some cases [00:13:00] there are going to be exercises that you are probably going to be doing anyway, like the flat bench press, barbell or dumbbell. That’s the king of chest exercises. You want to make sure that you are progressing and you are getting strong at flat pressing.
Because that is going to give you a lot of chest growth. It’s going to emphasize the middle portion of your packs, but it also does train the lower and the upper portions, so much so that some people don’t need to do much. Else, they just need to get strong on their flat pressing first and foremost. And they have a great chest.
Maybe that’s not most people, but that might be you. If you are relatively new to this and you’re not sure yet how your body and how each individual muscle group is going to respond to your training. And so the flat press is probably easy to incorporate in your training. It’s probably already in your training.
Uh, Regularly some sort of flat press. Now, something [00:14:00] like a dip may not be, I see a lot more people doing the barbell bench press and the dumbbell bench press in my gym than I see people doing the dip, especially. The weighted dip. And so that’s an exercise that you may not be currently doing, uh, that you may want to incorporate in your training.
And as far as how to do that, I would recommend at least three to six sets per week of an exercise, or two exercises, maybe even three exercises. If you are doing, let’s say six sets a week and you want to do two sets per exercise that. Target, or at least that theoretically target the lower portion of your packs and six sets is going to be more effective than three.
Three would be a a minimum. And if you are an experienced weightlifter, you might need to do more than six sets. You might need to do upward of nine sets per week. Of exercises that hopefully are targeting the lower portion of your PEX to really see a [00:15:00] difference over the course of several months. So that’s incorporating.
Now, as far as prioritizing, what I’m referring to is the order in which you do exercises in a workout, because research shows that you are going to make the most progress in the first, probably two exercises, maybe three, but most people, it’s the first. Exercise or the first two exercises that you are doing in your training and anybody who has trained a fair amount knows why.
You have the most energy focus power in the first 20 to 30 minutes of your training. That’s the first one to two exercises, assuming you’re doing, let’s say three to four sets per exercise, and so you can use that to your advantage when you are trying to. Focus on or prioritize certain muscle groups or certain segments of muscle groups in this case.
So let’s say for some time your flat pressing has come in the second or the third slot, uh, or maybe an exercise like a dip. Uh, was considered more of an accessory [00:16:00] exercise if and when you were doing it and it was your second or third exercise in a chest workout or an upper body workout, or a push workout, well, if you want to prioritize the dip because you were trying to prioritize the lower pecs, then you would move the dip maybe to the first position.
You might start your workout, you warm up. And then you are doing, let’s say, weighted dips. If you are an experienced weightlifter and you are strong, and let’s say you are doing heavy, maybe four to six reps per set, maybe six to eight reps per set, depending on how your training is programmed, and that would now be your first exercise instead of the flat bench press, for example, which is how you would normally start, or the incline bench press, which maybe is how you were starting your.
Chest training previously, and just those two points alone can make a big difference in the development of your preferred muscle group or muscle groups, making sure that you are doing enough hard sets per week of [00:17:00] exercises. That are emphasizing the muscle group or the segment of the muscle group that you want to focus on the most, and making sure you are prioritizing those exercises in your workouts.
Very effective strategy for specialization training, as it’s often called where you are specializing in focusing on developing usually one or two specific. Key muscle groups. Okay, let’s get to the exercises. First on the list has to be the flat barbell bench press, or flat dumbbell bench press. Those are basically interchangeable.
Uh, the flat press is the king of chest exercises. It really is just a foundational exercise. It trains your upper portion of your chest, your middle portion, your lower portion, and it allows you to handle heavy. Weights effectively, you should be doing some sort of flat pressing, not necessarily always.
Again, it depends on where you’re at, where you’ve been, where you’re trying to go, but it should be a [00:18:00] regular feature in your upper body training. Next in the list is the dip, which is an excellent exercise, I think a highly underrated exercise for training your upper body, pushing muscles, your pecs, your shoulders, your.
Triceps. And when you’re doing it, if you want to emphasize the lower packs, lean slightly forward. Don’t be straight up and down. The upright dip is a great exercise, but that’s going to shift some of the emphasis to your triceps. But if you have a slight forward, Lean. That should shift the emphasis to the lower portion of your PEX for anatomical reasons I shared earlier.
Next up, we have the decline bench press. Now, I know I mentioned that there are a couple of studies that indicate that this exercise is no more effective for activating the lower portion of the pex, but given some of the other research, particularly on how the PS work and how each segment of the PEX works, I’m not [00:19:00] entirely.
Convinced. Uh, I understand that the weight of the evidence doesn’t look good, but there is not that much research to go on and mechanically speaking, it actually would make sense if the decline bench press. Emphasized the lower portion of the pecs, at least more so than the flat bench press and the uh, incline bench press.
And what we do know about the decline bench press is if nothing else, it’s an effective chest exercise. Maybe it is no better than the flat bench press or the incline bench press, but you are not going to be impairing your chest development by doing some decline, bench pressing. And so I do think it’s worth trying if you want to emphasize the lower portion of your pecs and just.
See how your PS respond. How does it feel, especially in the lower portion of your Ps? Like for me, for example, I very much feel the emphasis on the lower portion of my PS when I do a dip, and [00:20:00] I feel it to a degree on the decline bench press, but I feel it. More in the dip. So I prefer the dip over the decline bench press, but I’ve heard the opposite from other people, and that is probably, again, due to a lot of the variability in the structure of the ps.
Now, when I say decline, bench press, of course, I mean barbell and dumbbell. Those are both great exercises. One is not necessarily better than the other. The next exercise is the dumbbell, pullover and exercise that I feel like has fallen out of popularity. I don’t see many people doing this exercise anymore, at least not as many people as it did 10, 15 plus years ago.
But this is an exercise that trains shoulder flexion, which means that it may be particularly well suited to training the lower portion of the pex, and it also trains your PEX in a stretched position, which is generally beneficial for muscle growth. Next up we have a cable [00:21:00] pullover, which is just a cable variation of the dumbbell pullover.
Some people find it more comfortable, uh, it trains the upper body very similarly, trains the pex very similarly. It very well may emphasize that lower portion of your pex and one unique benefit. Because it is a cable exercise, it keeps constant tension on your. pecs throughout each rep, which is good for building muscle because of course mechanical tension is the primary mechanical driver of muscle growth.
The primary driver not related to hormones and other chemicals in the body. And so when we can keep constant tension on the target muscle group throughout every rep of every set, that can be more effective. There are some other factors to consider, but if we just isolated that one factor that is ideal, uh, compared to.
Maybe an exercise that produces high levels of tension on the target. Muscle group during, let’s say a portion of each rep, but [00:22:00] then it produces much lower levels of tension during other portions. So a simple example of this is a biceps curl, right? So when you’re at the bottom and you are getting to about the midpoint, maybe a little bit higher than the midpoint.
High levels of tension, right? That is when the exercise is difficult, but then when you are going from midpoint or a little bit above the midpoint to the top, the maximum contraction of your biceps, that is a lot easier, right? That’s the easiest portion. Once you get through, really it’s the first half the movement, you are going to complete the rep.
And so then what we have with many exercises that involve biceps curling is a situation where, High levels of tension are produced, that’s great. And then lower levels of tension are produced, which is not bad, but it would be better if it were just high levels of tension throughout the entirety of every rep.
[00:23:00] And with biceps curling, you can feel this difference if you do what’s called a cable drag curl. If you look that up and see how that feels. Compared to, let’s say, just a traditional dumbbell biceps curl or barbell biceps curl, and that’s very easy to accomplish with a cable, less so with free weights. It can be done like in the case of an incline dumbbell curl.
That’s one of the reasons why that exercise is significantly harder than let’s say, a standing dumbbell biceps curl. But anyway. Getting back to the cable pullover, we have a, a similar effect here where you are getting constant tension throughout every rep of every set. And let’s move on to the next exercise, which is a high to low cable fly.
Uh, this is also often referred to as the lower chest cable fly because it trains shoulder abduction. Remember bringing those arms in toward the [00:24:00] middle part of our. Body or down toward the middle part of our body. And that means that you may, I would say, probably are emphasizing the lower portion of the pecs more so than flies that are performed with the handles about at the middle of your torso or at your feet.
And one other tip here is to maximize lower pec involvement, you want to bring your hands together or even slightly past each other. So crossing at the bottom. Of each wrap about six to eight inches in front of your thighs instead of bringing your hands to the front of your torso or the, or the front of your chest, which is what most people, at least I see in the gym, uh, doing high to low flies do.
So instead, you want to get. Low, six to eight inches in front of your thighs, hands together, or hands even crossing. Okay. The final exercise is the decline dumbbell fly, which is simply a dumbbell fly done on a decline bench, and this is [00:25:00] also likely good for emphasizing the lower portion of the chest. And also dumbbell flies are great because they train your pecs with a lot of stretch, so, When the pecs are fully stretched, they’re under load, and research shows that that can be particularly good for stimulating muscle growth.
All right, so that’s it for the exercises as far as putting them together into a workout. Uh, I did speak to that at least briefly a little bit earlier, but just to make sure it’s clear, a very simple way of going about this. Let’s say this is gonna be a, a push workout or a chest workout. You could start with a staple, a flat bench press of some kind, barbell dumbbell, and you could do.
Three, four sets, heavy weight, four to six reps per set, maybe six to eight reps per set. Then you could move to an exercise that emphasizes the lower portion of the pecs, but is also just a great all around, uh, pec exercise, like a dip, for example. Add weight if you are strong. I would say if you can do more than [00:26:00] maybe eight to 10 reps, add some weight, bring that down into the six to eight, maybe even the four to six rep range.
Then you can move on to something that’s a bit more of an isolation exercise. It’s not as difficult as the heavy compound movements like a dumbbell pullover. Maybe you do three or four sets there, six to eight reps per set, and you could finish with some high to low cable flies. Uh, three to four sets, maybe eight to 10 or six to eight reps there, and that would be a highly effective chest workout or push workout that.
Focuses on training the middle and the lower portion of your pecs.