If you’re looking to build serious pushing strength, an at-home chest workout might be just what you need to add to your exercise routine.
Chest workouts target your pectoral muscles—both your pectoralis major (a large, fan-shaped muscle that spans across your chest) and your pectoralis minor (the smaller muscle that sits underneath it). Your pec muscles help you perform pressing movements like push-ups and bench presses, and they also play a role in efficient breathing, as SELF previously reported.
Working your pec muscles is important for anyone trying to get stronger, but you don’t need to go overboard by cranking out tons of exercises and reps to make that happen, ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong with Sivan in Baltimore, tells SELF. In fact, this at-home chest workout she created will challenge your pec muscles and your triceps—the muscles in the back of your upper arms, which aid in pushing movements—with just three exercises.
“This workout is short, but it hits everything you want to hit if you’re looking to target your chest,” she says.
The following at-home chest workout targets your pushing muscles in different ways, Fagan says. First, you’ll start with a dead-stop push-up, a challenging push-up variation that takes momentum out of the equation, which forces your pushing muscles to really fire to get the job done. Then you’ll go into the chest fly, a pec-specific exercise that doesn’t call in on your triceps for extra help. By the time you get to the last exercise, the alternating chest press, your pec muscles will be wiped, so even lighter dumbbells on this classic move will start to feel super challenging.
The goal of this workout is to help you build strength and muscle, so you’ll be working with a lower rep range than you may be used to. While super low reps (think 1 to 5) are effective at building strength, moving up slightly on the rep range (think 8 to 12), can help you get stronger while adding muscle, says Fagan. (Higher rep ranges, like 15 and above, are helpful in building muscular endurance.)
The average exerciser looking to get stronger should do aim to work their chest muscles twice a week, Fagan says. Since this is a chest-specific workout, you can do this workout once a week, and pair it with a full-body or upper-body workout that includes a bit of chest work for the other day.
Before you get started with this routine, it’s a good idea to warm up your muscles first. Dynamic moves like the dead-bug and the T-spine rotation—which get your core firing and mobilize your upper thoracic spine—can be useful in a pre-workout warm-up. You should also make a point to stretch your pecs after the routine, like with the doorway pec stretch.
What you’ll need: An exercise mat for comfort, and a pair or two of dumbbells. You may need to use a lighter pair for the chest fly than the chest press.
Alternating chest press
You’ll do this workout in straight sets, meaning you will perform all your sets of one exercise for the prescribed number of reps before moving on to the next exercise.
Complete as many reps as possible of the dead-stop push-up. Rest 1-2 minutes. Do 3 sets total.
Complete 8-12 reps of the chest fly. Rest 1-2 minutes. Do 3 sets total.
Complete 8-10 reps on each side of the alternating chest press. Rest 1-2 minutes. Do 3 sets total.
Demoing the moves below are Erica Gibbons (GIF 1), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist; Nathalie Huerta (GIF 2), a coach at The Queer Gym in Oakland, California; and Harlan Kellaway (GIF 3), a trans bodybuilder based in Queens, New York City.
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