The Forgotten Chest Muscle

 The Forgotten Chest Muscle

Throughout the years, particularly on the bodybuilding scene, the common misconception is that - if you want a bigger chest (and let’s face it, the majority of fellas out there who hit the gym for “International Chest Day” on a Monday, definitely do)

Then you need to be training your chest muscles more than your back muscles. “How do you do this??” I hear you cry? Well that’s obvious, isn’t it? - Hit the Bench Press as much as possible, and occasionally train my back muscles, right?… WRONG! 

 source: google images/crossfit southbay

source: google images/crossfit southbay

What is it?

The Pectoralis Minor muscle is a small muscle in the chest which lies underneath the large Pec Major (the main muscle of the chest) and attaches from our ribcage to a bony prominence on the front of our scapula (shoulder blade).

What does it do?

The Pec Minor draws our shoulder blade forward, downward and inward at nearly equal angles. It also helps to stabilise the shoulder joint whilst we are performing a large number of movements.

Why is it important?

The health and condition of this muscle is highly important for several reasons. Not only can a healthy Pec Minor help to improve shoulder mobility, but it can help to reduce shoulder pain and can contribute to better respiratory functioning by allowing the upper ribcage to move more freely.

If you spend long periods of time sitting over a desk or at the wheel of a car, then you would probably benefit from stretching your chest muscles regularly.

The more we train our chest muscles, the more likely it is that we are neglecting our back muscles and neglecting the need to stretch the chest muscles, particularly our Pec Minor.

This will, over time, lead to the muscles in our chest becoming over-used, tight and imbalanced compared with our back muscles. And will result in our chest muscles sitting in a shortened position.

"Surely doing more Bench Press will get me a bigger chest... right?"

Sadly, all of this bench pressing will not result in you having a chest like Arnie did back in his hay-day.

The truth of the matter is, the over-use of the chest muscles, paired with a lack of activation of your back muscles, will result in your Pec Minor shortening and pulling your shoulders forward into a “rounded” position.

Not only will this lead to your chest appearing SMALLER, but it could also lead to postural issues as well as Rotator Cuff injuries (which will put your Benching out of the equation for a long time!). You will also have a slouched or “hunched” posture which will not only make you look less confident but, will also lead to back or neck issues later in life.

So, what’s your point?

The point here is, and this may sound silly but, if you want a bigger-looking chest then you actually need to train your back muscles more than your chest - and make sure you stretch the chest muscles regularly.

Yes, you will still need to include a variety of different exercises to work the chest muscles and stimulate growth, but the balance should not heavily favour the chest muscles. In fact, the ratio should be more like 2:1 in favour of training our back muscles. The term "Less is more" is very much the case here.

This will help to open the chest up and make the chest muscles look more broad and wider.

“But I’ve never Bench Pressed, do I need to pay any attention to this?”

Yes, even if you have never bench pressed, done push ups or even set foot in a gym.

As mentioned previously these muscles can be affected by a multitude of different factors - daily routines, posture, lifestyle habits - reading, working, driving etc. - all of which can lead to these becoming tight and, all of which can apply to men and women equally.

Below are some simple but effective stretches and ways to help release the pec minor and keep it from becoming tight.  

Figure 1)

 shows an example of how, using a tennis ball and a wall, we can perform Soft Tissue Release to help reduce tension in this muscle.

 Figure 2)

shows 3 variations of a stretch for the Pectoral muscles, each of which target different areas/fibres - A & B will target the Upper/Mid and Mid/Lower fibres of Pec Major (respectively) and C will target the lower fibres of Pec Major as well as stretch Pec Minor.

 

 

 Fig. 1. Tennis Ball Soft Tissue Release source: google images/mindfulmvmnt

Fig. 1. Tennis Ball Soft Tissue Release source: google images/mindfulmvmnt

 Fig. 2 Doorway stretches for Pec Major & Minor source: google images/Crossfit Southbay

Fig. 2 Doorway stretches for Pec Major & Minor source: google images/Crossfit Southbay

What can I do?

There are a couple of things you can do to monitor the condition of your Pec Minor muscles, firstly, you can ask a friend, training partner or work colleague to feel around the edge of your shoulder blade - the side nearest your spine. The long edge of your shoulder blade should feel fairly flat to your back. If it doesn’t and they can get their fingers ”underneath” the shoulder blade, or feel that it is "lifted" from the ribcage, then you may have tight Pec Minors. 

Things you can do to alleviate this: 

  • See a Sports Therapist who can help to diagnose and release the tight tissues.
  • Stretch the tight area regularly (above).
  • Reduce the amount of heavy pressing in your gym routine. Speak to our coaching team for more advice on structured and balanced programming.

There can be many contributing factors to this and the exercises you perform in the gym are very likely to be a small factor.

Consider your posture in everything you do and always aim to keep your shoulders back and your chest proud. When you perform any pushing/pulling movements, try to think about "pinching" your shoulder blades together to start each rep and keeping them there throughout the movement.

Why did I feel the need to write this?

I have worked with multiple clients during my career who have had limited mobility in their shoulders, or they have suffered "shoulder pain" through certain movements - not only during their training, but also throughout their daily activities - the vast majority of whom have benefited from performing the exercises detailed above as well as training their back muscles on a more regular basis.

I also suffered with this myself following a lot of bench pressing, combined with poor posture, so I cannot stress enough how important it is to look after these muscles and I feel it is a largely neglected aspect of our training. It is often the muscles that we cannot see that we need to pay the most attention to.

 

 

Coach Ian.