You’ve seen the guy in the string tank top showing off his striated chest and figured “Hmm, it’d be cool to have a canyon separating my pecs like that, too.”
Getting lean is probably the most important step for you to be able to achieve this goal—so that means dialing in on your diet and training plan. But you can train your inner chest so it’s ready to be unveiled after you get your body in the right place.
Admittedly, you cannot singularly isolate the inner pectoral muscle. No matter what chest exercise you perform, you will be engaging the entire chest. In geek speak, every sarcomere of muscle fibril will contract with each rep. But you can put added emphasize on your inner chest with the right exercises.
Barbell and straight dumbbell presses don’t emphasize the fibers nearest your breastbone. That’s because one of the functions of the pectorals is to bring them toward the midline of the body—picture hugging a big Redwood tree—and this function isn’t required during a regular bench press straight up and down movement.
So, to really hit the inner part of your pecs, you need to perform exercises where the arms don’t just extend out in front of you, but where they come together (or even cross) the midline of the body.
Here are some exercises that do a good job of that.
Dumbbell Chest Flys
Flys are the most basic exercise for that arms to midline motion, and you're most likely familiar with this variation of the movement. In order to maximize the effect on the inner chest, there are a few things to keep in mind.
First, make sure to take a strong position on the bench—that means your shoulders are dialed in, your core and glutes are engaged, and your feet are securely on the floor. The most important part of the fly is the top of the lift, with the dumbbells raised above your chest. Rather than touching the bells at the top, keep some space between them and instead focus on squeezing your pecs as much as you can beyond what it takes to lift the weight.
Ground Pound Alternating Press
This challenging finisher forces you to keep your torso in the proper position in order to keep the focus on the chest. You'll need a pair of resistance bands or a cable machine setup, so this is an exercise best performed at a gym.
Like the fly above, the most important part of this exercise for inner chest development is the squeeze once your arms are extended. Consider holding and squeezing for an extra few counts once you press both of your arms together. As an added bonus, you'll be torching your core, too.
The squeeze press is a dumbbell bench press with one slight tweak: the dumbbells are kept in contact with each other throughout. Sometimes called the Hex Press (likely because the move is easiest to perform with hex dumbbells), you should squeeze the dumbbells together as hard as possible during every inch of every single rep, keeping tension on the inner chest.
Dumbbell Flys with Band Resistance
Bands allow for accommodating resistance through the entire range of motion, matching your strength curve. In other words, the bands are most resistant when you’re at your strongest (when the band is fully lengthened at the peak of a dumbbell fly, when you’re near full extension), keeping tension on your inner chest at the top of the rep when normally you wouldn’t feel it.
Lie flat on the bench with the mini band attached behind its back and wrapped at the thumb, then perform flies as you normally would. If you struggle to “feel” your chest working (and are naturally tricep dominant on chest movements) try using bands to increase the mind-muscle connection.
Plate Squeeze Press
Grab a 10 to 45 pound weight plate and squeeze it with an open palm in the center while pressing upwards. You may want to hook your fingers in the hole if it’s a metal plate you tend to have sweaty palms.
Performing this movement with slow, controlled pacing is key. It’s best to shoot for high reps and keep your pecs flexed throughout.
Single-Arm Chest Fly
You might be used to using dumbbells for flys, but cables or resistance bands can serve a slightly different purpose.
"This exercise can be an extremely effective single arm exercise increasing hypertrophy, muscular endurance (providing that pump) without putting the amount of stress on the shoulder joints that a chest fly with a dumbbell would," adds performance specialist and coach Curtis Shannon, C.S.C.S.
This version of the movement is performed unilaterally (one side at a time), with an emphasis on the upper-inner pec region. However, emphasis is placed on bringing the resistance further across the body and past the midline, thus extending the range of motion to force an intense peak contraction in the inner pec.
As you complete this movement, use the opposite hand to feel the inner fibers of the working pec contracting all the way up (a form of biofeedback that’ll inform you that the movement is having the desired effect). Always keep the elbows slightly bent for full inner pec activation through the desired range of motion.
Inner Pec Push Up
Take a narrower pushup stance than you normally would, similar to a close-grip pushup.
Then contract your pecs together and hold that squeeze. Keep flexing the inner pecs as you lower down and then return to the starting position with a forceful contraction.
Cross Body Pushup with Band
Finally, you're going to hit the ground for another push up variation using a band, courtesy of trainer extraordinaire Jeff Cavaliere, MSPT, CSCS. You aren’t just doing the pressing portion of the exercise—you're also adding in the all-important cross-body movement mentioned above.
With a band in one hand, perform what appears to be a normal push up. However, when you get to the top of the rep pick up your hand with the band in it and cross it over the other until you can put it flat on the ground on the opposite side. This will briefly provide an incredibly strong contraction of the chest. Pick up the hand and return it to the starting position.
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