A Peek at Pecs

pec majorPecs (Pectoralis muscle group) connect the front walls of the chest with the bones of the upper arm and shoulder. You have two Pec muscles on each side of the sternum (breastbone): a pectoralis major and a pectoralis minor.

Pecs help you move your arms down (adduction), rotate your arm forward, and side to side (lateral). It assist your arms when they’re raised (as in climbing). Pecs assist in deep breathing, too, tugging on the ribs to help lungs expand.

Developed pecs are most recognized in males, because breast tissue typically hides the pectoralis muscles in females.

Strengthening your pecs

Many resistance exercises help strengthen, train and define your pec muscles. Bench presses, flyes, dips, cable crossovers, chin ups or front lat pull downs (wide grip) and the most popular – the push up.

As with any exercise that targets a muscle group, form is critical. For more defined and stronger pec muscles, there’s no simpler exercise than the “perfect push up. While push ups don’t target a specific region of the pec muscles, they do a great job of overall strengthening and toning. Try your next push up this way:

  1. Set your hands at a distance slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  2. The wider apart your feet, the more stable you are, but if you feel more comfortable with your feet touching, that’s ok
  3. Imagine a rod running from the top of your head to your toes.  Keep your body straight (don’t stick your butt up).
  4. While you do the push up, clench your butt muscles and tighten your abs – that will engage your core and help keep your body straight.
  5. Keep your arms straight when you reach the top of the push up. Keep them tucked close to your body with each repetition.
  6. Look slightly ahead of you, instead of at the floor.  Think of touching the floor with your chin on the way down, as opposed to your nose.
  7. When your chest touches the floor (or your arms reach a 90 degree angle), pause a second, then explode back up to the top position.

In general, don’t do push ups (or any chest exercise) two days in a row.  Your muscles need time to recover.  If you get bored with the form doing pushups, try elevating your legs by placing your feet on a block or step before doing the push up.

Pec injuries

Injuries (tears) to the pec major are rare, but can occur when too much strain is placed on the shoulders and chest, like lifting too much weight when working out at the gym. For the most part, anti-inflammatory medication, targeted sports massage, and RICE, are recommended for soreness in the pec muscles.

Massage therapy for pec muscles

The pecs cover pretty much the entire top half of your chest, so the muscles are easily accessible for massage therapists.  Generally, therapists will work pec muscles using traditional Swedish (effleurage) techniques, and trigger point therapy (TrP) for knots (adhesions).  Whether you’ve got sore pecs, or you just want to help relax your upper body, or add pec massage to your regular sports maintenance sessions, let your massage therapist know if you would like to add pec massage to your session.