Simply put: if you’re not doing unilateral chest work, you don’t have the right to complain about your shitty chest development. Especially for your inner chest.
Most people develop unevenly, and the weakest areas tend to be the origin point at the sternum, and the clavicular overall.
In bro-speak, I mean your inner chest and your upper-inner chest.
Now: before we go any further, there’s gonna be some exercise science major or performance specialist chiming in and waving their arms and telling you that muscles contract as a whole and you can’t target specific areas.
The first piece of advice for how to fix your chest imbalance is to ignore that person.
Dude probably has a lame physique, and has never helped anyone achieved an impressive and well-balanced one.
Now, some douche like that may come in and call me a BroScientist and argue with me. But he can’t argue with guys like Bret Contreras who is definitely a Bro, but also an ACTUAL SCIENTIST who has researched this shit.
All right, cool. Moving on.
So, one of the problems with chest development is exercise selection. And here’s where unilateral exercises come in.
Keep in mind, one of the primary functions of the pec is to adduct the humerus, or pull the arm medially across the body. Not just TO the midline of the body, but ACROSS it.
In a bilateral exercise, the range of motion of each arm is limited by the other arm: your arms meet in the middle.
This creates a massive limitation for chest development because the muscle fibers closest to the sternum more easily achieve peak contraction and overload once you cross the midline.
Performing the exercise one arm at a time allows you to do just that. Note that this mostly applies to exercises performed on machines or with cables—most free weight exercises lose resistance at the end range. So, to that…
Note: slight incline works magic for the upper chest.
– Go heavy with this one (4-6 sets, 5-8 reps).
– No need to travel past the midline, but in doing this unilaterally with some tactile stimulation drastically increases recruitment of the clavicular head of the pec. In a previous article, I talked about the benefits of touching yourself (heh) while working on a certain muscle group. This is only possible in unilateral exercises.
(Aside: You can make this a triceps exercise by touching your triceps instead of your chest and focusing on locking out the elbow at the top.)
One of the pec’s functions is to bring your arm across your chest (humeral adduction), and one of the challenges of traditional chest training exercises is you can’t load the pecs while bringing your arms across.
For example, with a dumbbell chest press, if you squeeze the dumbbells together at the top, the tension from the dumbbells no longer goes to the pecs because, you know, gravity.
With the single-arm floor press, you can change the angle so you fully shorten the pecs but leaning your torso towards whichever side you’re pressing on.
If you’re pressing with your left arm, you can rotate your torso to the right. Your right shoulder will be slightly higher than your left. Now, when you press, when your arm moves straight up, it has the effect of “coming across” your body, while keeping the tension going through your chest.
Here’s a video showing this variation:
You might have to lower the weight a few pounds for this variation. I’m using only 40 lbs, which is not heavy for me but I still feel a great pump. And, I’m touching myself for some extra tactile stimulation benefits. (also, my COVID gym plays the worst music I’m so sorry.)
– High reps here: 3-4 sets of 12, 15, or even 20 reps
– Come all the way across the body and focus on flexing and squeezing to maximize contraction at the end range. That’s where the pec deck machine thrives, because, as I mentioned in the floor press variation, traditional dumbbell and barbell exercise don’t activate the chest in its most shortened position.
– EMG studies have shown that fiber recruitment is better with a palms-down grip, but alternate and see what works for you.
– You can vary this in terms of load and volume, but I like to make it one of my primary exercises for the session and go with either 5×10 or 8×8.
– Few things look more brodiculous than this exercise, but it’s fantastic for getting in some pressing while moving across the mid-line to optimize activation and recruitment across the sternum.
– Good luck dealing with the scathing looks while you monopolize the machine for an hour.
– Extra bro points for hammer strength.
While the Hammer Strength chest press is undoubtedly the best tool for this exercise, you can also set it up with a cable machine. The key is that you’re going across your body to hit the chest at its most shortened position.
A) Crossbody Single Arm Machine Press 8 sets of 8 reps
B) Single Arm Floor Press 4-6 sets, 5-8 reps
C) Single Arm Pec Deck 3-4 sets, 12-20 reps
This doesn’t sound like a lot, but because these are likely new exercises for you, you won’t need a lot of volume to get the benefits.
While I love these exercises, a complete inner chest workout can still contain the basics. With a slight adjustment to the way you perform the exercise, you can make any chest exercise and inner chest exercise. And really, when we say inner chest exercise we’re still going to target the full scope of the chest muscles. It just happens that the contractile range of the pecs that gets overlooked most is the part that targets the inner pecs.
Push-ups are actually how I teach people to feel their pecs. First, get into a plank, the starting position for a push-up. With this push-up variation, before you start to descend and while keeping your hands locked on the ground, try to “shove your hands together.” Right away, you should feel your inner chest muscles light up like you’re doing a pec pop. That’s because this encourages humeral internal rotation and adduction, two of the three main functions of the chest. Now, maintain that while you descend. I recommend at least 4 seconds on the way down and 4 seconds on the way up to make sure you can keep your chest truly contracted the whole time.
If you can normally do 50 push-ups, don’t be surprised here if you can only do 8 before your chest lights on fire. You can do the same thing for bench press (see our full guide on how to increase your flat bench press). However, it will be humbling because you won’t be able to do nearly as much weight as normal. But, your chest will finally grow. You don’t always need heavy weights if your goal is hypertrophy, especially for lagging body parts.
Once you can do this effectively, training just like this will be a normal part of your workout routine, and you’ll quickly work back up to the weight you were at before, but now you’ll feel your chest.
In fact, you can use this strategy for all your chest exercises, from cable crossovers to flyes to decline bench presses. Your pectoralis major will not be fully contracted unless it’s actively trying to bring your humerus (upper arm) across your body and rotating inwards. Knowing this, you can make any chest workout an “inner chest workout.”