Get your hugging muscles tuned up

You want to make sure your "hugging muscles" are in good working order. We're talking about the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, commonly called the pecs. They are two large muscles in the chest, pec major being the larger — in fact, it is very large, extending from the collarbone to the sternum. It attaches to your upper arm and is responsible for movement of the shoulder joint, flexing and rotating the arm. Because one of its responsibilities is to bring the arms together across the body, it has often been dubbed the hugging muscle. • The smaller pectoralis minor lies beneath the pec major muscle and connects on top of the shoulder blade. It can move the shoulder blade forward and downward and can also move the shoulder blades away from each other as you cross arms in front of your chest when initiating the hugging motion. Pectorals minor is largely responsible for the great upper body development of many competitive freestyle swimmers.

How often you should target chest muscles

The good new is when you are targeting your chest muscles, your shoulders and arms are very much involved in the workout.

The average person may perform chest exercises three non-consecutive days a week. When your goal is to tone the muscles, you would build up to two to three sets of 12-15 repetitions. But if you are into heavy lifting (can only complete 6-8 reps) you will need two to three days of rest between strength sessions.

Suggested chest exercises

Some of the more common exercises are: push ups, modified push ups, chest flies and chest presses.

To avoid plateaus, it is a good idea to vary your exercise routine.

Tips to follow when strengthening the pecs

• Avoid lower back strain by contracting abdominals to prevent your back from developing an excessive arch.

• Struggling to lift too heavy a weight by forcing the back to over arch or just the opposite, forcing the lower back into the bench. You want to retain the natural arch of the lower back.

• When performing modified pushups, bend your knees at a 90 degree angle and do not let your hips sag. Lower upper arms until parallel to floor. You do not have to touch chest to the floor.

• When performing arm extensions while working chest muscles, do not lock the elbows, keep them slightly relaxed. Too much pressure on elbow joints could eventually cause tendonitis.

• It's important to keep a slight bend in the elbows and not to lower arms below shoulder level while performing the chest fly exercise. If arms are too straight, you are exerting too much pressure on shoulders and elbow joints. If arms reach below the shoulder, you could damage shoulder and rotator cuff muscles.

• Keep shoulder blades on the bench or mat, don't allow them to lift up. Your shoulders need the support.

If you are 50 or older and have not been exercising, check with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Trainer Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. She can be reached at slafit@tampabay.rr.com.

Therapy and sports

Pushups are a compound exercise that involve multiple muscles: shoulders, chest, arms, core and legs. The modified pushup is a good move for the beginner or for those who may be more limited in upper body strength. It will give the back and upper body more support.

Modified pushups

Begin in a hand-knee position. Keeping knees on the floor, walk hands slightly in front of your shoulders and a little more than shoulder-width apart. Straighten arms, balancing on hands and the thighs just above the knee. With arms at full extension and abdominals contracted, bend elbows and lower upper body toward floor; neck in alignment with shoulders. Push back up to a full arm extension.

Tip: When lowering arms, keep the elbows just above the wrist.

Chest press

with resistance band

Wrap band around something stable behind you. Holding handles of band with palms facing downward, stagger feet until you feel tension in the bands. Keeping head looking forward, raising hands shoulder height. Contracting abdominals and keeping elbows and wrist in alignment with shoulders, press arms out, not locking elbows. Hold several seconds, release, returning to original position.

Tip: Do not bring elbows too far back on the return movement, as that places too much strain on the shoulder.

Incline chest fly

Lying on a bench with feet flat on the floor or on the bench if more comfortable, hold the weights above your chest; palms facing inward. Maintaining slightly bent elbows, open arms out to the sides, lowering weights until they are just below the shoulders. Lift the weights back up, pretending you are hugging a big beach ball. The incline version emphasis upper chest while the flat chest fly performed on a flat bench or mat emphasis the middle and lower chest.

Chest stretch

To be applied after your workout. If used in the beginning or throughout the day, warm-up first. Standing with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly relaxed, place both arms behind your back. Pretend you are holding a golf club, and lift up slightly with your arms, while pressing chest forward. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, but remember to breathe. You will feel a great stretch in your chest muscles. This is one of my favorite stretches.

Get your hugging muscles tuned up 05/23/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 7:36pm]

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