MIDDLE CHEST WORKOUT
Today, I want to focus on the part of the chest that makes it what it is: a symbol of strength and a great way to fill out your shirts. I’m talking about the middle chest line.
If you don’t believe me, think of your favorite bodybuilder. Now, imagine removing that serrated line in the middle of their chest. Doesn’t look as impressive, does it?
The fact is the chest is aesthetic in the same way as the abs. Just like the abs, that middle line is the attachment point that creates the visual contrast that makes that muscle look more impressive every single time.
You can still be the same size, but if you don’t have that clearly defined middle chest line, you won’t have the look you want.
So, what can you do if you’re lacking that middle line?
Let’s first jump into the middle chest anatomy. I’ll also cover middle chest exercises and chest training tips to develop that section of the chest. Let’s get to it.
ANATOMY OF THE CHEST
Before I jump into the best middle chest exercises and a mid chest workout, I want to review the chest muscles.
Most people know that the chest muscle is called the pectoralis major. For short, you can say pec major or just pecs. What you may not realize is that the chest is one big muscle, and not three separate muscles.
It can be confusing because there’s a good chance you’ve heard people talking about upper chest, middle chest, and lower chest. These are sections of the same muscle group, not three different muscles.
With that said, there is also a pectoralis minor, but we’re going to be focusing on the superficial pectoral muscles.
There are three different ways that the pectoralis major muscles fibers run, hence the reason the chest is referred to in sections.
These upper body muscle fibers start from different locations on the clavicle and sternum bones.
UPPER CHEST FIBERS
The fibers in the upper chest start at the clavicular head near the shoulders and run down toward the humerus, attaching at the center of the chest in a diagonally upward fashion.
MID CHEST FIBERS
The mid chest muscle fibers start at the sternum and move horizontally across the chest.
LOWER CHEST FIBERS
Lower chest fibers start at the bottom of the sternum and then travel diagonally down toward the center of the chest.
Let’s move on from discussing the muscle fibers to the muscle tendon, because understanding how this tendon behaves is the key to improving your mid chest.
The chest has a tendinous attachment on the sternum. That means the tendon attaches to the bone itself. From here, it rides out into the muscle belly and goes out to another tendon to attach to the arm.
This tendon attachment works in your advantage because it doesn’t grow like a muscle belly does.
Since it sutures itself down to the sternum, it stays there and doesn’t move as you focus on growing the muscle itself. This is beneficial for you because the more you grow the muscle, the more it will stand out. Thanks to that tendon, you’re able to create that visual deepening of the chest that creates that sought after definition line.
HOW TO BUILD YOUR MIDDLE CHEST
There are several things that you can do if you want to build your lower chest and create that defined contrast.
But before we get into all that, I have some bad news and some good news.
First the bad news:
In order to make your middle chest look better, you need to focus on building the entire chest muscle, not just the inner chest. Unfortunately, it’s just not possible to spot target the inner chest.
So, get ready to go all in with building muscle throughout your entire chest.
Also, keep in mind that the anatomy that you were born with is going to play a role in how much definition you can achieve.
This can be good or bad news depending on your genetics.
Now, here’s the really good news: consistent action is going to have a much bigger impact on your ability to grow this muscle than what you’ve been dealt by your genes.
Action starts with the right nutrition.
NUTRITION TO GROW AND DEFINE YOUR PECS
Let’s face it, guys, any discussion about how a muscle looks is going to take into account one of the most important factors: nutrition.
Put simply, if you have higher levels of body fat, it’s just not going to look as good.
Take my chest for example. It may not be the biggest one out there, but through nutrition and the right training, I’m able to maintain low levels of bodyfat.
It’s because of my low bodyfat levels that I’m able achieve this level of muscle definition. The truth is that my chest probably looks more impressive than it actually might be.
I’m not bench pressing 700 pounds, but I don’t need to because I’ve achieved the definition and serration I want.
There are plenty of examples of guys with huge pec muscles but no definition. Even though they might have 10 or more inches on me with their chest size, I think that mine looks better because I’ve achieved more definition.
Now, with all that said, this opinion can easily change based on the person comparing the two chests. That’s how I feel about it, but that doesn’t mean I’m right.
To bring it all home, I have this definition because low bodyfat, and what’s one of the best ways to lower your bodyfat percentage?
Your nutritional habits.
Here’s some actionable advice courtesy of trainer extraordinaire yours truly for how to start eating to support complete muscle growth and chest development.
FOCUS ON PROTEIN
This probably won’t come as much of a shock to you, but in order to support muscle growth and definition, protein is essential.
Protein provides the body with the amino acids needed to build muscle tissue.
It also helps to preserve muscle mass during periods of calorie restriction, making it an important nutrient for weightlifters who are trying to lose fat while maintaining their muscle mass.
And if you plan on getting shredded, you’ll more than likely have to reduce your caloric intake by a small amount, but what you won’t do is decrease the amount of protein you consume.
In fact, you’ll probably increase it while reducing other macronutrients, probably carbohydrates. This depends on the individual so it’s important to follow up with a nutritionist or registered dietitian.
In addition, protein has a higher thermic effect than other macronutrients, meaning that your body burns more calories digesting and metabolizing protein than it does for carbs or fat.
CHOOSE WHOLE FOOD OPTIONS BEFORE SUPPLEMENTS
When it comes to getting more protein into your diet and eating better overall, you should always choose whole food options before supplements.
Foods like chicken, beef, fish, eggs, and dairy are all excellent sources of protein along with other important nutrients like healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.
If you are struggling to meet your protein needs with food alone, then you can consider supplementing with a protein powder. Just be sure to choose a quality protein powder that is low in sugar and additives.
FAIL TO PLAN, PLAN TO FAIL
It sounds cliché, but if you know that nutrition is the most difficult part of chasing your fitness goals, then you should do everything you can to make it easier for yourself.
I think the best way to do that is to have a nutrition meal planner.
When you take the guesswork out of your nutrition, you’ll be more motivated to eat better. Whether you visit a registered dietician and get a customized meal plan or you try out one of my successful meal programs, get yourself something that will keep you on track.
TRAINING TO DEVELOP THE ENTIRE CHEST
What you do during your training is important, but just as important (if not more so) is how you do what you do.
In other words, you can perform the best exercises, but if you’re doing it with sloppy form or you’re throwing around heavy weights with no technique, you aren’t going to get much out of it.
Here are some ways to improve your mind-muscle connection, growth, and overall results for your entire chest.
DON’T FOCUS ON STRENGTH EXCLUSIVELY
First, don’t isolate your training focus to just strength. If you’re isolating to just strength, you’re likely never going to develop the type of inner chest that you’re looking for.
And there’s a reason for that.
Most of the strength-based exercises you are probably accustomed to require a strict progressive overload. These exercises are tried and true but have one weak point: they don’t maximize adduction.
When you limit how much adduction you achieve during the exercise you’re performing, you limit peak contraction in the chest.
For example, take a look at this list of popular chest moves.
- Incline Bench Press
- Flat Bench Press
- Decline Bench Press
- Cable Machine Bench Press
- Weighted Chest Dips
- Weighted Push-Ups
- Diamond Push-Ups (hand position is in a diamond shape)
What do each of these chest exercises have in common?
Yes, each one is a fantastic chest exercise, and the Bench Press in particular is the benchmark for chest strength. But each of these exercises has a similar starting position, arm movement, and follow through motion to a 90-degree angle.
Each exercise involves a neutral grip and locked arm position pushing straight out towards the shoulders then bending the elbows and lowering.
There’s no rotation or adduction involved, which means these movements never actually approach complete chest contraction.
More importantly, they never allow you to fully tap into the muscle activation needed to maximize the potential of the pectoral muscles, regardless of how much resistance you’re using.
So, what’s the point? Well, there are two things I’d like you to do.
First, I recommend adding in adduction-focused exercises, ones that you may not be doing right now because you think they are for sculpting or warming up.
No need to find additional equipment. You’ll be doing exercises you’re probably already familiar with. All you’ll need is what you should already have access to: adjustable bench, dumbbells, and a cable fly machine. Although these chest exercises can be replicated with resistance bands as well.
Great examples of adduction chest exercises that move through the entire range of motion include the following:
- Cable Crossovers
- Dumbbell Fly / Chest Fly
- Cable Flyes
- One-Arm Bench Presses
- Pec Deck
- (More below!)
Second, don’t stay locked in that set of acute variables for strength. Move into hypertrophy (muscle gains) and endurance-focused variables as this is how you’ll get your chest at peak contraction.
Here are some more training options for you to use for your middle chest workout.
FOCUS ON ECCENTRIC OVERLOAD
You want to explore other options, and I highly recommend eccentric overload.
Remember, you want to include more adduction exercises, which place stress on the origin of the assertion.
You also need an additional stimulus for growth, because growth is what’s going to make the entire chest stand out and create the deepening of the line.
One of my favorite forms of stimulus for growth is eccentric overload.
This is where you focus heavily on the eccentric or lowering phase of the exercise.
Lift the weight with a normal speed but take a lot longer to lower the weight. You can start with three seconds and work your way up to five or six seconds of lowering for each rep.
REDUCE THE WEIGHT
Most people don’t do enough of this. By dropping the weight down, you opt for the metabolic route, but much more importantly, you can definitely get into a fully contracted state.
Continuing with the point above, if you’ve been striving for strength with every chest day workout, you probably haven’t pushed the muscle into a forceful contraction.
By lowering the weight to an amount where you can get upwards of 12 or more reps, you make it possible for the muscle to fully contract. And this is crucial for chest development.
FOCUS ON FULL EXTENSION FOR EVERY REP
You’ve lowered the weight and now you can bring the weight into full extension, moving through a complete range of motion. You just need to do this for a few reps, and you’re done, right?
Not even close.
I want you to focus on a complete extension for every single repetition. Studies show that by doing these full range of motion exercises, you can include some additional fibers into the job.
There’s a thing called the non-spinning chest fiber that actually starts on the sternum, and it heads out towards the arm, but never quite makes it.
So, you might think to yourself, how could they contribute to a contraction when they don’t attach to the arm it’s pulling?
Interestingly, what happens is these fibers have proteins that come out of them that make them somewhat sticky. As the contracting fibers cross over and slide by them on the way through full contraction, they grab hold of them, and they involve them in the contraction.
You’re getting an overall greater production of force and capacity for growth by involving these fibers. That’s the benefit of taking these exercises all the way through full range of motion, even if it means lowering the weight. I promise that you will start to see better results.
HIT THE CHEST MUSCLES TWICE PER WEEK
Finally, let’s talk about the number of days per week that you target your chest.
MIDDLE CHEST EXERCISES
After all this talk of technique, I think it’s time to pair the technical stuff with my picks for chest exercises.
I’ll kick off the list with an exercise I mentioned above: the Cable Crossover.
If you’ve been doing the Crossover like most people, you load up the weight and stop before you ever get into a fully contracted state.
If we’re talking about getting the best chest development to create maximum hypertrophy and that deep mid chest line, you need to take the extension further than normal.
Bring it all the way across the body. Again, that probably means you have to lighten the load to do that.
Now, don’t just stop after a few repetitions, you want to really revel in the burn. Keep doing sets past muscle failure, pushing through the reps until you feel an intense burn. If you need to, give yourself a moment to rest but then keep going to true muscle failure.
Keep the rest periods between sets relatively short to keep up that pump and burn. I’d also recommend chest stretches in between each set.
UPPER CABLE CROSSOVER
You do the same thing for the Upper Chest Cable Crossover by simply lowering the angle of the arm and bringing it up and across your body.
Just like with the Cable Crossover above, I want you to make sure you’re getting it across your body and into full extension.
ONE-ARM DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS
I know that I mentioned how the Bench Press was a strength-focused exercise that didn’t allow you to get into adduction.
However, with the single-arm version, you can tweak it to get more adduction stress.
Simply slide over, shifting your body and rotating onto one cheek. Then drive your arm up and across your body.
Finally, there’s the Dumbbell Pullover. This exercise allows you squeeze the hands together, creating a really hard adduction from the top down.
In particular, you’ll probably feel this one the most in your upper chest.
Guys, while you can’t exclusively target the middle chest, you can develop your entire chest and trust me, that’s the better route.
Add some or all of the exercises into your chest workout each week, doing exactly what I told you with reducing the weight, getting into full contraction, and using eccentric overload.
Be consistent and I’m sure you’ll be very happy with the results in a couple of months.
If you want to build a bigger and stronger chest, and increase muscle and strength throughout your body, you can do that with the ATHLEAN-X programs and get started right away on building a ripped, muscular, athletic body.
- The inner chest or middle chest is not something you can spot target. If you want to get your middle chest to look more defined, you have to focusing on developing the entire chest muscles.
- If you want to get your middle chest to look more defined you have to be sure you are growing the muscle as much as possible. Maximum stimulation of the muscle across the chest exercises you perform is the goal.
- Start with looking at your diet. If you have too high body fat levels, you are never going to get the chest to look as ripped and muscular as you would like. Higher body fat levels tend to accumulate in chest fat for men making even a larger chest look less desirable than one that is smaller but leaner.
- Use exercises that take your range of motion past the midline of the body and focus on taking each rep to a point of a complete peak contraction. Cable Crossovers, Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Presses, and Dumbbell Pullovers are great total and middle chest exercises.
- Make sure you take every repetition to full extension. This will probably require that you lower the weight you’re using.
- Studies support the need for more adduction of the arm across the body if you want to grow a bigger chest. When non-spanning fibers are engaged by the contraction from your arm to your sternum, they too can participate in the contraction and experience the same growth that typical fibers do.
Trebs AA, Brandenburg JP, Pitney WA. An electromyography analysis of 3 muscles surrounding the shoulder joint during the performance of a chest press exercise at several angles. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Jul;24(7):1925-30.
Jeff Cavaliere M.S.P.T, CSCS
Jeff Cavaliere is a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach and creator of the ATHLEAN-X Training Programs and ATHLEAN-Rx Supplements. He has a Masters in Physical Therapy (MSPT) and has worked as Head Physical Therapist for the New York Mets, as well as training many elite professional athletes in Major League Baseball, NFL, MMA and professional wrestling. His programs produce “next level” achievements in muscle size, strength and performance for professional athletes and anyone looking to build a muscular athletic physique.