My gym partner “J” (whom I often reference) has tight pectorals. Changing his approach to chest training alleviated his tightness and even improved his strength. The pectorals, also known as the chest, are subdivided into two constituent parts; the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, but are often considered to be one large muscle.
The pectoralis major extends across the upper part of the chest and is attached to a ridge at the rear of the humerus or the arm bone. While the pectoralis minor, below the pectoralis major, arises from the middle of the ribs and attaches to the shoulder blade.
The role of the pectoralis major is adduction (bringing towards the midline of the body) or depression (lowering) of the arm and rotation of the arm forward about the axis of the body. When the raised arms are fixed, it assists the latissimus dorsi (the greater wings) and teres major muscles (the lesser wings) in pulling the trunk up. The pectoralis minor aids in drawing the shoulder forward and downward.
The general idea of your average gym patron is to focus on adducting the arms. This is often a result of treating the cable crossover as a cable flye. Unfortunately, this is satisfying one of the three roles of the pectorals and not considering synergistic muscles to provide ease of overload—and ultimately muscular strength and size. Here is where we delve deeper into the understanding of chest development and training.
The Supporting Cast
Firstly, the role of the serratus anterior in chest training typically is held second. This, in turn, leads to poor pressing power and scapular control laterally. To remedy this issue there are a couple of key things to note: the serratus is responsible for forward rotation of the arm and second lateral pull of the scapula (shoulder blades) which allows for overhead pressing.
The serratus then benefits from serratus presses, barbell Turkish get-ups, bench pressing, floor pressing, hollow body position planks, medicine ball push-ups with forward rotation, and Pallof presses with extension.
Secondly, coracobrachialis, what I like to call the hidden bicep, aids in raising the arm and in adduction. No direct training is necessary here, however, do keep in mind that the anterior deltoid typically takes over once the arm is raised above 15-30 degrees from anatomical position.
During training, it is useful to keep the cable pulley low within this range to stimulate the coracobrachialis as opposed to doing thousands of push-ups in military position. The coracobrachialis shines in exercises such as the dumbbell reverse bench press or push-ups in a supinated (reverse) position.
Thirdly, erector spinae and latissimus dorsi, along with the rotator cuff crew (teres minor, subscapularis, infraspinatus, and supraspinatus) play an integral role in not only stabilizing the pectorals, but allowing for thoracic extension and rotation around the shoulder. Chest training is not complete without these movement patterns, which brings us to the cable crossover exercise.
The Cable Crossover
The cable crossover is a well-articulated exercise and commonly called a fool-proof exercise. However, I’m sure you’ve seen a gym goer who looks like they’re going to rip themselves a new shoulder either by an excessive forward lean, hunching over, using higher than manageable resistance, and/or having weak synergists.
The cable crossover commonly is executed by standing in the middle of two cables on a cable machine placing one foot in front of another or using a forward lean accompanied by a slight flare of the elbows (which causes a slight internal rotation of the deltoids), and lastly by pressing the weight forward or anterior with disregard to cable placement.
I’m going to show you a modified cable crossover and we’ll end with a movement to reinforce rotation: the medicine ball push up with rotation. Please note that this is considered to be an intermediate movement because it requires a plank, a standard push up, and a novice level of anterior extension within the wrist.
For the first variation of the cable crossover we will be:
- Measuring the cable to your height
- Standing with your feet shoulder with apart and equidistant from one another
- Grabbing the cables so that your elbows are perpendicular to the floor, thereby putting the latissimus dorsi in a more favorable position
- Puffing the chest and depressing the scapulae
- Leading with a scooping motion and ending with adduction and a forward press simultaneously or alternatively slight inward rotation
For the medicine ball push up with rotation:
- Begin with a plank
- Hold a plank on an average sized medicine ball
- Start in the lowered push up position while on the ball
- Push straight up leaving a minor bend in the elbow
- As you come up, rotate the medicine ball forward away from you
- Return to the top position of the push-up and repeat