Building a Better Upper Chest

How to Get Thick and Ripped Pecs

If you really want to showcase your physique, it’s hard to beat the most-muscular pose. It is essentially a full-body cramp contraction that makes even an average torso and especially the chest look great. When you flex, most-muscular pose helps to highlight dense pectoralis, shoulders, arms and trapezius muscles. But it’s not the aesthetics of your physique that will make people notice you if you strike this pose. Almost no other pose will show the cross-striations and muscular density of your chest like this one. It is the pose that can capture the essence of the most genetically freaky chests.

The upper chest is pretty hard to hide in a straight-on view, and as good as a most-muscular pose is, a flat upper chest can’t slip under the radar, even with this godfather of all poses. A flat chest will spell disaster if you want to develop a truly outstanding chest, and is something that is avoidable with correct exercise selection. Even though the high-pulley cable crossovers use a lot of the same muscles as that shown in the most-muscular pose, the upper chest is somewhat minimized in this exercise. Unlike high-pulleys, low-pulley cable crossovers will blow up the upper part of your chest and anterior deltoids. If you thought the only way to get a thick upper chest was to do inclines, then this exercise will get you thinking in a whole different direction, because low cable crossovers will drive thickness and density into your upper chest and provide a great pump to enhance your anterior deltoid-pectoralis tie-in like you have not felt in a long time.

The pectoralis major muscle (“pecs” to most people) is shaped like a large fan. The fibers in this muscle pull from different orientations and angles so the upper area of the chest has a different functional activation line than the lower and medial fibers. The important function of the pectoralis is not on the chest, but it acts on the humerus bone of the upper arm, through manipulation of the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint. This large muscle covers the upper (superior) part of the chest and its outside (lateral) border forms the front (anterior) wall of the armpit (axilla).

The pectoralis major muscle has two heads. The sternocostal head takes its origin from the manubrium (the top portion of the sternum), the upper six costal cartilages (cartilages at the ends of the ribs that attach to the sternum) and from the tendinous-like portion of the superior part of the external oblique muscle (a lateral muscle of the abdominal wall). The clavicular head lies along the anterior lower surface of the clavicle (collarbone). A lot of people think this is the pectoralis minor, but it is not! The pectoralis minor muscle is actually a triangular muscle that lies on the anterior wall of the axilla and it is largely covered by the clavicular head of the pectoralis major. In other words, this muscle is deep and you cannot see it or feel it. The pectoralis minor actually stabilizes the scapula by bringing it forward (anteriorly) and downward (inferiorly) against the thoracic wall of the rib cage. Therefore, the pectoralis minor has no important role in building your chest, so if someone starts telling you about doing inclines or something else to build the pectoralis minor, walk away – he knows nothing about chests.

The deltoid muscle begins on the scapula bone (shoulder blade) and attaches (inserts) into the humerus bone of the upper arm. It caps other smaller scapular muscles associated with the shoulder joint and the bony connections that make up the shoulder joint. The deltoid muscle has three generally distinct regions on the bony portions from which it is anchored. This results in three parts to this muscle (anterior, medial, posterior) and each has a different function. The shoulder joint is capable of rotation, flexion and extension and collectively, the three deltoid regions can do all of these movements.

Only the anterior fibers of the deltoid are directly and strongly activated by low-pulley cable crossovers. These fibers take their origin from the lateral part of the clavicle and they attach to the anterior (front) and upper portion of the humerus bone of the upper arm. These fibers produce strong flexion of the humerus at the shoulder (bringing the humerus bone of the upper arm forward), and medial (internal) rotation of the humerus at the shoulder also help to move the arms toward the center of the body (adduction).

Standing Low Cable Crossovers

This exercise is more intense than incline dumbbell flyes or dumbbell presses, because there is constant tension throughout the entire exercise, and no opportunity for the clavicular head of the pectoralis muscles to rest until the set is over. Furthermore, the range of motion can be greater than with dumbbell flyes.

1. Position yourself between two pulley stations. Turn around so the pulleys are behind you and take one low-pulley handle in each hand.

2. Bend your elbows slightly to take any unnecessary stress off this joint and lock them in this position.

3. In the starting point, you should feel a good stretch across the entire pectoral girdle and up to the anterior deltoid.

4. With the palms supinated (turned toward the ceiling), pull the handles from the low-pulley station upward toward the lower part of your anterior deltoid. Completely cross the right hand over the left and both arms. Try to make the movement largely at the shoulder, not just by flexing your elbow (you don’t want to turn it into a version of a curl).

5. If you really want to also turn up the burners on the most medial parts of the pectoralis fibers that attach to the sternum, hold the handles at the top of the movement for a count of two. This type of contraction will increase the fiber recruitment in your entire chest musculature. If your body fat level is low enough, the fibers in your chest will begin jumping like a pit of snakes lying just below your skin as you hold the contraction.

6. Slowly lower the hands toward the floor and return to the starting position. Inhale deeply as you are lowering the handles.

7. On the next rep, cross the left arm over the right arm, then alternate on each repetition.

 

The angle of pull of the upper fibers of the clavicular head of the pectoralis major has a mechanical advantage by pulling the arms upward in the low-pulley crossovers. Therefore, this region gets preferentially activated as compared to the lower sternocostal head. Nevertheless, the sternocostal head of the pectoralis major and particularly the fibers, which lie beside the sternum, will be fully contracted at or near the end of each repetition when each arm is crossed over the other as far as possible. Therefore, this makes a great all-around exercise for blasting in muscle density, but it does emphasize the upper chest. In addition, the anterior deltoid fibers will contract strongly to assist in moving the arms forward toward your body (flexion of the humerus).

A host of other muscles are also activated during this exercise. For example, the latissimus dorsi and the teres major muscles of the back will assist arm adduction, by pulling the arms toward the body’s midline. The intercostal muscles will be activated during the strong inspiration, during which time the arms are abducted and also during expiration when the arms are adducted.

If you want to apply a blowtorch to your inner and upper chest, you can try some alternating partial repetitions between full repetitions. After holding the top position of the crossover, lower the pulley handles toward the feet and stop about waist level. Move your hands back to the top crossover position (including the squeeze at the top), then finally, bring the handles all the way down to the starting position to get the good stretch across the chest and then repeat this sequence. You should not count the partial repetitions as part of your set – they are extra contractions and not meant to replace your full repetitions. Data have shown that contractions from these shortened positions are most likely to activate the larger fast-twitch fibers, so this may add even more mass that you might otherwise expect if you include a few in the final 2 sets of your workout.

You cannot help getting a great biceps pump with this exercise, but if you find that your biceps are fatiguing before your chest, you are likely flexing your elbows too much as you are raising the hands upward. Try to keep most of the movement at the shoulders.

This exercise may not build overall chest mass as rapidly as exercises like benching. Nevertheless, the low-pulley cable crossover will more completely activate and selectively recruit the clavicular attachments of the pectoralis better than almost any other exercise for a more balanced and tension-filled development than you have ever had before. After a good four to five months of work on this exercise, do not be surprised if your most-muscular pose has risen on the ladder toward that of dense, freaky chests.

References:

Ekholm J, Arborelius UP, Hillered L and Ortqvist A. Shoulder muscle EMG and resisting moment during diagonal exercise movements resisted by weight-and-pulley-circuit. Scand J Rehabil Med, 10: 179-185.

Moore, KL and AF Dalley. Clinically Oriented Anatomy. Fourth edition. Baltimore, Lippincott Williams & Williams, 685-720.

Paulsen G, Myklestad D and Raastad T. The influence of volume of exercise on early adaptations to strength training. J Strength Cond Res, 17: 115-120.

Pochini AC, Ejnisman B, Andreoli CV, Monteiro GC, Silva AC, Faloppa F, Abdala RJ and Cohen M. Exact moment of tendon of pectoralis major muscle rupture captured on video. Br J Sports Med. PMID: 17337486

Rodrigues JA, Bull ML, Dias GA, GonCalves M and Guazzelli JF. Electromyographic analysis of the pectoralis major and deltoideus anterior in the inclined “flying” exercise with loads. Electromyogr Clin Neurophysiol, 46: 441-448.

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