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They are commonly referred to as "The Pecs"
“The Pecs” (the common nickname for the Pectoralis Major, and sometimes includes Pectoralis Minor) are thick, fan-shaped muscles located in the chest.
Where do they begin and end?
The Pectoralis Major begins at the sternum, clavicle, and the first through sixth ribs. All of the fibres come together and insert on the upper portion of the humerus (at a special place on the bone called the intertubercular groove).
The Pectoralis Minor originates from the front surface of the third through fifth ribs and than inserts into the scapula at the front elevated portion. Thanks to Wikipedia for the drawing.
What is their job?
The Pectoralis Major is primarily responsible for movement of the shoulder joint and they are key in pushing and throwing movements, such as:
- Throwing a ball;
- Lifting a child;
- “Flapping” the arms like a bird’s wing; and
- Rotating the arm;
The Pectoralis Major is also responsible for assisting in deep breathing and keeping the arm attached to the trunk of the body.
The Pectoralis Minor assists in moving the scapula (collar bone).
Injuries to the Pectoralis Major
Injuries to Pectoralis Major are actually fairly rare, but it is most likely to occur in sports, particularly to weightlifters, wrestlers and footballers. Symptoms of an inuury could include: chest pain, bruising, and a loss of strength. A severe tear may require surgery. An MRI can confirm the extent of the tear.
Some Exercises for the Pectoralis Major
There are several sports that do a good job of working the Pectoralis Major, and swimming is one of them. However, since I am a fitness instructor — and specifically a group fitness instructor — my suggestions will be with the use of dumbbells rather than the pool or machines.
- Dumbbell Bench Press: This can be done on the floor on a mat, or on a small, low bench. Lie supine with the legs straddling the bench, or (if on a mat) the knees flexed and your feet flat on the floor. Hold the Dumbbells with the palms facing away (thumbs pointing toward each other). Begin with the arms down, elbows bent, weights just above your chest. Slowly press the weights up until your arms are fully extended. This is your starting position. Lower the dumbbells slowly and evenly to the chest. Return to starting position. Repeat 8-12 times.
- Dumbbell Chest Fly: As with the exercise above, the Dumbbell Chest Fly can be done on a mat on the floor or on a low bench. Lie on your back. If on a bench, let your legs straddle the end of the bench; if on a mat, bend the knees and keep the feet flat on the floor. Hold the dumbbells so that the palms are facing each other and move them directly in front of you, above your chest, with the arms straight (no bent elbows). This is your starting position. Lower the dumbbells slowly and together to the sides, keeping the elbows slightly flexed and perpendicular to the torso until the upper arms are parallel to the floor. If on a bench, do not go below the level of the bench; if on the mat, do not touch the floor. Hold in the open position for a moment and then return to the starting position. Repeat 8-12 times.
- Wall Push-Ups: The Wall Push-Up is a slightly easier variation on the traditional push-up. Stand about 2 to 3 feet from a wall, and place the hands on the wall slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Elbows are almost fully extended. Then move the chest toward the wall by flexing the elbows, pausing briefly, and then pushing back to the starting position. This same exercise can be done against a table or chair, if it is sturdy and will not move away from you.
And, finally, how do you stretch the Pectoralis Major?
Stretching out the Pectoralis Major requires getting the arms behind you. Some possible stretches are:
- Stand in a corner and place your hands on the wall with elbows at 90-degree angles. Press and hold.
- Stand straight and stretch the arms behind you (arms should not go above the shoulders).
- Stand in a doorway and place the arms up on both sides of the door. Push forward, moving your body forward and partially entering the doorway with the arms remaining firm on the door jam.
- While standing, place your hands behind your head. Move the shoulders back as far as possible. Hold.
- Place one arm on a wall, elbow straight. Move forward so the arm is behind you. Hold.
Here's a list of the other articles about muscles in this series:
- The Abdominals
- The Adductors
- The Deltoids
- The Erector Spinae: Spine Muscles
- The Forearm, Elbow, and Wrist
- The Glutes
- The Hamstrings: Back of the Thigh
- The Hip Flexors
- Latissimus Dorsi: The Lats
- The Lower Leg: The Calf and the Shin
- Muscles of the Head
- Opposing Muscles
- The Quadriceps: The Front of the Thigh
- Taking Care of your Feet
- The Trapezius and the Rhomboids
- The Upper Arm: The Biceps and the Triceps
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.
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