Upper Chest vs Lower Chest
Ah yes, the upper and lower chest.
- Is there an upper and lower chest?
- Does the incline isolate one area and the decline isolate another?
- Will my chest muscles grow unevenly if I don't hit it all from every
- How do I target one area and make it bigger?
Next it turns into debate about how the chest is one solid muscle.
- Or that there's no such thing as an upper or lower chest.
- Or how you can or can't target one area in isolation of the other.
- Or how you must hit it from all angles for the best results.
So let's see if we can solve it once and for all.
Here's Why You DON'T Need To Build A Bigger Upper Chest
Before we get to the answer you're looking for -- let's begin with the answer you need.
1. Lack Of Overall Muscle
The majority of the people who think they need more upper chest muscle really just need more chest muscle, period. Or just as commonly, more muscle on their entire body.
2. Body Fat
Then you have the people mistaking chest fat that has accumulated around the lower portion of their chest (creating the "man boobs" appearance no guy wants) for a lagging upper chest.
In this case, your chest fat is just making it appear as though your lower chest is big and your upper chest is small by comparison.
Building a bigger upper chest isn't the real solution here -- losing body fat is.
And finally, we have good old reality. What do you mean by reality?
Well, aside from the huge role genetics play in the shape of your chest (a big reason why one person's chest can look very different than anothers) actually seeing a person who has JUST a big upper or lower chest doesn't actually happen.
Even seeing someone with a noticeably underdeveloped upper or lower chest is surprisingly rare. I mean, once you eliminate people who fall into one of the previous 2 categories (plus genetics / chest shape) the number of legitimate cases of people with one part of their chest clearly lagging behind the other is much lower than you think. A lot lower.
Which is just a nice way of saying that worrying about different "parts" of your chest is usually a big waste of time.
Is There an Upper Chest / Lower Chest?
For starters, we have what many people confuse as being the upper and lower chest: the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor (aka "the pecs"). They are in fact NOT fancy words for upper and lower.
Instead, the pectoralis major is the big fan shaped muscle that makes up the majority of your chest musculature. When we talk about the upper and lower chest, we're actually talking about the upper and lower part of the pectoralis major. The pectoralis minor on the other hand is just a small muscle that lies underneath the pectoralis major.
The words we're really looking for here are the clavicular and sternal head. The clavicular head is the portion near the top of your chest right below the clavicle, while the sternal head comprises the middle and bottom portion.
So, while it's technically all just "the chest" or "the pecs," there are indeed different "parts" to it.
And this of course brings us to the next big question
Can You Isolate The Upper or Lower Chest?
No, you can't.
Regardless of anything you've seen or heard before. It is impossible to isolate different parts of your chest. That's a myth.
Instead, EVERY chest exercise will hit EVERY part of it. So yes, that means incline exercises still hit your lower chest, and decline exercises still hit your upper chest. Even if you only did one type of pressing exercise for the rest of your life -- you're still going to build your entire chest.
Can You Put More Emphasis On One Area Than Another?
Yes, you can. At least a little.
Let me clarify the difference. What you can't do is just train your upper chest or lower chest in isolation of the other. But, what you can do to some extent is put a little more targeted training stress on one area than the other. Not isolate just put a bit more emphasis on it.
And it's all exactly what you've probably already known.
Various decline pressing/fly exercises and dips DO target the "lower chest" a bit more than incline movements do, while various incline pressing/fly exercises DO target the "upper chest" a bit more than decline movements do. Flat exercises fall somewhere in the middle and hit a good bit of everything.
Nothing too surprising there.
But again, it's not that one exercise targets one part of the chest and NOTHING else. Every exercise still "hits" every part of the chest. There are just certain exercises and certain angles that place slightly more emphasis on one portion than the other.
Do you need to do Flat, Incline, Decline and Fly Exercises to build your chest?
I can say with 100% certainty that you absolutely DON'T.
So if your "chest day" involves a flat barbell and dumbbell press, an incline barbell and dumbbell press, a decline barbell and dumbbell press and dumbbell flys to hit the upper, lower, inner, outer, major, minor, bigger, smaller, taller, shorter and whatever other part of your chest you think needs to be hit - you can stop.
The truth is, there are plenty of people who have built an great looking chest by doing nothing but flat pressing variations. Their upper and lower chest grew just fine.
You'll again find plenty of people with a great looking chest who, because of shoulder injuries, have avoided most typical exercises (flat bench press, incline bench press) in favor of more shoulder friendly exercises like decline presses and floor presses. Again, no portion of their chest ended up lagging. It all grew just fine.
There are plenty of people who have built a great looking chest despite doing all of their chest exercises at a slight incline because they just "feel" it better that way. They aren't all walking around with an amazing upper chest and a big empty space underneath it.
There are even plenty of people with an great chest who built it by doing nothing but different types of push-ups. Or just dips.
In the grand scheme of things, none of it really matters all that much. Everything gets hit, everything grows, the upper and lower chest still get built anyway.
What Is Optimal For Overall Chest Development?
I'd say it's some combination of either:
- A flat and incline exercise (always a 15-30 degree incline anything higher becomes mostly shoulders).
- A decline and incline exercise (extra good for those who have shoulder issues when flat pressing).
- Some kind of flat OR decline pressing exercise, plus some kind of incline pressing exercise, plus an isolation movement.
Specifically for me with "3", the flat barbell bench press, incline dumbbell press and/or the Hammer Strength incline press machine, and dumbbell flys. I never do all of this in a single workout. I also don't have a "chest day" (and there's a 99.9% chance you shouldn't either).
The Most Important Part
Of course, all of this chest training stuff is meaningless in the absence of the small handful of things that matter most.
- Actually train your chest. If you do a chest press of some kind and feel it mostly in your shoulders and/or triceps but hardly at all inyour chest, you're probably going to have great triceps and shoulders and a not-so-great chest. Either improve your ability to actually activate your chest (by either fixing your technique or fixing your "mind/muscle connection") or adjust your exercise selection so you're doing exercises that don't have (or at least minimizes) this problem for you. For me, it's that combination I mentioned a minute ago. For you, it could be something different altogether.
- Do it safely. Chest exercises and shoulder injuries go hand in hand. So if there happens to be one (or more) that cause any pain, problems, discomfort or just feels as though it may not be perfectly suited for your body in some way, avoid it in favor of exercises that feel safe and right for you. For me, it's that combination I mentioned a minute ago. For you, it could be something different altogether. Nothing prevents you from building an great chest quite like a shoulder injury that prevents you from actually training your chest.
To sum it all up, there IS an upper and lower portion of your chest. You can't isolate them. Every exercise will always hit every part to some extent. But, certain exercises can indeed put slightly more training emphasis on one part than another.
With all of that in mind, the true keys to building an great chest are choosing exercises that best allow you to actually train that target muscle group (as opposed to just your shoulders/triceps) and train it in a way that is both safe (by choosing exercises that feel right for your body) and progressive (by getting stronger over time). And eat to support it, too.
Do that, and you'll build the most wonderful upper, lower, inner, outer, eastern, western, etc. chest you are capable of building.