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What are the Pectorals?

Nicole Madison
By
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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In human beings, the pectorals, also called the pecs, are muscles that are located in the front upper portion of a person’s torso. Usually, the word pectoral is used to refer to the pectoralis major, which is larger than the other pectoral muscle. The smaller muscle is called the pectoralis minor. The pecs are often the focus of weight lifting exercises and are fairly easy to work through a wide variety of workouts.

The pectoralis major muscle is thick and shaped much like a fan. In men, it accounts for most of the upper chest. In women, this muscle is positioned under the breast tissue. The pectoralis minor muscle is much different. It is thin, smaller, and shaped much like a triangle.

An individual's larger pectoral muscle is important in movement. It acts on the humerus, the bone in the upper arm, when the shoulder has to move to lift a child or throw an object sideways. It also assists in rotation of the humerus for the movements necessary when arm wrestling. Perhaps most importantly, it has the job of ensuring that a person’s arm remains joined to his trunk.

The smaller of the pectorals, the pectoralis minor has less to do with movement. It drops the point of the shoulder lower and moves the shoulder blade toward the thorax, which is the part of the body that extends from the neck to the diaphragm, excluding the arms. This muscle helps an individual to shrug his shoulder forward.

There are many exercises that are useful for working the pectorals; among them are basic push-ups. To perform a push-up to work the pectorals, a person lies on the floor, so the front of his body is facing the floor and his hands, palms down, are flat on the floor. He then extends his arms, keeping his knees straight and his legs together. Finally, he lowers himself back to starting position. Sometimes people have trouble doing push-ups and perform a variation of them instead, allowing their legs to bend and keeping their knees on the floor during the exercise.

Some people use weights to work the pectorals. One such exercise involves lying flat on one’s back on a weight bench and lifting a barbell from its rack. Then, the exerciser lowers the weight toward the middle of his chest. Finally, he extends his arms and lifts the barbell back over his chest once more, repeating this movement several times.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By Perdido — On Dec 28, 2011

@StarJo - I used some other resistance exercises while building my pectorals. I used a wall and my own force to strengthen my muscles.

What I did was a lot like a standing version of a pushup. I held my arms out in front of me and leaned against a wall. I pushed against it for ten seconds at a time, and I did as many reps as I could stand.

I did this exercise with my arms spread at different distances. Though my pectorals were worked with every variation, different other muscles, like those in my back, got more benefit from various positions.

This exercise is great, and I have seen improved tone and strength in my pectorals. It’s a good exercise for people who don’t have a gym membership or barbells.

By cloudel — On Dec 27, 2011

@seag47 - I know that pain, and it is unbearable! I have pulled my pectorals while doing pushups before, and this almost made me quit doing them altogether.

I remember being on the exercise mat, working out as normal. I was on my sixth pushup when a mouse ran across the floor. It startled me, and I jerked in a way that pulled my muscle.

I forgot all about the mouse after that. I lay on the mat, screaming I pain. You’re right about massaging making it worse. I attempted it and quickly saw that it would be counterproductive.

I finally started doing pushups again, but I do them slowly, and I am very careful now. I have taken care of the mouse problem, so hopefully, nothing will be able to startle me during my workouts.

By StarJo — On Dec 26, 2011

The best pectoral exercises are the ones where you use your own body’s resistance. I learned this while trying to develop my chest as a teenager. I needed any help I could get in that department, being a nearly flat-chested girl.

I read about an exercise where you press your palms together and hold them that way for thirty seconds at a time. I did four reps of these to begin with.

I also did the same exercise a different way. Instead of holding it a long time, I pressed in short bursts. I could feel my pectorals working and flexing as I did this. I started out doing forty.

Before long, I could tell a difference. My pectorals were more toned, and this gave the illusion of a slightly larger chest.

By seag47 — On Dec 26, 2011

I have pulled my pectoral muscle before, and it hurt unlike any pain I have felt before. There is one motion that has caused this a couple of times, and when I do it wrong, I know I will be in pain for a long time.

I have to be very careful when fastening my seat belt. A couple of times, I have been trying to do more than one thing and have used only one hand to pull the seat belt across my body and push it into the slot. This makes me tear my pectoral muscle, and now, I have learned not to do it.

The pain is both a burning and a deep soreness. It seems to go all the way through my body because of its intensity.

The worst part lasts about fifteen minutes, and then it continues to hurt mildly throughout the day. The bad thing is that there is nothing I can do to ease the pain. Massaging it only makes it hurt worse.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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