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.