Here, six solid chest workout moves to build strength in your chest, plus why it's a good idea to work out your pecs.
Despite the fact that pecs are literally front-and-center, they're pretty easy to ignore. Keep reading to find out why chest workouts are important for women, plus the medicine ball and dumbbell chest workout you should do to build strength.
All women have a large, fan-shaped pectoralis major muscle on either side of the chest, directly beneath the breast tissue. A smaller muscle, known as the pectoralis minor, is located in the upper part of the chest, beneath the pec major. Collectively, these muscles are known as the pecs, and they cover the entirety of your chest. (Try our complete circuit to target the most commonly-ignored muscle groups.)
"There is a bit of a misconception that, since we have breasts, we don't need to train pecs," says Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S.—but don't be fooled. Training the pecs is just as important for you as it is for your male counterpart. So if you've been neglecting those muscles, it's time to work in some dumbbell chest exercises.
Here, experts explain why pecs are worthy of your attention. Then, once you're inspired to sculpt and strengthen, try this chest workout at home with dumbbells and a medicine ball, demonstrated below by trainer Jenny Gaither, founder of the Movemeant Foundation.
5 Benefits of Chest Workouts for Women
1. You'll Improve Your Posture
When it comes to posture, the back and shoulders get all the attention. However, as one of the largest muscles in the upper body, the pecs play an equally important role in maintaining posture and upright stability, namely by supporting the scapula (your shoulder blade) and the shoulder joint itself.
"Every muscle that surrounds the scapula and shoulder is going to be important for stabilizing those joints," says Joel Seedman, Ph.D., exercise physiologist and owner of Advanced Human Performance in Suwanee, Georgia. "If one gets weaker, then you will have offset tension across the joints."
And if one muscle becomes overly shortened or lengthened, it won't matter much if they're strong or weak—the pecs won't be able to sufficiently do their job. The biggest culprit of shortening? Your computer. When you slouch over it all day, you simultaneously shorten your chest muscle fibers and lengthen your back ones, says Seedman. So if you work a desk job, all the more reason to seek out the best dumbbell chest workout. (Related: The Strength Training Routine for Perfect Posture)
2. You'll Breathe Easier
When you fix your posture, you also open up your chest, which makes it easier to take deep, quality breaths. The pec minor in particular is especially helpful, as the smaller, triangular muscle attaches at the middle of your third, fourth, and fifth ribs. Any time you breathe in, the pec minor stretches, allowing your rib cage to expand.
"If the pec muscles are overly shortened, then breathing will be significantly impaired because you're not going to be able to open up the diaphragm," says Seedman. "But if you're lengthening those chest fibers, breathing and the ability to improve oxygenation to all your muscles is going to be greatly improved." Kind of an important reason to do chest workouts with dumbbells or other equipment.
3. You Can Make Your Breasts Perkier (If You Want)
Seedman says many women shy away from training their chest because they think their breasts will shrink, but that's actually the opposite of what can happen—chest workouts for women are kind of like a non-surgical method of breast augmentation. (Plus they might just help you finally rock that elusive pull-up!)
"What you're doing is pushing the breast tissue up and forward more, so it gives the illusion that your breasts are bigger," he says. Plus, adding muscle to your chest helps elevate your breasts, "almost acting like a push-up bra."
And don't forget: Adding muscle beneath the actual breast tissue doesn't take away from the breast tissue itself.
4. You'll Make Daily Living Easier
Outside of the gym, your pecs play a major role in a wide variety of daily activities, from loading grocery bags into the house, to pushing open a heavy door or lugging a suitcase around an airport. "Pretty much any upper-body activity or motion that we do involves the pectoral muscles to a significant degree," says Seedman.
The primary functions of your pecs are to flex (raise), adduct (bring back), and medially rotate (turn inward) your upper arm. So, "if you think of picking things up, holding things, squeezing things, or any kind of movement that involves pushing, the pecs are involved in all of that," says Thomas.
That's why, if your pecs are weak from disuse, the simple act of carrying and loading grocery bags into your house can feel like a challenge. From a purely functional standpoint, you'll make your day-to-day way easier if you add this chest workout for women to your exercise agenda.
5. You'll Work Other Muscles
Sure, pecs are big, important muscles as explained above. But they also matter because they call a bunch of the surrounding muscles into action—namely the shoulders, back, and triceps—which makes any chest exercise a fantastic all-over upper-body movement.
Example: Seedman says one of the best exercises to tone up triceps is actually a chest press. And research backs him up: A study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research reveals that different chest press variations are more effective for targeting specific muscle groups than others—including the tris. (Curious which is a better chest workout for women: close-grip or wide-grip bench press? We’ve got answers.) Using surface electromyography, a method for measuring muscle activation during exercise, the researchers found that a dumbbell chest press is best for those who want to build up their chest, whereas a Smith machine or barbell setup is the ideal way to perform the move when that horseshoe look in your triceps is the goal. If you're in the former group, definitely steal some of the best dumbbell chest exercises below. (P.S. These 7 gym machines are actually worth your time.)
6 Best Chest Workout Moves for Women
Who needs a fancy, pricey bra when you can do the best chest workout at home with dumbbells and a medicine ball? Each of the chest exercises for women below strengthen the muscles behind your breasts.
How it works: Three days a week, do 1 set of each of these chest workout moves back to back, with no rest between moves. After the final exercise, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat the full circuit 3 more times (4 total rounds).
Total Time: up to 15 minutes
1. Medicine Ball Push-Ups
Start in a push-up position with left hand on top of a medicine ball, right hand on the floor. Engage legs and draw belly button up and in.
Keeping the body in a straight line, bend elbows and slowly lower down as far as possible. Press up through both hands to return to starting position. Complete the reps on one side and then place the opposite hand on the ball and repeat the chest workout for women on the opposite side. (Related: The Total-Body Medicine Ball Workout That Carves Your Core)
2. Chest Pass
Lie face-up on the floor with knees bent and feet flat, holding a medicine ball at chest.
Keeping lower back pressed into the floor and abs engaged, explosively throw the ball straight up as high as possible. Catch with straight arms and immediately lower back to your chest and repeat. Continue this chest workout for women at a quick pace until all reps are complete.
3. Single-Arm Chest Press
Grab a dumbbell with right hand and lie on back on a Swiss ball. Raise hips so that body forms a straight line from knees to shoulders. Hold the dumbbell at chest and draw shoulder blades down and together.
Press the weight straight up and then lower back down to the chest. Complete the reps with right hand, then repeat on the left to complete one set. (Bonus: 8 Total-Body Stability Ball Exercises That Go Beyond Crunches)
Nothing but your arm should move during the presses.
4. Y Raise
Grab a pair of light dumbbells and stand tall with feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent. Hold the weights in front of thighs. (Discover when to use light or heavy weights—there's a time and place for both!—for this chest workout for women or any routine.)
Keeping core braced, draw shoulder blades down and back as you lift the weights above head in a Y position. Return to start at a slow and controlled pace.
5. Renegade Row
Grab a pair of dumbbells and get into straight-arm plank position. Dumbbells should be directly below shoulders, feet slightly wider than hip width.
Without moving hips, bend left elbow and lift the weight up to chest, keeping elbow close to body. Slowly lower the weight back to starting position, and repeat on the other side. That's one rep.
6. Rear Lateral Raise
Stand with feet hip width apart, holding dumbbells with palms facing forward. Bend knees, shift hips back, and bring torso close to parallel with the ground.
Without moving torso, raise arms straight out to sides to shoulder height. Pause, then slowly return to starting position.