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Home » The Inner Chest Myth – Build Your Inner Chest, The Right Way

The Inner Chest Myth – Build Your Inner Chest, The Right Way

Have you ever tried to target the elusive “inner chest” with specific exercises? Well, you’re in good company. A quick Google search reviews 58 million results for the queries “inner chest exercises” and “inner chest workouts”. Some of the results included well-respected sources like Men’s Health, Onnit, and ATHLEAN-X that many turn to for fitness knowledge.

Everyone wants an impressive inner chest separation.

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the concept of inner chest exercises and explore the scientific evidence behind them. We’ll delve into the anatomy of the pectoral muscles, 

And we’ll explore how do you actually make your inner chest more defined and give your pecs that shelf look.

Can I Target The Inner Chest?

No, you cannot target the inner chest with specific exercises.Furthermore, there are no particular movements, such as using a close grip or squeezing the pecs, that emphasize the inner chest more effectively. This is because all chest exercises, and exercises in general, cause the muscle to contract as a whole rather than in isolated segments (regional hypertrophy). Therefore, while you can work on overall chest development, targeting the inner chest is not possible.

The topic of regional hypertrophy is widely misunderstood. It does exist, but not in the way most people believe.

For example, let’s take a look at the following research paper: Regional Hypertrophy: The Effect of Exercises at Long and Short Muscle Lengths in Recreationally Trained Women

In their conclusion, the researchers have written the following:

What they were able to find is that participants who performed preacher curls had greater muscle mass in the elbow region, than those who did incline curls.

Someone reads this and thinks “So, regional muscle growth is real.”, writes a blog post about it, and other share it. And we end up with a really complicated version of broken telephone.

But if you read through their discussion’s section, you will quickly notice the following:

And if we actually read through their statistics:

Essentially, what this paper is saying is: “Yes, we found a difference in muscle growth around the elbow in one group, and that difference is a completely separate muscle – the brachialis”.

An anatomically correct image of the biceps muscle group - used as an example to visualize the results of a regional hypertrophy study.

As you can see from the image above, the brachialis happens to be located in the lower region of the upper arm, closest to the elbow.

Like I said, regional hypertrophy does exist, but is widely misunderstood. The “regionality” are all of the other minor-muscles that work as a collective to perform a movement. Not the region of a muscle.

In the following section, we can better visualize the inner chest myth by reviewing the anatomy of the pecs.

Anatomy of the Pectoral Muscles

The pectoralis major, a key (and largest) chest muscle , is a fan-shaped muscle that stretches horizontally from the middle of the sternum to the humerus bone in the arm (source).

It is comprised of two distinct muscle heads: the clavicular head (upper chest) and sternal head (lower chest)(source).

And its fan-shaped structure allows for versatile engagement and power in various exercises.

An image of the anatomy of the chest - showing the sternal head (pectoralis major) and Clavicular Head (pectoralis major).

The Role of the Pectoralis Major

1) The Pectoralis Major: Sternal Head

The primary function of the pectoralis major is to bring your arm towards the center of your body, making that function essential in effective chest workouts.

2) The Pectoralis Major: Clavicular Head

The upper chest also assists with lifting the arm upwards. This is why exercises that target the upper chest often involve some form of incline (such as an incline bench).

As you move your arm inward, the muscle contracts, and when you release it back out, it stretches.

What About the Pectoralis Minor?

You might have heard of the Pectoralis Minor being used when describing the make-up of the chest muscles.

While an important muscle we skip the Pectoralis Minor, because it has no-to-minimal involvement in the overall size and appearance of the chest. It’s main function is preventing shoulder trauma by limiting the rotation the scalupa.

What is The Inner Chest Called?

Nothing, because it does not exist. There is no inner chest region. The inner chest is simply where the pectoralis major attaches to the sternum.

An anatomically correct representation of the pectoralis major muscle group - used to visually showcase the lack of an inner chest.
Source: KenHub

Why Is My Inner Chest Not Growing?

The primary why your inner chest might not be growing is genetics. Your “muscular blueprint”, such as muscle insertions, muscle belly, and length all impact the appearance of muscles.

For instance, comparing Terry Crews and Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Arnold Schwarzenegger's posing as a demonstration of his deeper muscle insertions and more defined Inner Chest

We can see that Arnold’s pecs have deeper muscle insertions, leading to a more defined inner chest

Terry Crews posing, used as an example to show someone with superficial muscle insertions and a noticeable pec gap.

While Terry has a more superficial insertion, resulting in a noticeable gap – often referred to as the pec gap.

Generally, deeper muscle insertions correlate with a more defined inner chest.

The second most common reason is your diet and/or your workout. You can jump to the How do I Build My Chest section of the post, but the short answer is – you either need to reduce your body fat percentage, or increase the overall size of the pecs, or both.

Common Myths About Inner Chest Exercises

Squeeze the Chest

The most common example by those who believe in inner chest isolation is pulling your arm across your torso, past the center.

If you squeeze the chest you can feel and see the inner chest contracting.

The truth of the matter is that what you are doing is you are shortening the lower chest muscle to it’s maximum capacity.

A really good comparison is your chest when you’re doing barbell bench press and when you are doing dumbbell bench press.

With the barbell, your range of motion is quite limited range of motion, as you cannot bring your arms much closer than shoulder width, dumbbells allow you to contract the chest muscle much more by bringing your arms closer to each other.

However, this does not necessarily target the inner chest “more”, it just means that you’re shortening the muscle more.

Non-Spanning Muscle Fibres

I have seen non spanning muscle fibres being brought up by people such as ATHLEAN-X. These are muscle fibres that don’t connect from tendon to tendon. Rather, they attach to the tendons indirectly thorugh a myotendinous junction (source).

The idea is that by contracting the chest muscle to its maximum, you are enforcing these non-spanning muscle fibres, which are sitting around your inner chest.

While non-spanning muscle fibres do exist, this is a stretch. No pun intended.

Even if you were to engage these muscle fibres they make up such a small portion of the total muscle mass that any changes will go unnoticed. Not to mention that they are spread around the chest muscle, they’re not all concentrated at the inner chest.

And lastly, there is literally zero scientific evidence to support this claim. Except for this 1999 study that briefly mentiones non-spanning muscle fibers in rats.

Hey Jeff Cavaliere, you dropped this:

inner chest exercises myth

The Problem with Inner Chest Exercises

There are two main problems with inner chest exercises:

  1. Overcomplication; and
  2. Waste of time and energy

There is one incredibly common trend in the fitness community and that is to overcomplicate everything. Working out is simple. Not easy, but simple.

You exercise a certain amount of times a week, keep proper form, add progressive overload, and rest.

All of these “extra steps” will discourage and overwhelm beginners and intermediates, preventing them from starting or sticking to their workout routine.

And, let’s be honest, they’re a waste of time and energy.

Instead of you doing an extra few sets of a press variation or dips, you’re wasting your time doing “3D crossover”.

Great name Jeff. Very original.

How Do I Build My Inner Chest?

While you cannot specifically target the inner chest with exercises, there are ways to make it more prominent.

Two things that can help are:

So what is actually going to help you bring out the inner chest? Two things:

  1. Lower body fat percentage
  2. Increasing overall size of the chest

Lower body fat percentage

Excess fat on the chest can lead to a smooth appearance and hide the inner chest line, even if the muscles are large.

This is true for all major muscles. The lower your body fat percentage, the more noticeable and defined your muscles will appear, and the inner chest is no exception.

Funnily, the myth surrounding the inner chest is similar to the age-old six-pack abs myth surrounding. You know, the same way magazines and influencers swore that by exercising the abs you’re going to get a six pack.

Now, if you were to ask anyone at the gym, they’ll tell you that if you want get six pack abs, you will need to drop some extra body fat percentages. And at least you can exercise the abs, unlike the inner chest.

I hope that one day we’re all going to look back at these inner chest exercises and laugh.

Increasing Overall Chest Size

To develop a prominent inner chest, it’s important to focus on building the entire chest.

Think of it like a canyon: when the mountains are big, the canyon appears deeper.

Similarly, when the chest is well-developed, the inner chest will be more defined. Stick to basic exercises like bench presses, dumbbell flys, and dips, and focus on getting stronger with those.

You don’t need to do every exercise, just choose the ones that work best for you and progressively increase the weight.

Effective Chest Exercises

Compound Movements

Compound movements are exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously.

Heavy compound movements are the best chest exercises for mass. You should regard these exercises as your “fundamentals” – while making sure that those fundamental exercises are more than 50% of your total chest sets.

For example, my fundamental chest exercises are the (1) bench press, (2) incline bench press, and (3) weighted chest dips.

***Numbered based on importance in my workouts.

Compound exercises are also fantastic at engaging “minor muscles” that play a crucial role in overall muscle development and form – preventing asymmetrical muscle growth.

Great Compound Chest Exercises:

  1. Bench Press (or DB)
  2. Incline Bench Press (or DB)
  3. Dips – Chest Variation
  4. Push-ups;
  5. Dumbbell Pullover
  6. Chest Press (Machine)
  7. Decline Bench Press

Isolated Movements

While compound movements are essential, isolation exercises like the chest fly can complement your routine by targeting specific angles and increasing muscle activation with effective pectoral muscle exercises.

Isolation exercises are also great at increasing workout volume for the muscle, driving more blood, and improving overall flexibility and performance.

Designing a Balanced Inner Chest Workout

Workout Plan Overview

There is a lot that needs to be considered when making a balanced chest workout routine.

We already understand the importance of compound, isolated, and fundamental exercises. But here are a few other elements that will take your chest workout to the next level:

Frequency and Volume

Muscle protein synthesis is cyclical and occurs following a demanding workout. After which, it lasts for roughly 48-72 hours (depending on level of fitness), before returning to neutral levels.

It is within this 48-72h window where we actually build muscle. If you have the ability to do two chest workouts per week, then you are truly maximizing your body’s muscle building potential.

That being said, we live busy lifes. It’s unreasonable to believe that everyone can afford the time to spend two workouts sessions at the gym every week.

In other words, if you are capable of doing two chest workouts, then do so. You will greatly increase your total muscle growth.

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is the driving force of muscle growth. It is where you progressively increase the working load of the muscle.

The most common way to add progressive overload to your workouts, is by simply increasing the weight.

But, the best way to add progressive load is by breaking everything down into steps, where the final step is increasing the weight and doing the same (or more) reps and sets.

Think of it like so:

You need to complete steps 1 through 5, before you can get to step 6.

This is obviously instructional, you don’t actually have to follow this system. But I have seen the best and fastest results by incorporating the step model (as well as decrease chances of exercise injury).

Here is the progressive overload step model:
  1. More Reps | Same Sets | Same Weight
  2. Same Reps | More Sets | Same Weight
  3. Same Reps | Same Sets | Same Weight + Drop Set (1-3 reps)
  4. Same Reps | Same Sets | More Weight (now the new normal weight) + (3-10lbs)
  5. —- NEGATIVE SET (3-5 reps) —-
  6. Restart
Example of the progressive overload step model:
  • Week 1: Steps 1 and 2;
  • Week 2: Steps 3 and 4;
  • Week 3: Steps 5 and 6 (Restart)

This protocal is probably the fastest way you will build chest strength and size.

How Much Should I Increase the Weight?

Be very careful with increasing the weight. Like I said, all of this is assuming you are particing correct form and doing everything you can to prevent injury.

The weight you add to your progressive overload, should be a weight where you can do at least 6-8 reps – with proper form.

Rest

Without rest, workouts are meaningless.

During rest is when we actually build muscle and strength. Allow yourself AT LEAST 48 hours of rest before exercising the same muscle again. This also includes other exercises where the tired muscle is acting as a supporter – for example, your triceps during a bench press.

If you do not allow your muscles to adequately rest between workouts, you are at a greater the risk of overtraining, fatigue, injury, and even muscle loss.

Effective Chest Workout

Bench Press: 4 sets of 5-8 reps

Incline Dumbbell Press: 3 sets of 8-12 reps

Chest Fly: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Push-Ups: 1 sets to failure (once every two weeks)

Conclusion

In conclusion, the idea of targeting the inner chest through specific exercises is a misconception.

The chest muscles, including the pectoralis major, cannot be isolated or targeted in a specific region.

Despite the fitness community promoting “inner chest exercises,” the entire muscle stretches and contracts during chest exercises. The best approach to achieve a more defined inner chest is to increase the overall size of the pecs and reduce your body fat percentage.

Rather than wasting time on futile attempts to target the inner chest, focus on progressive overload and proper form to make progress. It’s time to stop overcomplicating the workout routine and focus on the basics.

FAQs

Can you isolate the inner chest?

No, you cannot isolate the inner chest. The pectoral muscles contract as a whole, and no exercise can target just the inner portion. Your goal is increasing chest size, and decreasing your body fat percentage.

What are the best exercises for chest development?

The best exercises include compound movements like the bench press and push-ups, complemented by isolation exercises like the chest fly.

How often should I train my chest?

For optimal results, train your chest twice a week, allowing for adequate recovery between sessions.

How can I Improve my Chest Workout for Inner Chest Separation?

Implementing fundamental/core exercises to your weekly chest workouts, increasing the frequency, using progressive overload, and adequate rest.

Is the bench press enough for chest development?

While the bench press is highly effective, incorporating a variety of exercises ensures comprehensive chest development. That being said, if you were to ONLY do bench presses, you are still capable of building an impressive and strong chest.

For more information on chest workouts and fitness tips, check out these related articles:

6 Week Workout Program to Build Muscle: Ultimate Guide (PDF)

Chest Workout At Home: 7 Best Bodyweight Chest Exercises

The 9 Best Exercises For Muscle Growth

How To Get Bigger Arms | Science Explained

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