You’ve seen the guy in the string tank top showing off his striated chest and figured “Hmm, it’d be cool to have a canyon separating my pecs like that, too.”
Getting lean is probably the most important step. But you can train your inner chest so it’s ready to be unveiled after you get your body in the right place.
Admittedly, you cannot singularly isolate the inner pec. No matter what chest exercise you perform, you will be engaging the entire chest. In geek speak, every sarcomere of muscle fibril will contract with each rep. But you can put added emphasize on your inner chest with the right exercises.
Barbell and straight dumbbell presses don’t emphasize the fibers nearest your breastbone. That’s because one of the functions of the pectorals is to bring them toward the midline of the body—picture hugging a big Redwood tree—and this function isn’t required during a regular bench press straight up and down movement.
So, to really hit the inner part of your pecs, you need to perform exercises where the arms don’t just extend out in front of you, but where they come together (or even cross) the midline of the body.
Here are four exercises that do a good job of that, along with two bonus equipment-free moves you can try at home.
The squeeze press is a dumbbell bench press with one slight tweak: the dumbbells are kept in contact with each other throughout. Sometimes called the Hex Press (likely because the move is easiest to perform with hex dumbbells), you should squeeze the dumbbells together as hard as possible during every inch of every single rep, keeping tension on the inner chest.
Dumbbell Flies with Band Resistance
Bands allow for accommodating resistance through the entire range of motion, matching your strength curve. In other words, the bands are most resistant when you’re at your strongest (when the band is fully lengthened at the peak of a dumbbell fly, when you’re near full extension), keeping tension on your inner chest at the top of the rep when normally you wouldn’t feel it.
Lie flat on the bench with the mini band attached behind its back and wrapped at the thumb, then perform flies as you normally would. If you struggle to “feel” your chest working (and are naturally tricep dominant on chest movements) try using bands to increase the mind-muscle connection.
Grab a 10 to 45 lb. weight plate and squeeze it with an open palm in the center while pressing upwards. You may want to hook your fingers in the hole if it’s a metal plate you tend to have sweaty palms.
Performing this movement with slow, controlled pacing is key. It’s best to shoot for high reps and keep your pecs flexed throughout.
Single-Arm Chest Fly
This movement is performed unilaterally (one side at a time), with an emphasis on the upper-inner pec region. However, emphasis is placed on bringing the resistance further across the body and past the midline, thus extending the range of motion to force an intense peak contraction in the inner pec.
As you complete this movement, use the opposite hand to feel the inner fibers of the working pec contracting all the way up (a form of biofeedback that’ll inform you that the movement is having the desired effect). Always keep the elbows slightly bent for full inner pec activation through the desired range of motion.
Inner Pec Push Up
Take a narrower push up stance (similar to a close-grip push up). Then contract your pecs together and hold that squeeze. Keep flexing the inner pecs as you lower down and then return to the starting position with a forceful contraction.
Cross Body Push Up with Band
Finally, you’re going to hit the ground for another push up variation using a band, courtesy of trainer extraordinaire Jeff Cavaliere, MSPT, CSCS. You aren’t just doing the pressing portion of the exercise—you’re also adding in the all-important cross-body movement mentioned above.
With a band in one hand, perform what appears to be a normal push up. However, when you get to the top of the rep pick up your hand with the band in it and cross it over the other until you can put it flat on the ground on the opposite side. This will briefly provide an incredibly strong contraction of the chest. Pick up the hand and return it to the starting position.