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posted: 7/16/2012 6:00 AM

How to shape up 'hugging muscles'

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  • Bob Cole demonstrates position 2 of an incline chest fly.

    Bob Cole demonstrates position 2 of an incline chest fly.
    SHNS photo by Cherie Diez/TAMPA BAY TIMES

  • Bob Cole demonstrates position 1 of a modified push-up.

    Bob Cole demonstrates position 1 of a modified push-up.
    SHNS photo by Cherie Diez/TAMPA BAY TIMES

By Sally Anderson
Tampa Bay Times

You want to make sure your "hugging muscles" are in good working order.

We're talking about the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor, commonly called the pecs. They are two large muscles in the chest, pec major being the larger -- in fact, it is very large, extending from the collarbone to the sternum. It attaches to your upper arm and is responsible for movement of the shoulder joint, flexing and rotating the arm. Because one of its responsibilities is to bring the arms together across the body, it has often been dubbed the "hugging muscle."

The smaller pectoralis minor lies beneath the pec major and connects on top of the shoulder blade. It can move the shoulder blade forward and downward and can also move the shoulder blades away from each other as you cross arms in front of your chest when initiating the hugging motion. Pectoralis minor is largely responsible for the great upper-body development of many competitive freestyle swimmers.

The good news: When you are targeting your chest muscles, the shoulders and arms are very much involved in the workout.

The average person may perform chest exercises three nonconsecutive days a week. When your goal is to tone the muscles, you would build up to two to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions. But if you are into heavy lifting (can only complete six to eight reps), you will need two to three days of rest between strength sessions.

Some of the more common exercises are: push-ups, modified push-ups, chest flies and chest presses.

To avoid plateaus, it is a good idea to vary your exercise routine.

Tips to follow when strengthening the pecs:

• Avoid lower-back strain by contracting abdominals to prevent your back from developing an excessive arch.

• Don't struggle to lift too heavy a weight by forcing the back to overarch or just the opposite, forcing the lower back into the bench. You want to retain the natural arch of the lower back.

• When performing modified push-ups, bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and do not let your hips sag. Lower upper arms until parallel to floor. You do not have to touch chest to the floor.

• When performing arm extensions while working chest muscles, do not lock the elbows; keep them slightly relaxed. Too much pressure on elbow joints could eventually cause tendinitis.

• It's important to keep a slight bend in the elbows and not to lower arms below shoulder level while performing the chest-fly exercise. If arms are too straight, you are exerting too much pressure on shoulders and elbow joints. If arms reach below the shoulder, you could damage shoulder and rotator-cuff muscles.

• Keep shoulder blades on the bench or mat; don't allow them to lift up. Your shoulders need the support.

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