So even though I've been somewhat off-the-grid lately, I still get a fair amount of questions and/or comments from the other fitness geeks I encounter. One of my more recent discussions centered around building mass for the upper inner chest. The gent I was speaking with was complaining about having difficulty with this area and it wasn't too difficult for me to diagnose the problem. Here's what I told him, and here are some of the things I focus on myself.
I know I've said this a million times, but just like spot-reduction, the myth about full isolation of target muscles persists as well. Although full isolation sounds great, it is simply not something the human body is able to achieve. Muscles are sympathetic--meaning they will assist one another to the greatest extent possible. It's your job to limit this activity, but you will never be able to eradicate it. This sympathetic effect is amplified when attempting to target a specific section of a muscle or muscle group--by that logic, the upper chest can NEVER be fully isolated, the entire pectoral WILL assist, just like the entire quadriceps will contract even though you're attempting to target just one head--it is, after all, one muscle.
But that doesn't mean that you can't still work within these parameters to achieve a fuller, more impressive set of chesticles. Here are a few common mistakes and the appropriate corrections to help you achieve your goal.
1. Come Together--Or Don't
Many individuals make the mistake of bringing their hands together completely, whether they are performing a flye or a press. This is a common mistake stemming from the misconception that in order to contract the inner chest, the shoulders, and therefore the arms and hands, must come around and as close to one another as possible. In fact, bringing the weight "in" towards the center line, in many cases, merely reduces tension in the target muscle. Try it yourself the next time you do flyes: When the weights are directly above your chest, tension is lost in the pectoral and the pectoral must be manually engaged, right? And while manually engaging the pectoral is a great habit to get into, in this case, using a shorter range of motion and ending the rep where tension is greatest will better serve you and your development.
2. Don't Blame It On Your Body
The physical structure of each individual can play a significant role in his or her development--we all know that there are chest-and-back dominant folks and arm-and-shoulder dominant folks. The only significant conclusion that can be drawn from these tendencies, however, is that even more effort and precision must be put into the training of respective weakpoints. Use exercises that intentionally limit the activity in your more dominant muscle groups, and use a weight that is commensurate with increased isolation--not to mention the fact that it's a weakpoint! Attempting to train with too much weight will only cause your form to break down further and then you're back at square one. For chest, this means purposely using exercises that attempt to further eliminate shoulder or arm involvement, such as declines, and using Smith machines and other apparati can also help isolate--try a slight decline press on the Smith machine or a chest machine with a nice strength curve.
3. Don't Overdo the Flyes
A good chest workout should consist of both flyes and presses--but which is better suited to building upper inner chest? Flyes seems like the natural choice, but in many cases, the method used for flyes actually emphasizes the outer chest. Why? Because the eccentric portion of the movement places emphasis on the stretch at the shoulder instead of at the sternum. In order to concentrate the stretch (and therefore the contraction) at the sternum, the pectorals must be "anchored" to a greater extent--that is, the ribcage must be in a relatively fixed, static position--no expanding and deflating! During pressing movements, an anchoring effect is achieved in part simply because of the body mechanics and range of motion involved. Anchoring the pectorals further is even better: Simply focus on holding the abdomen and ribcage "tight" during both the eccentric and concentric phases of the movement, or further anchor the pectorals by manually contracting the abdominals--both are great tools for maximizing the efficacy of your presses or flyes because they anchor the pectorals and facilitate a better stretch. Try it!
You can also read this post for even more chest-related tips.