Anatomy For Athletes – Part 10 – Chest and Arms

Anatomy For Athletes - Chest and Arms

This post will wrap up the Anatomy For Athletes Mini-Series.  If you haven’t already, check out parts 1 through 5 to learn the key functions, training considerations, and exercises for the major lower body muscles groups.  And check out parts 6 through 9 for the rest of the upper body muscle groups.

How To Design Your Own Training Programs

Functional Anatomy of the Pecs

Pectoralis major — the largest chest muscle — originates on the clavicle, sternum and first six ribs and inserts on the humerus.

The pecs are the primary muscle group involved in horizontal pressing.

The bench angle used for these exercises influences which portion of the muscle is recruited.  An incline bench will selectively recruit the upper portion of the pecs, along with the anterior deltoid.  While a decline bench will recruit more of the lower pecs.

Examples of Pec Exercises:

  • Bench press variations
  • Push-up variations
  • Fly variations

Training Considerations

If your primary goal is hypertrophy, then include both bench press and fly variations.  But keep the 90-10 rule in mind — 90% of the exercises you include should be integration exercises and the other 10 should be isolation.  So when working your pecs, do more presses than flies.

If your primary goal is strength, focus on press variations because you can move far more weight with presses than you can with flies.  Regardless of your goal, be sure to vary your bench angles to ensure that you’re recruiting the different portions of your pecs.

If you have tight pecs or internally rotated shoulders (which many people do these days), ensure that your pull-to-press ratio is at least 1-to-1.  When I program for clients that have tight, overactive pecs, I usually include more pulling exercises than pushing exercises to help balance it out.  Anterior shoulder mobility drills and pec smashes can also be helpful if you have these issues.

Functional Anatomy of the Biceps

The primary functions of the biceps are flexion and supination of the forearm.  In other words, they bend the elbows and rotate the forearms.

They also function as weak shoulder flexors, particularly when the shoulders are extended — like on an incline bicep curl.

Examples of Bicep Exercises:

  • Chin-ups
  • Row variations (especially with a supinated grip)
  • Bicep curl variations

Training Considerations

If you want to build bigger biceps, prioritize integrative exercises like chin-ups and rows because they’re far more effective than bicep curls.  Again, apply that 90-10 rule.

Use a variety of exercises, hand positions, and upper arm positions (i.e. in front of, next to, and behind the torso) for better development.

Also, use a slower tempo - especially on the lowering phase of your exercises - because the longer you keep your biceps under tension, the more you’ll stimulate growth.

Functional Anatomy of the Triceps

The primary function of the triceps is forearm extension — i.e. straightening the elbow.  The long head of the triceps also helps extend the shoulder.

Examples of Tricep Exercises:

  • Dips
  • Close-grip bench press
  • Rack lockouts
  • Cable pressdown variations
  • Skull crushers
  • Overhead extension variations

Training Considerations

The triceps are mostly composed of fast-twitch fibres, so they’re best developed using relatively heavy loads.

Dips are excellent exercise, but they’re not the best if you have chronic shoulder issues or internally rotated posture.  If you have either of these issues, get them fixed up before including dips in your program.


That about sums it up.  This article, along with the rest of the Anatomy For Athletes Mini-Series should give you a pretty good understanding of how the primary muscles function and how to train them.

Having a better understanding of functional anatomy will help your write better training programs, get better results, improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury.

If you’d like to learn more about designing your own programs, check out the Program Design blog posts and click the image below to download the complete guide.

How To Design Your Own Training Programs