To tone your chest, whether the goal is mass-building or merely increased strength and definition, requires three components. First, a strength-training program incorporating exercises that will hit the different fibers of the pectoralis muscle is a must. Second, proper nutrition that encourages muscle growth, particularly post-workout, is essential. Third, a balanced cardio routine to round out fat-burning efforts without sacrificing muscle tissue is highly recommended as part of an overall program to tone your chest.
The muscles that will be worked during a chest-toning workout include, as the primary mover, the pectoralis major muscle, and to a lesser degree, the pectoralis minor, anterior deltoids, serratus anterior, and triceps muscles. As the pectoralis major is fan-shaped and has upper, middle, and lower fibers, it is recommended to tone your chest to strengthen all of these fibers, which can be achieved by varying the angle of the exercises performed. The main exercises to include are push-ups, chest flies, and varying machine, dumbbell, or barbell presses, all of which can be performed at an angle that is inclined, declined, or perpendicular relative to the body. These exercises should be completed twice weekly for best results.
Push-ups are one of the most highly recommended exercises for achieving improved muscle tone. These can be performed anywhere and by positioning one’s body on an incline with hands on a raised surface, horizontally with hands on the floor, or on a decline with feet elevated. Chest flies can be performed by lying on your back at varying angles and bringing dumbbells together above your chest, or by standing and using a cable machine.
Presses, in which the pectorals receive pushing assistance from the deltoids and triceps, should be performed towards the end of the workout if little stabilization is required, as in bench presses and machine pressers. Chest presses in which the arms work independently, such as isolated dumbbell presses, are the most highly recommended. These require both stabilization of the shoulder joint and an increased range of motion in the pectorals. These can also be done at an incline, decline, or flat angle, and exercises should be varied every four weeks or so for optimum results.
Proper nutrition means consuming enough calories, namely from protein, to support muscle development, even if the goal is to tone your chest, not to put on size. While recommendations vary, anyone looking to put on mass should consume one to 1.25 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. Protein needs are not quite as high for basic toning, but it is still important to consume protein after a workout to fuel the muscle repair necessary to building strength and definition. The general guidelines for post-workout protein consumption are 20-30 grams for women and 30-40 grams for men, ideally to be consumed within 60 minutes of the workout and in quick-digesting forms like whey protein in powder form.
Adequate cardiovascular exercise is the final component needed to tone your chest, as any excess body fat will conceal the muscle underneath. This can be performed before or after your strength workout, at least three days a week, but experts are increasingly recommending doing cardio after a strength workout for optimum fat-burning. It is also recommended that the duration of the cardio sessions be kept short, as during longer duration cardio workouts, the body will often begin to tap into its muscle tissue for energy and burn it up in the interest of becoming more cardiovascularly efficient. Less muscle means a lower metabolism, which over time will hinder fat-burning efforts.
As such, experts recommend doing 15- to 20-minute workouts that incorporate high-intensity interval training. This workout technique involves alternating bouts of high intensity, or work performed at 80-90 percent effort, with bouts of recovery, or work performed at 50-60 percent intensity. An example would be alternating 30-second bouts of running on the treadmill with 90-second recovery intervals of walking or jogging. Doing this eight times would result in 16 minutes of intervals. These should be accompanied by several minutes each of warm-up and cool-down in the form of light jogging or walking.