What is the Pectoral Muscle?

A. Garrett

The pectoral muscle is either of two muscles situated in the chest over the ribs. Of these two chest muscles, the pectoralis major comprises the bulk of the pectoral muscle while the pectoralis minor is a thin, triangular shaped muscle found underneath the pectoralis major. Pectorals provide range of motion to the arms and facilitate actions such as pushing or pulling with the arms and raising or lowering the shoulder. Pectoral muscles also aid in breathing by moving the ribcage. They are also known as pecs.

An anatomical illustration showing many muscles in the upper body, including the pectoralis major.
An anatomical illustration showing many muscles in the upper body, including the pectoralis major.

Pecs start in the sternum and attach to the joints in the shoulder and along the ribcage. In females, these muscles are beneath the breasts. As a result of this alignment, the pectoral muscle resembles the shape of a fan. The pectoral muscles are easy to identify on the body because of their positioning. Consequently, the pectoralis is often the muscle people focus on the most when improving their physique or appearance.

People who want to enhance their pectoral muscles may start lifting weights.
People who want to enhance their pectoral muscles may start lifting weights.

Those seeking to gain larger pecs often turn to weightlifting. Compound lifting — weightlifting that utilizes the entire muscle instead of a single area — is important to fostering strength and definition. Also, the muscles must be stimulated to achieve maximum growth, meaning that lifting with ever heavier weights will provide ideal results. Weightlifting routines should vary weekly to prevent the muscles from adapting and inhibiting results.

Incline bench presses, a variation of flat bench presses, primarily work the upper pectoral and shoulder muscles.
Incline bench presses, a variation of flat bench presses, primarily work the upper pectoral and shoulder muscles.

Since the pectoral muscle is frequently used in daily life as well as exercising, this muscle is also very susceptible to strain and injury. Sudden movement of the arm, heavy lifting using improper technique, poor posture, and even a diet lacking enough protein to feed the muscles can increase the likelihood of such injury occurring. When the muscle is stretched beyond its elastic capacity, a strain or tear can occur. Following a tear, the muscle and the surrounding area may also swell or bruise. Breathing, shrugging shoulders, or moving arms with a strained or torn pectoralis causes sharp pain throughout the chest.

A torn pectoral muscle may cause sharp chest pain.
A torn pectoral muscle may cause sharp chest pain.

When treating strained or torn pecs, allowing the muscle to rest is the most important factor in recovery. Arm and shoulder movements should be avoided. Protein intake should be increased so that the injured muscle is adequately repaired. To reduce pain and inflammation, standard over-the-counter pain relievers can be used. Applying ice to the injured area also reduces swelling and numbs pain.

Pectoral muscles can be strengthened by doing push ups.
Pectoral muscles can be strengthened by doing push ups.

Stretching prior to engaging in heavy lifting or physical activity reduces the likelihood of injury to the pectoral muscle. Directly applying heat to the pectoral muscle also warms the muscle up and reduces stiffness in the pecs. Finally, employing slow deliberate movements rather than sudden jerks will decrease the probability of the muscle being stretched too far.

In females, the pectoral muscles are beneath the breasts.
In females, the pectoral muscles are beneath the breasts.

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