This chest exercise guide was written for trans men like you with the goal of firming up the chest area. This will allow you to bind easier, prepare for top surgery, get amazing top surgery results and build your chest afterward.
However, this guide can also be used by anybody wanting to improve the appearance of their chest.
The Structure of the Female Chest
Take a look at this photo.
This is the muscular anatomy of the male chest. What we are concerned about mostly with chest exercises and muscle building is the pectoral major.
The pectoral major includes the sternocostal head (mid and lower chest) and the clavicular head or the upper head. It is called clavicular as it is positioned near your collarbone aka the clavicle.
The female chest musculature looks the same, except for the presence of fat and tissue over the pectoral major.
While the breast tissue cannot be eliminated by any type of gels (hello Atom gel wtf) or exercise, we still have control over the fat deposits and the muscles underneath.
For trans men, we need to offset this increase in girth within the mid and lower chest by creating the illusion of a bigger upper chest. This can be done using chest exercises with focus on the clavicular head of the chest.
Along with a calorie-deficit to burn off overall fat in the body, building more muscle within the area may help in decreasing the amount of existing fat deposits in the female chest.
A Quick Word About Breast-Reducing Gels
If you were not able to absorb what I said in the first part of this article, the female chest has two components which are fat and tissue.
In some cases, a person may have more breast tissue than fat. In other cases, there can be more fat instead of tissue.
Breast reducing gels are marketed as hot gels. It is marketed on the basis of thermogenic effect. Thermogenic products in bodybuilding are those fat-burner pills or supplements that claim to burn off your fat.
In reality, because of the high caffeine content in these fat burner products, they simply reduce your appetite (calorie deficit) and increases metabolic activity. This increase in metabolic activity gives you more energy which ideally should result in you wanting to work out or train to burn off the energy. That’s how it works.
Plus you’ll have a hard time sleeping. Your body is tired but your mind is awake. Who wants that?
Now, Atom breastless gel is marketed as a thermogenic product, claiming to increase heat within the breast area to burn off the fat. This is the most ridiculous claim that I have ever heard of.
First, there is no such thing as spot reduction. Your body will choose to burn fat in areas that it chooses. You cannot control this.
Two, if heating the area is the case, might as well just put some pain relief creams or oils. They give off heat plus they’re cheaper too.
And three, if they are effective and so much cheaper than top surgery, then why are people still aiming to have top surgery? And why are the users still covering their chest if the gel has already reduced your chest size amazingly?
The Best Chest Exercises for Trans Men
Now that we have your anatomy and sucky product marketing out of the way, we go into the real deal.
These exercises are arranged based on the degree of difficulty. These are the same exercises that I personally used in preparation for top surgery.
And…. Ha! I think you know what I am going to say next.
The most important thing is to work with the calories according to your goal. If your goal is fat loss, go on a calorie deficit. If your goal is muscle gain, go on a calorie surplus.
Another is a concept called the mind-muscle connection. When you do an exercise, visualize the muscle that’s working so you know that the effort you are exerting is towards that muscle.
Tip? Close your eyes while doing the exercise and imagine the muscle working. That’s one of my secrets.
1. Standard Pushup
Oldie but goodie, the standard pushup targets the whole pectoralis major.
There are progressions for the pushup if you can’t do it yet. The easiest is against the wall, and then on an incline (hands on a table or countertop) and then finally the standard pushup.
You are supporting 70% of your entire bodyweight so it’s as good as doing a normal gym bench press. Just remember to keep good form.
Here are some basic form pointers:
- Hands shoulder-width apart
- Elbows 45 degrees (or as an arrow when viewed from the top)
- Shoulder blades back, don’t hunch
- Head and neck in a neutral position, don’t look down so much and don’t look up either.
Want it to be harder? Do resistance band pushups. Here’s an awesome Best Damn Pushup Article from TNation if you want to know more.
2. Decline Pushups
Are you wondering why not the incline pushups?
The decline force forces the weight of your body to go downwards towards the clavicular head. Since our goal is to increase the girth of your upper chest, the decline pushup works beautifully for this goal.
Any exercise that keep you in a pike position (lower body higher than upper body) works your upper chest and your shoulders.
If the standard pushup makes you lift 70% of your bodyweight, the decline pushup makes you feel, if not lift, more than 70%.
3. Incline Bench Press
This is my personal favorite.
The incline bench press allows you to feel and hit that upper chest so good, you can almost taste it!
The incline bench becomes slightly tricky because it would depend on the angle that you are working with.
Standard incline bench setups in the gym have about a 45-degree angle. This is okay, however, you also activate your front shoulders. So the work is divided into two instead of just your upper chest.
So what can you do about this? Use the free benches on the gym with an adjustable incline and set it to about 30-degrees. If the squat rack is free, do your incline work there. If your option is the Smith machine, well, fine.
If all else fails, do an incline dumbbell press so you can still use the free benches. This is what I personally do until today.
If you are limited to your standard incline bench setup, try to arch your upper back a bit more so your upper chest is almost perpendicular to the ceiling. This allows you to still hit your upper chest without involving your shoulders too much.
4. Incline Cable Fly
Just like the incline bench press, the incline cable fly is also a great move for the upper chest. It is more of an isolation exercise rather than compound. Isolation meaning you are zeroing in on that clavicular head.
Same tips here. Use an adjustable bench and set it to a low incline. Set the pulley heads at the bottom of the machine and do your flies. This is a not a cross-over.
5. Decline Bench Press
Lastly, the decline bench press.
The decline bench press works the sternocostal area of the pectoralis major. That’s the lower chest.
So why should you do this?
Too much incline work is going to fck up your shoulder especially if you are not yet used to doing the moves with proper form.
The last time I did, I couldn’t even lift my arm overhead without pain for at least a month.
Incline work almost always involves the deltoids (aka shoulders) and that can be very problematic to a whole slew of muscles within that shoulder joint.
Bonus Exercises For You!
- Dumbbell Pullover
Pull-ups do not work the chest directly but they sure do help with all the other exercises above.
Pull-ups are a benchmark in the muscle building industry. Strength is strength and the pull-up will test that.
Dumbbell pullovers are an old-school move, back to Arnold’s days. These are mainly used to target the serratus and the triceps. However, when I was doing them I found they worked the upper chest beautifully. I think I got the division between my pecs because of this.
You may check the progressions to do the full version of these lifts on Youtube.
Till then, good luck and hope to see your progress soon!