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FTM Chest Workouts

Megan P.
Many FTMs envision having strong and well-defined upper body muscles to mark their successful transition. This is by no means a necessity, but the concept of engaging upper body workouts has gained popularity among the female to male trans people. Developed chest muscles can benefit trans men prior to upper body surgery by providing a foundation for muscle mass post-surgery. In addition, evidence suggests that a strong upper body will improve recovery from upper body surgery. A stronger upper body does not define a person’s masculinity in any respect. Still, if you are a transmasculine person looking to increase your muscle mass, various innovative fitness regimens could help you achieve your goals. This article is simply a guide to help you implement an appropriate workout routine to strengthen and grow your chest muscles.

The Muscles Of The Chest

The three fundamental muscles that make up the bulk of the chest include:
  • Serratus anterior
  • Pectoralis major
  • Pectoralis minor
A more unfamiliar muscle called the subclavius serves as an accessory muscle and is primarily involved in respiration.

The Pectoralis Major

This muscle is assisted and supported by many smaller muscles, including the serratus anterior. The subclavius and the anterior and lateral deltoids stabilize the pectoralis major in its contraction during chest exercises like bench press and push-ups. The pectoralis major has two heads; both a clavicular head and a sternocostal head. As one head contracts, the other relaxes. They are therefore referred to as antagonistic. You can observe the clavicular head flexing the humerus (the upper arm bone) by raising your arm to the front. The same muscle is responsible for adducting the humerus inward to the midline of the body as well as rotating the arm. The sternocostal head functions to bring the arms back down from a flexed or forward position. This muscle is also involved in moving the arms in horizontal adduction and rotating the humerus.

The Pectoralis Minor

The pectoralis minor’s job is stabilizing the shoulder blade. It does this through a movement referred to as a protraction of the shoulder blade, where the pectoralis minor pulls the shoulder blade forward and down to the rib cage.

The Serratus Anterior

This muscle implants on the medial border of the shoulder blade and have a kind of sawlike implantation into the first eight ribs. The serratus anterior muscle stabilizes the torso and secures the shoulders during pushing movements in a workout. Many people put a great deal of emphasis on training the major muscles like the pectoralis major in preparation for top surgery or simply to enhance chest muscles. Although this is important, many other crucial muscles in the back, shoulders, and arms go a long way in maintaining a healthy posture and improving your balance. Top surgery is, in fact, major surgery and requires an appropriate preparation period and a time to rest and recover. Exercise can do wonders in easing this process.

Dos And Don’ts In Upper Body Workouts


  • Don’t overdo it
The chest is a relatively straightforward muscle group compared to some more complex groups found in the back. Therefore, it does not need to be exhausted more than twice a week. Training in moderation is a smart guideline to stick to, especially in preventing injury. You can isolate muscles based on your desired outcome by adjusting your workouts to be more strenuous upper and lower pecs. To get the best results, you don’t need to go overboard. Later in this article, we will explore some helpful training suggestions to implement in your muscle growth journey.
  • Poor form and too much weight
Your objective should always be quality over quantity. Maintaining a good form is by far the most important thing to keep in mind when training. If you are just starting out, train with lighter weights and pace your sets as to not put unnecessary stress on your muscles. We tend to find creative ways to «cheat» as the body tires. Any qualified personal trainer would agree that it is wise to rather halt an exercise than cheat to finish all your reps. An example of cheating is when you are training on the bench press, and you start wiggling your body and lifting your legs to get the weight up. This disrupts your symmetry and is likely to hurt a muscle in the process. Cheating won’t challenge your muscles as much as you would like to, so there is really nothing to gain from it. Performing a basic bench press in good form is simple. Be sure to set the bar at the proper height, keep your back flat on the bench and your feet flat on the ground. The way you grip the bar will contribute to which muscles you will activate. A wide grip targets the pecs, but be cautious not to injure your shoulder joint. The key is to stick to slow and controlled movements and maintain the tension at a manageable level. Lift the bar and slowly lower it to your chest in a straight line toward your nipples. If everything feels balanced, you are doing it right. Despite what many bodybuilders claim, try to avoid flaring your elbows outward as it increases the risk of injuring your shoulders. Focus on keeping your core tight and pause for a second before lifting the bar back up. Be sure to keep your elbows unlocked as you ascend.
  • Be cautious of shoulder impingement
Chest exercises are known to cause various shoulder injuries ranging from frozen shoulder to tearing the bicep tendons. You should stop training the moment you feel unhealthy tension or pain in your shoulders as to not further advance the damage. Putting too much focus on chest-focused weight lifting and neglecting your back muscles is a sure way to injure your shoulders. Four muscles along your shoulder blade collectively form the rotator cuff. These muscles move the scapula, assist the arm’s rotation, and stabilize shoulder movement. The shoulder joint is very unstable the rotator cuff ensures the humerus stays in its socket when you move your upper arm across the body. Evidently, the rotator cuff is significant in maintaining controlled movements and preventing shoulder impingement. It would be wise to train your back twice as often as your chest to ensure balance and stability as you build muscle.


  • Start light and improve your form.
The most frequent injuries result from training too heavily and too quickly before laying a foundation for a good technique. Staring off with body weight exercises like push-ups and pull-ups will help strengthen your chest muscles before moving on to the move advanced workouts. Try various different exercises to determine your weak areas and rather complete more repetitions if you are new to chest exercises. Whether you bench press or shoulder press, start with dumbbells first. Dumbbells are great for developing unilateral strength and stabilizing the smaller muscles involved in chest work. Start with a weight that you can comfortably complete up to 20 reps with and challenge your muscles without sacrificing good form. As you get stronger, you will be able to complete more reps and eventually move on to fewer repetitions with more weight.
  • Incorporate different exercises
Implement a variety of exercises and variations to get the most out of your workout. Some exercises are popular for a reason, and slightly altering your form could target a whole new muscle and define your chest and surrounding muscles all the more. Never underestimate the value of a proper push-up session. Push movements, in general, are valuable in any workout as it not only isolates your chest but also engage your biceps, core, back, and shoulders. When doing push-ups, keep your arms shoulder-width apart and your palms facing flat down and pointing forward for the standard version of a push-up. You can target different areas of your chest by turning your hands with your palms facing slightly outward or inward.
  • Allow yourself recovery days.
Your muscles need rest for them to accumulate sufficient protein for growth. Resting days are just as important as training days. Your muscles grow when their fibers are torn and regenerate repeatedly. They become more resilient and will eventually be able to endure much tougher gym sessions with decreased risk of injury. A good rule to adhere to is resting for one day after two days of training. Listen to your body, especially if you have undergone surgery as part of your medical transition. It is very easy to get overeager and end up putting a damper on the final results just because you pushed yourself too hard.
  • Never skip leg day!
There is nothing worse than a man with a buff and well-defined upper body, but his legs barely fill his pants. In the days when your chest is recovering and feels sore, focus on your legs. Strengthening your lower body has many benefits, such as improving your posture and complementing your hard-earned upper body. Implement exercises like deadlifts, lunges, and squats about twice into your weekly workout routine. Lower body workouts tend to burn many calories and engage various muscles in your back and core.

What To Eat To Define Your Chest

Protein, protein, protein! Consume an adequate amount of protein-containing foods to give your muscles everything they need to grow and recover. If your body is wanting, it will start breaking down your muscles to utilize energy. To make things easier, purchase a quality protein supplement, but be wary of consuming too many other unnatural substances that will only set your health back. It is actually very simple to follow a well-balanced diet that will help you gain muscle. Include a variety of foods such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, and protein sources to get the best results. If you are unsure about portions sizes, it is best to consult a dietician on what would support your body best. When you consume a large amount of protein, your muscles can only grow. Those engaging in resistance and weight training are advised to consume around 2 grams of protein per one kg of body weight daily.

Top 5 Best Chest Exercises

1.) Push-ups

  1. Start on your hands and knees and rise into a plant position. Keep your spine straight and your core tight.
  2. Bend your elbows at a forty-five-degree angle and slowly lower your chest to the floor. Focus on keeping your entire body straight and controlled.
  3. Try going as low as you can without losing balance or form. Try laying your body on the floor before pushing back up if you are just starting out.
  4. Press your body up until your arms are straight. Focus on the alignment of your pelvis and back.
  5. Repeat this action 10-20 times and complete 3 sets.
  6. Remember to keep your ankles, hips, and shoulders in a straight line. If this movement feels too strenuous, try performing it from your knees instead of on your feet.

2.) Flat Bench Press

  1. Lie flat on your back on the bench with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Grasp the barbell or dumbbells tightly and lift the weight off the rack.
  2. Move the bar upward in a straight line and lower it back down with your elbows bent at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Pause for a second at the bottom and repeat the movement.
This exercise requires a flat bench and a barbell or dumbbells, which you will encounter in a gym.

3.) Cable Crossover

  1. Start in position at a cable machine or an overhead resistance band with a moderate weight that will challenge you while training your body to maintain good form while completing the movement.
  2. Grasp the handles or the band and keep them in front of your chest,
  3. Contract your muscles and pull the handles down and forward at the level of your belly button. If you wish to engage your serratus anterior muscles, cross the hands of the machine or band.
  4. Hold it there in a tensed position and slowly relax to bring your hands back to the starting position. Remember to keep your feet planted firmly and do not sway to your heels and toes as you complete this exercise.
  5. Try starting with around 10 repetitions and completer 3 sets.

4.) Resistance Band Pullover

  1. Ties your resistance band to a solid structure and lie flat on your back with your head facing the anchor point.
  2. Hold the band over your head and ensure that there is a slight resistance. Keep your palms facing away from each other and point your thumbs to the sky.
  3. Ensure a tight core and straight elbows as you pull the band to your hips before slowly resuming the starting position.
This exercise resembles standing lat pulldowns but instead focuses on isolating your chest muscles.

5.) Chest Dip

  1. Stand between two parallel bars at a dipping station in the gym, and grasp the bars with your palms facing in.
  2. Lift your body up by pressing into your hands and straightening your elbows.
  3. Slowly lower your chest toward your hands, pause, and repeat the exercise.
  4. Aim to complete around 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

Final Thoughts

Apart from chest work, alternative exercises like upright rows, curling your biceps, and tricep extensions are worth exploring to get that genuinely «full» look and strengthen all your upper body muscles. Whatever your goal may be, a strong upper body is beneficial in so many respects. From improving your posture to increasing your upper body muscle mass, a strong chest will contribute to your overall health and body confidence. Remember to always warm up before starting your workout and have a thorough stretch afterward. Stay focused, and enjoy the results! ‍‍Read more: MTF DIET: Common Concerns and Solutions Nutrition and Exercise for Trans People Planning Transition Oriented Workouts for Trans Women
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