Women and Pec Training

Bryce · March 8, 2024

One of the tragedies of the ever-undulating aesthetic ideal is how it has forced us into boxes of what is deemed to be attractive and permissible for our given sex.

Men are expected to have big, bulging biceps and washboard abs. Calves that are ripping at the seams of the skinny jeans that attempt to contain them. We’re supposed to be over 6 feet tall, with straight and white teeth, an angular jawline, and thick head of hair.

Speaking as a man, it can be difficult to consistently live up to these standards.

Unfortunately, women have it MUCH harder.

If you’re a modern woman, an hourglass figure is mandatory. Your legs must be long and lean and attach to glutes that are perky and muscular (but not too muscular). Hips should be wide enough to make the waist look small, but not “ant” wide. This prototypical woman’s midsection is flat but not too defined (ripped abs are too masculine). Breasts are in much the same ballpark as the glutes—they’re expected to defy physics by being large and perky and symmetrical. Shoulders must be narrow. Arms should be lean and muscular but not too lean and muscular. And I haven’t even covered the back which is becoming increasingly popular as a source of critique (and pride) among women.

[Disclaimer: This is my interpretation of societal standards for the “ideal” female figure. None of these are MY opinions (Do not come after me I’m begging you)]

Women don’t have it easy. And attempting to live up to these completely unrealistic expectations can lead to irrational decision-making and even body modification.

We see this with the prevalence of plastic surgeries that have become more and more common. Encountering a woman who has had no cosmetic “touch-ups” is pretty much an anomaly nowadays. And it’s becoming normalized at younger and more impressionable ages, too. Whereas 100 years ago, physiques were more-or-less a product of genetics, it’s damn-near impossible to tell nowadays what is natural versus what is artificially enhanced.

[Note: I have nothing against cosmetic surgeries. But the point is the point]

We also see this when it comes to the more acceptable (but no less potentially harmful) form of body modification: resistance training.

Lifting weights and exercising might not be conventionally thought of as body mod, but that’s exactly what it is. And making poor choices in this arena can be consequential. Proper direction, instruction, and education is desperately needed.

When women are examining a training program, which specialization do you think they will gravitate towards?

A) Arms/Traps

B) Glutes/Delts

C) Quads/Pecs

If you answered anything other than “B”, you haven’t been in this industry long enough.

Part of the irony of coaching so many women is that, no matter the level or experience or long-term goals, they all want the same things from their program: bigger glutes, fuller delts, a smaller waist, and a well-defined back.

Counter to these desires, there is an equally long list of things that are typically avoided: quads, arms, traps, and pecs. (And this list quickly overtakes the former if you’re talking to a bodybuilding competitor).  

Quads are presumed to take away from the glutes (Erroneously)

Arms are thought to take away from the pecs (Again, misguided)

Traps are thought of as manly or masculine (Why not an indication of strength?)

Pecs are…Wait what is the issue with the pecs again?

Well, let’s think about this anatomically…With the quads, arms, and traps, you have superficially visible muscles. Development here is going to “pop” and be pretty unavoidable. But with the pecs, the real issue that we run into is that they’re just much less noticeable, even when properly developed, due to being covered (at least partially) by the breasts.

And this feature has often been one of the many reasons put forth for why women don’t need to train the pecs.

Why expend precious effort and recovery resources for a muscle that nobody will even see?

Why attempt to grow a “masculine” muscle?

If the muscles of interest are the delts, glutes, and back, what’s the point of training the pecs anyway?

Training (and fitness in general) has a laundry-list of misconceptions that have slowly infected the collective mind. If you repeat something enough times, no matter how true or untrue it is, it will eventually stick and be presumed true. Many of the myths associated with women and chest work are subtle and just close enough to rationality that they’ve become unsurprisingly unquestioned.

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