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Can women really fight back against saggy breasts with the chest press?

Find yourself feeling self-conscious of the size or shape of your boobs? If so, you’d be among the 71% of women who say that they want to improve the shape and appearance of their breasts[1].

Many women are afraid to train their pecs but incorporating chest-focused exercises into your workout routine can have multiple benefits for improving your figure and overall strength, as well as giving your bust a boost.

So, read on to learn exactly how incorporating direct chest work into your program can help improve your physique and give you a natural lift.

More women are going under the knife

Cultural expectations that we should look ever youthful mean that women often feel intense pressure to combat the signs of ageing[2],[3],[4]. Among these pressures, breast shape and appearance are just one of the many physical standards that women compare themselves against.

The results of a 2014 survey of over 208 women aged 45-65 years showed that 80% of respondents had noticed a change in their breasts with ageing. Only 7% were still proud of their breasts and 84% dressed to look younger[5].

And these findings are backed up by figures from the cosmetic industry. According to recent data, 92% of patients undergoing cosmetic surgery are women, with breast surgery being one of the most common procedures[6]. A breast lift operation can cost anywhere between £5,300 and over £7,000 and, like any surgery, comes with the potential for a long recovery and complications.

Fortunately, there are healthier and more natural methods you can apply to give your bust a lift without surgical intervention.

Female dumbbell chest press

What causes saggy breasts?

It is completely normal for the volume, density and constitution of your breast tissue to change through age due to several factors:[7]

1. Hormonal changes

Oestrogen is the primary female sex hormone, which drops to near zero after menopause. Breasts are composed of oestrogen-sensitive cells that respond to shifting hormone levels. As a result, you may find their appearance alters after the change.

2. Changes in breast size

If you’ve had children, your breasts will have increased in size to produce milk. After you stop breastfeeding, they may decrease in size, potentially making them look saggy. The heavier they become during pregnancy and breastfeeding, they are more likely to sag.

3. Significant, rapid weight loss

Weight loss from muscle or body fat can cause a change in breast size. While you may lose fat tissue, the skin may remain stretched, giving a saggy appearance. One way to avoid this is by being consistent with your nutrition to avoid repeated periods of harsh dieting and encourage lean tissue growth.

4. Decreases in collagen

Collagen is a protein that provides structure and rigidity to your skin, muscles and bones. Collagen decreases with age, which reduces skin elasticity and may change breast size and appearance.

5. Stretching of Cooper’s ligament

Cooper’s ligaments are connective tissue underneath the breast that help maintain the shape and structure of the breast. These ligaments may stretch and deform with weight gain and pregnancy.

Fighting back against the sag

Breasts contain a variety of fatty, fibrous and glandular tissues that lie over and underneath the pectoral muscles. This musculature lies against the chest wall to support the breasts. And like any muscle, the pectorals need to be trained effectively to become stronger and appear more toned.

While no exercise can directly change or increase the shape of your breasts, using exercises that specifically target the chest muscles can give the appearance of fuller, perkier breasts without the need for surgery.

Unfortunately, far too many women are hesitant to add direct chest work to their program due to the false belief that it will turn them into a she-hulk or shrink their breasts. But a muscle is ‘forced’ to grow through consistent, long-term progressive overload and consistent nutritional intake, which many female gym-goers often overlook.

So ladies, listen up; here’s why you should reconsider adding chest training to your program:

1. Improved tone and definition

Many women cite that their goal is to look more ‘toned’, which inevitably involves reducing body fat levels. But without integrating some direct chest work into your program, you may find that your chest begins to look flat and ‘bony’ as body fat levels decrease, revealing what little muscle tissue there is underneath. Training the chest ensures that the muscles underneath the breast become stronger and firmer, creating a more athletic look.

2. Improved overall figure

Unless you use ‘isolation’ exercises that typically only target one group of muscles, most exercises challenge several muscle groups. Chest training is no different. Most chest exercises also effectively strengthen and develop the shoulders and triceps. Whether you use a barbell, dumbbells, or a machine, all press variations can effectively develop a well-rounded, balanced figure.

3. Higher calorie burn

The primary purpose of resistance training is to build and retain lean tissue rather than burn calories. However, exercises that involve large muscle groups and multiple-joint exercises have a higher calorie-burning potential. Incorporating these movements into your routine will help shape your physique more rapidly than single-joint, ‘isolation’ movements alone.

4. Increased functional strength

Functional fitness typically refers to strength and competency in the four big, whole-body movements, i.e. squatting, hip-hinging, upper body pulling and upper body pushing. The chest is involved in every pushing movement, whether you are pressing a barbell, throwing a punch in a boxing class or simply pushing a door. Increasing your strength using pressing exercises will make you stronger and more resilient in everyday tasks.

Incorporating chest training into your routine

While exercise can’t work miracles, it can certainly go a long way to boosting the appearance of your decolletage if you apply these tips:

1. Use light-moderate loads

Research shows that, for most trainees, an 8-15 rep range is optimal for balancing increases in training volume, skill acquisition and time efficiency[8]. Use light-to-moderate loads that allow you to perform 8-12 repetitions with good form and a controlled tempo.

2. You don’t need a ‘chest day’

It’s impractical, inefficient, and potentially dangerous to dedicate an entire training session to chest alone. Not only does your chest require less volume to strengthen and develop compared to other body parts (such as your back and legs), as you fatigue, the risk of injury increases as form breaks down[9]. For effective results, integrate chest training into workouts that challenge multiple muscle groups.

3. Frequency is key

Because the volume required for your chest to grow is relatively low, recovery time should also be relatively quick. Muscle recovery rates last from 24-36 hours, depending on how hard you train and how much work you perform[10]. Training your chest two to three times across the week strikes a balance between recovery and optimising your training volume[11].

4. Work within a range that is appropriate for you

With any exercise, the aim is not to move the load through your passive range, which is the range of motion achieved when an outside force (such as a therapist) causes movement of a joint. This is usually the maximum range of motion a joint can move.

Instead, aim to work the joint through its active range, the range of motion that can be achieved when opposing muscles contract and relax. For example, if you are performing a press, the active range of motion at the shoulder is when you can no longer lower your arm without the shoulder rounding. Your active range of motion is usually less than your passive range of motion.

Many women also have a relatively shallow rib cage that limits how much force they can produce at the very bottom of the press. Working within the active range at the shoulder allows you to produce higher amounts of force and minimise the risk of injury.

5. Slow down

Use slower tempos and controlled changes in direction to maintain tension in the chest, shoulders and triceps during pressing exercises. This ensures that the target muscles are challenged and helps keep the shoulder joint healthy and injury-free. Using a controlled 3-1-2-1 tempo will allow you to hit both requirements.

The take-home

  • Chest training doesn’t usually list high on women’s fitness priorities. But if you want to improve the appearance of your breasts and build a strong, athletic physique, there’s every reason you should incorporate it into your training regime.
  • And don’t be afraid of overnight gains; hard work, consistency and patience are key to building muscle and improving the appearance of your chest.
  • Try implementing these tips, and you won’t be disappointed in how your overall strength and breast shape improve.

Click here to read 8 ways women can benefit from weight training.


[1] Swami, V., et al. (2020). The Breast Size Satisfaction Survey (BSSS): Breast size dissatisfaction and its antecedents and outcomes in women from 40 nations. Body Image, 32, pp. 199-217.

[2] Baltes, M.M., and Carstensen, L.L. (1996). The process of successful ageing. Ageing & Society, 16(4), 397-422.

[3] Clarke, L. H., and Griffin, M. (2008). Visible and invisible ageing: Beauty work as a response to ageism. Ageing & Society, 28(5), 653-674.

[4] Oberg, P., and Tornstam, L. (1999). Body images among Swedish men and women of different ages. In Zeitschrift Fur Gerontologie Und Geriatrie, 32 (2), pp. 204-204).

[5] Risius, D., et al. (2014). The influence of ageing on bra preferences and self-perception of breasts among mature women. European Journal of Ageing, 11 (3), pp. 233-240.

[6] BAAPS (2019). Cosmetic surgery stats: number of surgeries remains stable amid calls for greater regulation of quick fix solutions, [Accessed 13.01.22].

[7] den Tonkelaar, I., et al. (2004). Increase in breast size after menopause: prevalence and determinants. Maturitas, 48 (1), pp. 51-57.

[8] Campos, G.E., et al., (2002). Muscular adaptations in response to three different resistance training regimens: specificity of repetition maximum training zones. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 88 (1-2). pp. 50-60.

[9] Helms, E.R., et al., (2015). Recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: resistance and cardiovascular training. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 55 (3), pp. 164-78.

[10] MacDougall, J.D., et al. (1995). The time course for elevated muscle protein synthesis following heavy resistance exercise. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology, 20 (4), pp. 480-486.

[11] Helms, E.R., et al. (2015). The Muscle and Strength Pyramid: Training. pg. 50.


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