Building muscle around the rib cage not only enhances your physical appearance but also boost your confidence and self-esteem.
You need to follow a proper strategy or plan with the right training, diet, and rest.
In this article, you’ll learn how to build muscle around the rib cage, including a perfect workout plan and nutritional strategy to gain muscle fast.
Muscles Around the Rib Cage
To build muscle around the rib cage, first, you need to know what muscles are around the ribs so you can train and build them.
In the front of the ribs, you’ll find the chest with two muscle groups: pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.
The pectoralis major is a thick, triangular convergent muscle situated at the chest. Its primary actions are adduction or depression of the arm and rotation of the arm forward about the axis of the body.
And under the pectoralis major, there’s a thin, triangular muscle called the pectoralis minor. Its primary functions are stabilization, abduction or protraction, internal rotation, and downward rotation of the scapula.
Let’s move to the lateral part. You’ll find the serratus anterior, a fan shape muscle. Its major part lies under the scapula and the pectoral muscles — which are mainly responsible for the protraction of the scapula. For example, when you throw a punch. 
If we look below the serratus anterior, we’ll get the external oblique situated on the abdomen’s lateral and anterior parts. Its primary function is to rotate the trunk and pull the chest down to compress the abdominal cavity and support the spine’s rotation.
In the backside of the ribs, you’ll find one of the largest muscles in the body called latissimus dorsi or lats. It covers the major part of the ribs on the backside.
The trapezius (traps) cover the upper mid-back, especially the lower and mid traps. Another muscle group placed under the traps is called rhomboids (major and minor), which connect the scapula with the spinal column’s vertebrae.
The muscles around the ribs are the major and minor pectoralis, serratus anterior, obliques, lats, lower and mid traps, and rhomboids. So, we need to train and develop all these muscle groups to cover the rib cage completely. We’ll get the best exercises later in this article.
How Build Muscle or Gain Weight Works?
First, let’s understand what building muscle and gaining weight actually means and what is better for your overall health.
When we’re talking about muscle building, it means we are actually gaining weight, but here, more than 90% of the weight will be lean muscle mass.
On the other hand, weight gain also refers to gaining weight, but here you’ll gain not only muscle but also fat and water. And the muscle gaining percentage is way less, which is not healthy.
Whether you’re aiming for an athletic physique or an overall healthy body, your primary goal should be gaining quality muscle mass and not just putting on weight with excessive fat because it can lead to severe health problems in the long term.
Okay, let’s understand how you can build muscle naturally.
You need to follow three fundamental steps to gain mass. They are:
- Intensive training
- Calorie surplus diet
- And rest
1. Intensive Training
The first and obvious thing you need to do is moderate to high-intensity training for 3-5 days per week — combined with 4-5 days of resistance training and 1-day aerobic exercise.
If you’re a beginner or trying to build muscle, focus primarily on doing compound exercises. Exercise that uses two or more muscles in the same movement can be called compound exercise (e.g., squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, etc.).
Compound movements help maximize your muscle-building rate and boost your testosterone level, an important male hormone responsible for muscle growth.
When lifting weights, ensure you consistently increase weights on the bar to build more and more muscle over a longer period of time — this is called progressive overload.
However, with some movements, it’s not possible to consistently add weight (e.g., biceps curl), where you can use different variations or change equipment to shock the muscle for growth.
If you work out at home with little to no equipment, you can increase the reps to 15-20 or perform explosive movements to reach the maximum muscle fatigue, which is essential to build muscle.
Be sure you know the correct form of the exercises, and remember to warm up your body before lifting weights.
Note: You should perform heavy compound exercises with 6-10 repetitions of 3-4 sets of each exercise and keep consistency in increasing weights on the bar.
2. Calorie Surplus Diet
Taking a calorie-surplus diet is one of the crucial things for muscle building. You should consume about 500 extra calories on top of your daily maintenance calories to gain about one pound.
To know your daily maintenance calories, calculate your BMR with the following calculation or use an online calculator.
- Men: 66.5 + (13.75 × weight in kg) + (5.003 × height in cm) – (6.755 × age in years)
- Women: 655 + (9.563 × weight in kg) + (1.850 × height in cm) – (4.676 × age in years)
Then multiply it by 1.55, which will be your daily maintenance/required calories.
Now add 500 to your required daily calories. Now you’ll get the ideal calorie number you need to consume daily to gain about 1 lb per week.
And this is where good calories and bad calories come into play.
You should avoid consuming ice cream, pizza, or other junk foods to reach your daily calorie requirements quickly. It will, of course, make you gain weight but with excess fat, which is unhealthy and can make your stomach out.
Instead, you should consume a healthy diet with a combination of protein, carbs, and fat with 30%, 50%, and 20% of your daily calorie intake.
Remember, you should prioritize your protein intake to gain lean muscle mass.
Besides the workout and diet, rest is the third leading factor on your road to muscle building.
The exercise itself works only as a trigger for muscle growth during your training. You overload the muscles and break down muscle fibers.
But then, if you provide your body with the proper nutrition and enough time to recover, it will grow bigger and stronger to withstand higher workloads in the future.
Remember that muscles don’t grow while we train but afterward. The body builds larger muscle fibers only when it gets enough time to recover.
And this is done for the most part while we sleep.
So, ensure you get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Anything below that, you’ll sacrifice possible muscle gains and overall health.
If you want to know more about the step-by-step approach to muscle building, I recommend you to read our beginner’s guide to building muscle which covers everything you need to know about gaining muscle naturally.
Best Exercises to Build Muscle Around the Rib Cage
Here’re the 15 best exercises to build muscle around the rib cage:
- Bench Press
- Dumbbell Fly
- Cable Crossover
- Lat Pull-down
- Dumbbell Gorilla Row
- Dumbbell Pullover
- Prone Reverse Fly
- Plate Raises
- Push-Up Plus
- Resistance Band Forward Punch
- Dynamic Hug
- Side Crunches
- Downward Wood Chopper
- Twisting Leg Raises
1. Bench Press
Let’s start with a typical but most influential movement for the chest, the barbell bench press that engages all three heads of the chest.
How to do:
- Start with lying on the bench under a barbell rack. Grab the bar with a slightly outside shoulder grip.
- Keeping your hips on the bench with a slight arch on your lower back and your feet flat on the ground, unrack the bar and bring it over your nipple line.
- Keep your shoulder blades squeezed together as you lower the bar to your nipple line, then press the bar up to the starting position while contracting your chest. Repeat.
- Ensure your elbow and upper arms are at a 45-degree angle to your torso. And try to move the bar in a straight line up and down.
Muscles worked: Chest, triceps, and front deltoids.
Alternative: Incline bench press, decline bench press, push-ups
2. Dumbbell Fly
Whether trying to get a chiseled inner chest or build a broader upper body, the dumbbell fly is a great exercise. It primarily targets the pectoralis minor and helps increase your chest width.
You can perform this exercise with a flat or incline bench. A flat bench position can be more beneficial for engaging the entire chest.
How to do:
- Start by sitting on a flat bench and grab a pair of slightly light dumbbells placed on your knees.
- Then lay back on the bench and kick one leg at a time to get the dumbbells over the center of your chest.
- Slowly fly your arms out until the dumbbells go parallel to your chest and stretch your chest.
- Then return your arms straight up forward over your chest and contract your inner chest at the top. Repeat your desired reps.
- You can also perform this exercise with an incline bench. Do this exercise on the floor to support your shoulders and avoid injuries.
Muscles worked: Chest and front deltoid
Alternative: Chest fly machine
3. Cable Crossover
The next chest exercise we have is cable crossover, one of the most effective exercises you can do to build a defined inner and lower chest.
How to do:
- To begin, set up the pulleys slightly above your head position.
- Then grab the handles with your hands, and as you take a step forward, stretch your arms out as a fly movement and elbows are slightly bent position.
- Keeping your core tight and chest out, pull your arms forward and downward closer to each other.
- Squeeze your inner chest and then return back your arms to the starting position. Repeat.
Muscles worked: Lower chest and front deltoid.
Alternative: Dips, decline bench press
4. Lat Pull-down
Now, let’s move to the back of the ribs, and the primary muscle we want to target here is the latissimus dorsi which majorly covers your rib cage.
One of the best exercises you can perform to train lats is the lat pull-down. However, you can perform the pullups to target the same muscle with body weight.
How to do:
- First, adjust the pullup bar to a slightly lightweight, and grab the handle slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with an underhand grip.
- Hold the bar, sit down on the bench/platform and place your feet flat on the ground.
- Keeping your chest up, pull down the elbow back and squeeze the back at the bottom.
- Then stretch your arms as high as you can go. Repeat that up and down movement as recommended reps.
Muscles worked: Lats, rhomboids, biceps, and lower traps.
Alternative: Pull-ups, barbell row
5. Dumbbell Gorilla Row
The next lat exercise we have is dumbbell gorilla row which is an excellent exercise to target one side of the lat at a time, leading to a greater muscle-mind connection.
How to do:
- Place a slightly heavy dumbbell in front of you, or if you have light dumbbells, you can increase the reps count to provide maximum tension to the working muscles.
- Bend your knees and lower your hips back down while keeping your back flat and chest out.
- Place one elbow on your thigh for support, and with the other hand, grab the dumbbell, which stretches straight toward the ground.
- From there, leading by your elbow, pull the dumbbell up, take a little pause and squeeze your lats at the top.
- Then lower the dumbbell back down until you get a nice stretch at your lats. Repeat.
- Once you’ve completed one side, switch to another and perform your desired reps.
Muscles worked: Lats, rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and biceps.
Alternative: Dumbbell pullover, cable pulldown
6. Dumbbell Pullover
Whether you’re trying to train your lat or want a wider back, the dumbbell pullover is one of the most effective exercises you can perform.
How to do:
- To begin, place a dumbbell on the side of the bench.
- Slide down until your upper back is on the bench, and grab the plate at one end of the dumbbell. And the middle of the dumbbell will be sitting in between the webbing of your fingers.
- From there, bring the dumbbell over your chest with your arms extended and slightly bent in your elbows.
- Drop your hips to counterbalance the weight.
- Take a deep breath, and lower the weight above and behind your head towards the ground in an arch-like motion until you feel a nice stretch in your lats.
- Then return the weights to the starting position by concentrating on the lats and stopping above your face. Repeat.
Muscles worked: Lats, chest, and triceps.
Alternative: Dumbbell gorilla row, wide grip pull-ups
7. Prone Reverse Fly
Okay, now we’ll focus on the rhomboids and lower and mid-traps. The first one I choose is prone reverse fly. You can do this exercise with or without weights on the bench or floor.
How to do:
- Lay face down on a flat bench or on the floor and grab a pair of light dumbbells with your hands.
- Lift your arms straight out to your sides with your thumbs pointing up.
- Then slowly lower your arms to the starting position and repeat for reps.
- Here, the goal is to feel a strong contraction in the middle of your back. You can start without any weight and then gradually add weight over time.
Muscle Worked: Low and middle trapezius, rhomboids, and posterior deltoids.
Alternative: Bodyweight-prone reverse fly
Pull-up is one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do to build your back. You can add weight if you feel it’s easy.
How to do:
- Stand in front of a pullup bar, jump and grab the bar with an overhand grip about (or slightly wider than) shoulder-width apart. Keep your core tight, hips and shoulder blades squeezed, and legs are hanging.
- Using your shoulder blades, pull yourself up until your chin reaches the bar.
- Then slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Muscle Worked: Lats, rhomboid, rear deltoids, lower traps, biceps and, to a lesser extent, forearms and core.
Alternative: Weighted pull-ups, lat pulldown
9. Front Plate Raises
The plate raise primarily targets the lower traps and front deltoids.
How to do:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grab a plate with both hands extended in front of your chest.
- Keep your knees slightly bent, hips back, and always core tight.
- With your arms extended, raise the plate to the overhead position.
- Then slowly lower the plate to the starting position and repeat for reps.
- Make sure you’re engaging your lower traps throughout this movement.
Muscle Worked: Lower traps, rhomboids, and shoulders.
Alternative: The “Y” raises
10. Push-Up Plus
Now it’s time to hit the serratus anterior, situated at the thorax’s lateral wall.
Although the small part of this muscle is visible, training them is essential because a well-built serratus anterior muscle gives a defined and aesthetic look to our upper body.
So, the first serratus anterior exercise we have is a push-up plus. Let’s learn how to perform it.
How to do:
- Position yourself just like a regular push-up while keeping your body in a straight line.
- Lower your body until your chest touches closer to the ground and then push back up to the starting position.
- Once your arms are straight, push your upper back farther more towards the ceiling so that you get the contraction on your serratus anterior muscle.
- Repeat this movement as desired.
Muscles worked: Serratus anterior, chest, and triceps.
Alternative: Bent knee push-up plus, incline push-up plus
11. Resistance Band Forward Punch
The next exercise we have is banded forward punching. However, you can do it with a cable machine as well.
How to do:
- Begin with wrapping a band on equipment at your shoulder height position.
- Grasp both ends of the band with your hand and your elbow at your side. Take a step forward.
- Keeping your core tight, punch by extending your elbow and pushing the band in the front away from you.
- Take a little pause, contract your lateral wall while fully extending your arms, and then return to the starting position. Repeat.
Muscles worked: Serratus anterior, lats, core, shoulders, and arms.
Alternative: Dumbbell chest press plus
12. Dynamic Hug
The dynamic hug is a great isolation exercise for the serratus interior.
How to do:
- Stand with your hands two to three grip loops apart and the band wrapped around your upper back.
- Raise your arms slightly and band your elbow at a 45-degree angle.
- Keeping your shoulders down, push your arms forward and inward as if you are hugging someone.
- Hold briefly as your hands cross slightly in the middle, then slowly return to the starting position.
Muscles worked: Serratus anterior, upper back, and shoulder and arms.
Alternative: Cable crossover, banded forward punch
13. Side Crunches
Now, let’s move to the final muscle of our ribs, the oblique, and one of the easiest movements you can perform is side crunches.
How to do:
- To begin, lie on your side with your legs slightly bent and your arm extended out on the floor for support while your other arm rests on your head for balance.
- Then, simultaneously crunch your obliques down by raising your head and leg to get a nice contraction on the oblique.
- Then slowly return to the starting position and perform your desired reps.
- And then switch to the other side.
Muscles worked: Oblique and abs.
Alternative: Hanging side crunches
14. Downward Wood Chopper
The next exercise we have is a downward woodchopper, one of the most effective exercises to target our oblique.
How to do:
- To begin, set up the cable above your shoulder height.
- Grab the handles with an interlocked grip and take a sideways step away from the cable.
- Exhale and activate your obliques and try to move in your belly button towards your spine.
- Keep your arms extended and elbows locked throughout the entire movement.
- Then slowly rotate your torso down by pulling your arms across your body and returning to the starting position.
- Perform desired reps and switch to the other side.
- Make sure you focus on your torso during rotation instead of your arms.
Muscles worked: Obliques, abs and, to a lesser extent, lats, rear deltoids, and hips.
Alternative: Russian twist with dumbbell
15. Hanging Leg Raises with Twist
The last but one of the critical exercises you can do for superior oblique activation is twisting leg raises.
However, if you find this movement difficult, you can do the same on the floor and progress with the captain’s chair and a pullup bar.
How to do:
- To begin, hang yourself on a pullup bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your legs slightly bent together and your core tight.
- Exhale and use your core to raise your knees in a crossing motion toward your left side.
- Then lower your legs to the starting position and repeat the movement to the opposite side. Perform desired reps.
Muscles worked: Obliques and abs.
Alternative: Lying leg raises with twists
The Perfect Workout Plan for Ribs
If you’re already following a workout plan like split or full-body training, you can add the exercises mentioned above to your upper-body training days.
Here’re the sample workout plans for the rib cage.
- Bench press: 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps
- Cable crossover: 3 x 8-12
- Lat pull-down: 3 x 8-12
- Dumbbell pullover: 2-3 x 8-12
- Banded punch: 3 x 10-15
- Downward wood chopper: 3 x 8-12
- Incline barbell press: 3 x 6-8
- Chest dips: 3 x 10-15
- Pull-ups: 3 x failure
- Dumbbell gorilla row: 2-3 x 8-12
- Push-up plus: 3 x failure
- Twisting leg raises: 3 x failure
Perform workouts A and B on Monday and Thursday, respectively. Be sure you’re hitting your upper body at least twice a week.
You can choose different exercises from the above list if you don’t have the equipment.
Train the muscle around the ribs at least twice a week and ensure you’re taking a calorie surplus high protein diet and getting adequate rest.
If you consistently follow this routine, you’ll see some noticeable results within a few weeks.
Remember, when training your upper body, you should also pay attention to training your lower body because it’s the foundation for building an overall balanced and attractive physic.
So.. There we have it: How to build muscle around the rib cage.
If you’ve any questions regarding muscle building, feel free to ask in the comment section below. I’ll be glad to help you!
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