Working out your chest means working out the pectoral muscles (pecs). Although the pecs are the most prominent muscles on the chest, there are other smaller muscles too that support the pectoral muscles. These include the trapezius muscles found around the shoulders and the lats (latissimus dorsi) muscles on the sides of the chest.
But what are the best exercises for building a muscular chest? Well, that’s what this guide is all about. In it, we’ll share the 10 best chest exercises to build your size and strength while supporting your everyday movement.
1. Barbell Bench Press
Barbell lifts can generate the most power, and the standard barbell bench will allow you to move the most weight. Plus, barbell lifts are much easier to control than pressing with heavy dumbbells. The workout is also relatively easy to learn and master with time. And as you progress, you’ll realise that there are plenty of bench press programs that you can follow to increase your strength.
- Position yourself properly on the bench, with your back flat and feet firmly on the ground. The bar should ideally be directly above your eyes, while your shoulders, head, and buttocks should be on the bench.
- Grab the barbell with your palms forward and your thumb wrapped around the bar. Move the bar into the starting position. Don’t shy from using a spotter if needed.
- Put the bar over your upper chest or chin while keeping your wrists and elbows straight.
- Start lowering the bar slowly until it touches your chest below the armpits. In the process, slightly flare your elbows outwards.
- Press the bar up, while keeping your back flat and your wrists straight.
For this exercise, do it towards the chest workout for the heavier sets in the low rep ranges. Consider varying the width of your grip for more complete chest development.
2. Incline Dumbbell Press
Dumbbell presses will easily make it to any top 10 best chest exercises list. However, with an adjustable bench, you’ll be able to do several other things that you just can’t do with a fixed bench. One of our favourites is changing the angle of the incline from one set to another, or from one workout to another. Hitting the chest muscles from different angles will go a long way in building them properly.
- Hold a dumbbell on each hand and lie down on a bench. Let your feet feel firm on the floor.
- Press your back, shoulders, buttocks, and head onto the bench. Put the dumbbells near your chest and armpit area, with your palms facing forward. Ensure that your wrists stay straight.
- Now pull in your abs as you slowly press the dumbbells up to a level directly above your chest. Ensure that your arms are shoulder-width apart and that your elbows are straight and not locked.
- Lower the dumbbells slowly forming a wide arc, until they reach a level at par with your chest. Ensure that the dumbbells are in parallel.
- Next, fly the dumbbell towards the ceiling while keeping the same gentle arc.
Although this is an occasional first movement, it can easily go anywhere from first to third in your workout routine. However, in general, the later you do this exercise, the lesser the weight you’ll be able to push.
For crazier pumps, try rotating the dumbbells slowly from the palms-forward to palms inward position in the concentric part of the lift, while really squeezing when you reach the top. the change will cause you to rotate the upper arm medially, which really applies your pec major.
3. Chest Dips
First off, it’s important to clarify that these are dips that emphasise on the pecs. As such, your feet should be up behind you, and you need to lean forward for as far as possible and let your elbows flare out as you dip. Chest dips are such a great spotter-free alternative to the decline press.
- Grab the parallel dip bars with both hands and lift your body.
- Make sure that your elbows are straight, with your wrists in line with the forearms and your head in line with your trunk.
- To stabilise the lower part of your body, bring one leg across the other and pull in your abs.
- Bend your elbows and lower yourself. Keep the elbows near your sides with your legs directly under the body to avoid swinging or tilting.
- Lower your body until the elbows form a 90-degree angle, and the upper arms are in parallel with the floor. Your wrists should remain straight.
- Pause momentarily and then straighten your elbows to return to the starting position by pushing on to the bars. Your body should remain vertical and your wrists straight.
If you’re strong enough, this exercise is a great finisher. If you’re not yet, you can do it early on with your workout session. It can make a perfect superset when paired with push-ups for that big pump while nearing the end of your session.
4. Cable Fly Crossover
Cable exercises are perfect for isolating the pecs after completing your various multi-joint exercises. Cable ideally provide constant tension through the entire workouts range of motion. And if you already have a nice chest pump going, what beats peeking at the mirror and seeing yourself squeeze out a few more reps?
- You can start this exercise with your feet hip-width apart and firmly pressed on the ground, or with one of the legs in front of the other in a walking position.
- Grab the pulley handles such that your arms are straight out facing an inward direction, ensuring that your elbows are bent a bit and your hands are below your shoulders.
- Make slow, controlled movements, without jerking, as you bring your hands together and extend your arms. For more resistance and a wider arc, move your arms down first and then in an inward direction towards each other so as to cross one hand above the other.
- Now bring your arms back to the starting position slowly and with control. Avoid letting your arms go past the shoulders.
You can also do cable flyes exercises at the end of your workout for higher reps. If you have a partner, you can do a few drop sets for some real muscle building.
5. Pec Deck
Chest flyes are often difficult to master for many trainees, especially with cable and dumbbells because the arms have to be locked in a slightly bent position for the entire exercise. The pec deck simplifies this process as it allows you to work in one pathway only. As such, the exercise is a great teacher of movement, and you can go for a great pump without the need to balance any weights.
- As a rule of thumb, this exercise is not for you if you have a shoulder injury.
- Place your feet flat and firm on the floor, at about shoulder-width apart.
- With the back firmly against the seat, lift your arms until they reach the shoulder level, with the elbows forming an angle between 75 and 90 degrees. Put your elbows at the centre of the pad at the wings of the machine.
- In a slow, smooth movement, push the wings together and stop just before they touch.
- Reverse to the original position slowly and repeat for reps.
Hit the pic deck last for your chest workout routine. Do partial reps and drop sets with the aim of pumping out as many as you can to failure.
Unsurprisingly, most exercise equipment is hard to lug around. Be design, weights are heavy. Every tried to pack a bench and a set of dumbbells in a suitcase? But how do you stay fit on the road? Well, the answer lies in using your own body as resistance. You can do push-ups virtually anywhere, hotel rooms, prison cells, parks, etc. provided you have a solid ground to work with.
You can get the most out of your push-up exercises by paying a close attention to your form.
- Tighten your abs, keep your neck aligned with the spine, your back flat, and your elbows close to the sides.
- Place your hands directly under your shoulders and slowly lower your body with control.
- Press up and repeat the process for reps.
When done correctly, push-ups target your core muscles effectively, including the triceps, deltoids (specifically the anterior part), pectoralis major, and the serratus anterior. You can still change the emphasis of the exercise by altering your angle.
7. Dumbbell Bench press
When using dumbbells, each side of your body has to work independently, which ideally engages more stabiliser muscles. This is because dumbbells are much harder to control than a barbell, and the allow for a much longer range of motion compared to a barbell bench press. Flat dumbbell presses also let you lift fairly heavy weights, and they are a great alternative for those who’ve been stuck on the barbell bench for ages.
- Sit on your chest press bench with your feet firmly on the floor and your knees slightly bent.
- Grab the handles of the dumbbells and push them away into a position where your arms are fully straight out. Ensure your elbows stay bent slightly.
- Pull the dumbbells back towards you slowly with control. Don’t let the weights touch down.
Don’t do dumbbell presses and barbell bench press together in your routine because both of them have very similar moves.
8. Dumbbell Pullover
Most chest exercises can be grouped into two: those that involve pressing a weight (extending and bending at the elbows) and those that involve doing a fly motion (with the elbows fixed and closing/opening your arms). The pullover works a little different it works the chest in a top to bottom contraction angle.
- Lie on a bench with your head, upper back, and neck aligned, and your feet flat and firm on the floor.
- Hold a dumbbell with your arms extending above your face. Ensure your elbows are slightly bent throughout.
- Lower the dumbbell backwards until your elbows to reach a point where they are aligned with your ears.
- Flex through your chest to the reverse direction and bring the dumbbell back overhead.
Make sure that you have a spotter on hand if you are new to this. Always double check that your dumbbells are tightly secured, loose weights are extremely dangerous. If you prefer you can also use a barbell instead.
9. Reverse-grip bench press
The reverse-grip bench press ideally increases the involvement of the upper pec by 30% compared to the traditional overhand grip bench press. This means that you’re getting much of the perks of working out the bench as you engage that often hard-to-prod upper chest.
- Lie on a flat bench with your feet on the floor.
- Unrack the bar using the normal overhand grip, but then rest it on your abs and switch to the reverse-grip grasp the bar with a wider than shoulder width underhand grip.
- Now push the bar upwards as you drive the weight away from you until you nearly lock out your elbows.
- Bend your elbows and bring the bar back down on the same path, allowing it to touch your upper abs before you press it again.
Make sure that you either have a spotter handy or use the safety bars. When lowering the bar don’t lower it towards your face, lower it towards your chest.
Dead Stop Pushup
In addition to being useful for developing your core and pecs, this is also very effective at developing your push up ability. Through developing your push up form all future push-ups you perform will be more effective.
- Lie down flat on the floor with your chest touching the floor. Place your hands on the same level as your armpits and slightly aside from your body.
- Place your feet in such a way that the bottom of your toes touches the floor rather than the tip of your toes. Keep your feet together. Squeeze your glutes and flex your abs.
- Once in position, push your arms down in order to lift your body up off the ground. Raise your body up until your arms are straight.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds then return to neutral position. Repeat until your goal is met.
Focus on your muscle placement and holding the position. This will translate into your other push up routines. Make sure that you are adequately supporting yourself with your toes.