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The Best Chest Workouts for Building Awesome Pecs (According to Science)

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If you want strong, powerful, and defined pecs that pop, you want to do these chest exercises and workouts.

Key Takeaways

  1. The pectoralis major, or chest muscle, is composed of both an upper and a lower portion, and most guys need to do exercises that emphasize the upper portion in particular.
  2. The best chest exercises are pushing movements that allow you to target both the upper and lower chest and allow you to safely move heavy loads and best improve your strength.
  3. The best way to build your pecs is to get as strong as possible on a handful of key exercises including the barbell and dumbbell bench press, the reverse grip bench press, and the close-grip bench press (keep reading to learn the rest of the exercises!).

Biceps and chest.

The two workouts that guys never miss . . . and the two muscle groups that they have the most trouble building.

There are good reasons for this.

Except in the cases of genetic windfall, the biceps are small, stubborn muscles that take an inordinate amount of time and work to develop.

The pecs are larger and stronger than the biceps but, in most cases, start from basically nothing and also take their sweet time to grow.

Women, on the other hand, often don’t train their chest muscles seriously because they don’t want muscular chests.

What they’re missing, though, is that a “muscular” chest on a woman looks nothing like one on a man. It simply adds tone, shape, and “perkiness” to the entire area, which most women would gladly welcome.

That said, you probably landed here from a Google search, so I don’t think I have to sell you on why you should train your chest muscles. You’re likely reading this because you just want to know how to do it right.

Well, the good news is no matter how small and weak you may feel your chest is . . . you absolutely can build that superhero-movie, defined chest that you really want.

I’m living proof. Here’s what I looked like years ago:

best chest exercises

My chest wasn’t bad, but if we’re being completely objective, it wasn’t particularly impressive—especially considering how much time I was spending on it—and my “upper chest” needed quite a bit of work.

I got smart about my chest training shortly after taking that picture, however, and followed the advice I’m going to share with you in this article, and here’s where it got me:

best chest exercises for mass

And ironically, it involved spending less time on my pecs every week than before.

So, if you want to know how I dramatically improved my chest and how you can build a chest you can be proud of, too, then keep reading.

By the end of this article, you’re going to understand the key principles of chest training, how to build effective chest workouts, and the best exercises for building a big chest.

Plus, at the end you’re going to get a paint-by-numbers chest workout routine that you can put into immediate use in the gym.

Let’s start by looking at the anatomy of the chest muscles.

The Anatomy of the Chest Muscles

The main muscle of the chest is the pectoralis major, or “pec major.”

Here’s what it looks like:

anatomy of chest

The chest muscle’s main function is to bring the upper arm across the body.

As you can see in the image above, the pectoralis major has multiple “heads,” or places where a tendon attaches to the skeleton.

There’s a sternocostal head, which attaches the breastbone and rib cage to your upper arm, and a clavicular head, which attaches your collarbone to your upper arm.

Why is this important?

How a muscle attaches to the skeleton influences how it responds to various types of training.

For instance, certain exercises, like the flat and decline bench press, emphasize the larger sternocostal head of the pecs, and exercises that involve moving the arms up and away from the chest, like the incline and reverse-grip bench press, emphasize the smaller clavicular head.

We’ll talk more about how best to train both the upper and lower portions of the chest in a moment.

There’s also a pectoralis minor, which is a small muscle that attaches the top of your shoulder blade to your upper ribs, like this:

anatomy of chest muscles

It lies underneath the pectoralis major, and its job is to pull the shoulder blade forward and toward the middle of your chest.

Many of the same exercises that effectively train the pec major also involve the pec minor, so it’s typically not necessary to use specific exercises for the pec minor.

You do, however, want to include exercises to train your clavicular pectoralis. Here’s why . . .

Use this workout and flexible dieting program to lose up to 10 pounds of fat and build muscle in just 30 days…without starving yourself or living in the gym.

Why You Don’t Just Want a “Big Chest”

“Help, my chest is too small!”

That’s one of the most common lamentations I hear from guys all around the world.

All they want for Christmas, they say, is a “big chest.”

While building a bigger chest is a worthwhile goal, simply “adding size” to your chest won’t necessarily give you the look you want.

For example, check out the following picture:

no upper chest

He has a good physique but look at the upper portion of his chest compared to the lower portion.

Do you notice something?

The lower and outer portions look well developed, but the upper and inner portions look sunken and small.

This is extremely common, is the direct result of training mistakes and, fortunately, is correctable.

I’m speaking from experience here. Take another look at my chest from a few years ago:

best chest exercises

Look at the upper portion of my left pec (the right looks bigger than it is because of how I’m holding the phone).

As you can see, I too had a very bottom-heavy chest with little development up top.

I got to work on it shortly after taking that picture, however . . . doing exactly what you’re going to do in this article . . . and here’s where I am now:

 

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Before we get to the exact chest exercises and workouts I used to build my chest, let’s debunk some of the most common myths that prevent people from getting the chest they want.

The 3 Biggest Mistakes of Chest Training

The three biggest mistakes most people make in their chest workouts are:

  1. Focusing on the wrong chest exercises.
  2. Focusing on high-rep training.
  3. Neglecting progressive overload.

Let’s go over each one.

Mistake #1: Focusing On the Wrong Chest Exercises

Many people focus too much on machines and isolation exercises, which are of secondary importance in building strong, defined pecs.

Studies do show that isolation exercises like the cable crossover, dumbbell fly, and pec deck can activate the chest muscles about as much as compound exercises like the bench press, but that doesn’t mean they’re just as good as compound exercises for developing your chest.

Without getting too far into the weeds, levels of muscle activation isn’t a perfect predictor of muscle growth. It’s just a clue that an exercise is probably effective for training a muscle, assuming you can keep adding weight over time.

And that last point—adding weight over time—is what makes isolation exercises inferior to compound exercises for gaining chest size and strength.

Due to the way your body is built, you can’t safely move as much weight with an isolation exercise like the chest fly or the pec deck as you can with a compound exercise like the barbell or dumbbell bench press.

For example, it’s not uncommon for a guy new to weightlifting to start out benching just the bar, and within a year, put up 225 for reps. On the other hand, could that same guy add nearly 200 pounds to his cable fly in a year? No way, no how..

Research also shows that although isolation exercises can active the chest muscles as much as compound exercises in absolute terms, compound exercises activate the muscles for a longer duration (thus producing a greater training stimulus).

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any studies that directly compare the chest-muscle-building effects of isolation exercises with compound exercises, but we can get an idea of what the results would probably look like from research on the bench press.

The study was conducted by scientists at the University of Tokyo, and it found that after 24 weeks of heavy bench training, improvements in muscle thickness were almost perfectly correlated with increases in bench press strength in resistance-trained young men.

Specifically, benching every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—with no chest isolation exercises—increased both chest thickness and one-rep max (1RM) by 50% on average.

The key takeaway here is that their muscle growth was directly reflected by their strength gains, and I don’t think anybody would argue that isolation exercises for the chest are better for gaining strength than the bench press.

An interesting point of note is the same correlation wasn’t seen in the triceps, which got bigger but didn’t grow as fast as the pecs. This is why I recommend people directly train their triceps if they want to get bigger arms as quickly as possible.

Anecdotal evidence lines up with all of this as well. I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked with thousands of guys over the years and have yet to see a single one get the chest they really wanted with just isolation exercises. Heavy pressing is always involved.

That said, isolation exercises like cable flyes and the pec deck do have their place in a workout routine, but they should never replace compound exercises like the bench press, overhead press, and incline bench press.

Mistake #2: Focusing On High-Rep “Pump” Training

best chest exercises for men bodybuilding

This mistake will stunt the growth of every major muscle group in the body and is particularly detrimental in a smaller muscle group like the pecs.

The reason for this is that one of the best ways to make the pecs (and other muscles) grow is to use heavier weights.

For example, in a study conducted by scientists at Lehman College, 24 physically active, resistance-trained men were split into two groups:

  1. Group one did three workouts per week consisting of 21 sets per workout in the 8-to-12-rep range with 70 to 80 percent of their 1RM.
  2. Group two did three workouts per week consisting of 21 sets per workout in the 25-to-35-rep range with 30 to 50 percent of their 1RM.

Both groups did the same exercises, which included the bench press, barbell overhead press, wide-grip lat pulldown, seated cable row, barbell back squat, machine leg press, and machine leg extension. Both groups were also instructed to maintain their normal eating habits and keep food diaries.

After eight weeks of training, the researchers found that while both groups gained about the same amount of muscle, the first group gained significantly more strength than the first group.

Specifically, group one increased their bench press 1RM by 10 pounds—good progress for intermediate lifters—whereas the second group didn’t improve their strength to any significant degree.  

As I mentioned, muscle gain was more or less the same over these eight weeks, but it’s very likely that the first group would gain more muscle over time as they continued to get stronger.

This is because as you get closer to your genetic limit for muscle growth, gaining strength becomes more and more important for gaining muscle.

What’s more, in order to gain a significant amount of muscle with higher reps, you have to take each set to or close to muscular failure (the point where you can no longer keep the weight moving)..

This can be done, of course, but it’s extremely difficult.

If you want to get a taste of what it’s like, do a 20-rep set of barbell bench presses that ends a rep or two shy of muscle failure. And then imagine having to do a couple more sets, and then having to do it all again in a few days. And then keep that up for months on end.

Fortunately, you don’t need to do that because you can simply train with heavier weights, which is equally (if not more) effective for muscle gain, and far less grueling.

So, if you’re currently doing most of your sets in the 15+ rep range, start focusing on lower rep ranges instead (4 to 6 to 8 to 10, for instance), and you’re going to see significant gains in strength and size.

Mistake #3: Neglecting Progressive Overload

The first, second, and third rule of getting bigger and stronger is this: you must progressively overload your muscles.

If you don’t get this right, then you’re always going to struggle to develop your chest (and every other muscle group, for that matter).

Progressive overload refers to increasing the amount of tension your muscles produce over time, and the most effective way to do this is by progressively increasing the amount of weight that you’re lifting.

In other words, the key to gaining muscle and strength isn’t doing different exercises, balancing on a BOSU ball, or seeing how much you can sweat on everything in the gym—it’s making your muscles work harder. And this is exactly what you do when you force your muscles to handle heavier and heavier weights.

This is why your number one goal as a weightlifter should be to increase your whole-body strength over time, and why the program you’re going to find at the end of this article is built to accomplish exactly that.

The Bottom Line on Chest Training Mistakes

If those three points go against a lot of what you’ve heard and/or assumed about chest training, I understand.

I used to do every chest machine in the gym and used to think that smaller muscle groups responded better to lower weights and higher reps.

Well, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about lifting and building muscle naturally is the more you emphasize heavy, compound exercises, the better your results.

The Simple Science of Effective Chest Training

best chest exercises

So, now you know what not to do.

Now, let’s cover what you should do to build an awesome chest, according to science.

It’s not as complicated as many people would have you believe. You just need to get a few simple things right.

1. Target both the “upper” and “lower” parts of your chest.

As you learned a moment ago, you should emphasize both the upper and lower parts of your chest in your workouts.

Luckily, this doesn’t require endless supersets, “muscle confusion,” or some other fancy training technique.

The three most effective ways to target the upper chest are as follows:

  1. Including the close- and/or reverse-grip bench press in your chest workouts, because research shows that they activate the upper chest 20 to 30% more than the standard bench press.
  2. Including the incline bench press in your chest workouts, because research shows that it activates the upper chest more than the standard bench press.
  3. Training with heavy weights, because research shows that it increases muscle activation of the entire pectoralis major, including the upper chest.

The workout program I share in this article incorporates each of these tips.

2. Do compound exercises and lift heavy weights.

I used to think that heavy, lower-rep lifting was for building strength, not gaining size. I was wrong.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the last decade of researching, training, and coaching is this:

As a natural weightlifter, your number one long-term goal should be increasing your whole-body strength.

I know, I’m repeating myself, but it bears repeating because it’s just that important. So long as you make that your primary focus in your training, you’ll have no trouble gaining size and definition.

The reason for this is while you can gain a fair amount of muscle in the beginning without gaining much strength, once you graduate to an intermediate lifter (year 2+), strength and size become closely correlated.

In other words, once your “honeymoon phase” is over and your body is no longer hyper-responsive to resistance training, the best way to continue gaining size is to continue gaining strength.

How do you best do that?

While exercise science is complex and there are many more questions than answers, the evidence is clear on this one: Heavy, compound resistance training is the most effective way to get stronger.

And that’s why us natural weightlifters need to do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting if we want to gain significant amounts of muscle and strength.

This isn’t a special rule just for the chest, either. It applies equally to every major muscle group in the body, including the smaller, more stubborn ones like the arms, calves, and shoulders, as well as the bigger, more responsive ones like the legs and back.

Therefore, if you want to get a big, defined, or even just “toned” chest as quickly as possible, then you want to get a strong chest as quickly as possible, and that means doing a lot of heavy chest training.

And that mostly means a lot of heavy pressing.

What do I mean by “heavy,” you’re wondering?

I mean working primarily with weights in the range of 70 to 80% of your 1RM, or in the range of 8 to 10 (70%) to 4 to 6 (80%) reps.

Practically speaking, this means taking each set to about one to two reps shy of technical failure (the point at which you can’t completed another rep without a breakdown in form). Another way of looking at this is finishing each set with one to two “reps in reserve,” as researchers call it.

In other words, your “muscle-building sets” should be pretty damn hard.

What do I mean by “compound” exercises?

Well, these are exercises that involve multiple joints and muscles, as opposed to isolation exercises that focus on a single joint and limited number of muscles.

For example, an isolation exercise like the dumbbell fly primarily involves the shoulder joint and the pecs, whereas a compound exercise like the bench press involves the shoulder and elbow joints and the pecs, deltoids, triceps, biceps, back, and even the legs to a slight degree.

“But wait a minute,” you might be thinking. “[SHREDDED FITNESS MODEL] does a billion reps in his chest workouts and has a chest the size of China . . . What gives?”

Unfortunately, steroid use is rampant in this space, and especially among fitness competitors, models, and social media influencers, and these drugs change everything.

With the right drugs, you can just sit in the gym for a few hours every day doing set after set, exercise after exercise, and your muscles will just get bigger and bigger. (A bit of reductive, I know, but more accurate than inaccurate.)

For example, one study conducted by scientists at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science gave a relatively small dosage of testosterone (600 mg per week) to one group of weightlifters and a placebo to another group for 10 weeks.

In the end, the natty group gained 4.4 pounds of muscle and added 22 pounds to their bench, which is good progress for intermediate lifters.

Those taking the extra #dedication, however, gained a whopping 13.4 pounds of muscle and added 50 pounds to their bench and eight times as much size in their triceps. In 10 freaking weeks. That’s the muscle gain equivalent of alchemy.

Don’t worry, though.

You don’t need drugs to earn your tickets to the gun show. You just need a bit of know-how, hard work, and patience.

3. Do one to three chest workouts per week.

You may have heard that you need to train each muscle group at least two or three times per week to maximize muscle and strength gain.

This advice is on the right track, but is also missing the forest for the trees.

Research shows that workout frequency per se, or how often you train a particular muscle group, actually isn’t all that important when it comes to gaining muscle and strength.

What matters much more is your total weekly training volume, or the total amount of hard sets you do each week.

“Hard sets?” you’re wondering.

Well, as you know, a “set” is a fixed number of repetitions of a particular exercise, and a “hard set” is a heavy, muscle- and strength-building set that’s taken close to technical failure (the point where you can no longer continue with proper form).

So, coming back to my point above, as long as you do enough hard sets each week for a given muscle group, it doesn’t matter much how you break them down into individual workouts.

For example, you can expect more or less the same amount of muscle and strength gains from doing 12 hard sets for your chest on Monday or doing 4 hard sets for your chest on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the obvious question: How many hard sets should you do per week to build a great chest?

I’ve tried many different workout splits and volume and frequency schemes and what I’ve found works best is in line two extensive reviews on the subject.

When your training emphasizes heavy weights—70 to 80%+ of 1RM—optimal volume seems to be about 9 to 15 hard sets performed every 5 to 7 days.

This applies to the chest as well as every other major muscle group.

Before you increase your training volume or your frequency beyond that, make sure you’re pushing for progressive overload in your workouts, getting enough sleep, and eating enough food.

In many cases, people I’ve worked with who thought they were “hardgainers” who needed loads of volume to make gains were really just people who needed to train harder, get more sleep, or eat more food.

That said, now and then, I do hear from people (guys, mostly) who appear to be doing everything right but simply aren’t seeing significant changes in their chest size and strength. And here’s what I like to do with them:

  1. Train chest two or three times per week on nonconsecutive days.
  2. Increase the number of weekly hard sets to 18 to 27.

For example, they’re currently training chest on Mondays, I’d have them do some more chest training on Thursdays.

This slight increase in weekly volume isn’t a “magic fix” by any means, but can help break through stubborn muscle growth plateaus.

Alright, now that we have basic training theory under our belts, let’s look at the 10 best chest exercises.

The 10 Best Chest Exercises

best chest workout for mass

Like with most muscle groups, there are scores of chest exercises you can choose from but only a small handful are really necessary.

In fact, the list of the best chest exercises is quite small:

  1. Flat Barbell Bench Press
  2. Incline Barbell Bench Press
  3. Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
  4. Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press
  5. Flat Dumbbell Bench Press
  6. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  7. Dip
  8. Low Cable Chest Fly
  9. Dumbbell Chest Fly
  10. Push-Up

If you’re new to weightlifting, you can forget every other type of chest exercise out there and just focus on these, and you won’t be disappointed.

Unless you’re an advanced bodybuilder that’s doing everything he can to squeeze the last bits of size out of his physique, then you don’t need to worry about “fancy” training techniques, periodization plans, or exercises.

Instead, you want to focus on the foundation-building exercises I recommend in this article.

1. Flat Barbell Bench Press

There’s a reason why every well-designed weightlifting program includes the bench press as one of its core exercises.

The bench press is one of the best all-around upper body exercises you can do, training the pectorals, lats, shoulders, triceps, and even the legs to a slight degree.

Evidence for this comes from studies conducted by scientists at California State University, the Institute of Human Performance, and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul that show that as long as you’re using heavy weights, you can activate nearly all of the muscle fibers of the chest during the bench press.

And more muscle activation generally leads to more muscle and strength gains over time.

This is why research shows that the stronger people get on the bench press, the more their chest muscles grow.

That said, although it looks simple enough, the bench press is a fairly technical movement. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll eventually hit a plateau . . . if you’re lucky enough to avoid injury.

That’s why learning proper bench press form is crucial. It makes sure you can progress safely in your bench pressing.

Because it activates so much muscle mass, the barbell bench press is also extremely fatiguing, which is why I recommend that you do it at the beginning of your workouts, when you’re mentally and physically freshest.

If you don’t have access to a barbell, the dumbbell bench press is a good alternative. The Smith machine bench press can work as well, but I prefer dumbbell pressing.

(If you want to learn more about the bench press, including the best variations, check out this article.)

Since the barbell bench press is the foundation of an effective chest workout, it’s worth looking at it in more depth, starting with proper body position.

There are three steps to doing a proper bench press:

  1. The setup
  2. The descent
  3. The ascent

Let’s start at the top.

The Bench Press Setup

First, lie down on the bench and adjust yourself so your eyes are under the bar.

Then, raise your chest up and tuck your shoulder blades down and squeeze them together. Think of pulling your shoulder blades into your back pocket. This should produce tightness in your upper back.

Next, grab the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, about 22 to 28 inches for men and 14 to 20 inches for women, depending on your build.

If you go too narrow, you’ll shift the emphasis to the triceps as opposed to the pecs, and if you go too wide, you reduce the range of motion and effectiveness of the exercise and increase the risk of irritating your shoulders.

Hold the bar low in your hands, closer to your wrists than your fingers, and squeeze it as hard as you can. Your wrists should be bent just enough to allow the bar to settle into the base of your palm, but not folded back toward your head.

Here’s how this looks:

bench press wrists

A good way to check your grip width is to have a friend get behind you and check the position of your forearms at the bottom of the movement. You want your forearms to be as close to straight up-and-down vertical as possible, like this:

bench press elbow form

As you can see, the position on the far left is too wide, the middle is too narrow, and the far right is correct.

Don’t use a “thumbless” or “suicide” grip (as it’s aptly called) where your thumbs are next to your index fingers as opposed to wrapped around the bar. When you’re going heavy, this grip can make it surprisingly easy for the barbell to slip out of your hands and crash down on your chest, or worse, your neck.

Next, slightly arch your lower back and plant your feet on the ground, directly under your knees, about shoulder-width apart.

You don’t want your back flat on the bench and you don’t want it so arched that your butt is floating above it. Instead, you want to maintain the natural arch that occurs when you push your chest out. The upper part of your leg should be parallel to the floor, and the lower part should be perpendicular (forming a 90-degree angle). This allows you to push through your heels as you ascend, creating a “leg drive” that will boost your strength.

Then, unrack the bar by locking your elbows out to move the bar off the hooks, and moving it horizontally until it’s directly over your shoulders. Don’t try to bring the weight directly from the hooks to your chest, and don’t drop your chest and loosen your shoulder blades when unracking.

Finally, with the bar in place, take a deep breath, push your knees apart, and squeeze the bar.

You’re now ready to descend.

The Bench Press Descent

The first thing you should know about the descent is how to tuck your elbows properly.

Many people make the mistake of flaring them out (away from the body), which can cause a shoulder injury. A less common mistake is tucking your elbows too close to your torso, which robs you of stability and strength and can aggravate your elbows.

Instead, you want your elbows to remain at a 30 to 60-degree angle relative to your torso throughout the entire movement. This protects your shoulders from injury and provides a stable, strong position to press from.

Here’s a helpful visual:

proper bench press form elbows

As you can see, in the bottommost position, the arms are at about a 20-degree angle relative to the torso, which is too close. The middle position is the ideal one–about 45 degrees–and the topmost is the undesirable 90 degrees.

Keeping your elbows tucked and in place, lower the bar to the lower part of your chest, over your nipples. The bar should move in a straight line down, not toward your face or belly button.

Once the bar has touched your chest (touched, not bounced off of), you’re ready to ascend.

The Bench Press Ascent

Although it’s called the bench press, it’s better to think of it as pushing rather than pressing.

That is, picture that you’re pushing your torso away from the bar and into the bench instead of pressing the bar away from your body. This will help you maintain proper form and maximize power.

Keeping your shoulder blades down and pinched, your elbows tucked, your lower back slightly arched, your butt on the bench, and your feet on the floor, push against the bar to get it off your chest.

You can also utilize the “leg drive” I mentioned earlier by pressing your heels into the floor and spreading your knees as you begin to push the bar off your chest. This transfers force up through the hips and back, which helps with form and increases the amount of power you can generate.

The bar should move up with a slightly diagonal path, moving toward your shoulders, ending where you began—with it directly over your shoulders, where it’s most naturally balanced.

Lock your elbows out at the top of the movement. Don’t keep them slightly bent.

You’re now ready for the next rep.

Once you’ve completed your final rep, you’re ready to rack the bar. Don’t try to press the bar directly into the hooks because if you miss, it’s coming down on your face.

Instead, finish your final rep with the bar directly over your shoulders and your elbows locked, and then shift the bar horizontally into the uprights.

Alright, that’s quite a bit to visualize so a good video is in order. Here’s what it all looks like in action:

2. Incline Barbell Bench Press

The good ol’ flat barbell bench press forms the foundation of most upper body workouts, but it’s usually accompanied by several variations.

The incline bench press is one of the best of these variations because it helps build the upper portion of the chest and middle portion of the shoulders more than flat or decline pressing.

This is why you find a lot of incline pressing in my Bigger Leaner Stronger program, and why I recommend the same here.

When doing this exercise, the angle of incline in the bench should be 30 to 45 degrees.

I prefer 30 degrees, but some people prefer an incline closer to 45. I recommend that you try various settings ranging between 30 and 45 degrees and see which you like most.

Here’s how to do it:

3. Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

The close-grip bench press is a bench press variation that heavily involves the pecs but focuses slightly more on the triceps than the standard bench press.

It’s also particularly effective at activating the upper chest, which makes it one of the more well-rounded upper body exercises you can do.

At bottom, the close-grip bench press is just a regular bench press but with a narrower grip. Other than the grip modification, you should perform the close-grip bench press in exactly the same way as the regular bench press.

For your grip, your hands should be slightly (a few inches) inside your shoulders. For most people this means moving your index fingers two to four inches closer together than your normal bench press grip.

Some people place their hands just a few inches apart to try to maximize the triceps’ involvement, but this puts the shoulders and wrists in a potentially dangerous position.

If your shoulders or wrists feel uncomfortable at the bottom of the movement (when the bar is touching your chest), simply widen your grip by about the width of a finger on each side and try again. Repeat until it’s comfortable.

Here’s how to do it:

4. Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press

The reverse-grip bench press is an often-overlooked variation of the bench press that has merit.

It involves flipping your grip around on the bar (so your palms face you), and research shows that it’s not only easier on your shoulders but also particularly effective for targeting the upper chest.

For instance, a study conducted by scientists at Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College that had 12 resistance-trained men use five different grip styles on the flat bench press.

The researchers measured muscle activation in both heads of the pectoralis muscle, the biceps, and the triceps while the men held a loaded barbell one inch above their chest using the different grips.

The researchers found that when the men used the reverse grip, upper chest activation was 25 to 30% higher than when they used a regular grip. Biceps activation was also twice as high when using the reverse grip.

Although the reverse-grip bench press feels awkward at first and requires you to use less weight, many people find that once they get used to it, they can lift as much or more weight as they can with a normal grip.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

And a piece of advice: grip the bar so that it lies diagonally across your palm, like this . . .  

reverse grip bench press

. . . instead of gripping the bar so that it lies perpendicular across your palm, like this:

reverse grip bench

This diagonal grip is much easier on most people’s wrists and elbows.

5. Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press is similar to the barbell bench press, except you press one dumbbell in each hand instead of holding a barbell with both.

Although the dumbbell bench press is usually considered a second-rate version of the barbell bench press, research shows it’s more or less as effective for building your chest (with a caveat).

For example, a study conducted by scientists at Sogn og Fjordane University College in Norway had 12, 23-year old resistance-trained men work up to a 1RM on three different exercises with three to five days of rest between each 1RM attempt:

  1. The Smith machine bench press
  2. The bench press
  3. The dumbbell bench press

The researchers also attached electrodes to everyone’s torso and arms to measure the activation of different muscle groups while they performed each exercise.

The scientists found that the dumbbell bench press caused the same activation of the pecs, less activation of the triceps, and more activation of the biceps than the barbell bench press and Smith machine bench press.

The dumbbell bench press also has several advantages over barbell pressing:

  1. It allows you to use a larger the range of motion.
  2. It allows you to use whatever wrist position feels most comfortable to you.
  3. It’s easier on your joints.

There are downsides that you should know about, though:

  1. It requires more balance, which means you can’t use as much weight as you can with the barbell bench press.
  2. It can require a fair amount of energy to get heavy dumbbells into position.

This second point becomes more pronounced the stronger you get. For example, once you’re pressing 90-pound dumbbells and heavier, you’ll probably lose at least one rep due to simply getting into position, even when you’re smooth in your transition.

This is why I recommend you do the dumbbell bench press after your heavier barbell work.

Here’s how to do it properly:

6. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

The incline dumbbell bench press is identical to the flat dumbbell bench press, except it’s performed on a 30 to 45 degree incline.

This exercise gives you many of the benefits of the incline and dumbbell bench press—increasing the range of motion, emphasizing the shoulders, allowing you to use a more comfortable grip, and giving your joints a break from the pounding of the barbell bench press.

Here’s what it looks like:

Technically my butt shouldn’t be moving—I was trying to move up in weight here and got a little overzealous—but what I wanted to show you was how I rotate my hands at the bottom of the rep and bring the dumbbells low.

This increases the range of motion without increasing the risk of injury, and I’ve found this very helpful in progressing with the weight and developing my chest.

Here’s how to do it:

7. Dip

The dip is one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do for your upper body.

It trains your chest, shoulders, and triceps, and can be loaded with a dip belt to increase the difficulty.

It’s also easy to learn, set up, and perform at just about any halfway decent gym.

Here’s how to do it:

8. Low Cable Chest Fly

The chest fly isn’t as great of a chest exercise as many people believe, but it’s one of the better isolation exercises that you can incorporate into your chest workouts.

I particularly like the low pulley position because it minimizes the stress put on the shoulder joints.

Here’s how to do it:

9. Dumbbell Chest Fly

The dumbbell chest fly is similar to the cable fly, except it’s performed with dumbbells and while lying on a bench.

The downside of the dumbbell fly is that it’s hard on some people’s shoulders and can become hard to perform correctly when you start using heavier weights. If you don’t have a cable machine, though, then this is a suitable substitution.

10. Push-Up

The push-up is perhaps one of the oldest and most popular upper body exercises in the world, and for good reason.

You can do it anywhere, it doesn’t require any equipment, and you can make it more challenging by elevating your feet, wearing a backpack or weighted vest, or bringing your hands closer to your hips.

The problem with the push-up, though, is that as you get stronger it becomes harder and harder to increase the difficulty (and thereby achieve progressive overload).

This makes it an excellent exercise for easing your way into lifting or maintaining your fitness while traveling or recovering from an injury, but not so great for building muscle after your newbie gains have dried up.

So, here’s what I recommend:

  1. If you’re too weak to bench press the bar (45 pounds), start building your upper body pressing strength with bodyweight push-ups.
  2. Work your way up to doing 30 push-ups in one set before reaching failure.
  3. Once you can do 30 push-ups in one set before reaching failure, switch to a weighted exercise like the bench or dumbbell press.

If you’re already strong enough to do 30 push-ups, then you’re better off focusing on other exercises.

Here’s how to it:

The 3 Best Upper and Lower Chest Workouts

The following workouts check all of the boxes for effective chest workouts:

  1. They all include compound exercises for both the upper and lower parts of the chest.
  2. They all include medium to low reps.
  3. They all focus on progressive overload.

All of the following workouts involve two compound exercises that emphasize the chest, followed by one isolation exercise as well.

Depending on how often you want to train your chest, you can also choose a one, two, or three day per week workout routine.

If you choose either the two or three day workout routine, make sure you put at least one or two days between the workouts (either by taking rest days or training other muscle groups).

Here are the workouts:

1 x Week Chest Workout Routine

Workout 1

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Warmup and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Incline Barbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Triceps Pushdown

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

2 x Week Chest Workout

Workout 1

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Warmup and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Incline Barbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Triceps Pushdown

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Workout 2

Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press

Warmup and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Flat Barbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Dip

3 sets of bodyweight to failure (if unweighted)

Or

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM if weighted

Low Cable Chest Fly or Dumbbell Chest Fly

3 hard sets of 8 to 10 reps at 70% of 1RM

3 x Week Chest Workout

Workout 1

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Warmup and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Incline Barbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Triceps Pushdown

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Workout 2

Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press

Warmup and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Flat Barbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Dip

3 sets of bodyweight to failure (if unweighted)

Or

3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM if weighted

Low Cable Chest Fly or Dumbbell Chest Fly

3 hard sets of 8 to 10 reps at 70% of 1RM

Workout 3

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Warmup and 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

Triceps Pushdown

3 hard sets of 4 to 6 reps at 80% of 1RM

If you’re new to strength training, the once-per-week chest routine is a great place to start. If you want to grow your chest as quickly as possible, however, or already have some strength training under your belt, give the twice- or thrice-per-week chest routine a go.

Also, a few odds and ends on how to do these workouts:

1. Once you hit the top of your rep range for one set, move up in weight.

This is known as “double-progression,” and it’s one of the most effective ways to ensure that you’re progressively overloading your muscles.

For instance, if you bench press 6 reps for 135 pounds, add 5 pounds to each side of the bar for your next set.

If, on the next set, you can get at least 4 reps with 145 pounds, that’s the new weight you work with until you can press it for 6 reps, move up, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps, though, reduce the weight added by 5 pounds (140 pounds) and see how the next set goes. If you still get 3 or fewer, reduce the weight to the original 6-rep load and work with that until you can do two 6-rep sets with it, and then increase.

2. Rest two to four minutes between each set.

The important thing is that you feel fully prepared to give your best on each subsequent set.

Yes, this is going to feel like a lot of standing around, but resting properly is an important part of heavy weightlifting.

This is the time where your muscles recoup their strength so you can give maximum effort each set.

Read this article to learn more.

3. Make sure you’re eating enough food.

You probably know that you’re supposed to eat a fair amount of protein to build muscle, but total calorie intake also plays a major role as well.

Read this article to learn more.

What About Supplements?

chest workout plan

I saved this for last because, quite frankly, it’s far less important than proper diet and training.

You see, supplements don’t build great physiques–dedication to proper training and nutrition does.

Unfortunately, the workout supplement industry is plagued by pseudoscience, ridiculous hype, misleading advertising and endorsements, products full of junk ingredients, underdosing key ingredients, and many other shenanigans.

Most supplement companies produce cheap, junk products and try to dazzle you with ridiculous marketing claims, high-profile (and very expensive) endorsements, pseudo-scientific babble, fancy-sounding proprietary blends, and flashy packaging.

So, while workout supplements don’t play a vital role in building muscle and losing fat, and many are a complete waste of money . . . the right ones can help.

The truth of the matter is there are safe, natural substances that have been scientifically proven to deliver benefits such as increased strength, muscle endurance and growth, fat loss, and more.

As a part of my work, it’s been my job to know what these substances are, and find products with them that I can use myself and recommend to others.

Finding high-quality, effective, and fairly priced products has always been a struggle, though.

That’s why I took matters into my own hands and decided to create my own supplements. And not just another line of “me too” supplements–the exact formulations I myself have always wanted and wished others would create.

I won’t go into a whole spiel here though. If you want to learn more about my supplement line, check this out.

For the purpose of this article, let’s just quickly review the supplements that are going to help you get the most out of your chest (and other) workouts.

Creatine

Creatine is a substance found naturally in the body and in foods like red meat. It’s perhaps the most researched molecule in the world of sport supplementsthe subject of hundreds of studiesand the consensus is very clear:

Supplementation with creatine helps . . .

You may have heard that creatine is bad for your kidneys, but these claims have been categorically and repeatedly disproven. In healthy subjects, creatine has been shown to have no harmful side effects, in both short- or long-term usage. People with kidney disease are not advised to supplement with creatine, however.

If you have healthy kidneys, I highly recommend that you supplement with creatine. It’s safe, cheap, and effective.

In terms of specific products, I use my own, of course, which is called Recharge.

Recharge is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored and each serving contains:

  • 5 grams of creatine monohydrate
  • 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate
  • 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid

This gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.

So if you want to gain muscle and strength faster and recover better from your workouts, then you want to try Recharge today.

Protein Powder

You don’t need protein supplements to gain muscle, but, considering how much protein you need to eat every day to maximize muscle growth, getting all your protein from whole food can be impractical.

That’s the main reason I created (and use) a whey protein supplement. (There’s also evidence that whey protein is particularly good for your post-workout nutrition.)

Whey+ is 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate that is made from milk sourced from small dairy farms in Ireland, which are known for their exceptionally high-quality dairy.

I can confidently say that this is the creamiest, tastiest, healthiest all-natural whey protein powder you can find.

So if you want to try a 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate protein powder made from exceptionally high-quality milk that tastes and mixes great, then you want to try Whey+ today.

Pre-Workout Drink

There’s no question that a pre-workout supplement can get you fired up to get to work in the gym. There are downsides and potential risks, however.

Many pre-workout drinks are stuffed full of ineffective ingredients and/or minuscule dosages of otherwise good ingredients, making them little more than a few cheap stimulants with some “pixie dust” sprinkled in to make for a pretty label and convincing ad copy.

Many others don’t even have stimulants going for them and are just complete duds.

Others still are downright dangerous, like USPLabs’ popular pre-workout “Jack3d,” which contained a powerful (and now banned) stimulant known as DMAA.

Even worse was the popular pre-workout supplement “Craze,” which contained a chemical similar to methamphetamine.

The reality is it’s very hard to find a pre-workout supplement that’s light on stimulants but heavy on natural, safe, performance-enhancing ingredients like beta-alanine, betaine, and citrulline.

And that’s why I made my own pre-workout supplement. It’s called Pulse and it contains six of the most effective performance-enhancing ingredients available:

  • Caffeine. Caffeine is good for more than the energy boost. It also increases muscle endurance and strength.
  • Beta-Alanine. Beta-alanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that reduces exercise-induced fatigue, improves anaerobic exercise capacity, and can accelerate muscle growth.
  • Citrulline Malate. Citrulline is an amino acid that improves muscle endurance, relieves muscle soreness, and improves aerobic performance.
  • Betaine. Betaine is a compound found in plants like beets that improves muscle endurance, increases strength, and increases human growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 production in response to acute exercise.
  • Ornithine. Ornithine is an amino acid found in high amounts in dairy and meat that reduces fatigue in prolonged exercise and promotes lipid oxidation (the burning of fat for energy as opposed to carbohydrate or glycogen).
  • Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found primarily in tea that  reduces the effects of mental and physical stress, increases the production of nitric oxide, which improves blood flow, and improves alertnessfocusattentionmemorymental task performance, and mood.

And what you won’t find in Pulse is equally special:

  • No artificial sweeteners or flavors..
  • No artificial food dyes.
  • No unnecessary fillers, carbohydrate powders, or junk ingredients.

The bottom line is if you want to know what a pre-workout is supposed to feel like, if you want to experience the type of energy rush and performance boost that only clinically effective dosages of scientifically validated ingredients can deliver, then you want to try Pulse.

The Bottom Line on the Best Chest Workout

Most guys spend an inordinate amount of their time in the gym doing chest exercises with little to show for it.

And most gals neglect chest training entirely because they don’t want a muscular, “manly” chest.

What most guys don’t know, though, is that they can get the chest they want with a few simple changes to their training plan and a bit of hard work and patience.

And for women, the “aha” is that proper chest training is only going to improve the overall appearance of their upper bodies, not make them “bulkier.”

The three keys to building a bigger, stronger, more symmetrical chest are:

  1. Target both the “upper” and “lower” parts of your chest.
  2. Do a lot of heavy, compound lifting.
  3. Do 9 to 15+ hard sets per week.

Happy chest training!

Want More Workouts?

Chest Workouts

The Perfect Chest Workout Routine for More Hypertrophy, Power, and Strength

perfect chest workouts

How to Get a Bigger and Stronger Chest in Just 30 Days

The Ultimate Chest Workout

This Is The Last Upper Body Workout You’ll Ever Need

Shoulder Workouts

This Is the Perfect Shoulder Workout Routine for Big and Strong Delts

best shoulder workouts

How to Get Bigger and Stronger Shoulders in Just 30 Days

how to get bigger stronger shoulders

The Ultimate Shoulder Workout

best shoulder workout

4 Rotator Cuff Exercises That You Should Be Doing (and Why)

rotator cuff exercises

Arm Workouts

How to Get Bigger and Stronger Biceps in Just 30 Days

how to get bigger stronger biceps

How to Get Bigger and Stronger Triceps in Just 30 Days

big triceps

The Ultimate Arms Workout

best arm exercises

Back Workouts

The Perfect Back Workout Routine for More Hypertrophy, Power, and Strength

perfect back workouts

How to Get a Bigger and Stronger Back in Just 30 Days

bigger stronger back workout

The Ultimate Back Workout

best back exercises

Leg Workouts

3 Science-Backed Leg Workouts for More Hypertrophy, Power, and Strength

How to Get Bigger and Stronger Legs in Just 30 Days

how to get bigger legs

This Is The Last Lower Body Workout You’ll Ever Need

The Ultimate Legs Workout

best leg exercises

Butt Workouts

How to Get a Bigger and Rounder Butt in Just 30 Days

how to get a bigger and rounder butt

The Best Butt Exercises for Building Head-Turning Glutes

best butt exercises

If you liked this article, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you like to hang out online! 🙂

What’s your take on chest workouts? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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I'm Mike and I'm the creator of Muscle for Life and Legion Athletics, and I believe that EVERYONE can achieve the body of their dreams.

If you like my articles, then you'll love my bestselling books. They'll show you exactly what you need to do to build muscle and lose fat without hating your diet or living in the gym.

If you're a guy, check out Bigger Leaner Stronger, and if you're a girl, Thinner Leaner Stronger is for you.

THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE HAVE USED MY BOOKS TO BUILD THEIR BEST BODIES EVER. WILL YOU BE NEXT?

If you want a "paint-by-numbers," step-by-step blueprint for building a muscular, lean, strong body...faster than you ever thought possible...then you want to check out my bestselling books.

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  • How to build meal plans that allow you to build muscle, lose fat, and get healthy with ease…eating foods you love (yes, including those deemed “unclean” by certain “gurus”)…and never feeling starved, deprived, or like you’re “on a diet.”
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