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Muscle for life

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

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

If you want to know what the best chest workouts are for building a bigger, stronger chest (pecs), then you want to read this article.

Key Takeaways

  1. The three rules for proper chest training are: 1. Do exercises for both the upper and lower portions. 2. Focus on lifting heavy weights. 3. Emphasize progressive overload.
  2. The best chest exercises are those that allow you to safely move heavy loads and most increase your strength.
  3.  If you’re an intermediate weight lifter and you want to get the most out of your chest training, work in multiple rep ranges and with weights ranging from 70 to 90% of your 1RM.

Here’s something every guy (and some gals!) into weightlifting can relate to:

It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to build a great chest.

The bottom line is if you’re like most people, it’s probably going to take 2 to 3 years of heavy weightlifting before you have the pecs you really want.

The are two primary reasons for this:

  1. The pecs are relatively small muscles, and smaller muscles are generally harder to grow, which is why most people’s shoulders and biceps also tend to be “stubborn.”
  2. Most people have very little chest muscle to begin with and therefore have a lot of size to gain to get the look they want.

I’ve gone through this experience myself. Here’s what I looked like years ago:

chest workouts for men

My chest wasn’t bad, but if we’re being completely objective, it wasn’t particularly impressive, and my “upper chest” needed quite a bit of work.

Well, I got serious 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.

good chest workouts

Gainz are good. 😛

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 most important aspects of chest training and how to build effective chest workouts, and you’re also going to get a ready-made chest workout routine that you can put into immediate use in the gym.

Let’s get to it, starting with the three most important rules of chest training.

The 3 Most Important Rules of Chest Training

Once upon a time, I wanted a bigger chest.

And so I did what I saw most guys in the gym with big chests doing: a bit of high-rep bench and dumbbell pressing, and a zillion dips, cable flyes, and half reps on the pec deck.

It worked to a point, but ultimately, it didn’t give me the chest I wanted.

Not only was my chest too small when my body fat percentage was lower, it was also disproportionate—the lower portion was larger than the upper, giving it a kind of lopsided, rounded look, as opposed to the flatter, “armor plated” look that all guys aspire to.

And so I set out to discover why, and learned that it all came down to a few major training mistakes that I was making (and that most people make). 

Once I fixed these aspects of my chest training, things changed quickly.

Here are the three biggest lessons that I learned:

  1. Target both the “upper” and “lower” parts of your chest.
  2. Focus on lifting heavy weights.
  3. Emphasize progressive overload.

Let’s look at each.

Chest Training Rule #1
Target Both the “Upper” and “Lower” Parts of Your Chest

Some people say that there’s no such thing as an “upper” chest.

The pecs are the pecs, they say, and any exercise that stimulates that muscle group will work as well as any other.

Others say that there are in fact two separate muscles that make up your chest, and that you need to train both if you want big, full pecs.

Well, the truth is this:

There is a muscle that comprises what most people consider the “upper chest,” and it’s called the clavicular pectoralis. Here’s what it looks like:

While this muscle is technically part of the pectoralis major (the big chest muscle), its fibers insert at a different angle (as you can see above). That’s why certain exercises can emphasize the main (sternal) head of the pectoralis, while others can emphasize the clavicular head.

Notice that I said emphasize, not isolate, because all movements that emphasize one do, to some degree, involve the other.

Nevertheless, you want to dedicate some of your chest training to focusing on the clavicular head for two reasons:

  1. It’s a small, stubborn muscle that takes its sweet time to grow.
  2. The movements that are best for developing the clavicular head also happen to be great for growing the sternal head.

The mistake I used to make is I used to focus more or less all of my efforts on exercises that emphasize the pectoralis major, like the decline bench press, dip, and dumbbell flyes.

The fix here was simple: I started doing a lot of incline pressing.

Research shows that the incline bench press is a fantastic exercise for emphasizing the “upper chest,” and therefore, should be a staple in your chest training.

(Reverse-grip bench pressing is good for this too, but I didn’t do as much reverse-gripping as incline pressing.)

Chest Training Rule #2
Focus on Lifting Heavier 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 studying, training, and coaching others is this:

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

So long as you make that your primary focus in your training, you’ll have no trouble gaining the size you want.

Now, what’s the best way to increase whole-body strength?

Well, exercise science is quite complex and there are many more questions than answers, but the evidence is clear on this one:

Heavy resistance training is the most effective way to get stronger. End of story.

And that’s why natural weightlifters need to do a lot of heavy lifting if they want to gain significant amounts of muscle and strength.

This applies to every major muscle group in the body, as well, including the stubborn chest muscles.

Therefore, if you want to gain chest muscle as quickly as possible, then you want to focus on heavy dumbbell and barbell pressing, with a significant amount of work put into incline pressing.

And by “heavy,” I mean working primarily with weights in the range of 75 to 85% of your one-rep max (1RM), or in the range of 8 to 10 (75%) to 4 to 6 (85%) reps.

If you’re new to proper weightlifting (less than one year of training under your belt), you could focus exclusively on the 4-to-6 rep range and do fantastically.

Once you’re an intermediate weightlifter, though, you can benefit from adding some higher-rep work into your routines. (There are several reasons for this, but they go a bit beyond the scope of this article. If you want to dive into the physiology, though, check out this article to learn more.)

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

Unfortunately, steroid use is rampant in this space, and especially among 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.)

You’ve probably also noticed that many of these guys also have abnormally large shoulders, traps, and pecs (and upper chests in particular).

This is because these areas of the body are quite dense in androgen receptors, which are proteins in cells that respond to various hormones (including anabolic hormones like testosterone).

Thus, when large amounts of anabolic steroids are introduced into the body, the shoulders, traps, and pecs grow very quickly and can reach freaky levels of size and definition.

Don’t be discouraged, though.

You can build a great chest drug-free with a bit of know-how, hard work, and patience.

Chest Training Rule #3
Emphasize Progressive Overload

As you now know, if you stop getting stronger, you’ll eventually stop getting bigger.

That’s why you must make progressive overload the key focus of your training.

You can do all of the drop sets, supersets, eccentric sets, and other fancy training techniques you want, but if you don’t get progressive overload right, you’re always going to struggle to gain muscle effectively.

In simple terms, progressive overload refers to progressively increasing tension levels in the muscle fibers over time, and the most effective way to do this is to gradually increase the amount of weight you’re lifting over time.

This is yet another reason why getting stronger is so damn important for us natural weightlifters.

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.

The 7 Best Chest Exercises

best chest workouts

You now know that our primary aims in our chest training are to lift heavy weights and progressively overload our chest muscle.

Some exercises are better suited to these goals than others because they allow you to safely move heavy loads and most increase your strength.

These exercises are, unsurprisingly, mostly compound movements, and should be the bread and butter of your chest workouts.

Let’s take a look at each.

Flat Barbell Bench Press

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

It deserves all the attention because 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.

That said, although it looks simple enough, the bench press is actually 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. This is especially true as you get stronger, because heavy bench pressing with poor form is a one-way ticket to snap city.

That’s why learning how to bench press correctly is crucial. Here’s a video showing how it’s done:

Incline Barbell Bench Press

The incline bench press is one of my favorite bench press variations because it helps build the upper portion of the chest more than flat or decline pressing (and it hits your shoulders more, too).

This is why you find a lot of incline pressing in my Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger programs, and why I recommend it here.

In terms of form, incline bench pressing works more or less the same as flat, but there are two other things you should keep in mind:

1.) When doing this exercise, angle the bench at about 30 to 45 degrees.

I prefer 30 degrees, but some people prefer an incline closer to 45. Play around with different settings within that range and see what you like most. The most important thing is that, after you find a setting you like, you stick with that for at least a month or two.

2.) The basic setup and movement of the incline bench press is the same as the regular bench press, with a small exception.

The bar should pass by the chin and touch just below the collarbones to allow for a vertical bar path.

Here’s a video that shows proper form with the barbell:

Dumbbell Bench Press (Flat and Incline)

While it’s not a direct replacement for the barbell bench press, the dumbbell bench press is a worthwhile exercise.

There are two things in particular that I like about the dumbbell press:

  1. It allows for a larger range of motion than the barbell press.
  2. Both arms move independently, which reduces your chances of developing muscle imbalances.

Here’s how I like to do it (this is incline, of course, but you get the idea):

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 helps protect the shoulders against injury.

Here’s another video showing how this is done on a flat bench:

Close-Grip Bench Press

The narrower your grip on the bar when bench pressing, the more work your triceps have to do.

This is why you wouldn’t want to focus on close-grip bench pressing for developing your chest, but it does make for a good accessory exercise in your chest workouts (and a great exercise for your arm training).

A key point when close-grip benching is your grip should be slightly narrower than shoulder-width and no closer.

You’ll see many people place their hands just a few inches apart, and this is a mistake because it puts the shoulders and wrists in a weakened, compromised position.

The rest of the setup and movement, however, are the same as the regular bench press:

  • The shoulder blades are “screwed” into the bench.
  • There’s a slight arch in the lower back.
  • The feet are flat on the floor.
  • The bar moves down on a slightly diagonal path, touches the bottom of the chest, and then back up.

If your shoulders or wrists feel uncomfortable at the bottom of the movement, simply widen your grip by about the width of a finger and try again. If it’s still uncomfortable, widen your grip by another finger width and repeat until it’s comfortable.

Here’s a good instructional video:

Reverse-Grip 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 not only is it easier on your shoulders but also is particularly effective for targeting the upper chest.

Here’s how to do it:

Dip (Chest Variation)

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 make sure you’re able to achieve adequate progressive overload over time.

Here’s how to do it:

Low Cable Chest Fly

The chest fly isn’t as great of a chest exercise as many people believe, but it’s ones 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 right:

The Hypertrophy-Power-Strength Chest Workouts

In this chest workout routine, you’re going to train chest twice per week, and you’re going to rotate between three different kinds of workouts every week (in the following order):

1.) Chest Hypertrophy Workout

In these workouts, you’ll work in the 8-to-10 rep range (~75% of 1RM) for all exercises, and have the option to include several rest-pause sets, as well.

2.) Chest Power Workout

In these workouts, you’ll work in the 2-to-3 rep range (~90% of 1RM) for your first exercise, and the 4-to-6 range (85% of 1RM) for the rest.

3.) Chest Strength Workout

In these workouts, you’ll work in the 4-to-6 rep range for all exercises.

Don’t let the names of these workouts throw you off, by the way. All three will stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth), power, and strength, but will emphasize different elements.

Here are the workouts:

Chest Hypertrophy Workout

Incline Bench Press

Warm up and 2 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps (~75% of 1RM)

Flat Barbell Bench Press (or Reverse-Grip)

2 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

2 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps

Low Cable Chest Fly

2 sets of . . .

8 to 10 reps

Optional: Turn your last set into a rest-pause set.

Chest Power Workout

Flat Barbell Bench Press

3 sets of . . .  

2 to 3 reps (~90% of 1RM)

Incline Bench Press

2 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

2 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps

Dips (Chest Variation)

2 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps

Chest Strength Workout

Incline Bench Press

Warm up and 3 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps (~85% of 1RM)

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

3 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps

Close-Grip Bench Press

3 sets of . . .  

4 to 6 reps

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

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

This is how you ensure that you’re progressively overloading your muscles.

For instance, if you’re doing the Strength workout and get 6 reps with 135 pounds on your incline bench press, 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.

Rest 4 minutes in between your 2-to-3-rep sets, 3 minutes in between your 4-to-6-rep sets, and 2 minutes in between your 8-to-10-rep sets.

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

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

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 caloric intake also plays a major role as well.

Read this article to learn more.

The Hypertrophy-Power-Strength Chest Workout Routine

This chest workout routine is simple but effective.

For 12 weeks, I want you to do two of these workouts per week and put 2 to 3 days of rest in between each, and I want you to move through them in the order of Hypertrophy, Power, and Strength.

I also want you to deload as needed (read this article to learn more).

Here’s how this will look:

best chest workout plan

Once you’ve completed this 12-week training block (mesocycle), you have two options:

  1. You can keep following the routine if you’re seeing good gains.
  2. You can change it up for the next 12 weeks, doing two Hypertrophy workouts per week for 4 weeks, followed by two Power workout per week for 4 weeks, followed by two Strength workout per week for 4 weeks.

The first option is straightforward—you just keep plugging along.

If you want to go through the second option, though, here’s what that would look like:

best-chest-workouts

And in terms of fitting these workouts into your larger workout routine, here are a few pointers:

  • Don’t do a chest workout the day before or after a heavy shoulder/arm workout (because your chest and/or triceps will be fatigued). Put at least one day in between these workouts (two is optimal).
  • If you want to maximize chest development, train your chest on your first training day of the week, when you’re freshest (and before you fatigue them with shoulder/arm training).
  • If you’re rotating between the 3 workouts and miss 1 week for whatever reason, don’t skip the workout you missed— just do it the following week and carry on.

What About Supplements?

I saved this part for last because it’s the least important.

The truth is most supplements for building muscle and losing fat are worthless.

Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to make you muscular and lean.

That said, if you know how to drive muscle growth with proper dieting and exercise, certain supplements can accelerate the process.

Here are the ones I use and recommend:

ATLAS Mass Gainer

In an ideal world, we’d get all of our daily calories from carefully prepared, nutritionally balanced meals, and we’d have the time to sit down, slow down, and savor each and every bite.

In the real world, though, we’re usually rushing from one obligation to another and often forget to eat anything, let alone the optimal foods for building muscle, losing fat, and staying healthy.

That’s why meal replacement and “weight gainer” supplements and protein bars and snacks are more popular than ever.

Unfortunately, most contain low-quality protein powders and large amounts of simple sugars and unnecessary junk.

That’s why I created ATLAS.

It’s a delicious “weight gainer” (meal replacement) supplement that provides you with 38 grams of high-quality protein per serving, along with 51 grams of nutritious, food-based carbohydrates, and just 6 grams of natural fats, as well as 26 micronutrients, enzymes, and probiotics that help you feel and perform your best.

ATLAS is also 100% naturally sweetened and flavored as well, and contains no chemical dyes, cheap fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to build muscle and lose fat as quickly as possible and improve the nutritional quality of your diet, then you want to try ATLAS today.

RECHARGE Post-Workout Supplement

recharge creatine supplement

RECHARGE is a 100% natural post-workout supplement that helps you gain muscle and strength faster, and recover better from your workouts.

Once it’s had time to accumulate in your muscles (about a week of use), the first thing you’re going to notice is increased strength and anaerobic endurance, less muscle soreness, and faster post workout muscle recovery.

And the harder you can train in your workouts and the faster you can recover from them, the more muscle and strength you’re going to build over time.

Furthermore, RECHARGE doesn’t need to be cycled, which means it’s safe for long-term use, and its effects don’t diminish over time.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

So, if you want to be able to push harder in the gym, train more frequently, and get more out of your workouts, then you want to try RECHARGE today.

WHEY+ Protein Powder

Whey protein powder is a staple in most athletes’ diets for good reason.

It’s digested quickly, it’s absorbed well, it has a fantastic amino acid profile, and it’s easy on the taste buds.

Not all whey proteins are created equal, though.

Whey concentrate protein powder, for example, can be as low as 30% protein by weight, and can also contain a considerable amount of fat and carbs.

And the more fat and carbs you’re drinking, the less you can actually enjoy in your food.

Whey isolate protein powder, on the other hand, is the purest whey protein you can buy. It’s 90%+ protein by weight and has almost no fat or carbs.

Another benefit of whey isolate is it contains no lactose, which means better digestibility and fewer upset stomachs.

Well, WHEY+ is a 100% naturally sweetened and flavored whey isolate protein powder made from exceptionally high-quality milk from small dairy farms in Ireland.

It contains no GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk, and it tastes delicious and mixes great.

So, if you want a clean, all-natural, and great tasting whey protein supplement that’s low in calories, carbs, and fat, then you want to try WHEY+ today.

whey protein supplement

PULSE Pre-Workout

Is your pre-workout simply not working anymore?

Are you sick and tired of pre-workout drinks that make you sick and tired?

Have you had enough of upset stomachs, jitters, nausea, and the dreaded post-workout crash?

Do you wish your pre-workout supplement gave you sustained energy and more focus and motivation to train? Do you wish it gave you noticeably better workouts and helped you hit PRs?

If you’re nodding your head, then you’re going to love PULSE.

It increases energy, improves mood, sharpens mental focus, increases strength and endurance, and reduces fatigue…without unwanted side effects or the dreaded post-workout crash.

It’s also naturally sweetened and flavored and contains no artificial food dyes, fillers, or other unnecessary junk.

Lastly, it contains no proprietary blends and each serving delivers nearly 20 grams of active ingredients scientifically proven to improve performance.

So, if you want to feel focused, tireless, and powerful in your workouts…and if you want to say goodbye to the pre-workout jitters, upset stomachs, and crashes for good…then you want to try PULSE today.

pulse pre-workout

The Bottom Line on the Best Chest Workouts

Building a bigger and better chest doesn’t require overly complex workout plans, endless hours in the gym, or drugs.

So long as you do plenty of heavy weightlifting, progress to heavier and heavier weights over time, and focus on both the “upper” and “lower” portions of your chest in your training, you’ll do fantastically. And that’s what this chest workout routine will do for you.

You’ll also want to make sure you eat enough food and get enough sleep, and if you want an extra boost, take the right supplements, too.

Do all of that, and I promise you’ll be happy with the results.

Want More Workouts?

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

The Ultimate Chest Workout

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Shoulder Workouts

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

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How to Get Bigger and Stronger Shoulders in Just 30 Days

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The Ultimate Shoulder Workout

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

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Arm Workouts

How to Get Bigger and Stronger Biceps in Just 30 Days

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How to Get Bigger and Stronger Triceps in Just 30 Days

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The Ultimate Arms Workout

best arm exercises

Back Workouts

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

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The Ultimate Back Workout

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Leg Workouts

How to Get Bigger and Stronger Legs in Just 30 Days

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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

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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.

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    • Jason

      Hey Mike!
      just a couple of questions:
      1. How would you set up your weekly workout if you are doing chest twice a week?
      2. Would you implement the same style of lifting (10-8,4-6, 2-3) with every muscle group?

      Thanks, Jason.

  • Jason

    Hey Mike!
    just a couple of questions:
    1. How would you set up your weekly workout if you are doing chest twice a week?
    2. Would you implement the same style of lifting (10-8,4-6, 2-3) with every muscle group?

    Thanks, Jason.

    • Hey Jason!

      1. One way to do it would be to following a Push Pull Legs. Pick a 4- or 5-day version that hits Push twice. This article lays it all out:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com/push-pull-legs/

      Another way is to follow my usual BLS routine, with a Chest day on Monday, and an Upper Body day including a few sets of incline on Thursday or Friday.

      2. I wouldn’t use the power range for arms day, but it should work well for other muscle groups.

      I hope this helps!

      • Jason

        Thanks so much for everything Mike! You the man!

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