Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Chest
Take your upper-body days to the next level by adding these effective chest exercises to your weekly routine for bigger and stronger pecs!
Your pectorals are a muscle group composed of the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, and subclavius, all located right at the top front of your torso. This makes your pecs an important area to train if you’re looking to build a more sculpted and defined physique. But a strong chest isn’t only for looks!
This big muscle group supports you during a lot of upper-body exercises, whether you’re training your arms, shoulders, or even your back. Having stronger pecs means having better workouts overall, but in order to achieve this, it’s important to know exactly how often to train your chest area.
Of course, muscle growth won’t happen overnight. But if you want to make sure that you’re on your way to having a bigger and stronger body, make sure to include some of the best chest exercises on your upper body days:
Starting with the basics, dips have always been a staple at the gym for upper-body days – and for a good reason! They’re a simple yet effective bodyweight workout, fully hitting your pecs as well as your triceps, upper back, and shoulders.
How to do it:
- Find a dip station, whether it’s just the regular parallel bars or an assisted dip machine for support, and stand in between the bars.
- Place your hands on the bars, firmly grasping them on each side with a neutral grip, and hold yourself up by extending your arms and lifting your feet off the floor. Make sure to sightly lean your torso forward instead of keeping it upright so you can focus on your chest instead of your triceps.
- Keeping a neutral spine position, begin the movement by slowly lowering yourself until your elbows are around shoulder level.
- Flare out your elbows, feeling the stretch on your pectorals, then go back to the starting position and repeat the movement.
Barbell bench press
Yet another gym staple, the barbell bench press is one of the exercises to definitely include in your workouts if you’re looking to grow a bigger chest! The barbell offers a great resistance for your muscles to work against, mainly targeting your pecs, triceps, and deltoids.
How to do it:
- Lie down on a bench and under a loaded barbell and grab it with both hands in an overhand grip, palms facing forward. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart so you can comfortably lift the bar while hitting your pecs.
- Unrack the bar and place it over your chest so that your elbows are pointing outward and to your sides. Your arms should be parallel to the floor and perpendicular to your torso.
- Begin the movement by pressing the bar up until your arms are fully extended and in line with your shoulders.
- Without letting the bar tilt to the sides, squeeze your pecs in this position, then slowly return the bar to your chest and repeat.
Barbells are not the only weight equipment that will help you grow muscle – dumbbells can be great for this too! During the dumbbell pullover, you’ll mainly target your chest but also your arms and middle back for a much stronger upper body.
How to do it:
- Lie down on a bench while holding a dumbbell with both hands and extend your arms upward so that the weight is above your chest. Make sure to not lock your elbows.
- Engage your core for stability and begin the movement by lowering the weight down and back, as if it were going overhead. Drive the weight as far down as your can while you rotate your shoulders.
- Pause for a moment while you squeeze your muscles, then reverse the movement back to the starting position and repeat.
Pec deck fly
Also known as a machine fly, the pec deck fly is a great movement for targeting your pectorals and giving them enough definition at the end of your workout. It’s performed on a pec deck machine, but you can also use a cable machine for a standing chest workout!
How to do it:
- Sit on a peck deck machine, making sure the seat is adjusted to your height, and grab the handles to your sides with a neutral grip so that your arms are almost completely open.
- Keeping your elbows slightly bent, begin the movement by driving the handles forward and to the center, pressing them together in front of you. Make sure you’re keeping a straight back during this movement.
- Without locking your elbows, squeeze your pec muscles, then bring the handles back to the starting position and repeat.
Single-arm landmine press
So far we’ve only mentioned bilateral exercises, but unilateral exercises are also important when growing a pair of muscles, especially if they’re as big as your pectorals. This exercise isn’t only great for getting stronger, but it’s also safer and easier on your joints.
How to do it:
- Load one end of a barbell and secure the other end on a power rack or against the corner, grabbing it by the top end with your left hand in a neutral grip.
- Get into a staggered position, with your right foot at the front for stability and your knees slightly bent, and hold the bar close to your left shoulder.
- Keeping your back straight, begin the movement by pressing the bar forward without tilting it to the sides until your left arm is extended in front of you. You can keep your right hand on your hips for more stability during this movement.
- Without locking your elbow, squeeze your left side muscles and then return to the starting position and repeat.
- Finish your reps and switch to the opposite side.
Back to the basics, because they’re basics for a reason, push-ups are a great way to give your chest a good pump. Push-ups are a bodyweight exercise, but you can make them more challenging by adding a resistance band to make your muscles work against constant tension!
How to do it:
- Find a resistance band and hold it with both hands, then pass it overhead and down so that it goes around your upper back.
- Get face-down on the floor in a plank position, with your arms extended right below your shoulders and your body forming a straight line from head to toes.
- Keeping a neutral spine position, begin the movement by bending your elbows and lowering your body until your chest almost touches the floor.
- Squeeze your muscles in this position, then slowly press yourself back up as you feel the tension of the band and repeat.
Doing cable crossovers is similar to doing pec deck flys, with a few different details that make it a great alternative for your upper-body days. The best thing about it is that you can change the height of the pulleys to hit different areas of your pecs!
How to do it:
- Stand with staggered feet between two cable machines with a handle attachment set to the highest pulleys, and grab each one with a neutral grip so that your arms are extended up and to your sides.
- Bending slightly at the hips, begin the movement by pulling the handles down and forward. At the end of the movement, instead of your hands meeting in the center, cross one hand over the other so that your wrists are stacked forming an “X” shape.
- Keeping your elbow bent, squeeze your pecs in this position, then slowly go back to the starting position by driving your shoulder blades together and repeat, alternating which hand goes over the other on each rep.
Dumbbell chest fly
Another fly variation, this time using a pair of dumbbells on a bench. While this is a bilateral movement, it maximizes unilateral growth and functional strength, and also allows you to fix any muscle imbalances that you may have!
How to do it:
- Lie face-up on a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, then lift them so that your arms are extended above you forming a perpendicular line with your torso.
- Keeping the weights close together above you, begin the movement by lowering your arms to your sides and down. Drive the weights to the floor as low as you can without locking your elbows.
- Squeeze your muscles in this position, making sure you’re not letting the weights drop, then slowly bring them back together above you and repeat.
Ideally, you should train your chest at least two times a week with enough rest in between and with the support of a balanced training split. Performing 2-4 chest exercises per workout will ensure that you give your pecs enough love without the risk of overworking them – but the exact number will depend on your fitness level and your goals! If you’re a beginner, doing three chest exercises might be too much, while for an advanced lifter with specific upper-body goals that could be a light workout.
Always remember to use the appropriate weight for your fitness level to avoid injury, and never train your chest muscles or any other muscles back to back!
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