Updated: Nov 21
Have you ever wondered what the absolute best muscle-building movements for your chest are? We’ve done the work for you, and found the top 10 chest exercises for building muscle.
This isn’t a list of the hardest chest exercises. It’s focused on the best-of-the-best mass builders, with a little bit of instruction and explanation to complement each choice. You can swap exercises in your current routine for these choices, build your own chest workout with a handful of them, or just try one when your standard chest workout gets stale.
1. Flat Barbell Bench Press
Many bodybuilders out there say that this exercise can cause pec tears and more advanced machines are available to train the chest but let’s face facts here. When it comes to building the chest and building strength, this is it.
The flat barbell bench press is the most popular chest exercise for a reason – it simply works. It can help you develop the entire pec area. Anyone from beginners to advanced lifters can reap benefits from this as long as they execute properly. The strength you gain from training heavy transfers to other pressing movements.
As long as you train with proper form, maximize pec recruitment, and not go crazy with heavy singles, this is the solution for anyone affected with bird chest syndrome.
2. Low Incline Dumbbell Press
Dumbbells allow you to work each side of the chest individually. Using a low incline on an adjustable bench helps you to maximize the feeling in the upper pecs while still relegating the front delts to a supporting role. For those two reasons it ranks above the normal barbell incline version.
Most athletes start with this movement for those two reasons. While it’s still a good one to push yourself on, singles aren’t really necessary.
3. Incline Barbell Press
Bodybuilders use the incline bench press because no one in the history of competition has ever been marked down for having an upper chest that was too big. Powerlifters and strongmen like this version of the bench because it serves as a great supplement movement to help them improve on either the flat bench press or overhead press.
If you can do this one in a rack with an adjustable bench then you can use a lower angle to focus more on the upper pecs. Most standard incline press racks have the angle set at 45 degrees which still serves the purpose but does invite the front delts to join the party.
4. Push Up
It’s the most basic pressing exercise in the lifting game. For many of us, it was literally the first exercise we were taught to perform. It’s also a very reliable one because all you need to do it is your body and open space.
Unless you have someone to load plates on your back or you load yourself with a lot of chains and vests, it’s hard to practice it for power. But it’s great to use as a finisher or as a warmup before you do the rest of your workout. Pushups as a pre-exhaust movement can really help you establish the mind-muscle connection which affects the other movements you do in a positive way.
Dips are awesome to help you get stronger as well as blast the lower portions of the pecs. It might not be the foundational movement of your routine but it’s great to use as a later power movement.
If you’re not quite strong enough to do your own bodyweight then you can use an assistant to provide support. If your bodyweight isn’t enough resistance then you can throw on chains or load plates on a dip belt. Both options make you look and feel more hardcore which isn’t a bad thing either.
6. Dumbbell Fly
The dumbbell fly can be considered the best isolation free-weight exercise for the chest. Lowering the weights as low as you comfortably can without risking injury helps you get that deep stretch to maintain flexibility and maximize the flexibility. Bringing them up and slightly twisting at the top can lead to a great contraction in the pecs.
There’s never been a fly lifting contest so going for singles is useless. There is also a debate about the bend in the elbow. As long as the chest is isolated and the triceps aren’t helping, a slight bend is ok.
7. Smith Machine Bench Press
This might be the one that raises eyebrows but its track record among the list of guys who benefitted from it reads like a who’s who. You get the mass building benefits of the barbell version but it’s a machine exercise so you don’t have to worry about stabilizing it like you would the free weight version.
Another advantage of the Smith machine bench press is by using the adjustable bench. You can adjust the angle to emphasize what section of the chest is doing the most work. Although the free weight movement would be great for power and mass overall, this version is certainly worthy of its place on a list like this.
8. Pec Dec Machine
You’re in a fixed range of motion, the pecs are isolated, and you can pump a lot of blood into the chest by repping out while minimizing the risk of injury. You can do both sides at once or alternate. So it’s decided – the pec dec makes the cut.
Here’s a pro tip for you when doing this. Holding on to the handles is fine but if you’re able to move them using your wrists and keeping your hands open, it will force the chest to work even harder because the muscles in the forearm aren’t helping control it. Hold the top of the rep for a few seconds and the chest will burn.
9. Machine Bench Press
If you train alone then the machine bench press is a must. No one wants to be pinned under a bar with a bunch of weight on it. This exercise can help you blast the pecs, go heavy, but also keep the tension where it matters and not have to worry about stabilizing it since the travel of the handles is fixed.
If your gym has a seated machine that allows you to press horizontally, that’s even better because the shoulders are less involved and will be less compromised than if you’re lying on a bench. If not, no worries. Even the lying version benefits you as long as you use force and not momentum.
10. Standing Cable Fly
Starter or finisher, building muscle or repping out, the standing cable fly is a very versatile exercise and needs to be plugged into your routine somewhere. Most gyms nowadays have adjustable pulleys so you can place the pulleys where you need them to help you target the area of the chest you feel needs the most attention. The lower the handles, the higher in the pecs you target. It works the other way too. The higher the handles, the more the lower chest benefits
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