best chest exercises

The Best Chest Exercises

Many daily gym goers say, “Build the chest and forget the rest because when the pecs are popping the ladies are stopping!" Ok, but seriously, when it comes to picking the best chest exercises, you might think that the bench press is all you need.

Yet, doing the same old barbell bench press will lead to diminishing returns and could put you at risk of injury. Therefore, it’s worth having a full arsenal of the best chest exercises if you want to build a bigger, stronger chest.

The Chest Musculature

Building an impressive chest pays off in multiple ways: A strong chest translates into athletic excellence in sports from football to hockey to basketball. Training the best chest exercises is also important for the average Joe (or Jane), allowing you to easily perform pressing movements that pop up in everyday life.

There are also the aesthetic benefits: A study from the UK found that that a muscular wide chest that creates a V-shaped torso is a key component of the ideal male body (1). Getting a robust chest requires you to challenge all your chest muscles:

The Pectoralis Major constitutes most of the chest muscle mass. It is the large fan-shaped muscle that is involved in flexing and extending the arm. The pectoralis is a pennate muscle which means its fibers run parallel to their force-generating axis. Pennate muscles rotate as they shorten. This is true of the pectoralis major that rotates the arm at the shoulder joint.

The Pectoralis Minor is a small muscle that lies underneath the pectoralis major. Its job is to pull the shoulder forward and down.

The Serratus Anterior is located at the side of the chest wall. It is activated when you press weights overhead.

The pecs attach on the clavicle and sternum. There are four angles of pressing – decline, flat, incline, and overhead – that dictate the various contribution of fibers recruited in the pecs. The higher the pressing angle, the more clavicular fibers are recruited. The lower the press, as with a decline press or a dip, the more the sternal fibers are recruited.

The Best Chest Exercises

Here are seven of the best chest exercises to include in your program:

1. Semi-Supinated 30° Dumbbell Rotating Press

The dumbbell bench press is great for training through a full range-of-motion while activating the smaller stabilizer muscles in the arms and shoulders.

Set up an incline bench at a 30° angle. Grab two dumbbells in neutral (palms facing each other). As you press the weight up, rotate your wrists to a pronated position with palms facing forward.

By adding a rotational component to a dumbbell press the pectoralis is allowed to work over a greater range of motion. A rotating grip also alleviates stress on the elbow joint.

2. Poliquin Rotating Dumbbell Press

Using the same principles of working the pennate fibers of the pectoralis, the Poliquin Dumbbell Press takes advantage of the rotational training effect on the chest.

On a flat bench, start with the weights in neutral in the bottom position. As you press the weight up, pronate the wrists so that they are facing away from you.

3. Pronated Grip 15° Chest Flys

Set up an incline bench at a 15° angle. Grab two dumbbells and press the weight up with hands in a pronated position. Perform the chest fly motion keeping arms relatively straight with just a slight bend in the elbow.

Using a pronated grip when performing fly variations allows for a stronger line of contraction, especially when the arms are lowered back at an angle where elbows are in line with the ears in the bottom position.

4. Chest Dips

Often thought of as a triceps exercise, dips that emphasize the chest by leaning forward slightly are great for putting meat on the pecs. You also nail all your stabilizer muscles and work the upper back and shoulders in the process. Add extra weight with a dip belt if your body weight is not enough of an overload.

5. Barbell Wide Grip 30 ° Incline Press

The barbell bench press is great for training upper body strength and power. Pressing on an incline works the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, which helps make your pecs “pop.”

Set up on an incline bench with a 30° angle in a power rack. Take a wide grip on the barbell to perform the motion.

The wide grip places the pectorals under a greater stretch, especially the lateral (outer) portion of the muscle. This is effective when hypertrophy is the goal, whereas for sports performance goals, a medium grip with the index fingers in line or just outside acromion width is preferred.

6. Decline Cable Fly

Cable exercises differ from free weights by providing constant tension throughout the full movement. Because you can adjust the angle of the cable, it’s possible to emphasize different areas of the pectorals. A high pulley setting targets the lower pecs, whereas the low pulley emphasizes the upper pectorals. In bodybuilding circles, this exercise is known for its ability to “fill in” the upper chest.

Set up in a split stance with a low cable pulley in each hand. Perform a chest fly motion, bringing the hands toward each other in front of the chest.

7. Dumbbell Serratus Pullover

The pullover develops the pectoralis major and minor because these muscles are involved in overhead shoulder movements. The pullover also works the serratus muscles, which are attached to the ribs. Set up on a 15° incline bench. Start by pressing a dumbbell straight up. Perform the pullover motion, maintaining arms straight as you lower the weight through a comfortable range of motion until it is behind your head.

Final Words

The bench press may be the most popular upper body exercise for most gym goers. To get stronger in this valuable exercise it’s often not a matter of training harder, but smarter. Add these best chest exercise variations to your routine to keep making gains in upper body strength and mass.

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