Whether you have a shirt on and are living your normal life, or you’re at the beach wanting to look buff, a lean and muscular chest is a must-have and will make all the difference in your physical appearance. It doesn’t matter your age, we can all have a lean, hard chest with a little time and work. When it comes to chest exercises (for women and men, alike), standard pushups tend to get all the praise. Of course, they are pretty freaking good for you—but they aren’t the *only* way to build strength in this area.
There are dozens of chest exercises you could do on chest, but you probably don’t want to spend your Monday doing them all. You just want to know the best chest exercises to build a muscular chest, so we’ve done the work to compare them for you.
If you really want to pump up your pecs and build the best chest in the gym, you need targeted chest exercises that exhaust your muscles in the best way possible. Because the main chest muscles (specifically the pectoralis major, aka pecs) are so huge, and contribute to so many movements, you’ll need more than just a handful of moves to build your upper body from every angle.
For most guys, a chest workout involves alternating between three chest exercises: bench press completed in the flat, incline and decline positions. But it needn’t be that way.
There are so many chest exercises and workouts to try, from bodyweight staples to twists on dumbbell classics, that building an impressive pair of pecs needn’t be a chore. In fact, mixing up your workouts will mean you’re hitting you chest from more angles than the humble bench press, as good as it is, is capable of. Doing that will result in a bigger, stronger upper torso, which in turn will (obviously) make you more adept at pushing heavy objects — from barbells to broken-down cars.
And, yes, you DO what to build strong chest (a.k.a. pectoral) muscles, because doing so will make everything from carrying groceries to rearranging your furniture for those home workouts easier. Something else chest exercises and workouts can do?
If you work these best chest exercises with consistency and focus, you may not ever catch Arnold, but you will definitely build a lean and muscular chest.
Here Are Some Of The Best Chest Exercises
Barbell Bench Press
A bench press is actually a fairly simple exercise, simple yet hard. It involves lying down in a supine position, or in other words, flat on your back, usually on a bench, hence the name bench press. This is actually one of the three exercises which powerlifters engage in. It involves lying on your back and pressing a certain amount of weight vertically upwards from your chest until your arms are extended. Usually, a barbell is used to hold the weight, but dumbbells can also be used. The barbell is often preferred because it can hold a lot of weight and is also more stable than using individual dumbbells.
Grasp the bar just outside shoulder-width and arch your back so there’s space between your lower back and the bench. Pull the bar out of the rack and lower it to your sternum, tucking your elbows about 45° to your sides. When the bar touches your body, drive your feet hard into the floor and press the bar back up.
Incline Bench Press
The Incline Bench Press is a compound upper-body exercise, meaning that multiple joints and muscles contribute to the movement. As a variation of the traditional flat Bench Press, it’s considered one of the best exercises to build a stronger and larger upper body.
The Incline Bench Press targets many of the same large upper-body muscles as the flat version. However, the angle of the press shifts the work to your upper chest and shoulders. Your shoulders continue to take on more of the work as the angle of the bench increases until the bench is vertical and it becomes a shoulder press.
This chest exercise can be performed with heavy weight to build max strength or with light weight to increase power or size depending on your goal. The inclined position is more difficult to press from, so you won’t be able to lift as much weight as you can on the flat bench
- Lie on the incline bench and plant your feet on the floor with your butt about 6 inches above the seat. Now slide yourself down so your butt is on the seat without lifting your feet off the ground. Tighten your glutes and core. Learn more about this setup here.
- Grab the barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width and hold onto it as tightly as you can. Unrack the bar and bring it directly over your shoulders with your arms straight. This is your starting position
- Take a deep breath in and lower the bar with control to the upper part of your chest. Your elbows should be at about a 45-degree angle with your body.
- Drive your feet into the ground and explosively press the bar up to return to the starting position.
This is a popular chest workout for men at the gym that can be performed low-to-high or high-to-low. Both versions require a cable pulley machine. To execute low-to-high, set the machine to the lowest setting, attach a D-handle on both sides, and grab each handle with your palms facing up. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, your back straight, your chest up, and your arms down and slightly bent at both sides. Next, bring both handles up and forward to eye level before returning them slowly to the starting position. Stick with lighter weights and lower reps.
- This is a popular chest workout for men at the gym that can be performed low-to-high or high-to-low. Both versions require a cable pulley machine. To execute low-to-high, set the machine to the lowest setting, attach a D-handle on both sides, and grab each handle with your palms facing up. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, your back straight, your chest up, and your arms down and slightly bent at both sides. Next, bring both handles up and forward to eye level before returning them slowly to the starting position. Stick with lighter weights and lower reps.
- Pull your hands down in front of your body in an arc shape until your hands meet around a foot in front of your midriff.
- Squeeze your chest at the end of the movement and slowly realise back to the starting position, before repeating the movement. Keep your elbows higher than your hands throughout the movement.
- Breathe in on the relaxation phase and breathe out when contracting, keeping your head up at all times.
Decline Bench Press
Although the decline bench at your gym may have cobwebs on it from being left alone for so long many bodybuilding and fitness experts recommend doing this exercise if you want to achieve greater pectoral development because they feel it focuses on the chest more than its flat or incline counterparts. In fact, many champion such as Dorian Yates and Jay Cutler use decline instead of flat bench because of all the shoulder problems that are suspected to be related to doing flat bench so much
Start by securing your feet into a decline bench set up and secure the upper back and hips to the bench (similar to the flat bench press). Unrack the weight and pull the load downwards toward the sternum while keeping the shoulder blades pulled together. Press through the barbell to lock out the elbows. Be sure not to allow the elbows to flare excessively out in the movement.
It doesn’t get more unique regarding chest exercises than the Svend press. This movement utilizes the act of self-imposed stress. Much like an isometric contraction the Svend press has you flexing your pecs while pressing one or more plates in a pressing motion. Why does this work and what’s in it for you? Firstly, it has an uncanny way of targeting an inner pec contraction like no other. This motion also isolates the pecs while taking the injury-prone shoulders out of the movement. Secondly, it will benefit you with not only a new stress to apply to your chest but will also give you an intense mind-muscle link so you can work your chest with other exercises more effectively.
How to do it: Start standing with your feet at shoulder-width distance, shoulders back, and two five-pound plates pressed against one another at chest height. Inhale, then press the plates directly out in front of you. When your elbows are fully extended, squeeze through your chest, lift up slightly, and pause. Then, squeeze the middle of the plates and return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Do three sets of 15.
Landmine presses are a great way of developing upper body strength and trying out new angles of movement.
The single-arm version works the shoulder muscles, as well as the biceps and triceps in the arms.
The double-arm version focuses mainly on the muscles in the chest and the shoulders, biceps and triceps.
Both versions are great for the core as you’ll need to engage it throughout to stabilise yourself.
A landmine press can be done with one arm or two. Rather than positioning yourself directly under the bar, step back slightly, so you have to lean forward a little bit and engage the core muscles.
- Start feet shoulder-width apart
- Lean forward slightly and grasp the end of the bar with a neutral grip
- The elbows should be bent and the bar held at shoulder height
- Extend the elbows and push the bar up and forward, keeping it in line with your shoulders
- Pause at the top, don’t lock out the elbows, then return slowly under control
Pec decks are amongst the best machines for specificity when it comes to training the upper body. They are designed solely to allow you to increase the strength and size of your chest muscles. Specifically, it works the pecs (hence the name), though a fair amount of stimulation often also goes into supporting muscles like the anterior deltoids: all the muscles that are used when bringing your arms together in front of your body see some use with the pec deck.
Resist the urge to add extra weight. Doing so could increase your risk of injury. This exercise isn’t for you if you have had a shoulder injury. Here are the steps:
- Keep your feet flat on the floor, at least shoulder-width apart.
- With your back firmly against the seat, lift your arms until they reach shoulder level (the angle of your elbows should be between 75 and 90 degrees). Place your elbows on the center of the pad on the wings of the machine.
- With smooth and slow movement, push the wings together, stopping just before they touch.
- Reverse to the starting position slowly.
Incline Dumbbell Flye
The incline dumbbell fly is an isolated strength exercise that targets the upper chest muscle. Because of the incline bench position, it allows for isolation of the harder to develop upper pectorals not achieved performing a basic flat bench fly.
Well-rounded chest development occurs when specific weight loads are applied to the muscle at varying angles. The basic chest press or fly benefits the pectoralis major but the incline dumbbell fly goes a step further to isolate the upper part of that muscle. Combining both exercises in your training program will help you get the most out of your chest workout.
Set an adjustable bench to a 30°-45° angle, and lie back on it with a dumbbell in each hand. Turn your wrists so your palms face each other. Press the weights straight over your chest, then, keeping a slight bend in your elbows, spread your arms open as if you were going for a big bear hug. Lower your arms until you feel a stretch in your pecs, then bring the weights back together over your chest.
Machine Chest Press
Because of the less intensive use of the stabilisation muscles to balance as we talked about above, this machine can really let you focus on your chest. Despite what we have just said, muscle build-up is still based around the overloading of the muscles, and it can often feel like your chest is not getting hit hard enough because of the limitations your arms pose.
This is where we begin to see the advantages of the machine. The incline of the machine and the variation of the grip positions mean that you can hit whichever part of your chest that you need to, and maximise the results you want to see. That’s pretty valuable too.
- Sit comfortably on the machine with your feet placed firmly on the floor about shoulder-width apart. If this is your first time using the machine, place a lighter load on the weight carriage. If your machine has an adjustable seat height, ensure that the setting allows your arms to push at a horizontal position to the ground when your arms are fully extended.
- Grasp the handles with a full grip, thumb circled around the handle, and maintain a neutral wrist position with your wrists in line with your forearms.
- Push the bars outward to full extension but without locking out the elbow, exhaling as you press out. Keep your head steady against the upright pad and your neck still. You should feel significant resistance against the horizontal push.
- Pause briefly at full extension, then allow the bars to return toward your chest and breathe in during this recovery.
- Repeat for as many repetitions as called for in your program. Try different weights until you are able to push and release slowly for about 10 repetitions. The last repetition should always feel a bit difficult.
- Try three sets of 10 reps. Start with less if you have to, always listening to your body to avoid injury. Rest for a few minutes between sets.
As you lower your body to the floor and the familiar “burn” begins to encompass your muscles the last thing you’re thinking about is the number of muscles you’re using. However, this is one of the top benefits of pushups. As you engage in this exercise, literally every major muscle in your body is called upon to execute the movement.
Major muscle groups, such as your biceps, core muscles, triceps, anterior deltoids and lower body muscle groups are activated to support your body while stabilizing your movements. Classified a a compound exercise – meaning multiple muscle groups are called upon – you train the most important muscles throughout your body. Have you ever wondered by a standard bench press is so easy when compared to a standard push up? This is why.
Believe it or not, push-ups are one of the best chest workouts for men, which is great news because you can do them just about anywhere. We won’t insult your intelligence by explaining how to do a push-up. What we will say is that your hands should be shoulder-width apart and your legs should be hip-width apart. Also, when you’re performing the actual push-up, your elbows should form a complete 90-degree angle. Last but not least, if anything but your palms and the tips of your toes is touching the floor, you’re doing it wrong.
The dip is an exercise that primarily targets your chest but it also activates the shoulders, triceps, and abdominals.
Depending on how you angle your body during the exercise, you can increase the demand on the chest or the triceps. This means that one exercise can be an effective way to grow and strengthen two different body parts.
A chest-focused dip is performed on two parallel bars that are roughly just outside of shoulder width.
A triceps-centered dip can also be performed on these bars, but it’s more common to use two benches to elevate your feet and increase the resistance level.
- Grasp the parallel dip bars firmly and lift your body.
- Keep your elbows straight, your head in line with your trunk, and your wrists in line with your forearms.
- Bring one leg across the other to stabilize the lower part of your body, and pull in your abs.
- Exhale, and bend your elbows to lower your body. Keep your elbows near your sides. Your legs should be directly under your body to avoid tilting or swinging.
- Lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle and your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Keep your wrists straight.
- Pause, and then straighten your elbows, pushing into the bars with your hands, and return to starting position. Keep your body vertical and your wrists straight.
The low cable cross-over or standing cable flye is a very effective isolation exercise which works the Pectoralis Major (Chest). It’s great for building size and strength in the chest but it’s not a power movement which makes it a great warm-up or finisher exercise.
Now, the cable cross-over is suitable for anyone at any level of training so it’s very beneficial regardless of your training experience as long as you train with proper form. But using cables is a great benefit of this exercise since they keep constant tension on the muscles which is important for muscle hypertrophy.
- Attach two single grips to two low cable pulleys.
- Then, grab both handles and stand in the center of the cable machine.
- Place one foot forward and bend your knees slightly.
- Now, lift both cables upward with arms extended to the midline of your body at about head level and contract your chest at the same time. Exhale during this portion of the exercise.
- Slowly lower your arms back down to the starting position and inhale.
- Repeat for the desired number of reps.
The classic dumbbell pullover is a widely used resistance exercise that primarily strengthens the muscles in the chest (pectoralis major) and the large wing-shaped muscles in the back (latissimus dorsi). By making variations to the movement, you can also engage the core muscles and the back of the upper arm (triceps).
The dumbbell pullover is also considered a postural exercise by sports physiologists and researchers.1 Performing the full range of motion properly requires that you keep the spine in a lengthened and stable position. And lastly, this movement helps to open and increase flexibility in the chest and upper body. These areas often become tight—especially in those who have computer or desk jobs.
To perform a dumbbell pullover you’ll need a bench and a dumbbell. It’s recommended you grab a lighter dumbbell to begin with to learn the movement and test your range of motion (think upper-body version of an air squat).
- Place a dumbbell standing up on a flat bench and ensure it stays securely place while you get into position.
- Start lying perpendicular on a bench with only your upper back/shoulders across the bench.
- Place your feet firmly on the floor and place your hips just slightly below the bench. Your head should be off the bench too.
- Grab the upper head of the dumbbell with both hands and hold it straight over your chest, with your arms extended but keeping a small bend on the shoulders.
- Both palms should be pressing against the underside of one of the sides of the dumbbell.
- While keeping your arms straight, lower the weight slowly in an arc behind your head. Make sure your core is engaged and you’re paying attention to your chest and back muscles.
- Lower the dumbbell until the head you’re holding reaches around the same height as your head.
- Bring the dumbbell back to the starting position keeping your arms extended and your midline engaged.
- Hold the weight on the initial position for a second and repeat the motion for the prescribed number of repetitions.
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
As the name of the exercise implies, the incline dumbbell press is a variation of the traditional dumbbell bench press, the difference being that you perform the exercise on an incline or adjustable bench instead of a flat bench.
On that note, fitness experts say setting your bench’s angle to roughly 28.9 degrees for the incline dumbbell press stimulates the clavicular portion of the Pectoralis major. Other experts maintain you shouldn’t go beyond 45 degrees. Otherwise, you’ll hit your shoulder muscles instead of your chest.
For best results, set your bench to an angle between 28.9 degrees and 45 degrees whenever you do the incline dumbbell press.
These are the steps in doing the incline dumbbell press:
- Grab two dumbbells and lie on your back on an adjustable bench set to an angle between 28.9 degrees and 45 degrees. Plant your feet firmly on the ground and maintain a neutral spine at all times.
- Pull your shoulders down and back so you place them firmly on the bench. Ensure you’re holding the dumbbells with a pronated grip (palms facing forward) Your upper arms and forearms should be perpendicular to one another. Your triceps should also be parallel to the floor. Look up at the ceiling. This is your starting position.
- On an exhale, lift the dumbbells upward. Make sure they’re roughly six inches apart at full extension. Refrain from locking out your elbows so you don’t overextend them.
- Inhale and slowly return to the starting position. Repeat to the desired number of repetitions.
Do it: Start in high plank position, with your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width distance. Keeping the core tight, lower your body down towards the ground, and push back for one rep. Do eight. Then, bring your hands closer together, so that your shoulders are directly over your wrists. Do eight more. Next, bring your hands even closer, forming a diamond shape with your thumb and index finger on the ground. Do eight more. Finish the ladder by reversing the order, for a total of 40 push-ups per set.
Close-Grip Bench Press
The close grip bench press is a common variation of the bench press used by regular gym-goers, strength and general sport athletes. It is used for building strength and muscle in the upper body and is most commonly known to target the triceps.
Although the wide grip bench press is a coveted lift by gym goers and competitive athletes alike, the close grip bench press is also a great builder of both strength and muscle. It does however come with an important limitation that may be more significant to some lifters and not as important for others.
The close grip bench press is a superior movement to include in your push or upper body workouts for added muscle size and strength. The following instructions will help you perform the exercise using proper form and technique:
- A spotter or smith machine is recommended for safety.
- Use a flat bench station or flat bench/power rack combination.
- Position the barbell at the correct reach level on the rack (you are able to grip/lift the bar off the rack with assistance).
- Load weight resistance according to your fitness level onto the barbell.
- Lie flat on the bench using a close grip (about shoulder width).
- Lift the bar with assistance from the rack, arms locked, and holding bar straight over you.
- Inhale and slowly bring the bar down toward your chest keeping elbows close to your body for the entire exercise.
- Exhale and push the bar up using the triceps muscles and locking arms at the top of the movement.
- Repeat the exercise for the recommended number of repetitions.
- Return the bar to the rack upon exercise completion.
Close-grip dumbbell chest press
The close grip dumbbell press is a simple variation of the basic dumbbell press involving a change in hand placement so that the dumbbells make contact with each other. It engages your triceps more than the other dumbbell press variations and is suitable for bodybuilders and weightlifters, helping them in building strength for other pressing exercises.
Close Grip Dumbbell Press (AKA Crush Press) Instructions
- Pick up the dumbbells off the floor using a neutral grip (palms facing in). Position the ends of the dumbbells in your hip crease, and sit down on the bench.
- To get into position, lay back and keep the weights close to your chest. Once you are in position, take a deep breath, crush the dumbbells together, then press them to lockout at the top.
- Continue to push the dumbbells together while lowering them under control as far as comfortably possible.
- Once the dumbbells touch your chest, push them back to the starting position.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.