Best Exercises for Building, Strengthening, and Toning the Chest Muscles
For guys, there are few body parts that get as much attention as the chest. Not only is a well-developed chest a sign of masculinity, chest strength and power can help you in numerous athletic endeavors.
In this article, I am going to show you exactly how to build, strengthen, and tone your chest to new levels!
Jump to the Videos of the Best Chest Exercises or continue reading to learn more.
To Help you Master the Best Chest Exercises, Study Up On Basic Anatomy of the Chest
The chest is part of your upper body’s pushing muscle group. A muscle group is different muscles which work together to perform an action. The main chest muscle is called pectoralis major, sometimes referred to as the pecs. The anterior deltoids (front of shoulder), triceps (back of arms), as well as the chest work as a group to push. An easy example to illustrate this would be a push-up.
The Chest (Pectoralis Major) is Composed of 2 Portions
The upper chest makes up about 1/5 of the whole chest mass. The upper chest originates from the clavicle (collar bone) and inserts onto the humerus (upper arm bone).
The lower chest is much larger than the upper chest. The lower chest originates along the sternum and inserts onto the humerus.
This does not mean certain chest exercises completely target one or the other. Exercises for upper chest will always involve your lower chest to some degree, and vice versa.
Your chest exercise program should include exercises which target both the upper and lower chest if you’re looking to maximize results. Women usually steer clear from many chest exercises because of the unwarranted fear that they will reduce their breast size. Chest exercises work the pectoralis major muscle which are under the breast tissue, so if anything, the exercises would actually cause muscle hypertrophy under the breasts and would make them bigger.
The Best Chest Exercises for You Depend on Your Specific Goals
The Best Chest Exercises Can be Divided into 3 Categories:
Category 1: Exercises for those who want a bigger chest.
Category 2: Exercises for those who need a stronger chest.
Category 3: Exercises for those who don’t fall within the first two categories.
This is not to say that each group can’t use the others’ exercises to achieve their goals. How your chest exercise program affects your body has a lot to do with your sets and reps as well as nutrition. Your nutrition and exercise choices must also be specific to your goals.
Your muscle balance due to how you train the rest of your body is also important. You may have posture problems due to muscle imbalances which will prevent you from achieving optimum results. You should take steps to correct your muscle imbalances before you can expect to get optimal results from the best chest exercises covered here.
MUST KNOW: Important Tips to Master All the Chest Exercises
It is crucial that you are able to stabilize your shoulder blades. If you cannot hold your shoulders in retraction, you will not be able to get the most out of the exercises. Retraction is when you squeeze your shoulder blades together in back as if you were trying to pinch a coin between them. Scapular retraction naturally causes the chest to protrude slightly.
When you keep the shoulder blades retracted, your body will be in the proper biomechanical position to perform chest exercises. This will reduce you chance of injury while allowing you to lift more weight by working a higher percentage of the chest muscle fibers.
This is partially because the pectoralis major will be doing most of the work while the muscles that assist in the motion (synergists) will not take over more than their fair share.
Once you’ve addressed any potential muscle imbalances and have learned the proper technique to exercise your chest, how often should I workout my chest will be the next question to answer. In a nutshell, this will depend on your specific goals and fitness level. Click the link above to learn all about this.
If you want a bigger and more impressive chest, join the club. This is probably the most common goal for men. A good strategy to build a bigger chest is to use a combination of exercises which stress the most muscle mass.
This means different types of exercises performed from different angles. The number of sets and reps is not as important as you may think. The best exercises to build the chest may surprise some of you. Here are my top recommended exercises to hypertrophy the pec muscles.
Dumbbell Chest Flies
No, this does NOT mean you should abandon the beloved bench press. The fact is this, chest flies are an isolation exercise for the pecs. If you perform the chest fly correctly, your pecs will be doing almost all of the work.
During the bench press, your anterior deltoids and triceps do a fair share of the work. Even though you can use more weight during the bench press, dumbbell flies are the best chest exercise for building the chest. Dumbbell flies should be performed from multiple bench angles for optimal results.
Start: Lie on a bench or assume the stability ball bridge position with a pair of dumbbells gripped in front of your shoulders. Push the weights up straight up. Make sure your are retracting your shoulder blades (stick your chest out, squeeze your shoulder blades together). Your palms can be either facing away from you or together.
Begin the motion: Bend your arms slightly. Maintain this arm angle for the entire range of motion. Take as deep a breath as you can, expanding your chest as you lower the weights. Lower the weights until you feel a slight stretch across the chest.
Modifications: A different angle changes the targeted muscle fibers. You can change the angle by using an incline, decline, or adjustable bench. An incline will work the upper chest more, while a decline focuses on the lower chest. You can change the angle from workout to workout or you can use multiple angles during the same workout. You can use a stability ball to create different angles as well.
Keep the same angle and raise the weights back up to the original position. Be 100% sure you squeeze your chest at the top and repeat. As with most isolation exercises, if you do not feel your pecs doing the work, you did not use the correct form, or you may have problems with your posture, which prevents you from isolating the chest.
Barbell Bench Press
The bench press is one of the best exercises for the chest and should be used for all fitness goals. This is because it works a major muscle group and allows you to use a significant amount of resistance.
Start: Lie on a bench. Position yourself so you are looking up straight up at the bar. Measure your hand distance on the bar by using the stripes. Your hands should generally be the same distance apart as when you do push-ups. More specifically, your hands should be at a distance such that when you lower the bar to your chest, your arms are in a 90 degree angle. Retract your shoulders, sticking out your chest.
Begin the motion: Unrack the bar and hold it above your upper chest. Take a deep breath as you lower the weight under control. When the bar either touches your chest, at around the nipples or reaches your lowest comfortable point, pause for a split second. Push the bar upwards, do not exhale until you know the bar is going to make it all the way back up. As you are pushing the bar upward, it should travel slightly up toward your head.
Modifications: You can perform bench press from different angles. The higher the angle, the less weight you will be able to use because your pecs will be less involved. You can also use the stability ball supine bridge position as a flat bench. Make sure the ball is inflated properly and is stiff. The versatility of the bench press makes it one of the best exercises for the chest muscles. For more information on how to maximize your bench press, visit the bench press secrets page.
Cable Chest Flies
Cable chest flies may be even more effective than dumbbell flies, since cables offer constant resistance throughout the entire range of motion. This allows the chest muscle fibers to perform more work with cables than dumbbells.
Start: Set each side of the free motion or cable crossover machine on the same level. Grab the handles and pull them down in front of you. Put one foot forward, and bend your torso slightly forward. Your arms should be in a slightly bent position. They will remain in this angle for the duration of the movement.
Begin the motion: Take a deep breath and slowly raise your arms out to the side in a reverse arc motion. Your elbows should always be aligned with the origin point of the cable. When you feel a stretch in your chest, return to the starting position. The motion is like you are hugging a tree.
Modifications: Cable chest flies are a very versatile chest exercises. You can perform them from every angle which the cable machine allows. Make sure your elbows always track back towards the origin of the cable.
The Best Chest Exercises for Developing Explosive Strength and Power
If you are gym-going guy, you will eventually be faced with the inevitable question, “How much can you bench?” Being able to bench press heavy weights is not just for bragging rights. Different positions in sports require explosive power and strength during pushing movements. This is why the best chest exercises to gain strength and power are functional exercises.
Functional exercises are compound, multi-joint movements which mimic real world activities. Real-world activities involve stabilization in multiple planes of motion. This holds true for all activities in which you need to push anything with your hands.
The bench press is also a powerlifting competition lift. The word powerlifting is misleading, because powerlifters do not really lift for power. They bench press for maximal force. This means maximal weight. Check out our page dedicated to those who want to learn how to bench press more weight.
Plyometric (Explosive) Push-ups
Power takes speed into account, and could simply be referred to as speed strength. The speed at which force can be produced is more important than force itself in certain sports. Thus, the bench press may not be the best chest exercise for certain athletes. Athletes needing to build power should focus on power-specific exercises.
Explosive clapping push-ups are a form of plyometrics. Plyometrics use strength along with the elastic properties of muscle for explosive exercises. Most of the exercises involve hopping, jumping, and throwing resistance. The resistance used during clapping push-ups is your own body weight. You have to be able to project your own body weight quickly in most sports.
Start: Assume the push-up position. Place your hands wide enough so that when you lower yourself, your arms form a 90 degree angle.
Begin the motion: Lower yourself to the bottom of the push up position with your core drawn in. Make sure to keep your hips, head and toes in a straight line. Explosively push yourself up as high as you can and clap. Land softly in the same position and repeat.
Modifications: There are many different types of plyometric exercises. Depth push-ups are another common version. Depth push-ups require you to push up explosively from from the floor to a raised surface with each hand. Then you drop back down and push yourself explosively back up to the top.
Plyometric push-ups are the best chest exercise for you if you seek increased explosive power. You should not perform plyometric exercises more than 2 times per week. You should also not perform plyometric exercises unless you are an advanced exerciser due to the increased risk of injury. Learn more about the push-up exercise.
Iso-Lateral Dumbbell Bench Press
Iso-lateral simply means one side at a time. There are many reasons to perform iso-lateral chest exercises.
First and foremost, if you perform iso-lateral dumbbell bench presses with each arm, it is easy to see if both your arms are equal in strength.
Start: Lie on a bench with a single dumbbell at your chest with your palms facing your feet. Hold the bench next to your head with the opposite arm. Retract your shoulder blades and make sure both shoulder blades remain in contact with the bench for the duration of the movement.
Begin the motion: Push the dumbbell up and away from your chest toward the midline. Make sure both shoulders are flat on the bench. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the original position and repeat.
Modifications: You can perform iso-lateral dumbbell bench presses on a bench of any angle. To increase core utilization, you can perform the position from a stability ball supine bridge position.
The Best Chest Exercises for Losing Weight or Toning Up
Weight loss really refers to fat loss. This is the most common goal of all. If you look to tone up and lose 5, 10, 50 or 100 pounds, the best exercises are the same.
In order to tone up, burn fat, and lose weight, you must exercise your large muscle groups. This will ensure that you get the greatest metabolic effects from your weight training. The muscle group containing the chest musculature is one of the 3 large muscle groups in your body.
Stability Ball Bench Press
The stability ball bench press is exactly the same as the bench press, except you are in the stability ball supine bridge position. For safety and functionality, it is important that you use a high-quality stability ball that is inflated properly (stiff).
You can also position yourself on the stability ball so you can perform the equivalent of the incline bench press. To do this, simply drop your hips until your hamstrings are comfortably resting on your calves. Position yourself far enough forward so that your upper shoulders and head can relax on the top of the ball.
For weight loss goals, the stability ball bench press is one of the best chest exercises. You are exercising not only your chest muscle group, but also your core and legs. This will increase calorie burning far more than the standard bench press.
Stability Ball Dumbbell Chest Press
Some believe that the stability ball dumbbell chest press is the best chest exercise because there is so much stabilization involved. If you have a strong core and good muscle balance, you can use about the same weight you use for bench exercises. The following steps can be applied to any angle bench press or stability ball chest press.
Start: Sit on a stability ball with the dumbbells resting on your thighs. Keep your elbows in towards your sides and walk forward to form the supine bridge position. Keep your elbows in and push the weights upward until they are in the rack position. The rack position is when the dumbbells are touching with your palms facing away from you.
Begin the motion: Slowly lower the dumbbells. As you lower the dumbbells, you can internally rotate your hands slightly, allowing for more range of motion. As soon as you reach a comfortable position, or the dumbbells approach your lower chest, push them back upward. As the weights travel upward, move them together slowly. Stop when the weights are in same position as when you began.
Modifications: Dumbbell chest presses are one of the best chest exercises due to their versatility. You can limit the range of motion in many ways to target certain parts of the chest. You can also change the rotation of your wrists to maximize stabilization training.
Tired of Not Getting the Results You Want from Your Chest Workouts?
There was a lot of information about building the chest muscles in this article, but if you are more advanced and would like very specific training methods, tips, tweaks, and strategies to improve your bench press and build your chest, the next 5 articles are crucial for your success.