Today we discuss a topic that is literally very close to a man’s heart; there are many, many memorable moments spanning across the average life of a human male.
Most of them involve personal bests on chest day.
We’re not here to reminisce on the past though; we’re here now to look at the future and consider what the best exercises we can use to develop our chest.
Important Things To Know Before You Get Started
Before we go at your chest like a raging bull; let’s first slow down a little and briefly cover what you need to know about the chest:
- There are three main components to the chest
- Without the maximal advancement of all three areas, other areas will suffer
- Chest sessions should be well balanced and cover all areas
In a nutshell, it could be said that those principles are all we need to adhere to when training chest.
15 Best Chest Exercises at the Gym
Here are some of the most effective and best chest exercises for general mass building for men, covering the entire surface area of the chest evenly.
1. Barbell Bench Press
What’s so great about the flat barbell bench press is that it really does recruit a spectacular amount of muscle fibers within the chest area at once whilst promoting growth hormone release due to the sheer intensity and “size” of the movement.
How-To: Ensure that the hands are placed just outside of shoulder width; no wider, no closer.
Tuck the elbows in and lower the bar down with control to touch the nipple line, then flare the lats (back muscles) and pinch the shoulder blades together, before driving the bar back up.
Ensure the arms do not fully lock out. Be wary of flaring the elbows too wide or having too wide a grip.
2. Dumbbell Chest Press
Similar in nature to the barbell press variant, this version will allow each arm to load bear independently thus promoting even balance between the limbs in terms of strength capacity and muscular symmetry.
How-To: Start with the hands placed just outside of the shoulder girdles before lowering the dumbbells until the base falls in line with the nipples.
Pinch the shoulder blades together, flare the back muscles and keep the elbows tucked in to the side (at a 45 degree angle) before driving the dumbbells up. Ensure the elbows never fully lock out.
3. Flat Dumbbell Flyes
A popular isolation exercise (isolation simply means that only one muscle group is being targeted at once) used to effectively cover all aspects of the pectoral muscle, with a particular emphasis on the pec minor.
How-To: Lay flat on the back holding two dumbbells in a neutral position (facing each other) extended above the body in line with the shoulders.
4. Seated Chest Press Machine
Machine chest presses are a fantastic way to really isolate the chest and evenly cover every area of the pec major muscle with some effective integration of the middle inside of the pecs too.
This movement simply involves being sat perfectly upright, with the handles position at armpit height.
How-To: Either using a neutral or overhand grip, proceed to push the bar forwards whilst ensuring there is a slight bend in the elbow at the top of the movement, before returning the bar to the nipple line (where the elbows should lie at a 45 degree angle by the side of the body).
Be careful not to hyperextend (fully straighten) the elbows at any point or rush the exercise in any way.
5. Pec Deck
Pec decks come in many shapes and sizes but they’re ultimately a fantastic way to hit the pec minor muscles with some great recruitment of the inner side of the pec major at the top of the positive part of the movement when performed with control and a little “squeeze” added.
How-To: Ensure both handles are at armpit height before starting, then with a slight bend left in the elbows (as with dumbbell flyes) proceed to squeeze the handles inwards towards each other, until they are both facing each other directly in line with the anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder.
6. Incline Barbell Bench Press
You can perform this movement either using a smith machine or a free weight barbell.
This movement will hit the clavicular aspect of the pec major very well whilst also integrating the sternocostal section and the serratus anterior very effectively too.
You can effectively bear a large weight volume with this exercise for enhanced intensity.
How-To: Ensure your hands are positioned in the exact same place as they are on the flat barbell bench press, albeit with the seat angled as mentioned above.
You should aim to raise the bar so that it is still in line with the nipples, however the final resting point at the positive end of the movement will be directly over the anterior deltoids (front of the shoulders).
Keep the elbows tucked in at a 45 degree angle, before lowering the bar with control until it again reaches nipple height.
The Incline Bench combines the Traditional Bench Press and the Overhead Press. It strengthens the upper and mid chest more than the flat press and requires more activation of your shoulders.
- The White Coat Trainer
7. Incline Dumbbell Chest Press
Very similar in nature to the barbell variant albeit with more recruitment of stabilization muscles.
Again, this variant is fantastic for creating a squeeze at the top of the movement and targeting the insides of the pec major muscle, thus leading to the development of the separating line in the middle of the pecs that many desire.
How-To: Arm and hand positions should be the same as the barbell variant. However, you should ensure particularly with this movement that you don’t hyperextend the elbow.
This could lead to the dumbbells falling backwards, behind the head.
8. Incline Dumbbell Flyes
Incline dumbbell flyes are very similar to their flat dumbbell flye counterparts, though they target the clavicular aspect of the pec major whilst simultaneously engaging the pec minor effectively.
They also involve the serratus anterior but to a lesser extent than incline pressing movements.
How-To: Perform the movement in the exact same manner as the flat dumbbell flyes; although the final resting position will be directly above the anterior deltoid as with incline pressing movements as opposed to directly above the nipple line.
Always be conscious not to bend the arms too drastically as you won't get the isolation of the chest.
9. Cables Flyes (Upper Position)
Whilst it’s true that many people integrate cable flyes into their routine to aid in their central chest development; the cable fly is really more of an upper chest isolation movement with some added extra benefits.
These include some great pec minor integration as well as some inner pec major.
This is a good all rounder.
How-To: Take a cable handle in each hand (with the cable pulley at the very top), then extend your arms outwards in a crucifix pose (think about the bottom aspect of a dumbbell flyes.).
10. Decline Barbell Bench Press
Great for the maximal recruitment of fibres within the sternocostal region of the pec major, and the potential to develop the “base” of the pectorals more effectively due to the loading angle of the weight being lifted.
To put it bluntly; the muscle is being pulled in a direction it isn’t used to accommodating. That’s a good thing.
How-To: Perform the movement in exactly the same manner as a flat bench press; though this time the bench must be set at a slight decline to emphasize the angle being prioritized.
When finishing the positive aspect of the movement; the bar will hover above the base of the anterior deltoid.
11. Decline Dumbbell Chest Press
Decline dumbbell chest presses provide the exact same benefits as any other dumbbell pressing movement, though the decline position does prioritize the pec major muscles more than the flat or incline variants as well as targeting a different set of stabilization muscles.
How-To: Perform the exercise in exactly the same manner as the decline barbell press, though with this movement you will need to be particularly careful not to hyperextend the arm.
This is due to the risk involved with destabilization as the weights could easily damage the skull if dropped as opposed to simply falling onto the floor.
12. Decline Dumbbell Flyes
As with any flye variant, you’re going to effectively target the pec minor muscle when you perform this exercise as well as the pec major at the very bottom and top of the movement.
This is provided you add in a squeeze or leave a gap when finishing the positive element. Here's a guide on how to do it:
How-To: It is to be performed in exactly the same manner as any other dumbbell flyes, though again the weights will finish in a parallel position to the base of the anterior deltoid.
Be wary not to take the negative aspect of the movement too far backwards as perhaps on this exercise more than any other, pec tears are a very real possibility.
13. Cable Flyes (Lower Position)
These flye variants are a great addition to any well balanced chest routine.
Tthey’re a great way to emphasize the pec major muscle as well as the pec minor whilst simultaneously accessing the middle of the chest when a successful squeeze is integrated at the end of the positive aspect of the movement.
How-To: Simply grasp the handles in a neutral position, and proceed to squeeze them together, upwards and towards the middle of the sternum whilst leaving a ruler length gap and squeezing to emphasize the inner wall of the sternocostal aspect of the pec major.
Be incredibly careful not to overlap the cable handles, as again this will result in the deltoids being targeted more than the chest.
The most natural function of the upper chest is flexion and horizontal adduction, something the bench press can't do alone. Low to high cable flyes perfectly mimic the line of pull (and action) of the clavicular pectoralis. It's one of the best exercises around for "filling in" the upper chest up near the collarbone.
- Clay Hyght, T Nation
14. Close Grip Bench Press
Yes, this is absolutely a triceps exercise (so too is any compound chest pressing movement) and it’s a great addition to your tricep arsenal.
It’s also an absolutely fantastic way to target your inner chest walls due to the hand position and the manner in which the weight load is placed on the body.
How-To: Perform this movement in exactly the same manner as the flat barbell press; this time however ensure that your hands are positioned inside of the shoulder girdles.
You will also have to bring the elbows closer into the body; a 15 degree angle away from the sides to ensure maximum tricep drive and inner pec major muscle development at the top of the movement.
15. Wide Stance Dips
Again, dips are a great triceps exercise but they’re also utterly fantastic at integrating the inner walls of your chest due to the “crushing” pressure placed on them.
You’ve got to ensure that to maximise the inclusion of the pec major muscles, the stance must be wide as opposed to the more tricep reliant narrow stance dips.
How-To: Lean slightly forwards, and lower the body until the arms reach a 90-degree angle before returning to the starting position and leaving a slight bend at the elbows. Be careful not to lower the body too much, as you risk tearing the anterior deltoids.
5 Chest Exercises At Home
Luckily, there are a few highly effective exercises you can perform at home that will greatly emphasize every area of your chest similarly to the exercises listed previously.
Press ups are the body weight equivalent of the flat barbell bench press and will target the pec major (and minor provided your depth is great enough) muscle in a highly effective manner.
How-To: Simply lie down in a prone position, place the hands directly in front of the anterior deltoids and proceed to lower your body down whilst keeping the elbows bent at a 45 degree angle; at the bottom of the movement the face should be a mere inch or two away from the ground.
2. Diamond Press Ups
This one is great for the middle chest. It is one of the best exercises that you can do in building your chest at home.
How-To: Place the hands in a diamond position on the inside of the shoulder girdles and proceed to perform a press up. Your elbows will need to be at roughly a 15-degree angle away from the body as with the close grip bench press.
3. Decline Press Ups
In exactly the same manner as you placed your feet on a flat bench for incline press-ups; you’re instead going to place your hands on a bench to replicate a decline pressing movement.
How-To: With this one, simply elevate your nipple line above the bench and proceed to perform a press up. Lower the body until it is only an inch or two away from the bench then return to the starting position again.
Yes, you can perform flyes believe it or not. All you’ll need to perform a flye from any angle is a suspension-training strap.
This will allow you to suspend the body from any anchor point and perform anything from a press up, to an incline flye.
How-To: Simply expand and close the hands (like an exaggerated clap) when you have chosen the relevant position for your exercise. All positions for flyes are exactly the same as they are for press-ups. Be very wary not to hyperextend.
5. Wide Angle Dips
Similar to fly’s, wide angle dips can be performed on either a suspension strap or a set of home dipping bars.
In terms of ease, this is a very easy addition to include in your home-based exercise arsenal.
Chest Workout Routines
Now that you know some of the most effective exercises; let’s piece it all together with some of the best chest workouts. We've got 5 for you.
1. Workout for Mass Building
Focus on a 2 second negative, and 2 second positive count whilst lifting and ensure that you pause for 1 second at the bottom of every movement.
A strict 60-90 second rest period in between sets should be done.
After the first set on the bench press, increase the weight immediately on the second set to ensure that you either hit or get close to your 5 rep max)
- Flat barbell bench press 3 x 5-8 reps
- Incline dumbbell chest press 3 x 5-8 reps
- Decline barbell smith machine press 3 x 8-10 reps
- Flat dumbbell flyes 3 x 8-10 reps
- Upper cable flyes 3 x 8-10 reps
- Body weight or weighted wide stance dips - 2 x failure
2. Definition Oriented Workout
Four sets per exercise with a 30-60 second rest in between sets.
Perform all exercises for 10-12 reps unless stated otherwise.
Adhere to the same 2 second up, 2 second down count when performing reps.
- Incline dumbbell press 4 x 10-12 reps
- Seated machine chest press 4 x 10-12 reps
- Pec deck 3 x 10-12 reps
- Lower cable flyes 3 x 10-12 reps
- Incline dumbbell flyes 3 x 10-12 reps
- Close grip bench press 4 x 10-12 reps
3. Upper Chest Workout
Three sets per exercise with a 60-90 second gap in between sets.
Perform all exercises for 5-8 reps unless stated otherwise.
2 seconds up, 2 seconds down and a 1 second hold on every exercise.
- Incline barbell bench press 3 x 5-8 reps
- Incline dumbbell flyes 3 x 8-10 reps
- Upper cable flyes 3 x 8-10 reps
- Dumbbell pullovers 3 x 5-8 reps
- Incline dumbbell press 3 x 12-15 reps
- Seated incline chest press machine 3 x 12-15 reps
Additional Tips To Grow your Chest
We’ve adequately covered a wide array of chest exercises and important points within this article.
What’s important now is that you approach every training session with an open mind. Here are some great ways to keep your chest workouts fresh and ensure the area continues to progress:
- Time between workouts - Always leave at the very least 72 hours in between chest workouts (1)
- Don’t be afraid to throw in body weight exercises - they’ll still challenge the chest fibres adequately and add variety as part of a well structured routine
- Mix it up - Use an even mix of compound and isolation movement. Also never primarily use free weights over machines or vice versa; as with angles, include a mix every week
- Rest - Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night if you want to achieve maximum growth hormone release (2)
- Keep your body guessing - every few weeks it’s a good idea to completely change your rep ranges and set numbers / rest periods.
- Nutrition - Ensure you are 85% strict with your nutrition 85% of the time
These simple tips will help you to create dramatic changes.
How to Get a Bigger Chest: The Bottom Line
Now that you’ve read stringently through this guide; you are very well equipped to successfully train your chest from any angle.
As you can see, chest training isn’t particularly complicated when you look at it as a formula; it’s just methodical.
You really do have to ensure that no one aspect is overlooked in the pursuit of a well rounded chest or any other muscle group.
There’s simply never any good reason to not cover any aspect of your body in the pursuit of well-balanced aesthetics.
Follow the principles in this guide; eat well, sleep well and spread the word amongst your training buddies so that they too can benefit. Lets hit the gym.
Related: The Best Adjustable Weight Benches