The Best Chest Exercises

When it comes to choices of equipment dedicated to working the Pectoralis Major you certainly aren’t limited on options. The amount of gym real estate devoted to one particular muscle says a lot about the emphasis people place on their chest. It’s easy to see why. A big chest makes a big statement whether at work or playing sports. When it comes to sports performance most upper body movements rely on a strong chest. When picturing the movement of the Bench Press, one of the most popular chest exercises, your upper arm moves on a horizontal plane to your body towards the center line of your chest. This causes maximum flexion of the pec muscle. This relates to sports movements such as pushing, swinging, and throwing punches. Building up strength in your chest will in-turn make you more proficient in these movements.

There are two muscles in the chest. The first and one most targeted during chest exercises is the Pectoralis major. The second is the Pectoralis minor. The Pectoralis minor, while still considered a chest muscle, benefits exercises considered back exercises such at the lat pulldown and dumbbell pullover. It helps in pulling the shoulders forward as opposed to pulling the arms towards your centerline.

The exercises below primarily target the pectorals major, but many of them will also efficiently work the assisting muscles as well. A strong chest is important, but it’s more important to balance out that chest with a strong back. Be sure to perform at least one upper back exercise per chest exercise. This will ensure you maintain good posture. For more information on posture read Number of Exercises Per Muscle Group.

Chest Exercises:

Pushup

Dip

Barbell Bench Press

Dumbbell Bench Press

Chest Fly


Pushup

Target muscles: pectoralis major, front deltoid, and tricep. To some extent the core muscles as well.

When performing a pushup you are lifting 75% of your body weight according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

How to perform the Pushup:

From the floor, place your hands shoulder width or a little wider apart on the floor.

Straighten your knees and hips to assume a plank position. Brace your core and glutes to stabilize the spine and keep your body rigid.

Your arms should be straight but not locked and your body should form a straight line from the top of your head to your ankles.

Bend your elbows and lower your chest until it almost touches the floor. Your feet should act as a pivot point for the rest of your body.

Keep your core and glutes rigid as you lower to the ground. Never let your hips drop or sag at any point.

Your arms should form a 45-degree angle with your body when at the bottom of the movement.

Pause at the bottom and then quickly return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Remember to always brace your abs. A neat little trick is to cough. When you feel your abs squeeze while coughing that’s what you want to hold throughout the exercises. Also, be sure to exhale on exertion. This means as you go down breath in and go up breath out. Never hold your breath!

Modifications:

  • Modified Pushup: On the knees
  • Incline Pushup: Feet on a Bench
  • Decline Pushup: Hands on a Bench
  • Incline Stability Ball Pushup: Feet on Stability Ball
  • Decline Stability Ball Pushups: Hands on Stability Ball
  • Medicine Ball Pushup: Medicine ball under one hand.
  • Weighted Pushup: Weight plate on your back
  • Close-Hands Pushup: Hands close together with elbows in
  • T-Pushup: Raise one hand lateral in the air after each pushup
  • Plyometric Pushup: Pushup explosively so both hands lift off the ground simultaneously
  • Crossover Plyometric Pushup: Keeping feet in the place pushup explosively as you move your body side to side.
  • BOSU Pushup: Hands on a BOSU Ball (either side)
  • Suspended Pushup (See TRX Suspension Trainer)
  • Pushup Row: Holding a set of dumbbells in your hands pushup and then perform a rowing action while maintaining the pushup position.

Do it at home:

The best thing about the pushup is you don’t need any equipment! That being said you can certainly spice it up with some of the above modifications using the equipment listed below

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Dip

Target muscles: pectoralis major, front deltoid, and tricep.

This is a great exercise for targeting the bottom half of the pectoral muscle. It requires a good bit of flexibility in the should joint so start slowly and build up to the full range of motion.

How to perform the Dip:

At a dip station, grasp the bars and lift yourself without locking your elbows. Keep your wrists straight and cross your ankles.

Just as with the pushup bend your elbows till your upper arms are parallel to the floor. Pause and then return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

With the bars closer together and elbows tucked in you will target more of the triceps. A wider grip and elbows out will target more of the chest. Same as with the pushup brace your core and keep your torso straight. Breathing is the same as with the pushup exhale as you go up inhale as you go down.

Modifications:

  • Incline Dip: Knees bent & out held in front
  • Wide-Grip Dip
  • Close-Grip Dip

Do it at home:

A good Power Rack will come with dip handle attachments allowing you to do this exercise at home. Check out my Power Rack Review for a great recommendation.

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Barbell Bench Press

Target muscles: pectoralis major, front deltoid, and tricep.

The Bench Press is the standard go-to when it comes to chest exercises. There is actually more to consider than just moving the bar up and down. There are also a few tricks you can use to activate as much muscle as possible helping you lift more than you thought possible.

At all costs, avoid performing this exercise on a smith machine. The proper path of the bar (as with most exercises) is not a straight line. This forces your shoulders and elbows to move in an unnatural motion. Repetitively performing this motion will cause damage.

How to perform the Barbell Bench Press:

With an overhand grip on the barbell just wider than shoulder-width hold the barbell with straight arms. Make sure your arms are perpendicular to the floor.

There should be three points of contact on the bench; your head, shoulder blades, and butt.

Drive your heels into the ground and to begin the movement with your shoulder blades. Squeeze them together and begin to lower the bar to your sternum.

Bring the bar all the way to your sternum to where it barely touches. The bar should be about two inches below your nipples.

Maintain the three points of contact. Do your best not to lift your hips off the bench.

Pro Tip:

Don’t lift your feet. This will take away the emphasis on the pecs and shift it to the core muscles limiting the amount of weight you can lift. When you push the bar up try to imagine bending the bar. This will trigger more muscle fibers helping you lift more weight.

Modifications:

  • Close-grip: Targets the triceps. Keep elbows in.
  • Reverse-grip: Palms facing behind you.
  • Incline Bench Press
  • Decline Bench Press

Do it at home:

To perform the bench press and all the modifications you will need:

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Dumbbell Bench Press

Target muscles: pectoralis major, front deltoid, and tricep

Dumbbell bench press is great for changing up the standard bench press. Having the weights separate requires more balance, therefore making it more difficult.

How to perform the Dumbbell Press:

Same as with the bench press maintain three points of contact. With your arms perpendicular to the floor turn your wrists in slightly.

To begin the movement brace your core and glutes. Utilize your back muscles by keeping you shoulder blades tight. This will help you stabilize your arms and allow you to lift more weight.

Slowly lower the weights till about even with your nipples. It’s not necessary to rotate the wrists but do keep them straight.

Pause at the bottom and return to the starting point.

Pro Tip:

Take your time performing this exercise. Two to three seconds down one second up and don’t bang the weights together. Ensure you are going through the full range of motion; all the way down and all the way up.

Modifications:

  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Decline Dumbbell Bench press
  • Neutral-Grip Press
  • Alternating Press
  • Single-Arm Press
  • Stability Ball Press
  • Stability Ball Incline Press

Do it at home:

To do this exercise at home and all of its modifications you don’t need much:

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Chest Fly

Target muscles: pectoralis major and front deltoid

The chest fly is a great isolation exercise for the chest but doesn’t activate the pectoral muscle as well as the bench press. It’s best not make this your primary exercise for your chest.

How to perform the Chest Fly:

Hold a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip with elbows slightly bent.

Without changing the angle of your elbows lower the dumbbells to the floor till your arms are almost parallel to the floor.

Pause at the bottom and return to the starting position.

Pro Tip:

Bring the dumbbells all the way down till the are in line with your chest. This will ensure you are going through the full range of motion.

Modifications:

Do it at home:

To do this exercise at home, you don’t need much. You can use either adjustable type dumbbells or the traditional dumbbell, a bench, and if you’d like to change it up you can get a stability ball as well.

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This is one part of the jeffsmithfitness.com’s The Best Exercise Series. To check out the other exercises in the series go to The Best Exercises main page.


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