A big chest can be appreciated and noticed year-round — under a tank top or a parka, it shows. And the chances are good that if you’ve spent years building up your pectorals to Terry Crews‘ level, then you probably also have the pressing strength to match. Not there yet? That’s cool.
We’ve compiled a list of the 15 best chest exercises (which, yes, are still useful if you’re already jacked) and a few sections on how to train your chest. Heed our advice and then heave some weights.
Best Chest Exercises
- Barbell Flat Bench Press
- Barbell Incline Bench Press
- Barbell Decline Bench Press
- Chest Flye
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Svend Press
- Cable Iron Cross
- Chaos Push-Up
- Plyo Push-Up
- Dumbbell Floor Press
- Pause Push-Up
- Side-to-Side Landmine Press
- Close-Grip Push-Up
The bench press is a classic exercise. Powerlifters do it to see who has the most pressing strength, gym rats use it to build up their pecs, and athletes utilize the bench for explosive pushing power.
The bench press should be a staple in your routine for more chest size and strength.
Benefits of the Barbell Flat Bench Press
- This lift is a necessiry for powerlifters, since it’s one of the three lifts judged in a powerlifting meet.
- The bench press recruits muscles in the chest, triceps, and shoulders — so you’ll build a muscular torso.
- Compared to other chest exercises, you can load the bench press up with a relatively heavy amount of weight.
How to Do the Barbell Flat Bench Press
Lay back down on a bench, arch your lower back slightly, and plant your feet on the floor. Pull your shoulder blades together to enhance stability and upper back strength. Grab the bar (varying grips) and squeeze the hand hard to flex the arm and grip muscles maximally. With the load unracked, think about pulling the barbell to the body to touch the sternum/base of the chest. Press the weight upwards, making sure to keep your back tight, and shoulder blades pulled together.
The incline press is somewhat of a hybrid of an overhead press and flat bench press, and so pressing a barbell (or a pair of kettlebells or dumbbells) from an incline recruits more of the muscle fibers in the upper chest and taxes the shoulders a bit more. For that reason, strongmen like to use this pressing variation since it has more carryover to log presses and axle bar clean and presses.
Benefits of the Barbell Incline Bench Press
- More shoulder and upper chest activation compared to flat press variations.
- The incline bench press will have carryover to overhead pressing variations, as it strengthens the deltoids, too.
How to Do the Barbell Incline Bench Press
Adjust a workout bench so it is at a 45-degree angle and set up similar to that of the flat bench press. Unrack the loaded barbell and begin to pull the load downwards to line with the upper chest (a few inches below the clavicle). With the shoulder blades pulled together and elbows angled at about 45 degrees. Push the barbell upward.
The third major barbell bench press variation focuses on the lower pectoral fibers. This pressing variation is typically less strenuous on your shoulders than the standard bench press because of the shifted shoulder angle.
You’ll also be able to target your chest from a different angle, which is important when you’re looking to develop a well-rounded musculature.
Benefits of the Barbell Decline Bench Press
- You’ll have decreased strain on your shoulder joints due to the angle of the bench you’re lifting on.
- A greater emphasis on the lower pectoral fibers.
How to Do the Barbell Decline Bench Press
Start by securing your feet into a decline bench set up and secure your 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 your elbows. Be sure not to allow the elbows to flare excessively out in the movement.
The chest flye — which can be done with dumbbells or on a cable machine — is a popular bodybuilding exercise to stretch the muscle fibers and pump up the muscle. That pump will help to drive nutrient-rich blood to the target area to help speed up recovery.
Using dumbbells will also help improve your body’s ability to coordinate as you’re forced to stabilize each weight independently.
Benefits of the Chest Flye
- More muscular coordination as the lifter is forced to stabilize and lift two separate dumbbells.
- The chest flye stretch, which is achieved by extending the arms with light weight, will really tax the chest’s muscle fibers and pump the area with nutrient-rich blood.
- It’s a versatile movement that can be performed with dumbbells on a cable machine and kettlebells.
How to Do the Chest Flye
Lie back on a bench (either flat, decline, or incline), with a dumbbell in each hand. With a slight bend in your elbows, lower your arms out to your sides slowly and with control. Now, reverse the motion to engage the chest. You should look like you’re hugging a tree.
The dumbbell bench press doesn’t allow you to go as heavy as its barbell counterpart, but there’s a lot to like about this move. For one, you’re controlling two dumbbells, which works your chest (and the smaller stabilizer muscles around your shoulder joint) differently than the bench press.
If you have a weaker side, then this movement’s unilateral nature allows one side to catch up to the other. If you’re a person who suffers from shoulder or elbow pain, using dumbbells lets you manipulate your grip and arm angle to find a pressing position that’s more comfortable for you.
Benefits of the Dumbbell Bench Press
- It’s easier to find a pressing position that’s more comfortable for someone who may have shoulder or elbow aches.
- You’ll acquire more joint and muscle stability from lifting two separate dumbbells.
- Since each side has to work to lift the dumbbells, you’ll allower a weaker side of your body to catch up.
How to Do the Dumbbell Bench Press
Sit up on a flat bench and then hinge forward to pick up each dumbbell. Place each weight on a knee and get set. Lean back and then drive the dumbbells back towards you (carefully) with your knees, simultaneously pressing the weights over your chest. Lower the weights, keeping your elbows tucked in at 45-degrees until your elbows break 90 degrees. Then, drive the dumbbells back up. You can also turn your palms, so they’re facing each other and press from this neutral position.
Do we need to sell you on the push-up? Probably not, but what kind of training resource would we be if we didn’t tell you that the push-up is easier on your joints since you’re not loading them with weight?
And would be worth our salt if we didn’t mention that because they’re relatively safe, you can pump out a bunch of push-ups for more volume (and therefore muscle growth)? No, it wouldn’t be cool if we left those details out.
Benefits of the Push-Up
- Because you’re working out with just your body weight, your joints won’t be under as much stress as weighted movements.
- You can also really do a lot of pushups, so you’ll accumulate more muscle-building tension over time.
How to Do the Push-Up
Get into a plank position, with your hands underneath your shoulders, back flat, and feet together. Screw your palms into the ground. You should feel your chest tighten. Hold this position, and then slowly lower yourself until your chest is about an inch from the floor. Now, drive back up through the palms of your hands.
The dip is another bodyweight gem. Compared to the push-up, which has you on all fours, you’re suspended for the dip, and so your complete bodyweight is in play.
Benefits of the Dip
- You’ll strengthen the triceps and pecs — two key pressing muscles — together.
- You’ll utilize 100-percent of your bodyweight, which is far more than what you lift during a push-up.
How to Do the Dip
Grab the dip bar firmly and get yourself in the top of the dip position, with your upper back tight and shoulder blades squeezed together. Angle your torso slightly forward and allow your elbows to bend as they slightly tuck inwards towards the sides of the torso. Lower yourself down until your elbows bend at about 90 degrees. When ready, press through the handles and bring your body upright into the top of the dip position.
The silliest-looking move on our best chest exercise list will probably burn the worst (read: the best). To avoid dropping two plates on your toes, you need to squeeze the weights together continuously. That alone will get those pecs activated.
Then, you’ll extend your arms to squeeze the chest together even more. The Svend press (or plate pinch) is low-impact and so safer compared to heavy pressing. It also requires little equipment (so you won’t need to wait for a bench to open up on International chest day.)
Benefits of the Svend Press
- Finally, a pressing movement that won’t require you to have to wait for everyone else to finish their bench press sets.
- The squeeze and press combination will create a lot of time under tension for a serious pump and muscular hypertrophy.
How to Do the Svend Press
Start by taking two smaller weight plates (five or 10-pound plates) and pressing them together between your hands. Your arms should be extended outwards in front of you.
While actively pinching the plate together and not letting them slip apart (constant tension), pull the plates towards your sternum as you keep your chest up and shoulder blades pulled together. Flex your chest and press the weights back outwards. Keep the plates pressed together and the inner chest muscles engaged.
The iron cross is a gymnastics classic, but when performed in a cable tree can be great for physique development too. This exercise stretches your chest muscles from the start and takes you through a large range of motion for better chest building potential.
The constant tension from the cable machine also means that your muscles are under tension longer for improved hypertrophy.
Benefits of the Cable Iron Cross
- Keeps tension on the working muscles for better muscle-building potential.
- Isolates and takes the lower chest muscles through a larger range of motion compared to the dumbbell variation.
- Trains the hard-to-reach lower chest area for better definition.
How to Do the Cable Iron Cross
Set the handles at both ends of the cable machine at the highest level. Stand in the center with a staggered stance and take hold of both handles. Lean your torso forward keeping your spine in neutral and bend your elbows slightly too. Keeping your core tight pull both handles down and across your body and squeeze the chest muscles at the end of the movement.
Resistance bands are a great tool to build the chest too. By looping a heavy band around a squat rack, you can perform a variety of exercises — including the chaos push-up. The unstable resistance band fires up all your stabilizing muscles while performing a push-up.
If you’ve got anything less than perfect form, the band will give you instant feedback. Plus, the increased time under tension does wonders for building your chest.
Benefits of the Chaos Push-Up
- The instability of the Chaos Push-Up is great for additional rotator cuff recruitment.
- Adds more core stability and control to your push-ups which leads to increased time under tension.
- Band training activates the smaller stabilizers (shoulder, core and hips) while improving proprioception.
How to Do the Chaos Push-Up
Loop a heavy-duty band around the squat rack. The higher up the band, the easier the exercise. Lowering the band makes it harder. Place your hands on the band in a shoulder-width grip and grip tight. Bring your legs behind you. Engage your glutes and core. Slowly lower yourself down into a push-up. Press up against the band.
When you get into the higher push-up rep ranges, you’re training muscular endurance and not just muscle-building. Enter the plyo push-up, one of the more difficult push-up variations to perform.
You’ll primarily be training power rather than run-of-the-mill endurance. Performing the plyo push-up will activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which have a tremendous potential for growth. This isn’t just important for aesthetics. More powerful muscles can directly carry over to your bench pressing prowess.
Benefits of the Plyo Push-Up
- This will put less stress on your joints as compared to the plyo push-up.
- You’ll improve your pressing power production, which will help with all of your pressing exercises.
- Plyo push-ups improve your athletic performance by building pressing strength and speed.
How to Do the Plyo Push-Up
Get into a push-up position with your hands underneath your shoulders. Lower yourself to the floor. Explosively push yourself up, with your hands leaving the ground. Slightly bend your elbows on the way down to better absorb the force. Rapidly descend into another push-up. Repeat.
The dumbbell floor press overloads your triceps and chest while limiting your range of motion (ROM). This makes it easier for the shoulders than the barbell version. This is due to your shoulders not going into external rotation where your shoulder joints are most vulnerable to injury.
Being on the floor reduces your lower body involvement. It also shifts more emphasis to your chest and triceps for better muscle-building potential with a lower weight.
Benefits of the Dumbbell Floor Press
- The neutral grip and the reduced ROM on the floor make this move easier on your shoulders.
- Reducing lower-body involvement with the floor press puts more focus on your chest and triceps.
- This move overloads your triceps build lockout strength for regular bench presses.
How to Do the Dumbbell Floor Press
Lie on your back with a dumbbell by your side. Roll over and grip the dumbbell with both hands, press it up, and take one hand off. Have your feet planted on the ground or extend your legs. This is a matter of personal preference. Lower the dumbbell down until your upper arm touches the ground. Press up to lockout. Reset and repeat for reps. Repeat on the other side.
There’s nothing wrong with pumping out as many push-ups as possible — but you’ll be crossing into muscular endurance territory and not as much hypertrophy. When you want to feel your chest muscles working (and growing), the pause push-up is what you want.
Benefits of the Pause Push-Up
- The pause in the bottom position puts more time under tension on your chest muscles for better muscle-building potential.
- This move makes concentric contraction more difficult because the muscle stretch reflex is taken away.
- You’ll build more core strength because you’re pausing in a difficult position and your lower back and anterior core work harder to maintain a neutral spine.
How to Do the Pause Push-Up
Set up as you would for a regular push-up. Lower down with your arms about 45-degrees out from your torso. Stop with your chest just above the ground for three to five seconds. Push back up until lockout. Reset and repeat.
The side-to-side landmine press is another great landmine press option when you want to train the chest and triceps with increased load. Holding the barbell with two hands in a close grip allows you to go heavier than other landmine press options for increased chest size and strength.
The act of pressing and lowering from shoulder-to-shoulder also trains anti-rotational core strength. That’s crucial for other unstable moves like Olympic lifts and even squats — which demand a lot of lateral stability for the most efficient lifts.
Benefits of the Side-to-Side Landmine Press
- This move trains both anti-rotational and pressing strength.
- You can go heavier than other landmine pressing options for increased chest size and strength.
- The close grip puts your inner chest and triceps under increased tension for better hypertrophy.
How to Do the Side-to-Side Landmine Press
Hold the end of the barbell with both hands a few inches from your right shoulder. Keep your shoulders down and your chest up. Press the barbell up and to the center of your body. Lock out your arms. Lower to your left shoulder. Press to the center again. Lower down to your right shoulder. Keep alternating sides for an even number of reps on each side.
The close-grip push-up is where you set up with your hands closer than shoulder width apart. You’ll keep your upper arms tucked even more closely to your rib cage. This shifts the load more to your triceps, inner chest, and anterior delts.
Because of the reduced base of support, you’ll perform fewer reps than the regular push-up. But you’ll be training the pectorals from a different angle for better muscle development. Since your shoulders are more internally rotated and less externally rotated, you’ll take some of the pressure off your shoulder joints.
Benefits of the Close-Grip Push-Up
- If your shoulders are bothering you, this is a great pressing variation because you’re less externally rotated. This takes some stress off your shoulder joints.
- The reduced base of support improves core strength and trains your chest from a different angle for better muscle development.
- You’ll develop high levels of lockout strength due to increased triceps activation.
How to Do the Close-Grip Push-Up
Get into a plank position. Keep your hands close together, back flat, and feet wider than hip-width. Screw your palms into the ground. Try to feel your chest tighten. Slowly lower yourself until your chest is about an inch from the floor and your upper arms are touching your sides. Drive back up until lockout. Reset and repeat.
How Often Should You Train Your Chest?
There’s no hard and fast formula for how often you can or shoulder train your chest. A lot of that will be based on your training age and experience. In general, because the chest is one of the larger muscles in the upper body, you can train it more often than your shoulders or arms. Here’s a breakdown of some general guidelines for sets per week with your chest exercises:
- For Beginners: 12 weekly sets
- For Intermediate Lifters: 14 to 16 sets
- For Advanced Lifters: 16 to 20 sets
The way you split these sets up will determine your chest training frequency. That will be shaped by your workout split. If you’re a bodybuilder who trains only their chest once per week, then 20 sets may be too much for a single session. However, if you follow a full-body split, six sets per session three times per week will yield 18 total sets. But, you’ll have less fatigue per workout.
Powerlifters, who need to focus on chest strength, may have one low-rep, strength-focused session. If you choose, you might also have one higher rep, hypertrophy-focused workout. In that case, 20 sets wouldn’t be too difficult to accumulate.
If general health and aesthetics are your goals, then you can likely train your chest twice or more per week. It’s common to pair your chest with your triceps — since the muscles work together in many lifts — or to train your entire upper body and then your lower body in separate sessions.
How to Progress Your Chest Training
To get stronger and bigger, you need to add more weight or more reps to each of your chest sessions. This is not hard in theory. It’s a straightforward philosophy. Of course, if you’ve been working out for even just a year, you know that this is easier said than done.
Eventually, you need to find more creative ways to increase your intensity. Some of these methods include:
- For Strength: Slightly increase the weight you’re lifting each session until you cannot complete the prescribed amount of reps. Increase the number of reps by one rep per set each session until you can no longer complete the increased reps with the weight. Alternate these strategies across your training cycles.
- For Muscle Mass: Use strategies like drop sets, pause reps, and tempo training to increase your time under tension and muscle growth.
- For Endurance: Pre-exhaust your muscles by performing chest flyes before lighter, higher rep sets of a compound move like a bench press.
You can combine these techniques for maximum results. For example, add pause reps to your strength training. However, make sure you’re only changing one variable at a time to avoid overtraining.
How to Warm Up Your Chest
A good warm-up can make an average workout exceptional. To get the most out of your chest day, you need to prime the pecs for contraction and ensure your shoulders, wrists, and elbows are all ready to handle heavy weights.
After a few minutes of light cardio, perform any upper back movement that you find comfortable and effective for engaging your scapula — think face pulls, rear-delt flyes, or band pull-aparts. After that, a few light sets of your first exercise, focusing hard on the contraction and engagement of the pecs, should have you ready to go.
Need a sample chest warm-up? Here you go:
- Band Pull-Apart: 2 x 15-20
- Scapular Push-Up: 2 x 10
- Rear-Delt Fly: 2 x 12
- World’s Greatest Stretch: 3 x 4 per side
- Push-Up: 3 x 5-10
You’ll notice more than a couple of back-focused warm-ups here. That’s because your lats are actually quite involved in stabilizing your big chest moves. To protect your shoulders, you’ll want to get your back ready for chest day, too.
Whether you’re chasing a sweet pump, looking to build a bigger chest, or want to bust out a new bench press personal record, you’ve got a lot of chest exercises to try out. Whether you’re performing a single-joint isolation move or are going after a big compound lift (think: the classic bench press), make sure you’re paying close attention to your form. Being strict with your form and being smart about p is probably the best way to chase that Fabio-worthy chest.
Featured image: Jasminko Ibrakovic / Shutterstock