The 17 Best Chest Exercises for Big Pecs and a Strong Bench Press

Increase your bench press and sculpt a bigger chest with these 17 killer moves.

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. 

Whether you’re taking your first steps in the weight room or are a gymgoing veteran, you probably celebrate International Chest Day every Monday like most folks. No matter which day you opt to hit your pecs, you need the right exercises to occupy your workout program

A fitness coach doing a decline bench press

We’ve compiled a list of the 17 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.

17 Best Chest Exercises

Barbell Flat Bench Press

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.

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The bench press should be a staple in your routine for more chest size and strength, since compared to most other chest exercises, you can load the bench press up with a relatively heavy amount of weight.  Beyond that, benching is necessary for powerlifters, since it’s one of the three lifts judged in a powerlifting meet.

How to Do It

  1. Lay back down on a bench, arch your lower back slightly, and plant your feet on the floor.
  2. Pull your shoulder blades together to enhance stability and upper back strength.
  3. Grab the bar and squeeze the hand hard to flex the arm and grip muscles maximally. 
  4. With the load unracked, think about pulling the barbell to the body to touch the sternum/base of the chest.
  5. Press the weight upwards, making sure to keep your back tight, and shoulder blades pulled together.

Coach’s Tip: A strong spinal arch will reduce your range of motion and improve your leverage.

Sets and Reps: Go hard and heavy with 4 sets of 5 to 8 reps. 

Incline Bench Press

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.

The incline bench press benefits you by providing more shoulder and upper chest activation than a standard flat press. Also, the increased emphasis on the front delts should provide carryover to overhead pressing movements.

How to Do It

  1. Adjust a weight bench so it is at a 45-degree angle and set up similarly to that of the flat bench press.
  2. Unrack the loaded barbell and begin to pull the load downwards to line with the upper chest (a few inches below the clavicle).
  3. With the shoulder blades pulled together and elbows angled at about 45 degrees.
  4. Push the barbell upward.

Coach’s Tip: Adjust the seat such that the barbell is slightly behind your eye line before you unrack it.

Sets and Reps: Try 3 or 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps. 

Decline Bench Press

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. 

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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. If anything, the decline bench press gains points for novelty alone.

How to Do It

  1. 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). 
  2. Unrack the weight and pull the load downwards toward the sternum while keeping the shoulder blades pulled together.
  3. Press through the barbell to lock out your elbows. Be sure not to allow the elbows to flare excessively out.

Coach’s Tip: The barbell should hit lower on your chest than during a flat or incline press.

Sets and Reps: 3 to 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps should work well here. 

Chest Flye

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 muscle recovery.

Using dumbbells will also help improve your body’s ability to coordinate as you’re forced to stabilize each weight independently. Cables, on the other hand, provided consistent mechanical tension. Regardless, the chest flye is useful for training your chest without having to resort to ultra-heavy weights.

How to Do It

  1. Lie back on a bench (either flat, decline, or incline), with a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. With a slight bend in your elbows, lower your arms out to your sides slowly and with control.
  3. Now, reverse the motion to engage the chest. You should look like you’re hugging a tree. 

Coach’s Tip: You can pause at the bottom of each rep for some productive loaded stretching.

Sets and Reps: Start with 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps.  

Dumbbell Bench Press

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. 

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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. 

How to Do It

  1. Sit up on a flat bench and then hinge forward to pick up each dumbbell.
  2. Place each weight on a knee and get set.
  3. Lean back and then drive the dumbbells back towards you (carefully) with your knees, simultaneously pressing the weights over your chest.
  4. Lower the weights, keeping your elbows tucked in at 45 degrees until your elbows break 90 degrees. 
  5. Then, drive the dumbbells back up. 

Coach’s Tip: Push the weights both upward and in toward your midline.

Sets and Reps: Try 3 or 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps to start. 


You probably performed push-ups in gym class as a kid, though not explicitly for the purpose of growing your pecs. However, that doesn’t mean you should leave them behind on the gymnasium floor.

Push-ups are severely underrated, even for intermediate or advanced lifters. 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 in a short amount of time, so you’ll accumulate more muscle-building stimulus overall. 

How to Do It

  1. Get into a plank position, with your hands underneath your shoulders, back flat, and feet together.
  2. Screw your palms into the ground. You should feel your chest tighten.
  3. Hold this position, and then slowly lower yourself until your chest is about an inch from the floor.
  4. Now, drive back up through the palms of your hands. 

Coach’s Tip: Contract your abs hard. There should be no dip in your lower back.

Sets and Reps: Work up to 20 unbroken push-ups in a single set, and then start doing a few sets of 6 to 10 reps with a small weight plate on your back. 


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 body weight is in play. 

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You’ll also seriously recruit your triceps, which are essentially involved in all pressing movements, so working them in tandem with the chest will help strengthen the synergistic muscles in unison. 

How to Do It

  1. 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.
  2. Angle your torso slightly forward and allow your elbows to bend as they slightly tuck inwards towards the sides of the torso. 
  3. Lower yourself down until your elbows bend at about 90 degrees.
  4. When ready, press through the handles and bring your body upright into the top of the dip position.

Coach’s Tip: Keep your shoulders packed down and away from your ears the entire time.

Sets and Reps: Once you can perform 20 clean reps on the dip bars, you can start doing additional sets with a light weight between your ankles. 

Svend Press

The silliest-looking move on this list might just be the most painful(-ly effective). 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 is low-impact and thus easier to handle than doing even more heavy pressing. It also requires little equipment (so you won’t need to wait for a bench to open up in a busy gym.)

How to Do It

  1. Start by taking two smaller weight plates (five or 10-pound plates) and pressing them together between your hands. 
  2. Your arms should be extended outwards in front of you.
  3. 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.
  4. Flex your chest and press the weights back outwards. Keep the plates pressed together and the inner chest muscles engaged.

Coach’s Tip: Use the Svend press to prime your pecs between sets of other chest exercises.

Sets and Reps: Five slow and controlled reps should do the trick. 

Cable Iron Cross

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.

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The constant tension from the cable machine also means that your muscles are under tension longer for improved chest hypertrophy. The iron cross also trains the hard-to-reach lower chest area for more complete and comprehensive muscle growth.

How to Do the Cable Iron Cross

  1. Set the handles at both ends of the cable machine at the highest level.
  2. Stand in the center with a staggered stance and take hold of both handles.
  3. Lean your torso forward keeping your spine in neutral and bend your elbows slightly too.
  4. Keeping your core tight pull both handles down and across your body and squeeze the chest muscles at the end of the movement. 

Coach’s Tip: Think about actively jamming your upper arm against your torso at the end of each rep.

Sets and Reps: Pump your chest up with 2 or 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps. 

Chaos Push-Up

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. Band training also activates the smaller stabilizers (shoulder, core, and hips) while improving proprioception.

How to Do It

  1. Loop a heavy-duty band around the squat rack.
  2. The higher up the band, the easier the exercise. Lowering the band makes it harder.
  3. Place your hands on the band in a shoulder-width grip and grip tight.
  4. Bring your legs behind you. Engage your glutes and core.
  5. Slowly lower yourself down into a push-up. Press up against the band.

Coach’s Tip: Think about pulling the band apart as you lower yourself down to activate your rear delts.

Sets and Reps: 2 sets of 10 reps should fire you up at the start of your workout. 

Plyo Push-Up

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.

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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 tremendous potential for growth. This isn’t just important for aesthetics. More powerful muscles can directly carry over to your bench-pressing prowess.

How to Do It

  1. Get into a push-up position with your hands underneath your shoulders.
  2. Lower yourself to the floor.
  3. Explosively push yourself up, with your hands leaving the ground.
  4. Slightly bend your elbows on the way down to better absorb the force.
  5. Rapidly descend into another push-up. Repeat.

Coach’s Tip: You don’t need to push yourself off the floor as high as possible, you just need to explosively contract your pecs and arms.

Sets and Reps: Try 3 to 4 sets of 5 reps to develop muscular power. 

Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press overloads your triceps and chest while limiting your range of motion (ROM). This makes it a viable option if you want to avoid too much shoulder strain or wish to emphasize the second half of the bench-press pattern specifically. 

The neutral grip and the reduced ROM on the floor make this move easier on your shoulders. Also, reducing lower-body involvement with the floor press puts more focus on your chest and triceps.

How to Do It

  1. Lie on your back with a dumbbell by your side.
  2. Roll over and grip the dumbbell with both hands, press it up, and take one hand off.
  3. Have your feet planted on the ground or extend your legs. This is a matter of personal preference.
  4. Lower the dumbbell down until your upper arm touches the ground.
  5. Press up to lockout. Reset and repeat for reps. Repeat on the other side.

Coach’s Tip: Think about gently “kissing” the floor with your elbows rather than banging them against the ground.

Sets and Reps: Start out with 2 or 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps. 

Pause Push-Up

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.

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The pause gives your chest muscles more time under tension for better muscle-building potential. It also takes the stretch reflex out of the muscle, making you work harder to overcome gravity. 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 It

  1. Set up as you would for a regular push-up.
  2. Lower down with your arms about 45 degrees out from your torso.
  3. Stop with your chest just above the ground for three to five seconds.
  4. Push back up until lockout. Reset and repeat. 

Coach’s Tip: The longer you pause, the harder your core will have to work.

Sets and Reps: 2 sets of 12 to 15 reps should have you burning from head to toe. 

Side-to-Side Landmine Press

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 alternatives 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.

How to Do It

  1. Hold the end of the barbell with both hands a few inches from your right shoulder.
  2. Keep your shoulders down and your chest up.
  3. Press the barbell up and to the center of your body. Lock out your arms.
  4. Lower to your left shoulder. Press to the center again.
  5. Lower down to your right shoulder. Keep alternating sides for an even number of reps on each side. 

Coach’s Tip: Actively resist the weight as it attempts to twist your torso while you perform your reps.

Sets and Reps; If you go heavy, 2 sets of 5 to 8 reps should be plenty here. 

Close-Grip Push-Up

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.

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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. 

How to Do It

  1. Get into a plank position. Keep your hands close together, back flat, and feet wider than hip-width.
  2. Screw your palms into the ground. Try to feel your chest tighten.
  3. Slowly lower yourself until your chest is about an inch from the floor and your upper arms are touching your sides.
  4. Drive back up until lockout. Reset and repeat.

Coach’s Tip: Wearing wrist wraps may alleviate some discomfort during this exercise.

Sets and Reps: Work up to 20 clean reps and then consider adding weight for additional sets with fewer reps. 

Cable Press-Around

To make the most of your chest training, you should include exercises that take your pecs through their full contractile range of motion. Neither flyes nor presses satisfy this requirement perfectly, but the cable press-around does.

The cable press-around is a mixture of a flye and a chest press. It includes a rotational component and can stimulate your pecs in a whole new way if you can get the technique right. This exercise applies constant tension to the muscle from the cable station and also lets you work your chest unilaterally without a high balance component.

How to Do It

  1. Stand facing at a 45-degree angle away from a cable handle set at around waist height.
  2. Grab the handle and allow it to pull tension across your chest.
  3. With a slightly bent elbow, sweep your arm around your torso.
  4. Squeeze your pec hard and pause for a beat at the end, and then reverse the motion.

Coach’s Tip: Your arm should cross your midline to fully contract your pectorals. 

Sets and Reps: Try out 2 or 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps.

Incline Dumbbell Hex Press

To build the best pair of pecs you can, you need to do more than slam presses on a flat bench (though that’s certainly a good starting point). 

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The incline hex press accomplishes several things at once. You can train your triceps and front delts simultaneously, you can contract your chest isometrically and dynamically, and you can also engage your upper chest throughout. 

How to Do It

  1. Lie on a low-to-medium incline bench with a pair of dumbbells above your head.
  2. Tuck your inner arms against your torso and clasp the sides of the dumbbells together.
  3. Squeeze them tightly and lower your arms down until the bells touch your chest.
  4. Reverse the motion, ensuring the dumbbells don’t come apart at any point. 

Coach’s Tip: Actively push the dumbbells against one another the entire time. 

Sets and Reps: Try 2 sets of 15 reps at the end of your workout.

Chest Warm-Up

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.

People doing push ups
Credit: Ground Picture / Shutterstock

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After a few minutes of light cardio, perform any upper back exercise 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 Flye: 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.

How to Train Your Chest

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.

Creating Progressive Overload

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, 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.

Exercise Order

Designing a good chest workout is like cleaning your plate at the dinner table. You’ll generally have an easier time putting down the meat and potatoes while you’re still hungry and cleaning your plate of vegetables at the end.

A bodybuilder using the cable machine.
Credit: martvisionlk / Shutterstock

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The same idea translates to the order and structure of your workouts. If you perform compound pressing exercises, they belong at the start of your session. Gradually work towards single-joint isolation movements like flyes or your workout finisher of choice before heading out of the gym. Here’s an example: 

  • Exercise 1: Pre-Activation or Warm-Up Drill (Optional)
  • Exercise 2: Free-Weight Press 
  • Exercise 3: Machine or Cable Press
  • Exercise 4: Free-Weight, Machine, or Cable Flye
  • Exercise 5: Finisher

Chest Training Frequency

There’s no hard and fast rule for how often you can, or should, train your chest. Your optimal exercise frequency is often based on your training age and experience. However, the scientific community has broadly reached a consensus that you should train a given muscle or muscle group with 10 to 20 “hard” sets each week. (1)

This isn’t a set in stone prescription, but it is the range you’ll commonly see prescribed by leading researchers like Dr. Brad Schoenfeld and Dr. Mike Israetel. If you’re new to weight training, start conservatively. Advanced lifters with plenty of gym experience can get away with a bit more: 

  • 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, which depends on your workout split. If you’re a bodybuilder, you’ll probably want to break up all that volume across two weekly sessions to avoid burning yourself out.

Powerlifters, who need to focus on pec strength, may have one low-rep, strength-focused session in addition to a higher-rep, hypertrophy-focused workout. In that case, 20 sets wouldn’t be too difficult to accumulate. 

A person using the dip bars.
Credit: dotshock / Shutterstock

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If general health and aesthetics are your goals, then you can likely train your chest twice per week as well. This also follows most modern evidence-based recommendations, many of which state that a twice-weekly training frequency should be more effective for both muscle and strength than hitting your chest only once per week. (2)

Chest Training Tips

Here are a few things to keep in mind before your next chest workout. You don’t have to employ all of these training tips at once; sprinkle them in here and there, though, and watch your gains take flight.

Presses First, Flyes After

When it comes to compound exercises, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Pressing movements for your chest involve your pecs, triceps, and anterior deltoids. Presumably, you’re pressing primarily to build your pecs.

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If you first perform a bunch of flyes and burn those muscle fibers to a crisp, you’ll find it difficult to really contract your pecs on any subsequent pressing movements. In fact, your shoulders and triceps are liable to take over most of the work. Hit your big pressing movements first, and isolate your pecs with flyes afterwards.

Use Cables and Dumbbells Often

Your body is not 100-percent symmetrical. No matter how clean your technique is, you’ll always have small discrepancies in how your left arm moves compared to your right. In the matter of chest training, this means you shouldn’t shy away from equipment that accommodates these differences.

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Dumbbells and cables offer you more freedom of movement in each arm. They also prevent your strong side from dominating your weaker limb — on a set of dumbbell bench presses, when your weak arm fails, the set is done. This will ensure equal strength development and proportional growth over time. 

Benefits of Training Your Chest

Chest training isn’t just for the vain-of-heart beach bro, or the competitive powerlifter. A well-developed pair of pecs is a statement and are surprisingly functional in real-world scenarios.

Upper Body Aesthetics

When it comes to appearances, your chest is often the first thing people notice about your physique. Big pecs shine both shirtless and shrouded under a t-shirt. Moreover, they contribute to giving your torso a thicker, three-dimensional look when viewed from the side.

Functional Pressing Power

A big bench press is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to chest training. Sure, throwing up two or three wheels on the bench is impressive. But strong pectoral muscles also assist in real-world or sport-related scenarios, such as performing push-ups for time, shoving an object or opponent away from you, and much more. 

What Muscles Make Up the Chest

Your chest (or rather, the anterior compartment of your torso) houses your pecs … duh. But there’s more going on under the skin than you think, and more muscles at play as well. Here are the major players you’ll work during any well-rounded chest workout:

  • Pectoralis Major: This two-headed muscle connects from your clavicle and sternum onto your upper arm bone and is primarily responsible for arm flexion and shoulder adduction.
  • Pectoralis Minor: This smaller pec muscle connects from your ribcage to your shoulder blade and assists the pec major in performing its duties.
  • Serratus Anterior: The serratus anterior isn’t directly attached to the chest, but it sits on the lateral sides of your ribcage and performs many of the same functions. Namely, protracting your shoulder and flexing your arm forward.

Get Pumped

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 how you program your chest exercises is the best way to chase that Fabio-worthy chest.


  1. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2017). Dose-response relationship between weekly resistance training volume and increases in muscle mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of sports sciences, 35(11), 1073–1082. 
  2. Williams, T. D., Tolusso, D. V., Fedewa, M. V., & Esco, M. R. (2017). Comparison of Periodized and Non-Periodized Resistance Training on Maximal Strength: A Meta-Analysis. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 47(10), 2083–2100. 

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