If you can recall, what was one of the first barbell movements you learned when you originally got into lifting? More than likely it was the bench press. The bench press is kind of a default movement for most beginners because it’s easy to perform and most beginners get into lifting because they want a strong chest.
A strong chest not only looks awesome, but it’s incredibly beneficial for both strength sports and daily life. Strong chest (pectoral) muscles help control the arms (the humerus more specifically) to perform pushing, pulling, and rotational movements. In addition, the chest musculature helps maintain the body’s upright posture and can help control the rib cage with things like deep breathing.
The goal of this page is to provide you with everything you need to know about chest training. The bench press isn’t the only way to achieve a strong chest, and if you’re a fan of the typical “Monday bench day” (chest day), then we have good news for you, on this page everyday is chest day, and we have our five favorite chest exercises to help out!
1. Bench Press
The bench press could be considered the “gold standard” in strength training when it comes to building a big chest. This barbell movement requires nearly the entire upper body to work in unison, so it provides the biggest bang for your buck. For example, the prime movers in the bench press are the pectoralis major, the triceps, and the anterior deltoid, so if you’re training this movement for only the chest, then prepare to benefit in multiple areas (1).
If your goal is to compete in the sport of powerlifting, or if you just want to build a bigger, stronger chest, then out our in-depth bench press guide!
2. Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is a great variation of the standard bench press for a couple reasons. First, it adds a slight level of instability, which can help strengthen the smaller muscles that surround the shoulder joint on top of building the chest muscles, aka making it a great movement for chest hypertrophy. Second, it can be a useful movement for those who have pain when performing the barbell press, as you can change hand position, which can at times help ease any form of shoulder impingement issues.
Check out full dumbbell bench press guide for more information!
3. Incline Bench Press
Another common chest training exercise is the incline bench press. This bench press variation has a couple niche uses to it and can have carryover to movements like the overhead press since it’s somewhat similar in mechanics. There isn’t really a rule for how high or low the incline has to be, so if you want a lot of carry over to the overhead press, a higher incline can be more beneficial.
A very specific area where the incline bench press excels in is the isolation of the upper pec musculature. A 2016 study from the European Journal of Sports Science suggested that the upper pec had slightly higher activation throughout the first portion of the lift (2). If your goal is pec hypertrophy, then the incline bench press is a good bet to build the upper chest.
Need help with your form and understanding of this movement’s benefits? Check out our incline bench press guide!
4. Dumbbell Pullover
The dumbbell pullover is definitely underutilized in the gym, and it shouldn’t be. Before explaining the rationale behind this movement choice, it’s important to note that dumbbell pullovers could be argued to be a pulling movement as well — but more on that below.
This accessory has four key benefits that come along with it. First, it trains the chest and the back at the same time, which makes it one of the few exercises to do so. Second, it targets the serratus anterior, which is a smaller muscle that helps with pressing movements. Third, dumbbell pullovers can help expand the rib cage. Lastly, this movement can help sports performance in throwing and hitting sports.
Learn more about the dumbbell pullover’s benefits!
5. Dumbbell Flyes
The final movement on our favorite chest exercise list is a chest training staple: Chest flyes. This movement is great for one big reason and that’s chest hypertrophy training. If your goal is to really hone in and target the pec muscles, then chest flyes are a good bet. This movement also doesn’t need to be loaded incredibly heavy to reap the benefits, so it’s an awesome post-press accessory movement.
Learn how effective dumbbell flyes can be with our in-depth dumbbell flye guide!
Other Highest-Rated Chest Exercises
1. Stastny, P., Gołaś, A., Blazek, D., Maszczyk, A., Wilk, M., & Pietraszewski, P. et al. (2017). A systematic review of surface electromyography analyses of the bench press movement task. PLOS ONE, 12(2), e0171632. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0171632
2. Lauver JD, e. (2018). Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise. – PubMed – NCBI . Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 17 December 2018, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25799093