Training your chest goes well beyond aesthetics. Your chest muscles are essential for moving your arms in several planes of motion and serve several anatomical functions. Not to mention, having a strong chest is also important for injury prevention.
Training your chest is essential for having the strength to push things away from your body or catch yourself when you are falling forward. Furthermore, having a strong chest helps maintain stability of the shoulder.
Here are 10 of the best chest exercises to choose from. As a general principle:
- Perform each exercise three times (3 sets of each exercise) for a total of 12 reps.
- Rest for 60 seconds between each set to allow for maximal recovery.
The dumbbell bench press primarily works the pectoralis major, which is the biggest muscle in the chest. It’s the perfect foundational chest exercise to add to your exercise program.
- Lay back flat on a bench (or the floor) with the dumbbells in your hands (palms facing away from you), and feet planted firmly on the floor.
- Begin the movement from the top with your arms extended straight.
- Slowly bring your elbows down a little past 90 degrees.
- Exhale and press the weights away from you (meet the dumbbells to almost touch at the apex of the movement).
Push-ups will not only target your chest muscles, but they will also strengthen your shoulders and triceps. It’s a well-rounded functional movement perfect for beginners or more advanced athletes.
- Start in a plank from your hands positioned slightly outside of shoulder width apart with your lower back flat (imagine a straight line connecting your head, lower back, and feet).
- Slowly descend into the push-up by bending your elbows.
- Keep your core muscles tight and lower yourself down until your elbows are a little past 90 degrees.
- Exhale and press your body away from the floor.
- If you can’t perform the exercise from your feet, keep your knees on the floor.
Banded chest flys keep a ton of tension on the chest muscles, and you’ll feel the muscles stretch and contract throughout the entire range of motion.
- Using bands, start with one leg in front of the other and your body positioned in the center.
- Grip the bands or handles with palms facing each other and bring them to meet in front of you.
- Now, bend your elbows to approximately 45 degrees and slowly move them away from you as if you are holding a big round beach ball (you should feel your chest muscles stretching as your arms go back)
- Once you go back far enough to get a good stretch, exhale and reverse the movement as though you are giving someone a big bear hug.
- Meet your hands back in the middle where you started the movement and repeat.
The incline variation of the dumbbell bench press is perfect for isolating the upper chest. It’s slightly more challenging than the flat dumbbell press, so be sure to choose your weights appropriately.
- Set the bench to an inclined position (roughly 45 degrees).
- Lay back flat on a bench with the dumbbells in your hands (palms facing away from you).
- Begin the movement from the top with your arms extended straight and dumbbells touching (make a V-shape with the weights touching).
- Slowly bring your elbows down a little past 90 degrees.
- Exhale and press the weights away from you (meet the dumbbells to touch at the apex of the movement where you began).
If you really want a challenging variation of the push-up, you have to do it from a declined position. You’ll feel more muscle activation this way because your weight will be shifted to the front of body; namely, your shoulders and chest.
- Put your feet on a chair or bench and start in a plank position with your hands slightly outside of shoulder width apart.
- Keep your core engaged and slowly descend into the pushup by bending your elbows.
- Lower yourself down without craning your neck forward until your elbows are a little past 90 degrees.
- Exhale and press your body away from the floor, making sure your lower back does not collapse into an extended position.
- This exercise is much harder than a regular pushup, so make sure to master regular pushups before trying this one out!
Shoulder taps are a well-rounded exercise that targets your chest muscles and works your shoulders, triceps, and core. You can’t really go wrong with a multifaceted movement like this one.
- Get into a plank position from your hands with your arms positioned a little bit outside of shoulder width apart.
- Keep your core engaged and your lower back flat.
- Without letting your hips rock side to side, press hard into the floor with both hands, lift one hand from the floor, and tap the opposite shoulder.
- Place your hand back in the original plank position and switch sides.
- Alternate until you have completed an equal number of reps on each side.
Trying any existing chest exercise with bands makes it a whole lot more challenging because the muscle experiences constant tension throughout the entire range of motion. You’ll feel your chest contracting as you press forward against the resistance.
- Wrap a resistance band with handles around a stable structure like a pole.
- Stagger your feet so that your one leg is lunged forward (bend your knee about 25 degrees).
- Grab the handles and press forward against the resistance with your arms positioned like you were doing a pushup.
- After you press forward, slowly reverse the movement and let the resistance gradually bring your arms back to the starting position (arms at about 90 degrees of elbow flexion).
- Repeat for the prescribed number of sets and reps. Adjust the resistance as needed by stepping forward more to increase the resistance or stepping back to decrease the resistance.
As the name suggests, this exercise is performed isometrically, or in other words, by developing tension in the muscles without contracting them. Although the movement is static, it is incredibly effective at activating the chest muscles.
- Face the wall and stagger your feet so that your one leg is lunged forward (bend your knee about 45 degrees).
- Place your hands on the wall and position your arms out in front of you with your elbows bent also at 45 degrees.
- Now, with force, lean forward and push the wall away from you by driving your hands into the wall with all your weight going forward.
- Hold the tension for 30 seconds and complete 3 rounds.
The alternating incline dumbbell bench press is the perfect choice for a bit of stability variation. The movement requires you to stabilize your shoulder joint as the opposing arm does the press.
- Set a workout bench to an inclined position (roughly 45 degrees).
- Lay on the bench with the dumbbells in your hands (palms facing away from you).
- Begin the movement from the top with your arms extended straight and dumbbells touching (make a V-shape with the weights).
- Moving one arm at a time, slowly bring your elbow down a little past 90 degrees.
- Exhale and press the weight away from you (meet the dumbbells to touch at the top).
- Keeping the arm you just worked extended forward, alternate to the other arm, and repeat to complete an equal number of reps on each side.
Save this one for an excellent finisher. The plate press isolates the inner portion of your pecs, and after a few sets, you will surely feel your muscles working.
- From a standing position, grab a weight plate and hold it with your palms facing each other.
- Begin the movement with the plates close to your chest.
- With your elbows out to the side, squeeze the plates together and press them away from you until your arms are fully extended.
- Maintain tension on the plates by continuously squeezing them together and return to the starting position.
- Quick tip: think about squeezing your chest together as you press the plates forward.
It’s important to understand the basics of chest anatomy so you know how to train these muscles properly. The chest is made up of two major muscles—the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.
- Pectoralis Major: This is the largest muscle of the chest wall, which originates at the clavicle (your collarbone) and inserts at the crest of the greater tubercle of the humerus (the top of your arm by your shoulder joint).
- The Pectoralis Minor: The pectoralis minor is the smaller of the two chest muscles. It has a triangular shape and sits below the pectoralis major. It originates from the anterior third to fifth ribs and inserts into the surface of the coracoid process of the scapula (the small bony protrusion at the front of your shoulder blade).
The two muscle groups work together, allowing your arms to move up, down, across, and away from your body.
Before you exercise your chest, there are a few important tips to remember:
- Never load your chest muscles with too much weight if you are just starting out, because you don’t want to injure yourself. Excessive loading can increase your risk of injury.
- If you’re performing chest exercises on your back, having a spotter can help prevent injuries.
- Only increase weight when you feel comfortable, and your movement patterns are near perfect.
- Practice makes perfect, but practice also makes permanent. If you do the exercise incorrectly, you will engrain the pattern into your nervous system, making it difficult to unlearn. Get it right the first time by having a professional (i.e., personal trainer) coach you through the movement.
- If you don’t have someone to coach you, take a video of yourself doing the exercise and then compare it to a video of someone performing the exercise correctly.
You can employ many exercises to have an effective chest workout with minimal equipment, and these 10 exercises should keep you busy for quite some time.
The most important thing is to start slow, listen to your body, and practice perfect form. Increase the weight or resistance when you feel comfortable but never do so by sacrificing excellent form.
Don’t hesitate to get help from a coach, either. They can drastically reduce the learning curve when it comes to getting these exercises down perfectly.