It’s every guy’s favorite day in the gym…
Walk into any gym on a Monday morning and you’ll see a legion of guys who can’t wait to start of their week by hammering out endless sets of chest exercises, most of them chasing the “pump” that’s not really that important to begin with.
Unfortunately, most of the exercises that lifters choose to focus on aren’t really that great. Instead of focusing on the fundamental chest builders, you see a lot of guys doing stuff like this:
I’m not sure when or where this gem of an exercise was discovered, but I’m guessing it spread sort of like a disease…
One bro saw another bro benching like this, thought it was a good idea, and started doing it himself. On and on it went for years, until the point where you can barely step into a gym without seeing someone neuter his chest workout with ineffective exercises such as this one.
But I’m getting off the subject…
Because this article isn’t about what you shouldn’t do. Instead, I’m going to cover the best chest exercises you can do in your gym to build a bigger, stronger chest.
And like most things in the gym, you get the best results when you go back to the basics.
Let’s get right to it, shall we?
Chest Builder #1 – The Bench Press
No surprise here, the bench press is the #1 exercise you should be incorporating into your routine if you want to build a broad, powerful looking chest. Doing the bench press with proper technique allows you to generate a tremendous amount of power and move a lot of weight, leading to a bigger, stronger chest.
The bench press primarily engages the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and the medial and long head of the triceps. It also helps to develop the mighty looking serratus muscle:
Now the bench press is a fairly complex movement and you want to make sure you have a solid understanding of the technique so you can consistently generate maximum power without risking injury.
Here’s a great instructional video from Scott Herman on proper bench press technique:
Scott does a great job explaining the technique for bench pressing, but one point that I REALLY want you to pay attention to is your elbow placement during the press. You want to be sure to tuck your elbows in about 75 degrees while benching to protect your shoulders.
You want your arm position to look like the arm on the left, not the arm on the right. Keep those elbows tucked in and you’ll be able to push heavy weight without risking a serious injury to your shoulders.
Chest Builder #2 – Incline Bench Press
Can you tell I like barbell movements?
That’s because barbell weight training allows you to add enough weight to the bar to significantly overload your muscles and give them a catalyst to grow.
The reason I like the incline bench press in particular is because it outperforms the bench press for targeting the upper portion of the chest highlighted here:
This upper portion of the chest is called the clavicular head, and the incline bench press is the best chest exercise for targeting this specific part of the muscle. Developing your upper chest is important for both appearance and strength; it makes the chest look “fuller” and more powerful.
The incline bench press, like the flat bench press, also engages the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps, and serratus.
Here’s how to perform the exercise:
Chest Builders #3 & #4 – Flat Dumbbell Presses and Incline Dumbbell Presses
The next most effective chest exercises on this list are flat dumbbell bench presses and incline dumbbell presses, both which use the same movement as the flat bench press and incline bench press, except with dumbbells.
You can build an impressive chest just by using dumbbells alone, although once you reach a certain level of strength, it can be difficult to make strength progressions.
That’s because a) a lot of gyms don’t have dumbbells heavy enough to challenge you past a certain point, and b) balancing a 100+ dumbbell in each hand is difficult no matter how strong you are.
That said, dumbbell presses do have distinct advantages over their barbell counterparts:
- You can work through an extended range of motion with dumbbell presses.
- Dumbbell presses activate more stabilizer muscles than the barbell versions, increasing stability and strength.
- You can dumbbell press without a spot. If you can’t manage to push up that last rep, you can always drop the dumbbells to the floor.
We often recommend incorporating both barbell and dumbbell presses in your workouts, using the barbell versions as your primary exercises and following them up with dumbbell presses for added volume.
And just as it was with the barbell versions, the incline dumbbell bench press is more effective than flat presses for targeting the upper chest.
Flat Dumbbell Press Instructions:
Incline Dumbbell Press Instructions:
Chest Builder #5 – Dips
Dips are my favorite exercise for emphasizing the development of the lower chest. It’s important to note that I use the word “emphasize” here because like the other chest exercises on this list, dips work the entire chest, triceps, and front deltoids. But the specialty of dips is targeting the lower chest.
The more the chest is angled forward during the dip, the more the exercise targets the chest. On the other hand, the more vertically upright you are during the movement, the more the exercise the targets the triceps.
Check out Scott Herman’s video here on how to perform chest dips:
Chest Builder #6 – Machine Chest Press
You may be surprised to see that the final exercise on this list is a machine exercise instead of a free weight one, but there’s definitely a place for the machine chest press in a comprehensive chest workout routine.
I wouldn’t use the machine chest press as a primary chest exercise, but it’s great for adding additional volume to your routine by doing this exercise AFTER you’ve finished the other major chest movements.
That’s because toward the end of your chest workout, after heavy pressing, you’re like to be feeling weaker and more tired. It’s at this point in the workout when you’re most likely to injure yourself because you’re not functioning at an optimal level – you’ve already put in a lot of work!
The machine chest press is perfect in this scenario because the movement is a simple one – and mostly dictated by the machine itself – so there’s much less risk of injuring yourself.
I’ve also used the machine chess press in situations where I’m recovering from an injury and am not feeling strong or confident enough to get back to even light barbell or dumbbell pressing. Machines get a bad rap and can actually be useful in certain circumstances, so don’t rule them out entirely.
And there you have it!
6 of the best chest exercises you can to do build a bigger, stronger, more powerful chest.
Do you have any favorite chest exercises that I left out? Have a question about any of the exercises listed here? Reach out to me in the comments section below.