Chest workout exercises target the pectorals, and deltoids, to improve strength and definition in the chest region. The best workouts for chest muscles, also tend to work the triceps and biceps, both of which are heavily used to perform chest exercises.
The benefits of developing the chest muscles include improved posture, better breathing, and overall upper body strength. Additionally, well-developed chest muscles support the pectorals and make some everyday activities easier, such as lifting, pushing, and squeezing. All of which can benefit from a well-trained chest.
The hardest part of a good chest workout routine is finding something that works all of the muscles properly and leads to balanced development. Some exercises isolate certain muscles, while others utilize all of the muscles in conjunction. By building a solid chest workout routine in the gym, it’s possible to make significant gains in strength and definition.
The most common mistakes often come from trying chest workout hacks, which leads to using the incorrect form, as well as overtraining. Performing these exercises incorrectly can lead to a lack of development on one end and injury on the other. Overtraining and using excessive weight often results in minor to severe injury.
The best chest workout exercises are listed below.
- Most Beneficial: Barbell Bench Press
- Best for Balanced Builds: Dumbbell Bench Press
- Best for Upper Chest Builds: Incline Bench Press
- Best for Lower Chest Builds: Decline Press
- Best for Beginners: Machine Chest Press
- Best for No Equipment: Push Up
- Best Bodyweight Exercise: Dip
- Best for Building Mass: Chest Fly
- Best for Building Definition: Dumbbell Pull-Over
- Best for Definition: Machine Fly
1. Barbell Bench Press
The barbell bench press is not just the most beneficial, it’s also the most famous weightlifting chest exercise. This chest exercise forces the pectorals and deltoids to work with the biceps and triceps to push the bar away from the body and bring it back in smooth, controlled chest lifts.
Additionally, this chest lift promotes core stability, boosts back flexibility, and improves posture. It’s an excellent way to develop strength and definition throughout the chest muscles. To perform a barbell bench press, the lifter starts with the weight pressed fully above the chest, slowly bringing it down to the chest, and then engages the chest, arms, and core to push outward in a steady motion.
The most common mistakes involve poor form and using too much weight. Muscle development only occurs with proper form, including keeping the elbows tight to the body and not arching the back. Most issues with form occur with inexperienced lifters or people trying to pack on too much weight.
Variations of the barbell bench press include the standard exercise, barbell floor press, reverse-grip, barbell guillotine, bench press with suspended weights, and reverse band.
Experienced lifters and powerlifters usually include a version of the barbell bench press in 2 or 3 workouts per week. Beginner and novice lifters may stick with 1 to 2 times per week until they feel more comfortable with the exercises.
Men can make significant gains with barbell bench presses. From increased upper body strength to more defined pectorals and delts, it’s a key chest workout. The effects for women are similar, but it can also mean more support for the breasts and improved core strength.
Note that most children should not perform this exercise because it can stress the muscles and bones. There are safer alternatives that don’t put as much pressure on their bodies.
Since calisthenics primarily focuses on bodyweight exercises, this may not be the most common chest workout for those athletes. However, it is an excellent way to build strength and definition, making it ideal for bodybuilders, swimmers, and runners.
The number of sets and reps for this chest exercise depends on the lifter’s goals. For strength, try 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps with a heavier weight. To increase muscle size, go with a medium weight for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps. Lifters wanting to tone and build muscle should use a lighter weight ideal for 3 to 5 sets of 12 to 15 reps.
Barbell Bench Press Variations for Chest Muscles
Like most exercises, variations allow lifters to switch up their routine while still working those target muscles. By changing equipment, grip, and position, it’s possible to work the chest and arm muscles in different ways for a more comprehensive workout.
The traditional barbell bench press remains the most popular variation, and it’s often a marker of upper body strength. It’s the best option for building strength and mass, though some argue that the reverse grip works the upper pectorals a little more.
The six variations of the barbell bench press are as follows.
- Barbell Bench Press
- Barbell Floor Press
- Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press
- Barbell Guillotine Bench Press
- Bench Press with Suspended Weights
- Reverse Band Bench Press
1. Barbell Bench Press
The traditional barbell bench press works the entire upper body, but especially the pectorals, front deltoids, and triceps.
To perform a barbell bench press, set a barbell up with a flat bench. The lifter lays on the bench, feet firmly on the floor, and the torso engaged. With hands shoulder-width apart, reach up to the bar, and lift it off the rack and over the chest for the starting position. Lower the bar down to the nipple line. Push the bar straight up, hold for a second, then return to starting position.
Common mistakes include using the poor form or packing on too much weight. Letting the weight drop too quickly, bouncing off of the chest, is also a common mistake. It’s a good idea to use a spotter to help maintain form and offer support.
The barbell bench press is one of the most popular workout exercises performed in gyms. It’s such an effective gauge of raw power that the Nation Football League uses it as a strength test in their drafting combine, testing a potential draft pick’s power.
This exercise is about more than power, it’s about developing the muscles and improving daily function. As a bonus, the barbell bench press can make a lifter’s chest look much bigger than if they only performed calisthenics that targets the chest.
Beginners should start light, possibly just the bar, and work on mastering proper form over 2 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps. Add the exercise in, or a variation of it, 1 to 3 times per week.
Experienced lifters might want to max out by lifting as much weight as they can for 1 set of 3 to 5 reps. It’s advisable to use a spotter when maxing out for safety. To build strength, try using a medium to heavyweight for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
2. Barbell Floor Press
The floor press works the same muscles in the chest and arms, especially the inner chest. It is ideal for people who need more support through their shoulders. Some people might find that it limits their range of motion too much, but the floor offers a wider frame of support than a bench.
To perform this variation, lay on the floor with the bar on a rack. The lifter removes the barbell from the rack, pulls it down to chest level to begin, then pushes it up, pauses, and brings it back down with controlled motions. The difference is that the floor shortens the range of motion.
Common mistakes include jerking motions and using too much weight for the reduced range of motion. It’s also easier to injure the elbows and triceps by overdoing things. Ideally, lifters should use a spotter for this variation to help get the bar off and back on the rack.
While this chest exercise may be the most popular floor press, it’s not as common as other variations. For people needing shoulder support or those focusing on the inner pectorals, the barbell floor press can help.
Intermediate and advanced lifters can see decent gains in the pectorals and triceps with 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps at a medium weight. If that proves too much, try dropping to a lighter weight and increasing the reps to 12 to 15. Add this variation into a chest workout routine 1 to 3 times per week.
3. Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press
The reverse-grip barbell bench press variation works the middle chest, pectoralis minor, and deltoids. It also engages the triceps and core. Using an underhanded grip allows for greater recruitment of the middle chest and pecs for a more focused workout.
To perform this variation of the barbell bench press, the lifter inverts their grip on the barbell. Using a flat bench, the lifter plants their feet on the ground, grips the barbell, and removes it from the rack. Pull the bar down to the chest for starting position. Push the bar up, hold for a second, then slowly lower back to the starting position.
The biggest mistake many lifters make is using too much weight for this motion. It’s not for powerlifting. The reverse-grip barbell bench press engages and develops accessory muscles to target underdeveloped areas for better aesthetics and stronger overall lifts when returning to a standard barbell press.
This variation is popular for lifters struggling to make gains in strength and definition. It’s best for intermediate to advanced lifters.
It’s a good idea to start with just the bar until the inverted grip feels comfortable. Continue with lighter weights and more reps, 10 to 15 per set. Add 3 to 4 sets of this variation into a chest workout routine 1 to 3 days per week.
4. Barbell Guillotine Bench Press
The barbell guillotine bench press focuses on the pectoralis major, front delts, and triceps. It can add definition to the musculature around the clavicles and shoulders.
To perform a guillotine press, set the barbell on the rack. Lie on the bench so that the eyes are under the bar. With hands slightly wider than the shoulders, grab the bar with an overhand grip. Lift the bar and pull it down toward the neck until it’s an inch or two above the throat. Push up, hold for a second, then release to the starting position.
The most common mistake with this variation is using too much weight, which can be extremely dangerous given the motion toward the neck. Always use a spotter when performing this variation.
The guillotine press is extremely popular with bodybuilders and athletes struggling for strength and definition in the upper pectorals. It is an advanced exercise for experienced lifters with spotters.
Since this exercise focuses on the definition, it’s best to use a lighter weight and more reps. Start by adding it to a chest workout routine 1 to 3 times per week for 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
5. Bench Press with Suspended Weights
The bench press with suspended weights variation works the entire chest to build strength and definition. It also helps with stability and engages the core more than other variations.
To perform a bench press with suspended weights, add kettlebells, and chains or use bands to sling weights over the ends of the bar. It’s possible to still use plates if the lifter can manage. The exercise works the same as the traditional bench press, but the lifter must also balance the suspended weights to keep the bar level.
The most common mistake is using too much weight. While this exercise should push the lifter, the weight shouldn’t be too heavy for the lifter to maintain proper bench press form.
These adjustments make the standard bench press more challenging and can help lifters make gains faster. It’s meant for intermediate and advanced lifters who need a more complex exercise.
Use medium to heavyweights, including the added kettlebells or chains. Stick with adding 1 to 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps into the chest routine 1 to 3 days per week.
6. Reverse Band Bench Press
The reverse band bench press works the same muscles in the chest, shoulders, and arms, but it’s more about benching more weight. This exercise is purely about upper body strength.
To perform this exercise, loop bands around the top of the cage and the barbell. With the back slightly arched and feet firm on the floor, lift the bar like a normal bench press. Pull the bar toward the chest and then push upward. Hold for a second, then repeat again. Use controlled, smooth motions to work the muscles properly.
The most common issue with this exercise is incorrectly setting up the equipment while using too much weight. Even though the bands offer support to help a lifter manage up to 25% more weight, it must be set up properly to avoid injury.
The reverse band bench press variation is an advanced exercise that’s popular among powerlifters who plateaued with their bench press weights. It’s a way to push through and make new gains by supporting the lifter with heavier weights.
Use heavier weights for fewer reps to make gains with this exercise. The bands take on some of the weight to help the lifter adjust, so it is possible to do more than a typical bench press. However, overdoing it could be unsafe. Use this chest exercise 1 to 3 times per week for 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 5 reps to make strength gains.
2. Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press targets the pectorals but also works the front delts, triceps, and core. Since the body has to balance the weights to press them up equally, this exercise is ideal for correcting disparities in strength and physique.
This exercise belongs in any chest workout for strength, and it can boost the weightlifter’s max weight for the standard bench press.
Performing this exercise requires a bench and two dumbbells. Lie on the bench with feet planted firmly on the floor. With a dumbbell in each hand, press the weights up, hold for a second, then return to the starting position. Every step should be controlled to engage the appropriate muscles.
The most common mistakes involve using too much weight and falling into bad form. It’s better to use lighter weight and more reps until a lifter can maintain proper form for heavier dumbbells.
There are seven main variations of the dumbbell bench press, including the traditional approach, neutral-grip, close-grip, single-arm, alternating, bent-over, and kettlebell rows.
For max benefits, add the dumbbell bench press to chest day exercises 2 to 3 times per week. Men and women can make significant gains with this exercise. It’s ideal for balancing the pectorals and delts for a balanced physique. This exercise is not recommended for children due to the complexity and balance required.
Some versions of this exercise may help runners and athletes who focus on calisthenics, but bodybuilders and athletes of contact sports see the most benefits. It develops key muscles for bodybuilders looking to improve definition and overall strength for athletes performing in contact sports.
Though powerlifters may want to use heavy weights to bulk, most people will make gains with lighter to medium weights that allow them to focus on form. The important part of this exercise is feeling the muscles work, so the sweet spot is 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Dumbbell Bench Press Variations for Chest Workout Routines
Changing the angle, grip, and equipment can alter how this popular chest workout affects the chest muscles. It’s one of the best chest exercises for customizing a workout, from how it works the muscles to how much weight each arm uses.
One of the key changes would be grip because the neutral grip puts less stress on the shoulders than some of the others. Additionally, the bent-over variation takes the pressure off the shoulders while still working the muscles.
The traditional dumbbell press remains the most popular variation because it’s also the best option for building strength and mass at any skill level. It works the entire upper chest region and forces the lifter to focus on balance to maintain proper form.
Variations of the dumbbell bench press include the following.
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
- Close-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
- Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
- Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press
- Bent-Over Dumbbell Press
- Kettlebell Rows
1. Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press engages the pectorals and front delts. It also works the triceps and core for balance.
To perform the standard version of the dumbbell bench press, lay flat, and lock into position by forcing the feet into the ground and the back against the bench. Press the dumbbells up to shoulder width, with an overhand grip, just like a barbell press. Squeeze the dumbbells together at the top, accentuating the middle chest and engaging both sides of the body.
The most common mistake is using too much weight to manage the proper form. It’s better to start with a lighter weight to prevent injury and work the muscles properly. If one side is weaker, it’s better to drop the weight down to focus on form.
One of the 10 best chest exercises for intermediate and advanced lifters hoping to build strength and mass. It’s extremely popular for balancing strength and physique because it’s possible to work the weaker side more.
For bulking, advanced lifters can use heavier dumbbells for 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 6 reps. Other lifters might want to go lighter with the dumbbells and increase the sets and reps, like 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
2. Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
The neutral-grip dumbbell bench press variation works the pectorals and delts while forcing the lifter to use more tricep power and strength from the shoulders. The neutral grip also puts less strain on the shoulder joints.
Performing the neutral-grip dumbbell bench press variation of the dumbbell bench press is exactly the same as the standard movement except for the grip. Instead of an overhand hold on the dumbbells, the lifter rotates the dumbbells so that their thumbs point toward the head-end of the bench. The heads of the dumbbells should be in line with the chest and parallel to the torso.
The most common misstep with this variation is using too much weight. To get the most out of this exercise, it’s best to use lighter weights and move slowly to isolate the target muscles.
Though it’s not as popular as other variations, some lifters prefer the neutral-grip because it’s easier on the shoulder joints than a standard barbell press. It works the muscles in a slightly different way because it engages the triceps more.
Most weightlifters should start light with more reps and work up as their bodies progress. A good starting point would be 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
3. Close-Grip Dumbbell Bench Press
The close-grip dumbbell bench press variation, also known as the crush-press, targets the chest and builds strength. It also strengthens the shoulders and triceps, aiding in overall strength and definition.
To perform the close-grip dumbbell bench press, use a neutral grip. Keeping the dumbbells close together, start with them just above the chest and push up. Hold for a second or two, then lower the dumbbells back to the chest, keeping them close together at all times.
The most common problem for lifters is using too much weight. This compound exercise works for several muscle groups and requires good balance and stability, so using a manageable weight is necessary.
The close-grip variation is popular among intermediate and advanced weightlifters. It deemphasizes overall raw power and forces the triceps and shoulders to work harder. The crush press makes an excellent accessory lift for athletes trying to increase their bench press strength.
To bulk, use heavy weights for 3 to 4 sets of 3 to 5 reps. For strengthening and toning, go for the lighter weights and increase the reps to 6 to 12 per set.
4. Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
The single-arm dumbbell press works the pectorals and upper delts. However, the primary goal is to improve shoulder stability and strength while helping the lifter master proper form.
To perform the single-arm dumbbell bench press variation, the weightlifter uses one dumbbell and emulates the traditional press motion with one side. The other side should remain fully extended throughout the set to keep the shoulders balanced.
The most common issue is using a dumbbell that’s too heavy. Since it’s a strength and stability exercise, lighter weights allow the lifter to focus on form and isolate the proper muscles.
The single-arm dumbbell bench press variation allows the weightlifter to focus on just one side of their body. Instead of lifting two dumbbells, just lift one. It’s a popular variation for correcting strength and mass disparity, but many athletes use it for injury prevention or during recovery.
Again, lighter weight is the key to this variation. Stick with lighter dumbbells and more reps. A good starting point is 3 to 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
5. Alternating Dumbbell Bench Press
The alternating dumbbell bench press variation works the pectorals and delts while developing the triceps. It’s a solid chest exercise for developing the upper body while isolating the muscles on each side for a more balanced appearance.
To perform the alternating dumbbell bench press version, select two dumbbells and lie on the bench. Alternate lifting one arm, then lowering it back to starting. Switch to the other arm for the same motion. Rotate arms to complete the set.
The most common mistake is using too much weight. Since the exercise allows the arms to work independently, it’s better to use lighter weights to maintain proper form. Going heavy on the stronger side would only increase the disparity.
This technique is popular because it forces the athlete to remain balanced and somewhat neutral. Lifters get better muscle recruitment from core stabilizers, accessory muscles, and even the big workers in the chest.
Lighter weights typically work best for this variation. Try 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps for best results.
4. Bent-Over Dumbbell
The Bent-over dumbbell is a popular exercise to develop the chest muscles, especially for bodybuilding chest workouts. Specifically, this routine develops the pectoralis major, as well as the brachialis and rotator cuffs.
The bent-over dumbbell exercise is good for all levels, as any amount of weight can be used. To avoid injury, legs should be in line with shoulders, knees bent, with hands shoulder-width apart.
The palms should always face each other, and the dumbbells should be raised straight up, no higher than the shoulders themselves. It’s important not to let the arms fall but to lower the dumbbells slowly, staying in control the whole time.
Mistakes can cause injury, and the most common mistakes are using too much weight, bending the wrists, or moving the legs during each rep. Lifting the weights or bending over too far can cause a back injury, as can rounding the back or shoulders during exercise.
To start safely, pick a small weight, and do 12 to 15 reps for 3 to 4 sets. As a person gains strength, they can increase the weight and number of reps per set. Bent-over dumbbells should be done three to four times a week, preferably with a day of recovery between each exercise.
5. Kettlebell Rows
While kettlebell rows primarily target the biceps and upper back muscles, they also work the main chest muscles, especially when the bodybuilder maintains good form. This exercise routine is growing in popularity as kettlebells become more common, and it’s perfect for those who want something heavier than a dumbbell, but also want to protect their wrists.
Beginners can start by focusing on one arm at a time, but those who have good posture established can do both arms simultaneously. Make sure to stand with feet shoulder-width apart and the kettlebells aimed between the feet. Tilt the hips forward while keeping the back straight.
Those who are only using one arm should use a stable surface, such as a chair, for support. Rotate the hand until the thumb faces forward, where the toes are pointing, and then bend the elbow, lifting up to bring up the kettlebell. Hold for a beat and breathe in and out, then slowly lower the kettlebell back down, keeping the thumb pointing forwards the whole time.
To avoid injury, don’t make common mistakes, like rounding the back, hunching the shoulders, turning the wrist while lifting the kettlebell, or choosing a kettlebell that’s too heavy.
As with any exercise, start with a low weight, and increase as strength is gained. Start with a small number of reps, such as 12, and do 3 to 4 sets. This exercise should be done three times a week.
3. Incline Bench Press
Incline bench presses emphasize the upper part of the chest, primarily the front delts and pectorals. Incline bench press motions are excellent for aesthetics, helping to round out the upper pectoralis muscles. The incline bench press also works the shoulders.This is an effective chest exercise for building strength and improving a weightlifter’s standard bench press.
To perform an incline bench press, set the bench at a 30° to 45° angle. Sit with feet on the floor and back against the bench. Use an overhand grip with hands set slightly wider than the shoulders. Remove the bar from the rack and hold it straight up with arms extended for the starting position. Pull down to bring the bar to the chest for a second or two, then push up.
Common mistakes for performing the incline bench press include lifting too much weight and failing to push up vertically. Trying to lift too heavy is a big mistake with an incline bench press, as it can cause serious injury. The other mistake many lifters make is not aiming for a vertical lift. Push the bar straight up, not out in front, to maintain balance.
Variations of this exercise include the standard version, the Smith Machine incline bench press, and the dumbbells together incline bench press.
Incline presses also serve as an accessory lift for flat benches, so add this exercise to chest workout plans 2 to 3 times per week for strengthening. Men and women hoping to increase strength can benefit from adding this exercise to a regular chest lift workout. It is not advisable for children to perform this exercise.
Bodybuilders and sports athletes may reap the most benefit from this chest workout. Runners and athletes focused on calisthenics may appreciate the gains in strength, but it may not be as beneficial as other exercises.
The incline bench press is an effective exercise to build chest muscles, but it’s important to go lighter on the weight to avoid stressing the elbows. Start lighter with more reps, for example, 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
Incline Bench Press Variations for Chest
Weightlifters can alter this exercise by changing the equipment they use. Switching from a barbell to a dumbbell to a Smith Machine can alter how the muscles work and how much weight an individual can use.
The traditional incline bench press with a barbell is the most popular option among powerlifters and bodybuilders because it’s excellent for building strength and mass. However, beginning and intermediate lifters may prefer to use the Smith Machine to learn control and form.
Three variations of the incline bench press are as follows.
- Incline Barbell Bench Press
- Smith Machine Incline Bench Press
- Dumbbells-Together Incline Bench Press
1. Incline Barbell Bench Press
The incline barbell bench press exercise targets the upper pectorals, but it also strengthens the delts and triceps. It’s one of the best workouts for the upper chest for those struggling to gain definition there.
To perform this exercise, set the bench’s incline to about 45-degrees. Set the feet firmly on the floor and make sure the sacrum and upper back are all the way back against the bench. Grasp the bar shoulder-width apart, using the rings on the barbell as a guide. Lift the bar off the rack and out over the upper chest. Lower it to the clavicle, and press it back up.
Common mistakes include using too much weight or moving too fast through the reps. Lighter weights and slow, controlled movements yield better results because they allow lifters to focus on the target muscles.
This exercise is extremely popular because it’s a traditional chest exercise that builds strength and definition. For power development, 3 to 5 sets of 5 reps is a good goal. For endurance and aesthetics, target more reps per set with lighter weights. As part of a full-body circuit, go with 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
2. Smith Machine Incline Bench Press
The Smith Machine incline bench press engages the chest and front delts. It also engages the triceps, lats, rhomboids, and core. If you are a beginner, it is always recommended to start on the Smith Machine until you have the basic form down.
To perform this version, set the bench to a 30° angle. Set the Smith Machine at the desired weight. Sit with the back against the bench and feet firm on the floor. Unrack the bar and pull it down to mid-chest level. Push the bar up, then return to starting.
The most common mistakes for this variation include setting the incline too high and using a grip that’s too wide. A 30° angle is ideal, but going more than 45° doesn’t benefit the target muscles. Further, the grip should be just wider than the shoulders to ensure stimulation of the pectorals.
The Smith Machine is extremely popular for less experienced lifters and those working on the form because it supports proper posture. It’s also a bit easier on the joints. Be sure to factor in the 45 lb. weight difference since the Smith Machine bar doesn’t weigh anything.
It’s best to start light until the motion feels natural and easy. Go with 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps and work up in both weight and reps. Powerlifters might want to heap on the weight and drop the reps to 3 to 5 for bulking.
3. Dumbbells-Together Incline Bench Press
The dumbbells-together incline bench press variation is a good chest workout because it engages the upper chest, primarily the upper pectorals. It also works the triceps.
To perform this lift, hold the dumbbells with the inner heads touching in a straight line across the chest. This technique helps balance the weight by forcing them against one another. This position also engages the triceps and inner chest during the lift.
The most common misstep with this exercise is using too much weight. Essentially, it isn’t a max-out exercise but rather a lighter weight, high-rep chest workout. Start with focusing on form, flexing the muscles at key points during the movement, and controlled speed.
This variation is popular among intermediate and advanced lifters seeking to build strength because it targets and develops accessory muscles. Go with lighter dumbbells and increase reps to focus on those accessory muscles that don’t usually get as much attention. Start with 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps and gradually increase weight over time.
4. Decline Press
The decline bench press engages the lower pectorals, but it remains a whole chest workout for building mass and strength. This chest exercise is easier on the shoulder joints because it doesn’t lock the lifter into an unnatural position at any point.
The decline press chest workout recruits all the major and minor chest and accessory muscles while stabilizing the core. It’s excellent for defining the lower pectorals for an overall better physique.
To perform the decline press, set a bench at a 15° to 30° decline. Lie on the bench and secure your feet. Grasp the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width, overhand grip. Lift the bar off the rack and hold it over the shoulders with elbows locked. Pull the bar down to the chest, hold for a few seconds, then push back up to starting position.
The most common issues with this chest exercise are poor form and not using a spotter. Given the unusual angle, it’s best to use a spotter for assistance to avoid dropping the weights and causing injury. Additionally, lower weights work best until the exercise becomes familiar.
Popular variations of the decline press include the traditional press, the dumbbell decline press, the decline Smith Machine press, and the decline leverage press. Incorporate this exercise into a chest day workout 1 to 3 times per week.
Both men and women can make gains in strength and definition when performing this exercise. Women may even appreciate the extra breast support it provides. This exercise is not child-friendly, only experienced weightlifters should attempt it.
The decline press is an excellent strengthening and toning exercise for athletes focused on calisthenics, bodybuilders, swimmers, and runners. Aside from experienced powerlifters and bodybuilders, most lifters should stick with lighter weights and more reps. Ideally, 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions to yield the best results.
Decline Press Variations for Chest Muscle
Weightlifters can explore variations of the decline press by changing up the equipment they use. Barbells, dumbbells, and machines allow the lifters to exercise different levels of control and balance to achieve unique results.
The most popular variation is the traditional barbell press, but beginners and those hoping to increase weight might prefer the Smith Machine for improving form. To make gains in strength and mass, the traditional barbell press is best, though dumbbells allow lifters to correct disparities in strength and size.
Variations of the decline press include the following.
- Decline Barbell Bench Press
- Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
- Decline Smith Machine Press
- Decline Leverage Press
1. Decline Barbell Bench Press
The traditional decline press with a barbell focuses on the lower pectorals but works the entire upper body, including the triceps. It’s easier on the shoulder joints while working the accessory muscles.
To perform the decline barbell bench press variation, lie on the bench with legs comfortably locked into the pads on the bench and a shoulder-width grip on the bar. Bring the weight down to the chest, right over the sternum. Press it back up smoothly, without drifting out of a straight line extending from the chest straight up.
The goal is to press the weight vertically, so it’s essential to line the bench up perfectly so that it doesn’t move at an angle. The arms and elbows should be in about the same position as for a standard bench press.
The biggest mistake with this variation is moving too fast through the motion and not engaging the muscles properly. Slow and steady movements allow the lifter to isolate the muscles properly to make gains.
The traditional decline bench press allows lifters to use more weight than other variations, making it popular among bodybuilders. It’s also popular because it’s easier on the joints and back.
This exercise is an intermediate-level workout. It’s ideal for lighter weights and higher reps to work those accessory muscles and lower pectorals. Start with 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
2. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
The decline dumbbell bench press variation strengthens the chest muscles, primarily the lower pectorals, but also works the shoulders and triceps. It’s a compound exercise that builds strength and creates a balanced physique.
To perform the decline dumbbell bench press exercise, set the bench at a 30° to 45° decline. Lay on the bench and lock the legs. Hold the dumbbells close to the chest with a neutral grip. Push the dumbbells up, hold for a few seconds, then lower back to starting position.
Common mistakes in this exercise are mainly related to form. It’s crucial to keep elbows and wrists strong throughout the exercise while engaging the core for support.
The decline dumbbell bench press is popular for correcting size and strength disparities because it allows the lifter to focus on one side a little more than the other without ignoring the stronger muscles. This is a beginner-level exercise that works for most lifters.
For bulking, use a heavier weight for 3 to 5 sets of 3 to 5 reps. To tone and strengthen, choose lighter weights for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
3. Decline Smith Machine Press
The decline Smith Machine press is a compound exercise that engages the pectorals, front delts, and triceps. It also works with the lats, rhomboids, and core to build mass and definition.
To perform the decline Smith machine press variation, set up an adjustable bench with a Smith Machine. Set the bench at a 15° to 30° angle. Lie down with feet secured under the pads for stability. Grab the bar with an overhand grip and hands a little wider than shoulder-width. Unrack the bar and lower it to the chest. Push the bar straight up until elbows lock, hold for a second, then pull back down.
The most common mistake for this exercise is using too much weight at the beginning. It’s more important to learn proper form first, then add weight as the lifter gains mastery.
The Smith Machine decline press builds mass, but that’s not what makes it a popular addition to chest workout routines. It doesn’t require a spotter or stresses the shoulder joints. It’s also easier for beginners because the Smith Machine press supports lifters throughout the exercise.
For maximum gains, do 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps. This intermediate to advanced exercise is an excellent exercise for chest day, but don’t use it more than 1 to 3 days per week.
4. Decline Leverage Press
The decline leverage press variation is a compound exercise that primarily works the pectorals, but it also engages the shoulders, triceps, and core. It’s excellent for building mass without stressing the joints. It is considered a beginner exercise, but it is important to ensure proper form before adding additional weight.
To perform the decline leverage press, sit at the machine, set the desired weight, and press. As long as the weightlifter sets the seat at a comfortable level and chooses the correct weight, it’s not easy to make a mistake with this one.
The decline leverage press is ideal for beginners and a popular addition for newbies to add to a chest exercise routine. These machines are virtually impossible to mess up on and allow weightlifters to sit in a normal position because the device creates the decline.
Additionally, the decline leverage press is popular because it’s the one that allows weightlifters to do the most weight without concern for balance, spotters, or stressing joints. If a lifter chooses to use a higher weight, reduce sets to 3 to 5 and reps to 5 to 8. Beginners may prefer 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps at a lighter weight.
5. Machine Chest Press
The machine chest press is a weight training exercise that works the pectoral muscles. It also engages the biceps, triceps, delts, and lats. Since the weightlifter sits upright and uses a machine, it’s easier on the joints with less room for injury.
To perform the machine chest press exercise, adjust the seat to a comfortable level and select the proper weight based on experience and fitness level. Grasp the handles and push outward until the arms fully extend but before the elbows lock. Pause for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Use slow, controlled motions to engage the muscles properly.
Common mistakes for this exercise involve incorrect settings. Machines have adjustments for setting them up to fit each lifter’s body, so make sure to set the pins, seats, safety bars, and all the parts of the machine before starting. There are two variations of this exercise. Lifters can opt for a plate-loaded or cable machine.
Men, women, and even some children can make gains with the machine chest press. It’s almost impossible to mess up, making it a great way to learn basic movements. Though bodybuilders may not appreciate it as much as other exercises, swimmers, runners, and athletes focused on calisthenics benefit from the opportunity to build strength and definition.
Machines also offer a respite from the grueling nature of free weight lifting, so they are great for de-loading, resting, and letting nagging injuries or sore spots get a break. Experienced lifters can usually add quite a bit of weight to their normal numbers when they move to a machine.
Beginners and athletes looking to tone should start with lower weight settings and more reps. Think about doing 2 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps. Bodybuilders may only use machines to improve definition, but it’s doubtful that they can pack on enough weight for a challenge. Add this exercise into a chest day routine up to 3 days per week.
Machine Chest Press Types for Chest Muscle Growth
Since machine chest press exercises rely on a machine, there are only two primary variations. One uses plates and the other uses cables. There’s no real difference between the two styles in terms of workout or muscle engagement.
Don’t expect machine chest presses to build a lot of power or mass. These machines are popular for beginners and intermediate lifters who need support to learn the motions or move up to the next weight tier. Both machines allow lifters to work the chest muscles without stressing the joints or using a spotter.
Machine chest press variations include the following.
- Plate-Loaded Chest Press
- Cable Chest Press
1. Plate-Loaded Chest Press
The plate-loaded chest press machine primarily works the pectorals, but it also engages the core, shoulders, and arms for a comprehensive upper body workout. It’s an excellent starting point for people hoping to build strength and engage the chest muscles without stressing the joints or back.
To perform the plate-loaded chest press exercise, set the seat and weights to the desired level. Sit in the seat with feet firmly on the ground, grasp the handles and push out. Hold for a second or two, then pull back.
It’s not easy to make mistakes with this exercise because the machine guides the movements. Setting the weight too high could lead to overworked muscles, but it’s easy to drop the weight down in the middle of a set.
This machine is perfect for beginners and intermediate lifters looking to tone. They’re also a good alternative to barbell bench pressing. Consider using a machine like this for high-rep sets with lower weight to build strength and definition.
2. Cable Chest Press
The cable chest press strengthens the accessory muscles in the chest, shoulders, and core. It’s not about developing raw power as much as learning the motion and building definition.
To perform this exercise, select a cable machine and adjust the bench and weight. Sit down with feet firm on the floor, grasp the handles, and press, just like with free-weight variations.
Again, it’s not easy to make mistakes with chest press machines, but it is possible to move the handles separately with a cable press. Be sure to move the body in sync for a balanced workout.
These machines are popular for beginners and intermediate lifters because they stimulate the muscles and increase strength over time. Consider using lighter weights, higher reps, and other movement variations to change up chest workouts a bit. For instance, do some partial or wide-grip reps at the top of the bench press to target the middle chest.
Push-ups are effective exercises for shaping and defining the pectoral muscles, deltoids, and triceps. Additionally, this bodyweight exercise works the abs to strengthen and stabilize the core. When it comes to the best at-home exercises for chest building, one can’t beat a push-up.
To perform a push-up, start with the body face down on the ground. Push the body up to starting position, arms fully extended with the shoulders, elbows, and hands in line. Keep the feet close together to create a clean line. Engage the chest and core muscles to slowly lower the body toward the ground. Hold for a second, then push back up to the starting position.
The most common mistake is poor form, usually due to insufficient strength. If it’s impossible to perform a correct push-up, drop the knees to the ground for an adapted exercise to build strength. This can still be part of the best workouts for chest growth.
Common variations of the push-up included the traditional version, feet elevated, hands elevated, suspended, hand-release, weighted, and banded. Though it is possible to incorporate push-ups into a daily exercise routine, it’s best to include them in chest day workouts 1 to 3 days per week.
Men, women, and children can gain strength and definition throughout the upper body by performing push-ups regularly. Since it’s a bodyweight exercise, even children can learn proper form and do them.
From calisthenics to bodybuilding, there aren’t many athletes who don’t use push-ups at some point in their workouts. It’s a traditional, impactful exercise that helps every athlete, from swimmers to runners.
These push-ups are a great exercise for the chest since they can be done any time, anywhere without equipment. Start with a goal of 5 to 10 push-ups, then work up from there. Ultimately, 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps is a solid goal for gaining strength, but athletes can essentially do as many as they want.
Push-Up Variations for Chest Muscles
By changing position, it’s possible to target different muscles more or less. Additionally, adding weight to the body can increase the exercise’s difficulty.
Traditional push-ups require nothing but the lifter and the floor. Other variations use supports or equipment. It’s possible to do elevated versions with anything from a bench to steps, but weighted and banded variations require gear.
Push-ups remain popular because they are simplistic but excellent for increasing the upper body and strength. Plus, traditional push-ups are among the safest chest exercises to do. That said, push-ups are never going to help much with increasing mass.
There are several variations of push-ups.
- Feet-Elevated Push-Up
- Hands-Elevated Push-Up
- Suspended Push-Up
- Hand-Release Push-Up
- Weighted Push-Up
- Banded Push-Up
1. Feet-Elevated Push-Up
Feet-elevated push-ups work the chest and shoulder muscles. It’s also an excellent tool for engaging the upper back and triceps.
To perform the feet-elevated push-up variation, instead of doing push-ups with the feet on the floor, prop the toes up on a bench. Each push is heavier and harder to do without impinging the lifter’s range of motion.
The biggest issue with this variation is letting the middle drop. If an athlete doesn’t have enough strength to perform this variation, they tend to go lax through the abdomen, which stresses the back.
This version is popular among experienced lifters because it’s possible to do more reps than bench pressing. Plus, it’s possible to increase the difficulty by using a higher platform or a balance ball for the feet.
Start with a goal of 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 10 feet-elevated push-ups. If it’s possible to complete them all with proper form, then add a set or a few reps.
2. Hands-Elevated Push-Up
The hands-elevated push-up variation works the pectorals but also engages the triceps brachii, forcing them to work harder than a conventional push-up. It’s easier than the feet-elevated version but adds a little variety.
To perform the hands-elevated push-up version, place the hands on a bench instead of the floor. Keeping the feet on the floor and lower than the hands, push off the bench until the arms are straight. Hold for a second or two, then lower back to the bench for the starting position.
The most common mistake for the hands-elevated push-up is poor form. Inability to manage the exercise with slow, controlled movements can put too much stress on the body.
Beginners should try for 3 to 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps and work up to 4 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
3. Suspended Push-up
The suspended-push-up variation may be the best of the push-ups for building strength through the pectorals, delts, abs, biceps, and triceps.
To perform this bodybuilding chest exercise, lifters need to use an attachment and a bar. Secure the bands and position the body beneath the attachment. Take the handles or rings and lower the body down like a traditional push-up. Keeping the core engaged and a flat back, push back up to the starting position.
The most common mistake for this exercise comes back to form. When lifters lack the strength and control necessary to manage the instability associated with this version, they can’t maintain proper form, which often leads to injury.
The suspended push-up variation is best for advanced lifters who have sufficient strength to perform the exercise properly. It allows lifters to have a greater range of motion and stretch while forcing the core to engage more. Lifters can also vary the difficulty by raising and lowering the straps to increase or decrease the stretch. Experienced lifters should aim for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
4. Hand-Release Pushups
Hand-release push-ups work the pectoral, delts, lats, biceps, and triceps. Hand-release pushups also force the recruitment of the core muscles for stability and is a reminder to maintain a rigid plank throughout the movement.
To perform a hand-release push-up, start in a plank, similar to a traditional variation. Lower all the way to the floor and lift the hands off the ground without moving any other part of the body. Return the hands to the ground and push up to the starting position.
Though it’s not easy to mess up this version, if a lifter lacks the requisite strength, it’s likely that they will use poor form. Dipping in the middle can strain the back, wrists, or elbows.
This particular version is popular because it happens to be part of the U.S. Army’s Combat Fitness Test. It’s also an excellent way to engage the core at the midpoint. Start with 1 to 3 sets of 4 to 8 reps and work up to 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
5. Weighted Push-up
The weighted push-up is a more difficult push-up variation exercise that targets the pectorals and delts. It also works the triceps and core.
To perform the weighted push-up, a spotter or partner can place weight on the lifter’s back, or they can wear a weighted vest. Otherwise, everything is the same as a traditional push-up. Start in a plank position, lower the body to the ground and hold before pushing back up.
The most common mistake for this version is using too much weight. This exercise is meant for experienced lifters seeking a challenge, so they already have the requisite strength to use proper form.
The weighted push-up is an effective way to make push-ups a bit harder for intermediate and advanced lifters. The number of reps should drop some to accommodate the extra weight, so start with 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 8 reps and work up from there.
6. Banded Push-up
The banded push-up variation is a push-up variation that works the chest and shoulder muscles, especially the upper pectorals and front delts. It also works the core and hips to improve balance and stability.
To perform a banded push-up, grab a resistance band. Loop the band over one hand, take it across the back of the shoulders, and loop the other end over the other hand. Assume the plank position and push off the ground. Hold the position for a few seconds, then lower back down.
The biggest mistake with this variation is using the band incorrectly. If the weightlifter lacks the strength to manage the extra resistance, it can lead to poor form and injury. A banded push-up increases the exercise’s difficulty by adding resistance. Start with 1 to 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps and work up to 10 to 12 reps.
The dip is a compound exercise that works the pectoral muscles, primarily the pectoralis major, and the triceps brachii. Dips also engage the delts, rhomboids, traps, and lats to a lesser degree. Depending on how the weightlifter uses the exercise, it can work the triceps more than the pectorals, though both muscle groups do the heavy lifting.
To perform a standard dip, grasp two parallel bars about shoulder-width apart. Extend the arms all the way, and then slowly bend the elbows to lower the chest and head towards the floor. When the elbows reach a 90° angle, push back up to the starting position. Note that dipping lower works the pecs more while pushing up higher focus on the triceps.
The most common mistake with this exercise is pushing the body too far. Dipping too low or pushing up too high can do more harm than good by straining the target muscles or stressing the wrist and elbow joints.
There are several dip variations, including the chest dip, ring dip, machine-assisted dip, banded dip, and machine dip. Dips can increase strength and mass when added to chest day routines 1 to 3 days per week.
Men, women, and children can all benefit from bodyweight exercise, like the dip, especially for gym chest workouts. While the lifter needs to have enough strength and stability to perform the motions, there is room for assistance and adaptation to help them build toward a full dip.
For athletes focused on calisthenics, dips rely mostly on body weight and limited equipment, so it’s a popular way for them to work the chest. Since bodybuilding requires diverse movements to sculpt all the facets of the body’s muscles, dips can help accomplish that. Swimmers and runners can also see helpful gains by incorporating dips for upper body strength.
As a bodyweight exercise, it’s best to do 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps to isolate the target muscles.
Dip Variations for Chest Strength
Weightlifters can change the dip by using different equipment to perform the exercise. Instead of using just a dip station, an individual could choose to use rings or a machine. Adding a resistance band can further increase the difficulty by providing some resistance.
The traditional dip is the most popular version because it is easiest to do with limited equipment. It also does wonders for developing strength and muscle mass because it’s a compound, bodyweight workout.
There are several dip variations which are listed below.
- Chest Dip
- Ring Dip
- Machine-Assisted Dip
- Banded Dip
- Machine Dip
1. Chest Dip
The chest dip is one of the best pectoral exercises. The standard dip targets the entire chest, triceps, and shoulders.
To perform a chest dip, the lifter uses a dip station. Position the hands on the handles with a neutral grip. Start with the arms straight and elbows locked, then lower the body until the forearms are parallel to the floor. Pause for a second, then push back up to the starting position. Note that leaning slightly forward engages the pectorals more.
The most common chest dip mistakes are going too fast or trying to do them without sufficient strength. Going too fast through the reps doesn’t engage the muscles properly. If a lifter isn’t strong enough to handle dip, then form gets sloppy, and it can cause an injury.
Chest dips are popular with bodybuilders and experienced athletes because they build strength while offering the opportunity to perform a lot of reps for better muscle definition. Start with 1 to 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps and work up to 2 to 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
2. Ring Dip
The ring dip is all about building strength and flexibility in the pectorals and front delts. It also works the back and arms.
To do a ring dip, grasp the rings and push up so that the arms are straight. Lower the body down by bending the elbows. Keep the shoulders and hands tight with the body and use slow, controlled movements. Push back up to the starting position and repeat as desired.
The most common mistake with ring dips is trying them before having the strength and stability to do it. Ring dips are extremely complicated and require excellent strength and stability.
Ring dips are popular among gymnasts, Olympians, and CrossFit athletes who have the ability to manage them. However, advanced lifters appreciate the challenge and can make significant gains with ring dips.
Start out light with 3 to 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps and gradually work up to 4 to 5 sets of 10 to 12 reps.
3. Machine-Assisted Dip
The machine-assisted dip works the pectorals and delts, but it also engages and strengthens the triceps, so it’s perfect for a bodybuilding chest workout.
To perform the machine-assisted dip exercise, set the knee pad and desired resistance on the machine. Kneel on the pads and grasp the handles. Lean slightly forward to engage the chest. Push upward until the arms are straight, pause, then lower back to the starting position.
The most common mistake with a machine-assisted dip is not using proper resistance. It might take some experimentation to find the best fit, but the exercise only works if the lifter can maintain proper form throughout each set.
The machine-assisted dip is an example of why chest workouts at the gym are usually better than ones at home. It’s a popular choice for lifters who lack the strength to do a true dip. Start with 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 10 reps and work up gradually to more sets and reps.
4. Banded Dip
Banded dips target the pectorals, but they also engage the triceps and shoulders. While band exercises are often overlooked, they provide excellent benefits and are safer than using weight.
To perform this version, loop a resistance band around the bars or handles and step or kneel on it. Push up to the standard starting position with arms straight, then lower the body with a slow controlled motion. Pause and push back up to the starting position. The band should cradle the feet or knees to provide support at the bottom of the lift.
The only way to truly mess this exercise up is to try it without having sufficient strength and stability. A banded dip helps people who have difficulty at the bottom of the dip movement keep dipping as part of their chest building workout. It’s also popular for people who find dips too painful and need more support through the shoulders. Start light with 3 to 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps and work up to 4 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
5. Machine Dip
The machine dip works the pectoralis major and anterior delts. It also engages the lats and triceps. To perform the machine dip, sit at the dip machine, set the desired weight, and press handles down to mimic the movement.
It’s incredibly difficult to make a mistake performing the machine dip unless the weightlifter uses too much weight. However, it’s easy to correct that by stopping mid-set and moving the pin to a lighter weight.
The machine dip is ideal for people who have injuries that prevent them from doing regular dips. Plus, it’s possible to add on more pounds without the need for carrying around chains.
Start with a workable weight that engages but doesn’t strain the muscles and joints. Begin with 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps and work up to 10 to 15 reps.
8. Chest Fly
Chest flys are a compound chest exercise that effectively isolates the pectoralis minor. While the pectoralis minor is isolated during this muscle movement, all of the chest muscles benefit from this exercise as well. Additionally, chest flies work the shoulders and arms.
To perform a proper chest fly, lie flat on the floor with knees bent. Hold dumbbells straight out and over the chest. With a slow, controlled motion, open the arms to the sides with a slight bend at the elbow. Pause for a few seconds, then return to the starting position.
The most common mistakes with a chest fly are using too much weight and locking the arms. It’s important to use enough weight to work the muscles without straining anything or stressing the joints. The arms should not lock at any point during the exercise.
Variations of the chest fly include the incline cable fly, cable crossover, low cable crossover, single-arm cable crossover, and dumbbell fly. Add a variation of the chest fly to a workout routine 1 to 3 days per week with rest in between for a good chest gym workout.
Men, women, and even children can benefit from this exercise if performed properly. For adults, the chest fly is a nice complement to bench pressing. It’s also helpful for injury prevention for athletes of all ages.
Since the chest fly works the muscles that are often hard to reach, it’s a helpful exercise for calisthenics and bodybuilding. Swimmers and runners can see significant benefits in terms of definition and endurance.
Compared to presses, flies will be done with much less weight, especially in the beginning. A good starting point would be 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps and work up to 10 to 12 reps.
Chest Fly Variations for Chest Muscles
There are many variations of the chest fly. Some chest workout machines allow for seated flys, and there are other ways to target different aspects of the chest. Each variation uses slightly different angles or equipment or both to work the muscles in different ways for a more balanced physique.
The dumbbell fly is probably the most common variation because it requires floor space and dumbbells. It’s easy to learn and master the form. In terms of building strength and mass, the dumbbell fly also takes the cake.
Variations of the chest fly include the following.
- Incline Cable Fly
- Cable Crossover
- Low Cable Crossover
- Single-Arm Cable Crossover
- Dumbbell Fly (Flat, Incline, Decline)
1. Incline Cable Fly
The incline cable fly targets the upper pectorals because of the unique angle. It also works the deltoids and biceps.
Set two pulleys with proper resistance and attach handles, rings, or stirrups. Grasp the handles and start with arms out the sides and slightly down. Pull the handles together in a slow, controlled motion. Pause for a second and then slowly move back to the starting position.
The most common mistakes are bending too much at the elbows and relying too much on the arms. While this exercise strengthens the arms, it’s all about the chest, so the lifter needs to choose an appropriate weight to maintain proper form.
The incline cable fly exercise is popular because it addresses tough-to-reach muscles, and the machine makes it easy to adjust the angle and weight. Start with lighter weights and work up both sets and reps. Begin with 3 to 4 sets of 5 to 8 reps.
2. Cable Crossover
The cable crossover allows weightlifters to emphasize the development of the middle chest, specifically the pectoralis major, during chest training. It’s ideal for engaging the muscles as a warm-up or cooldown.
Cable crossovers use a pulley machine from a different angle. Set the handles at the highest level and stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Grasp the handles and bend forward slightly, wrists toward the floor and elbows slightly bent. Engage the core and pull the handles taking them across the body. Hold for a second, then return to the starting position.
Poor form is the most common mistake with this exercise. People keep their feet too close together or use their arms too much. Establish a good base by planting the feet shoulder-width apart, and remember to use the chest muscles for each motion.
The cable crossover is popular for building endurance and injury prevention. Start with 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps at a light to medium weight. It’s about endurance and toning more than bulking.
3. Low-cable Crossover
The low-cable crossover exercise targets the upper chest muscles and front delts to reach those tough spots around the collarbone. It’s ideal for building a balanced physique.
To perform the low-cable crossover version, set the pulleys very low. This arrangement makes the arms move upward, and the handles cross at the top of the movement, forcing the upper chest to do most of the work.
The most common mistake while performing the low-cable crossover exercise is overextending. While the shoulders should feel some work, the chest does the majority of it.
The low-cable crossover is another popular exercise, especially when mixed with the other crossover flies. It’s well-suited to drop settings since adjusting weights is quick and easy. Start with lower weights for 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps and work up in reps and then weight.
4. Single-Arm Cable Crossover
The single-arm cable crossover works the pectoralis major, but it also engages the delts, lats, biceps, and triceps. It’s ideal for focusing on balance across the body.
To perform a single-arm cable crossover, set the pulley at a high position and choose desired resistance. Grasp the handles and step forward to stagger the feet and extend the arms extended in front of the body. Keeping the left arm stationary, extend the right arm to the side with a slightly bent elbow, pause, then return the arm to starting position. Switch to the left hand and repeat.
The most common mistake with this exercise is keeping the feet together. Staggering the feet is key to performing the motion correctly and activating the target muscles.
The single-arm cable crossover variation is an excellent complement to other variations. It’s ideal for targeting weak areas to develop a balanced physique. Keep the weight lower and go for more reps, starting at 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 10 reps and working up to 10 to 12 reps.
5. Dumbbell Fly (Flat, Incline, Decline)
The dumbbell fly, whether it’s done on a flat, incline, or decline bench, targets the pectoral muscles, especially those around the sternum. This approach creates separation and stimulates some of those difficult-to-work areas.
To perform the dumbbell fly, lie on a bench with a weight in each hand. Begin with the weights directly in front of the body, arms extended. Open the arms in the fly motion, hold for a second, and then return to the center. Conversely, it’s possible to work the opposite way.
Additionally, rotating between a flat bench, incline bench, and decline bench allow lifters to address the muscles in different ways. Changing the angle of the bench between flat for overall chest development, incline for upper chest development, and decline for lower chest development.
The most common mistakes that occur while performing the dumbbell fly are arching the back and locking the elbows. Both missteps can cause injury and prevent the lifter from engaging the right muscles.
The dumbbell fly is popular with weightlifters at all skill levels because it’s easy to learn and maintain form. Further, lifters can make several adjustments in terms of angles and dumbbell weights to address the same muscles in different ways. Start with lighter weights and more reps for toning and strengthening, for example, perform 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
9. Dumbbell Pullover
The dumbbell pullover targets the pectorals and the serratus muscles that lie over the wings of the ribs, which are important because they stabilize the chest. This exercise also works the lats and triceps.
To perform dumbbell pullovers, lie on a flat bench with legs planted firmly on the floor. Hold one dumbbell in both hands with arms extended over the head and perpendicular to the floor. Lift the dumbbell up over the head until it’s over the chest. Pause for two seconds, then lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.
The most common mistakes that occur while performing the dumbbell pullover, revolve around the poor form. Moving too fast through the motions creates a reliance on momentum and doesn’t work the muscles. Also, keeping the arms too straight and relaxing the core too much can cause injuries.
Variations of the dumbbell pullover include the incline straight-arm pullover and the pullover to press. Add a version of this exercise into a chest routine about 1 to 3 times per week.
Men and women can work key muscles that support the chest and torso. This exercise is not recommended for children because it’s an intermediate to advanced exercise that uses heavier weights.
Though the dumbbell pullover may not be as popular for those athletes who prefer calisthenics, bodybuilders, swimmers, and runners can make gains with key muscles. The additional support, strength, and definition could give athletes a competitive edge.
Consider lighter weights and more reps with pullovers. Aim for 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 reps.
Dumbbell Pullover Variations for Chest Muscles
Dumbbell pullover variations involve using different equipment and positions to work the muscles in unique ways. Moving to an incline alters the angle to work the chest muscles differently and reach some tertiary muscles. Adding motions, like the pullover to press, engages the muscles and joints differently while requiring focus on control and stability.
The dumbbell pullover is not popular as a chest exercise compared to others, but some variations have merit. The incline straight-arm pullover is more popular for strengthening accessory muscles and the pullover to press is ideal as a complex, multi-step exercise that works for several muscle groups.
Variations of the dumbbell pullover include the following.
- Incline Straight-Arm Pullover
- Pullover to Press
1. Incline Straight-Arm Pullover
The incline straight-arm pullover works the pectorals, but it also engages the lats, delts, biceps, and triceps. This exercise is all about strength and pushing the muscles.
To perform the incline straight-arm pullover variation, use an incline bench set at a comfortable angle, between 30° and 45° is ideal. Start with the dumbbell overhead, arms stretched but not locked. Use a controlled motion to move the dumbbell over the head and come to a stop over the face and neck. Hold for a second or two and then return to the starting position.
The most common mistake with the incline straight-arm pullover variation is lack of control. Every motion should be smooth and controlled to engage the muscles at every stage.
The incline straight-arm pullover is popular among intermediate lifters seeking a challenging way to access accessory muscles and shake up their chest workout. Start with a heavy dumbbell, but not too heavy that it can be controlled. Start with 1 to 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps.
2. Pullover to Press
The pullover to press variation is a popular way to target the chest, serratus, triceps, and even the lats with one exercise.
To perform the pullover to press version, lie on a flat bench with a heavier dumbbell in both hands. Extend the arms overhead and move the barbell up over the head to rest above the face. Push up in a press-like motion. Pull it back down and return to the starting position.
The most common mistake with this variation is working too fast through the motions. Control is key, so choose a weight that’s manageable enough to make smooth, controlled movements.
The pullover to press is a popular finishing exercise for burning out the chest at the end of a workout. It’s an intermediate to an advanced movement that allows lifters to use heavier weights for fewer reps. Work toward 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps.
10. Machine Fly
The machine fly, also known as the butterfly machine, isolates the pectorals for an overall strengthening and endurance exercise. It also reaches the abs and shoulders to a lesser degree. This exercise works the chest muscles from the side to the middle for a unique training approach.
To perform a machine fly, sit at the butterfly machine and adjust the weight. Grasp the handles or put the forearms on the pads. Push the hands together, squeezing the chest muscles through the entire motion. Hold for a second or two and then release to the starting position.
The most common mistake that occurs while performing the machine fly exercise is relying too much on the arms and not controlling the motions. This exercise should work the chest, with lifters feeling the muscles engaging at every step. Slow, controlled motions create the biggest gains.
The most significant benefit of the machine fly is that it doesn’t require balance, making it ideal for men, women, and children to easily maintain form. Inexperienced lifters can start with no weight to learn the motion, while experienced lifters can pack on the weight. Plus, the machine is easier on joints.
Since machine fly is not about power, it’s often a key component in a bodybuilder’s chest routine. Additionally, athletes like swimmers and runners could make strength gains and build endurance with low weight and high reps. Athletes seeking a way to mix up their usual calisthenics might want to do a set or two with the machine fly as well.
Beginners and athletes working on tone and endurance should go with lighter weights for 3 to 4 sets of 10 to 12 reps. Experienced lifters might push to medium weight for 10 to 15 reps. Take a turn on the butterfly machine 1 to 3 times per week as part of a regular chest routine.
Best Chest Workout Exercises for Muscle Growth
Developing a chest workout may seem overwhelming, but it helps to start with a specific goal, like building specific muscles or gaining definition. These are some common goals and associated workout suggestions.
- Best for Exhausting the Chest Muscles – Heavy Chest Workout Exercise Program
- Best for Building the Pectorals and Front Delts – Upper Chest Workout Program
- Best for Beginners – Machine Pump Chest Workout
- Best for Developing Smaller Muscles and Core – Lower Chest Program
- Best for Bulking – Chest Growth Program for Mass
1. Heavy Chest Workout Exercise Program
For lifters working toward lifting heavier weights, a program should use heavier weights with fewer reps mixed with lower weight, high-rep exercises. Consider a program like these.
- Barbell bench presses, 4 sets of 5 reps with the heaviest weights manageable
- Chest fly, 4 sets of 5 reps
- Weighted Pushups 3 sets to exhaustion
- Banded chest dips, 3 sets to exhaustion
2. Upper Chest Workout Program
To build and define the upper chest muscles, consider a combination of exercises that focuses more on the upper pectorals and front delts. Use enough weight to work the muscles without interfering with proper form. Consider a chest routine like these.
- Incline barbell presses, 4 sets of 6 reps
- Incline cable chest flys, 4 sets of 10 reps
- Feet-elevated pushups, 3 sets of 15 reps
- Chest dips, 3 sets to exhaustion
3. Machine Pump Chest Workout
Some people prefer to use machines, especially in the beginning or if there’s no spotter available. It’s still possible to get a good chest workout with machines and higher reps. Consider a program like these.
- Machine chest presses, 3 sets of 10
- Smith machine incline presses, 3 sets of 10
- Machine flys, 3 sets of 10
- Machine dips, 3 sets of 10
4. Lower Chest Program
Failing to work the lower pectorals during chest bodybuilding exercises can leave the chest looking awkward. Plus, those lower pecs can make a huge difference when maxing out. Look for exercises that target the lower pectorals and accessory muscles. Consider this chest exercise routine.
- Decline barbell presses, 4 sets of 5 reps
- Decline cable-flys, 3 sets of 10
- Feet-elevated push-ups, 3 sets to exhaustion
5. Chest Growth Program for Mass
What about bulking? To pack on the muscle and definition, a lifter needs a comprehensive workout that doesn’t neglect any of the muscle groups. Here is a solid chest workout program for mass.
- Barbell bench press, 4 sets of 5 reps
- Decline cable flys, 3 sets of 10
- Cable crossover chest fly, 3 sets of 10
- Weighted push-ups, 3 sets to exhaustion
Chest Exercise Routines for Different Genders, and Ages
It’s no secret that men, women, and children have unique body types and needs in the gym. Indeed, even the best chest workouts won’t fit every individual. Building a proper chest routine should consider body type, including upper body strength and differences in the physique.
What Are the Best Chest Exercises for Men?
Men often want to bulk up their chest muscles for strength and aesthetics. Using a lot of push exercises makes that possible because they work the primary and accessory muscles. Some of the best chest exercises for men are pushups, dips, and bench presses.
- Bench Presses
This classic chest exercise is a favorite of all athletes – and the source of many competitions. It’s easy to adapt or increase the difficulty of this exercise, making it ideal for athletes of all skill levels.
Men tend to have more upper body strength than women, making dips a key component in any chest workout. Even beginners can adapt the workout to build up strength until they can perform a classic dip.
3. Bench Presses
Bench presses remain the marker for most male athletes looking for good chest workouts. It’s a rite of passage for lifters at all stages because it demonstrates strength and endurance.
What Are the Best Chest Exercises for Women?
Women tend to have more lower-body strength, so they often choose to focus on the upper body. Their focus is less on strength and more on muscle endurance.
Some of the best chest exercises for women, that help improve chest muscles, include the following.
- Incline Dumbbell Press
- Machine-Assisted Dips
- Machine Chest Fly
1. Incline Dumbbell Press
The incline dumbbell press is a perfect adaptation of the bench press that focuses more on endurance and toning than bulking. It’s great for perfecting form using lower weights and gradually working up to heavier dumbbells.
2. Machine-Assisted Dips
Since women don’t have naturally strong upper bodies, machine-assisted dips provide the necessary support to help them build proper form and strength. It’s also an excellent way to build confidence for beginners.
3. Machine Chest Fly
Using machines for any lift helps teach form and provides support so that the lifter can work the muscles properly. The chest fly works muscles underneath the breasts and focuses on endurance over strength.
What Are the Best Chest Exercises for Children?
Children and young teens should perform only bodyweight exercises. As teens develop better balance and stability, they can progress to machine-assisted exercises and then work up to free weights.
The best chest exercises for children and teens are as follows.
- Machine Chest Press
- Band-Supported Dips
Even kids can learn to do push-ups, and there are many ways to adapt the exercise to help them build strength. Since it’s a bodyweight exercise, it’s generally safe and allows young lifters to learn proper form while building some key muscles.
2. Machine Chest Press
No matter what machine the lifter uses, it’s possible to perform the exercise with no weight. That means young lifters can learn the proper form and train the muscles with machine support.
3. Machine-Assisted Dips
Again, machines can provide plenty of support to teach young and inexperienced lifters how to use their bodies. It’s a great way for kids to use their body weight to make gains until they are ready for more advanced exercises.
Is There a Difference in Chest Exercises for Different Athletes?
Yes, there is a difference in chest exercises for different athletes. What works best for one sport may not be as important for another. Runners may appreciate definition in the chest and shoulders but need strength and stability in the core. On the other hand, swimmers can use that chest and shoulder power to propel them through the water, making strength a priority.
What Are the Best Chest Exercises for Calisthenics?
Athletes who focus on calisthenics for training tend to stick with bodyweight exercises or those that use limited equipment and space. The approach to a chest workout routine can look different from those used by other athletes. The best chest exercises for calisthenics are pushups and dips.
Push-ups are a traditional chest workout, but they offer so much more for the whole body, including building balance and stability. It’s also possible to increase the push-up difficulty as an athlete progresses.
Dips require limited equipment and focus on athletes using their body weight properly. Newer athletes can use a machine for extra support on the dips.
What Are the Best Chest Exercises for Swimmers?
Swimmers have a lot to benefit from doing one-arm chest presses to address any uneven development in their chest and shoulders, as well as pushups for overall endurance and strength. The best chest exercises for swimmers are push-ups, barbell presses, and crossover chest flies.
- Barbell Press
- Crossover Chest Fly
It’s not easy to find a better workout for swimmers than a push-up. Rotating through different variations allows the swimmers to work those all-important chest muscles from multiple angles for more developed muscles.
2. Barbell Press
It’s tough to go wrong with a classic, and the barbell press is a marker of strength and endurance. Swimmers can monitor progress easily and focus on higher reps to improve muscle endurance in the pool.
3. Crossover Chest Fly
Building strength and endurance are key for swimmers, and adding the crossover chest fly to a workout routine does just that. The exercise builds strength in the accessory muscles as well for a comprehensive workout.
What Are the Best Chest Exercises for Runners?
Bulking up isn’t usually a priority for runners, but some exercises also support better breathing which can obviously help in a race. The best exercises for runners are support toning and strengthening of the chest and core. The best chest exercises for runners are dumbbell chest flys, dips, and the dumbbell bench press.
- Dumbbell Chest Flys
- Dumbbell Bench Press
1. Dumbbell Chest Flys
Opting for free weights allows runners to have more control over the workout and focus on more than just the chest. This exercise also works the arms and shoulders to improve overall upper body strength and aesthetics.
Dips require limited equipment and focus on athletes using their body weight properly. Newer athletes can use a machine for extra support on the dips.
3. Dumbbell Bench Press
By using dumbbells instead of a barbell, runners work the arms and core in addition to the chest. This compound movement can support better breathing and endurance during a run.
What Are the Best Muscle-building Exercises for Other Body Parts?
Chest work isn’t the only aspect of weight lifting, even though it’s a favorite for bodybuilders and powerlifters. Some other non-chest muscle-building exercises include:
- Push presses
- Shoulder presses
- Power cleans
- Tricep extensions