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Do you want to build an eye-catching, powerful chest that demands attention? Who doesn’t! As someone who has focused on expertly training my chest for years, I’m often asked – what are the best chest exercises to maximize growth?
Through much experimentation, I’ve settled on five movements that never fail to pack mass onto my pecs when properly programmed. In this article, I’ll walk you through my top five exercises for igniting chest hypertrophy so you can build an aesthetic chest you can’t help but show off.
1. Flat Barbell Bench Press
None of the chest exercises out there are as revered as the flat barbell bench press. This mass builder deserves first billing in any chest routine. Let’s break it down step-by-step.
How to Perform the Flat Barbell Bench Press
To begin, lie flat on a weight bench with your eyes directly below the bar. Plant your feet firmly on the floor. Grasp the bar wider than shoulder-width using an overhand grip. Retract your shoulder blades together and maintain this contraction throughout the movement.
Unrack the barbell by straightening your elbows. Inhale as you slowly lower it to your mid-chest. The bar should lightly touch your body, then reverse direction. Exhale, pressing the weight back up until your elbows lock out. This completes one repetition.
A few technique pointers:
- Create an arch in your lower back and keep your glutes tensed on the bench. This provides stability.
- Keep your wrists neutral, not bent back.
- Lower the bar in a straight line to nipple level. Don’t bounce it off your chest.
Benefits of the Flat Barbell Bench Press
Due to the full range of motion and heavy weights, the flat barbell bench press stimulates the most muscle fibers in the pecs. It also recruits the front deltoids and triceps, making it a highly efficient upper-body exercise.
Regularly bench pressing leads to greater pushing strength and power. You’ll notice this carryover into other lifts like shoulder press and weighted dips. Consider flat benching the cornerstone of any serious chest routine.
Implementing Flat Barbell Bench Press into My Routine
I always begin my chest workouts with the flat barbell bench press. Typically performing 4 sets of 6-8 reps with a moderately heavy weight chosen. I do a few extra reps on the first set, leaving 1-2 reps in reserve.
After each set, I increased the load a bit, reducing reps while striving to increase the total weight moved each session. This progressive overload principle is key for continual gains. Rest periods between sets are 2-3 minutes.
Sometimes, I’ll switch it up and use a 5×5 protocol on a flat bench. This entails doing 5 sets of 5 reps with the same weight, focusing on exploding the bar off my chest. Both rep schemes have worked well for building my pecs over time.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
It’s easy to let form slip on heavy bench press sets. Be aware of these common errors:
- Not retracting your scapula. This leads to unstable shoulders and reduced force output.
- Allowing your elbows to flare out widely. Keep your elbows tucked around 45 degrees from your sides.
- Bouncing the bar off your chest. Control the eccentric to get a full stretch in the pecs.
Some of my favorite flat bench press variations include:
- Close grip bench press. It hits the triceps more and reduces shoulder strain.
- Reverse grip bench press. Changes mechanics of the lift to stimulate new growth.
- Paused bench press. Pausing chest level increases time under tension for the pecs.
2. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
The incline dumbbell bench press is one of the best movements for building the often neglected upper chest. Let’s examine the proper form.
How to Perform the Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Grab a pair of dumbbells and sit tall on an incline weight bench set to 45-60 degrees. Place the dumbbells on top of your thighs, then lay back, pressing them up once to rest on your shoulders.
Keep your feet planted on the floor and maintain a neutral spine by retracting your scapula. Press the weights straight overhead, keeping your palms forward. Inhale as you lower the dumbbells to nipple level with elbows bent around 90 degrees.
Pause briefly, then exhale, powering the dumbbells back up by squeezing your pecs. Lock your elbows out at the top without hyperextending. This finalizes one rep.
Tips for proper technique:
- Don’t let the dumbbells travel too far below the nipple level at the bottom.
- Avoid allowing wrists to bend back when pressing weights up.
- Keep control. Don’t rely on momentum to lift dumbbells.
Benefits of the Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
The inclined position shifts stress onto the clavicular head of the pecs responsible for that coveted upper chest shelf. Dumbbells provide additional benefits.
Unilateral training recruits more stabilizer muscles than barbell pressing. You must balance and control each dumbbell independently through the full range of motion. This leads to greater overall chest development.
Incline pressing also slightly activates the front delts and triceps for a rounded upper body workout. Just be sure to avoid shoulder pain by not angling the bench too steep.
Implementing Incline Dumbbell Bench Press into My Routine
After blasting my pecs with a flat barbell bench, I press the incline dumbbell. This provides a phenomenal stretch at the bottom of the movement my upper chest craves.
I prefer sets of 8-10 reps on an incline dumbbell press using a weight that brings me close to failure on the last few reps. Rest periods are 1-2 minutes between sets. I do 3 sets, sometimes with an intensity booster-like rest pause on the last set.
Incline DB press is the exercise that finally allowed my upper pecs to catch up to the lower. I stuck with it consistently and continue to reap the rewards.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
It’s easy to mess up incline dumbbell presses. Here are some pitfalls:
- Allowing your back to arch off the bench. This strains the spine.
- Flaring those elbows out wide again. Keep tucked around 45 degrees.
- Bouncing the dumbbells off your chest to gain momentum. Use a controlled speed.
Some incline press alternatives I incorporate are:
- Neutral grip incline press. Reduces shoulder strain.
- Single arm incline press. Increased instability trains stabilizers more.
- Incline spider curl press. Adds biceps work for an efficient pairing.
3. Chest Dips
Dips are a powerful bodyweight exercise I rely on for chest development and triceps mass. Proper form is vital to reap results.
How to Perform Chest Dips
Hold onto parallel dip handles and lift yourself until your arms are extended straight. Your legs can be together, bent, or crossed at the ankles. Engage your core to prevent swinging or rounding your back.
Initiate the movement by unlocking your elbows and lowering until your shoulder joint is below elbow level. Inhale as you descend, leaning forward slightly to target the pecs.
Pause briefly at the bottom, then exhale, powering back up until your elbows lock out again. Don’t hyperextend. Control the pace and repeat.
- Don’t bounce out of the bottom position. Use controlled form.
- Lean forward about 30 degrees to keep tension on the chest, not just the triceps.
- Only descend until your shoulder joint dips below the elbows, then reverse back up.
Benefits of Chest Dips
Dips provide heavy loading for the pecs while ditching the barbell or dumbbells. They also blast the tris through their fullest range of motion. The movement is very dynamic when done properly.
Once bodyweight dips become easy, wear a weighted belt or vest to add resistance. This allows for progressive overload without requiring a spotter like the bench press.
Implementing Chest Dips into My Routine
I like to superset dips with cable flyes to absolutely torch my chest. This potent pairing enables me to hammer heavy loads on dips and then chase the pump with cable flyes.
I typically do 4 sets of 8-12 reps for dips, adding weight once bodyweight becomes too easy. I take minimal rest before jumping into cable flyes. This saves time and keeps my heart rate up.
I lean further on dips to shred the lower chest on higher rep sets. Something as small as altering your lean can spur new growth. I’m always looking for these little tweaks.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
It’s easy for form to break down once you start repping out dips. Watch out for:
- Leaning too far forward and isolating the triceps. Keep a slight forward lean.
- Not going deep enough. Hit at least shoulder-level depth for full chest activation.
- Swinging your body to gain momentum. Use slow, controlled form.
To continually progress on dips, I try these variations periodically:
- Weighted chest dips. Use a belt or weighted vest when body weight becomes too easy.
- Rings dips. Hits more stabilizer muscles.
- Lean forward dips. Targets the lower chest marvelously.
4. Cable Flyes
Nothing rounds out a chest workout quite like cable flyes. The constant tension and range of angles available make them a perfect finisher.
How to Perform Cable Flyes
Attach D-handles to both low pulleys of a cable station, then stand in the middle, grasping the handles at shoulder level. Stagger your stance for balance.
With a slight bend in the elbows, squeeze your chest muscles to bring your hands together in front of your body. Exhale as you move into the contraction.
Pause briefly, then inhale slowly, returning to the starting position with arms extended outward. Repeat for reps.
Proper technique requires:
- Keeping continuous tension on the pecs. Don’t release at the end range.
- Minimal body movement. Isolate the chest muscles doing the work.
- Controlling both the contraction and eccentric. No sloppy form.
Benefits of Cable Flyes
Cable flyes enable you to isolate the pecs through a large range of motion with resistance on both sides. This leads to extraordinary muscle development.
Cables provide constant tension, eliminating the variations in resistance seen with free weights. You can zero in on specific chest regions by adjusting handle height.
When fatigued from heavy pressing, flyes finish off the chest with metabolic stress and blood flow like no other. My chest pumps are unparalleled.
Implementing Cable Flyes into My Routine
As mentioned previously, I like to superset flyes with chest dips. This enables me to fatigue all available muscle fibers through different movements.
I perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps with cables for higher volume. Minimal rest is taken before hitting dips and then repeating. This pushes intensity through the roof.
Occasionally, I replace dips with push-ups to give my triceps a break. Mixing up these supersets keeps the gains coming.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
It’s easy to slight cable flyes by using sloppy form and momentum. Here are common errors:
- Not squeezing at peak contraction. Make sure to hold the squeeze briefly.
- Swinging your body or arms through the motion. Keep the movement isolated.
- Shrugging your shoulders up at the top. Avoid this by retracting your scapula.
Some cable flye alternatives I use when a change of pace is needed include:
- Incline cable flyes. Puts more emphasis on the upper chest.
- Decline cable flyes. Targets the lower pecs wonderfully.
- Single arm cable flyes. Prevents compensating with the dominant side.
5. Push Ups
It may be simple, but the perfect push-up form builds serious chest muscle. I swear by them as a finisher.
How to Perform Push-Ups
Get into a plank position on the floor with your arms extended straight and hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your core braced and your body straight from the knees to the neck.
Inhale, lowering yourself down by unlocking your elbows. Descend until your chest nearly touches the floor, keeping elbows tucked around 45 degrees.
Exhale and push through your chest, triceps, and shoulders back up to the starting position. Stay out elbows fully. Repeat.
Technique pointers for optimal push-ups:
- Maintain a rigid core and straight spine throughout the movement. No sagging.
- Flare elbows at 45 degrees from your sides. Don’t wing out wide.
- Descend low enough to feel a stretch in your pecs before reversing back up.
Benefits of Push Ups
While simple in appearance, proper push-up form thoroughly activates the pecs, delts, tris, and serratus anterior muscles. They also challenge your core stability.
The beauty of push-ups lies in their versatility. Modifications like hand placement allow targeting different areas of the chest. Knocking out fast reps burns the chest, unlike anything else.
Best of all, push-ups can be done anywhere without equipment. They’re the ultimate chest builder available at a moment’s notice.
Implementing Push-ups into My Routine
Typically, I finish chest day with 2-3 sets of push-ups focusing on perfect form and constant tension. After heavy pressing, my pecs fatiguing during these sets is testimony to their effectiveness.
Shooting for higher rep ranges in the 15-30 rep range pushes my muscular endurance to the limits. I’m drenched in sweat by those final grueling reps.
Sometimes, incline push-ups are substituted to hit more upper chest fibers. Push-ups are unrivaled for a quick chest pump.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
It’s easy for flaws in technique to creep into push-ups over high-rep sets. Watch out for:
- Letting your hips sag toward the floor. Maintain the brace by engaging your core.
- Flaring elbows out to the sides. Keep them tucked around 45 degrees for pec activation.
- Not going deep enough. Touch your sternum to the floor for a full range of motion.
Some push-up tweaks I use to target different regions or improve difficulty are:
- Close grip push-ups. Hits more of the inner chest.
- Incline push-ups. Emphasizes upper chest stimulation.
- Diamond push-ups. Challenges shoulder stability and triceps.
There you have it – my tried and tested chest exercises guaranteed to build mass and strength. Flat barbell pressing, incline dumbbell pressing, weighted dips, cable flyes, and push-ups should form the foundation of your routine.
Most importantly, be consistent. You won’t grow by hitting chest day whenever you feel like it. Commit to hard training and proper nutrition consistently, and the gains will come.
Just remember – it takes time and consistency. Stick with, trust the process, and keep pursuing gains! Your dream chest will soon become a reality.
Let me know in the comments if you have any other great chest exercises I should try! I’m always game to add a new weapon to my training arsenal. Happy growing!