by Truth Fry January 13, 2023 10 min read
Every Monday is international chest day at the gym, right? If you’ve been going to the gym for a while, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.
Fitting in a solid workout at the gym on Mondays can be ... tough. Every bench, pec machine, and piece of chest equipment is usually taken, with even more people waiting to use it next.
Now, I know ... that may be a little dramatic, but it is funny to see how many people LOVE to work out their chest ... especially on Mondays.
But hey, I totally get it. The chest is a very noticeable muscle group on your upper body ... one that men tend to put quite a bit of emphasis on. See, building the chest muscles can make a significant difference in transforming anyone's physique. Your chest is also generally able to handle heavier weights than the rest of the upper body.
A bigger chest can help you fill out your t-shirts better, look and feel more powerful, and give you a boost in confidence that many people crave. We all want to look good, and having a big strong chest can help with that.
That said, you can’t just do any chest exercise and expect to build that perfect physique. It takes time, patience, and a proper plan of action.
But don’t worry, that’s what I’m here to help with.
In this article, I'm going to teach you all about the chest, and 10 exercises for building a big, strong chest.
When people think of their chest, they are primarily thinking of “the pecs”. These are made up of 2 muscles on both the left and right side of the upper torso...
This fan shaped muscle is the larger of the two, and is what most people think of when they talk about their chest.
There are 2 heads of this muscle. They attach to the collar bone, sternum, and rib cage on the medial end, and to the upper arm on the lateral end.
This triangular shaped muscle is much smaller, and lies beneath the pectoralis major.
It attaches on the front side of the shoulder blade at the top, and to 3rd-5th ribs at the bottom.
The Pectoralis major is primarily responsible for a few movements. One of them is called shoulder flexion and this is pulling your upper arm from resting by your side, to out in front of you, and above your head.
Another movement of the pectoralis major is called horizontal adduction. This would be going from holding your arms out to your sides as if you’re trying to make the letter “T” and pulling the arms in to meet in front of the chest like you’re going to clap your hands.
The last major movement of the pectoralis major is called internal rotation. This is simply rotating your upper arm toward the midline of the body.
Think of this like arm wrestling. The act of trying to pin the other person’s arm to the table is completely done by internally rotating your arm.
The pectoralis minor is mostly responsible for aiding in the stabilization and movement of the shoulder blades. These movements include tilting up and down, protraction (gliding outward as you push the shoulders forward), and helping to pull the shoulder blades downwards.
Before we get into these exercises ... I'm going to cover the proper "set position" for a lot of these chest exercises. With most chest-pressing movements, you want to set yourself up correctly.
This means your back should be flat or slightly arched with your butt, shoulders, and head touching the bench. On top of that, your shoulders should be pulled back and down to engage your lats.
What chest exercise is more classic than the flat bench press? None of them are ... but hey, it's a classic for a reason. First, lay with your back flat on the bench with your feet on the ground underneath your hips. From here, get into the proper set position that I described above for this movement.
Grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart with a tight grip, and lift the bar off of the rack to position it directly over your chest. While bending the arms 45 degrees from your sides, lower the bar slowly until the bar touches your lower chest. Squeeze your pecs and your triceps to extend your elbows and lift the bar back to the starting position.
For this exercise, you'll want an incline bench and a bar or set of dumbbells. To make it easier to understand, I'll discuss the exercise as if you have a barbell. Get yourself into set position and get ready for what comes next.
Grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart, with a tight grip, and lift the bar off of the rack to position it directly over your chest. While bending the arms 45 degrees from the body, lower the bar slowly until the bar touches your lower chest. Squeeze your pecs and your triceps to extend your elbows and lift the bar back to the starting position.
So really, this exercise is no different than a traditional chest press ... except for the angle. Incline presses can really help develop the upper musculature of your chest.
Start by lying on the bench and locking your legs into position with your calves over the top pad, but your ankles under the bottom pad (this will make sure you don’t slide down the bench). Like the previous exercises, you want to get yourself into set position.
Next, grab the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart with a tight grip, and lift the bar off of the rack pulling it directly over your chest.
While bending the arms 45 degrees from your sides, lower the bar slowly until the bar touches your lower chest. This is a little tricky at this angle, so be sure that even though your torso is at an angle that the bar still travels straight up and down. Squeeze your pecs and your triceps to extend your elbows and lift the bar back to the starting position.
Start in the set position for this exercise ... this time, with a flat bench and a pair of dumbbells. With the dumbbells held in a neutral grip directly over the chest, keep a slight bend in the elbows as you slowly lower the weights out to either side of your body. It should feel like you're opening your arms up to hug someone. Just make sure you keep the slight bend in your elbows!
Slowly lower the weights to either side until you are comfortable with the end range of motion. Keep that same bend as you squeeze the chest, pull the arms in, and return to the starting position. This is when you should really feel the burn.
At this point, you should probably know exactly what to expect from this exercise. You'll get into set position, no differently than any other exercise so far. This time though, make sure to use an incline bench.
From here, grab your dumbbells and repeat the same movement as the flat dumbbell chest fly. So, with the weights above your chest and a slight bend in your elbows ... bring the weights to either side of your body as if you're opening your arms for a hug.
When you've gone as far as you're comfortable with, slowly bring the weights back together, squeezing your chest at the top.
I think we've all done push-ups before ... or have at least tried, and have a good idea of how they work. Regardless, they are a great chest exercise ... and an absolute staple in a great chest workout!
So, I'll run you through exactly how to do them with great form.
First, start on your hands and toes with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Keep your abs and butt engaged to keep your hips from sinking, and keep your body in a straight line from your ankles all the way to your head.
Keeping your elbows about 45 degrees from the body, let them bend as you lower your chest to the ground. When your chest touches the ground, squeeze your chest and triceps to extend the elbows and push yourself back up to the starting position.
Make sure to adjust the seat so that when you sit, your shoulders will be roughly the same height as the handles. Be sure to pull your shoulders down and back to stabilize the shoulders during the movement. Adjust the handles to be in a spot where you can grab them at your end range of motion. Reach out and grab the handles with a slight bend in the elbow.
Squeeze the chest to pull your arms from out at your sides to directly in front of you where the handles can meet directly in front of your chest. Keep the arms relatively straight, but with that slight bend throughout the movement. Squeeze the muscle, and then slowly return back to the starting position.
This exercise is the machine equivalent to a dumbbell fly ... so a lot of the same rules will apply. One important rule to remember would be to keep your elbows slightly bent.
For this exercise, you'll need a flat bench and a set of dumbbells. You'll start by putting yourself in set position and holding a pair of dumbbells on top of your chest.
Push the dumbbells together and up as you squeeze your chest and triceps to straighten your arms. The dumbbells should be directly above your chest.
While this is a great movement for your chest, you will also feel a good burn in your triceps too!
Start in a push-up position, but with your hands about 3 hands wider on each side than shoulder width. Turn your hands until your fingers point outward. Begin slowly lowering yourself to the ground, bending only 1 elbow while keeping the other straight.
This will cause your body to shift toward the side with the bent elbow. Use the opposite hand to stabilize and balance. Squeeze your pecs and triceps to bring yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat on the other side.
This is definitely a more advanced exercise ... so don't be discouraged if this is too much. Stick with the other exercises, stay consistent, and you'll be doing these in no time.
This exercise will require either a dip machine, or 2 parallel bars you can use to perform dips. You should be able to grab on to the bars while keeping your feet off the ground.
So, that's exactly where you'll start. Grab on to both bars and suspend yourself in the air by extending your arms and bending your knees, if necessary. Allow your elbows to bend and draw behind you while you lean slightly forward and lower yourself until you hit a comfortable end range of motion.
The elbow will bend up to about 90 degrees or close to it at the bottom of the movement. From here, squeeze the chest and triceps to raise your body up and straighten your arms back to the starting position.
This will certainly not be an easy exercise if you've never done it. I'd recommend starting with a weighted dip machine and offsetting your weight. This will help make it easier to perform the exercise and get into good habits early, while you're building up your strength.
Remember, never sacrifice your form for weight. This will always be a great rule of thumb to follow.
Building a bigger chest is a very common goal, which makes sense. It is a prominent feature in our physique, and if you like lifting heavy weights in the gym ... this is one of the stronger muscle groups in the upper body.
It’s important to make sure you always do a proper warm up before doing these exercises to prepare the muscles for what they are about to endure. Coming from someone who has injured both pecs and had to have surgery to repair one of them, always warm up no matter what. It’s worth the extra time.
These are some of the best chest exercises you can do, but just doing the exercises, and nothing else, will not get you the results you want. You also need to make sure you are recovering properly after your workouts.
Unfortunately, recovery doesn't only include rest...
Recovery is a 4-step equation that requires:
1. Adequate rest between workouts of the same muscle group
2. Adequate sleep each night (7-9 hours)
3. Proper post-workout recovery
4. Proper nutrition (the right calories and nutrients)
When it comes to how much rest you need between workouts, that will vary slightly from person to person. I personally like taking 3 full days of rest between working the same muscle groups, but for some people, 2 days of rest may be sufficient.
If you’re still sore, or don’t feel like your muscles are ready to push their limits, then maybe you should rest them another day. When in doubt, play it safe.
Sleep as much as you can when trying to grow your muscles, or just see progress in general. Your body does a lot more than just repair muscle in your sleep ... trust me. If you get more sleep, you’ll likely see faster and more efficient progress as a result.
When it comes to post-workout and your overall nutrition, these areas are crucial for seeing optimal results. If you don't get enough protein or calories on a consistent basis ... you have little to no chance of ever seeing results.
If you want to ensure that you get the most out of these workouts to earn the best results possible, you should check out the 1st Phorm App.
Inside the app, you'll get access to 1-on-1 help from a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, custom workout programs, nutrition tracking, and so much more.
We not only walk you through how to see results ... we also give advice on supplements, training, and teach you how to do it for the rest of your life.
If you’re serious about seeing results, don’t risk doing things the wrong way. Download the 1st Phorm App and let us help you how do it correctly!
BS Exercise Science NASM Certified Personal Trainer NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist