The chest muscles are a fairly straightforward group of muscles to work. The way they attach to the shoulders dictates the range of motion limiting us to really a press or fly motion. Yet even with those limitations, there are still quite a few ways to work the muscles.
Let’s review the top seven exercises to work your chest muscles and then discuss how you can incorporate them into various routines.
The Top 7 Chest Exercises
- Dumbbell Press – This is a great exercise for flat, incline, or decline pressing so you can hit all areas of the chest. Many people prefer them over bar because you work both sides of the body evenly, work on coordination, have a better range of motion, and are less likely to stress the shoulder joints.
- Barbell Press – Most guys start with the flat bench press because they consider it the ‘Holy Grail’ of chest exercises. Honestly it causes more harm than good for a lot of people. Incline and decline barbell presses are great for using more weight than their dumbbell counterparts.
- Pushups – You can’t beat this classic. With plenty of options for incline and hand position, the pushup is still an all-purpose bodyweight exercise.
- Bar Dips – This exercise is critical to building big chest muscles. It is a great finishing exercise which really hits the shoulders and triceps well too.
- Dumbbell Flyes – Perfect for stretching the pecs out and working the inner section during contractions. People use flyes for shaping but they can also build the muscle when done properly.
- Cable Crossovers – This is a great movement for the inner and outer chest, shape, and definition.
- Dumbbell Pullovers – Expanding the ribcage makes your chest bigger. This exercise also works small muscles around the ribs.
An ideal chest workout will use all seven of these exercises with at least one fly motion for every two pressing motions. You simply can’t do all presses because the triceps and shoulders general tire before the chest. Mixing in fly motions helps increase the work on the muscle. Many people perform a press, a fly, a press, and then a fly motion switching angles to hit the upper, lower, and middle portion of the chest.
For reps you can use anywhere from 6 to 20 and should. Mixing in heavy and light days is critical to muscle confusion and overall growth along with endurance. There are different types of fibers in the muscle (strength and endurance) so ideally you want both to grow, right? Some people like to alternate between heavy and light while others go heavy 3-4 workouts in a row then sneak in a light day.
Warming up the shoulders and elbows is important and that means more than a few light sets of the flat bench. Far too many people get injured shoulders and elbows when working the chest muscles because they don’t warm up the joints and other muscles that lift as well.
As for which exercises to do first or the order, that usually is an individual decision. If you look at hundreds of training routines for chest you will see that people have started with flyes and pressing motions, started with incline or flat or decline. Really there is no wrong way to build a chest routine. Well, you might want to save the crossovers for last, but other than that design something that feels right to you. Then, after you have used it for 6 weeks change it!
Why get stuck in a rut with the exercises for your chest muscles? These are just basic guidelines for a reason; everyone is different. So pick your favorite exercises and put together a routine that fits you, then get to the gym and start working that chest!