Best Chest Exercises
When it comes to lifting weights and bodybuilding, men tend to fixate one one muscle group in particular above all others. In fact, it seems as if culturally a strong chest equates to a strong body. This is not necessarily true. The strongest physiques start with the legs and back. However, if a thick chest is what you desire for aesthetic reasons, here are the five best chest exercises you can do.
Note that there are a few obvious exercises, such as the flat bench press, that do not feature in this list. That’s flat benching is actually a very inefficient and ineffective exercise for building a big chest. There are many other exercises far better suited to muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) and those are the ones you should be focused on. If overall strength and powerlifting is what you’re after, this isn’t the post for you.
As a note to readers, this article makes the assumption that you, the reader, already know how to perform most of these exercises. If you need guidance on how to perform these best chest exercises, you should consult a personal trainer at your gym.
It is an iconic movement championed by the best bodybuilders of all time. The movement allows the chest muscles to stretch at the bottom of the movement and to contract forcefully at the top. What you may not know is that part of the reason the fly is so effective is because it does not place as much stress on the front deltoids and triceps as would a traditional bench press. This means that the chest muscles are completely isolated. It is also an effective movement to work all the chest muscles at once. Hence its place as first among the best chest exercises. To get the most out of the dumbbell fly, here are a few pointers on form and execution:
- Support the bulk of your weight and the weight of the dumbbells on the thick of you back. With your arms extended toward the ceiling, you should feel the same area on your back where you would hold a squat bar supporting the bulk of the pressure. When your arms drop out wide, your chest should be elevated, and you should feel a deep stretch at the bottom of the movement.
- Lift your feet off the ground and hold your knees at a ninety degree angle over your body. This will force your abs to contract to stabilize your core, and by extension help you to isolate you chest.
- Find a focal point on the ceiling and stare it down. This will help you with balance, and keep you from lifting your head up from the bench, which puts strain on your neck muscles and can cause strains in the upper back.
It is important to train the chest in all of its versatility of movement. Dips are an excellent exercise to strengthen the pectorals major along the outer ridge, aka the side chest, and to build up the connective tissues between the chest, shoulders, and back. Dips also moderately work the shoulders, triceps, and even the back. Strength on dips means less risk of injury on other chest exercises. To get the most out of dips, here are a few pointers on form and execution:
- Flex your abs throughout the movement to remain stable and prevent swinging. Some people find it helpful to bring the knees forward to force the abs to flex.
- If you are doing weighted dips, be sure to use a chain-link belt (your gym should have one) and to stabilize the weight between your legs. DO NOT hold a dumbbell between your legs or ankles, which will put you at a high risk of injury.
- If you are taller, be very sure to not allow your elbows to flesh out. Keep them as parallel as possible.
Dumbbell flys are by far one of the best chest exercises there is, but if form is an issue, and it’s an issue for over half of people who try to do them, you can get a similar effect with less risk of injury with the machine fly. Unfortunately, not all machine flys are created equal. Some gyms still have the old school “pec-decks” that are, woefully, dreadful machines (although there are many old school bodybuilders who will disagree, and they are entitled to their opinion). The newer machines, such as the ones put out by the company Cybex, are actually quite good — if you use them correctly. To get the most out of the machine fly, here are a few pointers on form and execution:
- Set the seat height to where the top of the back pad rests against your upper back where you would hold a squat bar.
- It’s ok to arch your lower back a little to help position your upper back and press hard against the back rest.
- Hold your chest up high, as if you were trying to show it off.
- During the movement, the setting should be such that your chest stretches at the back of the movement.
- To really maximize hypertrophy, at the top of each rep, pause with your chest in full flex to the count of three.
“Perfect Push-Up” Incline Pushups
Push-ups are still one of the best chest exercises that exist in a trainer’s arsenal. But old school pushups will only get you so far. To turn your pushups into a muscle building uber-exercise, make use of a cheap gimmick that’s been around for a few decades and has been the butt of a few too many jokes. Perfect Push-Up handles can be purchased cheaply online, and many gyms actually have them on hand these days. What makes them so effective is that they allow you raise off the ground a few inches and to position the handles in a position that works best for you. To improve the benefits of this simple movement, you should use a bench, or stairs, to raise your legs up about a foot off of the ground. This will simulate and incline press, and will place more pressure on the movement by repositioning your body’s center of gravity. To get the most out of the “Perfect Push-Up” Incline Pushups, here are a few pointers on form and execution:
- Try out different grip positions on the floor to see what is most comfortable for your body type, and which positions isolate the chest best.
- Placing your feet on a bench is harder than placing them in a stairwell because a stairwell allows you to press against a backboard, which makes the movement easier.
- To make the movement harder, you should do time-under-tension (TUT) reps. Set a timer for one minute and perform the movement continuously for that entire minute without rest. Your reps should be very slow and controlled.
Incline Barbel Press
As much as I discourage traditional bench press as being the go-to exercise, inline barbel press does have tremendous value as a chest builder. In reality, it’s not the best exercise for building an overall thick or wide chest. But, it does do a heck of a job to build up the upper chest, the upper chest ridge, and the front deltoids to give you what I call the “freight train” look. No chest is complete without a thick upper ridge, and so the goal is to build an upper chest ridge you can take a nap on. To get the most out of the incline barbel press, here are a few pointers on form and execution:
- Pinch your upper back against the bench and flex your abs to stabilize your core and by extension the entire movement.
- Grip the bar wide enough to where your elbows are bent to around ninety degrees at the bottom of the movement.
- No need to drop the bar all the way to your chest. Start by bringing the bar to your chin, and as you improve, bring the bar closer to your chest.
- Perform a pyramid drop set at the end of your workout. How that works is you load the bar with ten pound plates on each side.
Here is a sample workout to blast your chest and dig deep to build a thick and wide chest using these best chest exercises. Be sure to also check out my Viking Berserker Training program.
- Machine Dumbbell Fly: 10 sets of 10 reps warmup.
- Dumbbell Fly: 3 sets of 12, 10, and 8 reps to failure.
- Dips: 3 sets of 15 reps.
- Perfect Pushup Incline: 3 sets of 10 to failure.
- Incline barbel press: one set of 15 to warmup, and one drop set with a minimum of five weight increments.
For questions and comments, feel free to ask away in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media.
*Consult with your physician to ensure you are healthy enough for physical exercise.
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