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The 10 Best Chest Exercises

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The Best Chest Exercises

What are the best chest exercises? 

There are scores of exercises you can use to develop your chest muscles, some of which can be performed without any equipment, and others which you’ll need to head down to the gym to do.

These exercises are ideal for introducing as part of a full-body workout or for those days you really want to hone in on the chest.

We’ve looked through the options and picked out the best chest exercises you should be working into your gym sessions if you want to see real gains.

These include basic exercises such as press-ups, which can be performed practically anywhere, to other pec exercises which target specific areas of the chest to aid with definition.

 

The 10 Best Chest Exercises

Our exercise routines are created by determining the best exercises for muscle growth, core strength, and overall health and well-being.

Here’s our list of the 10 best chest exercises:

 

10. Plate Pinch Press / Svend Press

Best Chest Exercises - Plate Pinch Press

Great for:

The plate pinch press is an effective way to target your inner chest and really get those fibers working using a low weight, high rep workout.

It also minimizes the use of the surrounding arm muscles compared to other chest exercises.

How to do it:

You’ll need two weight plates for the plate pinch press:

  1. Place your selected plates together and squeeze them in your palms
  2. Hold the plates in front of the middle of your chest
  3. Keep your chest up as you retract your shoulder blades
  4. Move your arms forwards and upwards while contracting your chest as hard as possible
  5. Reverse the motion back towards your chest

Why:

If you want to hit the pectoral muscles and also perform an exercise that allows for lower weights with higher repetitions, the plate pinch press/svend press is one of the best exercises out there.

When:

The plate pinch press is a great pectoral exercise for those workouts when you really want to hone in on a range of chest muscles.

It hits the pectoral muscles almost exclusively and allows for greater chest strength and definition.

 

9. Cable Crossover

Best Chest Exercises - Cable Crossover

Great for:

The chances you own the required equipment at home for the cable crossover are slim since this equipment isn’t cheap.

But for those of you who hit the gym regularly, cable crossovers allow for pectoral muscle growth with smooth and continuous resistance to minimize injuries.

How to do it:

Head down to your local gym and follow these instructions to perform the cable crossover:

  1. Set the cables to the highest position
  2. Stand in the center of the machine with your feet shoulder-width apart, and torso bent slightly forwards
  3. Bend your elbows slightly and face your wrists downwards
  4. With core engaged, pull the handles down across your body and squeeze your chest muscles into a fully contracted position
  5. Reverse to the start position, maintaining a slight bend on your elbows throughout

Why:

The continuous resistance afforded by the use of cables makes the cable crossover great for controlling the motion of your reps.

This helps to engage various small stabilizer muscles found throughout the chest area while also giving your pecs a thorough workout.

When:

If you’re concerned about potential injuries, the chest cable crossover is a safe pectoral workout without placing undue strain on them, as well as minimizing the risk of back injuries.

It fits nicely into a chest-based routine or as part of a full-body session.

 

8. Push-ups

Best Chest Exercises - Push-Ups

Great for:

Push-ups are probably the best-known exercise out there and can be performed easily without any equipment and with minimal space.

They’re also great for including between sets that use weights to help keep your heart rate elevated.

How to do it:

To perform a press-up: 

  1. Get on all fours and place your hands slightly wider than your shoulders
  2. Straighten up your limbs
  3. Lower your body slowly until your chest almost reaches the ground
  4. Pause, then push up to return to the starting position

Why

Press-ups can be incorporated into your workout several times per week, depending on your general fitness level and how much recovery time you prefer between gym sessions.

Start with lower rep counts, and as you improve, you can add more reps to build additional strength.

When:

One of the best ways to guarantee your upper body strength will improve is to do regular press-ups.

They work a good range of muscles, for instance, the triceps and shoulders, as well as your chest. Lower back strength and overall core performance are also improved.

 

7. Chest Dips

Best Chest Exercises - Chest Dips

Great for:

Chest dips are very similar to tricep dips and draw upon your body’s weight to help build your chest muscles through a simple exercise.

They also help boost your balance as well as hitting other muscles.

How to do it:

To perform a chest dip:

  1. Grab the parallel bars with each hand and push up to straighten your arms
  2. Lower your body down, bending your arms while leaning forward to use your chest to control the descent
  3. Lift your body back up to the starting position by pushing up with your arms
  4. Lock your elbows at the top before repeating these steps

Why:

While the chest dip emphasizes the pectoralis major muscle, it also helps to make gains in the delts, traps, triceps, and rhomboids.

When:

Chest dips are good to alter with pullups from one day to the next since together; they work a broad range of complementary muscles to really work through your body.

They can be quite intensive, so make sure you include rest days.

 

6. Chest Flyes

Best Chest Exercises - Chest Flyes

Great for:

Chest flyes help open up your chest muscles since they allow for an extended motion to stretch the muscles beyond the range of other chest exercises.

They also help with back muscle growth and core development.

How to do it:

You’ll need a bench and a couple of dumbbells to perform this exercise. Grab these, then:

  1. Lie on your back on the bench and take the dumbbells in each hand, holding them up directly over your chest
  2. Make sure your arms are extended but not locked, with palms facing inwards
  3. With elbows slightly bent, lower both arms out to the sides, pausing when they reach shoulder height
  4. Squeeze your chest and pull the dumbbells back together over your chest and into the starting position

Why:

In addition to working the chest and encouraging flexibility, the chest flye also strengthens the triceps while stabilizing shoulder muscles.

It’s easy to scale up with additional weights as you improve.

When:

If you’re doing split routines, throw in some chest flyes on the days when you want to give your chest muscles a thorough session.

But try to avoid performing these daily as the extended motion causes muscles to tear.

 

5. Barbell / Dumbbell Decline Press

Best Chest Exercises - Decline Press

Great for:

There are a range of benefits to performing a declined press with dumbbells or barbells, including better activation of the power pecs, activated triceps, and reduced stress of your back and shoulders.

How to do it:

Grab yourself a bench and lower the back, then:

  1. Secure your feet at the end of the bench and lower yourself onto your back
  2. Take the barbell in both hands (or the dumbbells if you’re using those) and hold them shoulder-width apart over your chest with your palms facing upwards
  3. Gradually lower the bar down until it touches your chest and hold the position here for a moment
  4. Push through with your arms to return the weights to the starting position with arms extended above your chest

Why:

Barbell/dumbbell decline presses help with strength transfer to arched benching, giving you the ability to lift more weight and thus hit your chest muscles harder.

It’s a great lower pectoral exercise that fits nicely into a chest-based routine.

When:

If you’re putting together a chest session in the gym and want to get maximum impact on your lower pecs, the barbell/dumbbell decline press should be added to your workout routine.

 

4. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

Best Chest Exercises - Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

 

Great for:

As you might expect, this exercise works like the inverse of the decline press, allowing you to channel your energy towards the top of your pectoral.

Upper chest strength is worked hard, and you can perform this exercise without unduly stressing your shoulders.

How to do it:

Lift the back of your bench, so it’s in an inclined position, then:

  1. Sit on the bench and lean back with a dumbbell in each hand
  2. Position the dumbbells at your shoulders with your elbows bent and angled below your ribs
  3. Brace your core, then press both dumbbells over your chest until they almost touch at the top
  4. Reverse the motion to bring the dumbbells back down to the top of your chest, with your elbows coming to a 45-degree angle to your torso
  5. Repeat the above steps for additional reps

Why:

This is the perfect chest exercise for upper chest growth, which also activates the shoulders more than a traditional horizontally positioned bench press.

When:

As with the decline barbell/dumbbell press, the incline press is ideally suited for those sessions where you want to hit a range of chest muscles to help with overall chest definition.

Just make sure you factor in muscle repair and include the necessary rest periods between sessions.

 

3. Barbell Incline Bench Press

Best Chest Exercises - Barbell Incline Bench Press

Great for:

The barbell incline bench press is very similar to the dumbbell incline bench press, working largely the same muscle groups with an emphasis on the upper pectoral region.

Using a barbell rather than dumbbells helps promote symmetry in your motion.

How to do it:

Lift the back of your bench, so it’s in an inclined position, then:

  1. Sit on the bench and lean back, then take the barbell in both hands from the rack
  2. Position the barbell across your chest with your elbows bent and angled below your ribs
  3. Brace your core, then press the barbell over your chest until your arms are fully extended
  4. Reverse the motion to bring the barbell back down to the top of your chest, with your elbows coming to a 45-degree angle to your torso
  5. Repeat the above steps for additional reps

Why:

Setting the bench at an incline allows for greater activation of the shoulders, so you’ll be working additional muscles on top of your pecs with each rep you perform.

When:

For upper chest muscle growth with a smooth, symmetrical motion throughout, the barbell incline chest press is a must.

Include it in chest-focused gym sessions to aid overall chest development.

 

2. Dumbbell Flat Bench Press

Best Chest Exercises - Dumbbell Bench Press

Great for:

The dumbbell flat bench exercise levels things out compared to our previous selections for the best chest exercises, requiring the use of a horizontal bench and a pair of dumbbells to perform.

Chest muscles get a thorough workout while the core is engaged to help with stability and strength.

How to do it:

Follow these instructions:

  1. Lie back on a bench with the dumbbells overhead with an overhand grip
  2. Holding the dumbbells slightly wider than your shoulders, slowly lower your elbows until they are at 90-degrees with your upper arms parallel to the ground
  3. Push the weights back to the starting position by straightening your arms

Why:

Since the dumbbell flat bench press engages a range of stabilizing muscles, it’s ideal for activating muscle fibers throughout the body.

Using dumbbells instead of a barbell (which we’ll discuss next) means you can strengthen your wrists through wrist rotation as you perform your lifts.

When:

Depending on the level of weights you’re pressing, you can perform the dumbbell flat bench press several times a week.

Or if you’d rather go heavy, introduce it less frequently on chest-focused gym sessions, so there’s time for recovery.

 

1. Barbell Flat Bench Press

Best Chest Exercises - Barbell Bench Press

Great for:

Barbell flat bench presses are great for more than just showing off in the gym by pressing heavy weights.

They hit your pectoral muscles in all the right ways while also giving your core and triceps a workout too.

How to do it:

  1. Lie back on a bench and take the barbell off the rack with palms facing upwards
  2. Holding the barbell slightly wider than your shoulders, slowly lower your elbows until they are at 90-degrees with your upper arms parallel to the ground
  3. Push the weights back to the starting position by straightening your arms

Why:

Upper body strength, increased bone health, greater pushing power, and overall joint health are improved through flat bench presses with a barbell.

In fact, it’s arguably the best chest exercise for building absolute strength, which is why it’s incredibly popular among gym lovers.

When:

Most powerlifters and bodybuilders will include the barbell flat bench press in their workouts 2-3 times per week, allowing for time for rest and recuperation.

It’s a big movement, so make sure you don’t overdo it.

 

FAQs About Chest Exercises

If you still have some questions about how chest exercises can work for you, check out our short but informative FAQ guide.

 

Q: What are chest muscles used for?

The chest muscle, otherwise known as the pectoralis muscle, is one of the larger muscles in the human body.

It comes into play when lifting heavier weights, for instance, when moving things around the home, so regular pec workouts are essential for optimal health.

 

Q: Why are chest exercises important?

Additional strength in your chest also aids with the strength of the muscles in your back, allowing for comprehensive upper body conditioning and much better overall posture.

A great chest workout will also give your body greater definition.

 

Q: What do chest workouts help with?

As well as giving you a bigger chest which improves core stability and boosts your upper body strength, chest exercises can help to stabilize your shoulder joints and make you breathe more easily.

 

Q: How long should a chest workout be?

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to a consistent exercise regime is overtraining, which applies as much to chest workouts as anything else.

Train wisely, and you’ll avoid injuries and other health problems.

 

Q: What chest exercise is most effective?

This depends on what you hope to achieve.

If you’re still unsure which pectoral exercises are the best for you, head back to the top of the page, read through the best chest exercises, and pick one or two to start you going.

From there, you can also try different exercises as you go and pick the most effective ones over time. 

 

Summary

The chest features some of the key muscles you’ll want to build on if you’re keen to work on your overall health and strength.

This guide should help you to determine which pectoral exercises are most appropriate for your end goals and the choice of gym equipment available for use.

Here’s a quick recap of the 10 best chest exercises:

  1. Barbell Flat Bench Press
  2. Dumbbell Flat Bench Press
  3. Barbell Incline Bench Press
  4. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
  5. Barbell/Dumbbell Decline Press
  6. Chest Flyes
  7. Chest Dips
  8. Push-Ups
  9. Cable Crossover
  10. Plate Pinch Press/Svend Press

If you enjoyed this article, check out our other exercise lists:

What’s your favorite chest exercise? Leave a comment below.

With almost two decades of lifting experience under his belt, Matt shares his knowledge and expertise with us around bodybuilding and supplementation. Deadlifts and barbell curls are his go-to exercises, and, when he's not writing about health and fitness, you'll find him in the gym busting out some arms! Follow Jacked Gorilla on Instagram: @jackedgorillanews

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