If you’re looking to bulk up, strengthen your upper body, or fill out your shirts, chest exercises are a good place to start. Your chest muscles are some of the biggest most noticeable muscles. They also respond well to weight training. Furthermore, the chest is a relatively easy muscle to train, with many of the top exercises having a very fast learning curve.
If you’ve been searching for workouts to help develop your chest, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of exercises. Fortunately, having bulging pecs doesn’t require dozens of complicated exercises and techniques: you can stick to the best and get the results you want. Forget about all that crazy stuff, here are the 4 best chest exercises. Start with these, and you won’t need to mess around with the rest.
1. Flat Barbell Bench Press
The flat barbell bench press is the fundamental chest and upper body mass builder. Activating much of the upper body, the flat barbell bench press, or “bench press” for short, is a proven muscle builder that’s incredibly easy to learn. The latter point is important: the quicker you an exercise, the quicker you can increase the resistance and build muscle. Complex exercises take time to master, during which muscle building from heavy resistance is delayed. The bench press is so effective that you can develop a large chest (and other parts of your upper body) even if you only bench.
- Effective mass builder
- Heavy pec focus
- Compound exercise works stabilizer muscles
- Easy to learn
- Strain on shoulder tendons
- More difficult to left and right side development
2. Dumbbell Incline Press
Forget about the dumbbell vs barbell debate by incorporating both into your workout. In addition to working your large pectoral muscles, incline press also puts emphasis on the shoulders and “upper chest”, the clavicular pectoris muscles. While dumbbell incline press may not be as efficient a mass builder as flat bench for the pecs, it can help you achieve a well rounded upper body build by activating your shoulders and upper chest, and forcing a left and right side balance. It is important to note that often, incline press is shoulder or arm limited, which means a downside is your large chest muscles might not completely ‘burn out’, which is less suitable for optimal mass development.
- Shoulder and upper pecs also heavily involved
- Left and right side trained equally
- Steeper learning curve than flat bench
- Might be shoulder and arm limited
Functional training has been all the rage lately. It is not without merits: there are tremendously effective exercises that use our body weight for resistance. For the chest, the two major ones are push ups and dips. Dips can be used as an almost complete upper body exercises, emphasizing not only the chest muscles, but also the shoulders and triceps. Shifting your tilt can also be used with dips to vary the focus from the lower chest all the way to the triceps. Resistance is easy to add with a pull up belt if dips unweighted are too easy for you. One of the main challenges with using dips, like many other chest exercises, is that being fully chest limited is more difficult than with the flat bench: your arms or shoulders may give out on you before your chest muscles.
- Bodyweight focused
- Works most of the upper body
- Easy to learn
- Harder to work chest to failure
- May require a pull-up belt to achieve ample resistance
4. Machine Flies (Pec Deck)
Experienced lifters will probably be shocked at the inclusion of Machine flies as a chest exercises, let alone as a top 4 chest exercises. However, we like them for a couple reasons. First, machine flies do a pretty good job of isolating the pectoral muscles, which are key for muscle mass. However, most importantly, machine flies, when done right (with the handles not set too far back) is a way to work the pectoral muscles with limited strain on the shoulder. Shoulder injuries are extremely common among those who lift regularly, and the pecs are extremely difficult to exercise without also putting strain on the shoulder. Machine flies, with the proper settings, are one way to get a chest workout in if you can’t put much stress on your shoulders. This feature alone makes them a worthy addition to any serious lifters’ routine.
Everything works if you’re consistent
Hopefully now you have a good launching pad to build the chest you’ve always wanted. However, don’t feel limited by the options above. The reality is almost every chest exercise will help build muscle if done properly and consistently. As we wrote about in our Keys to building muscle fast article, resistance, consistency, diet, and sleep are what you should really focus on. So go join a gym and start working out!