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Training your chest shouldn’t be a futile exercise in monotony.
If you’re boring and don’t want to experience truly massive gains, feel free to rep through endless standard bench press sets and pec deck reps until your back fuses with the surface of the platform beneath you. You might get better at that one exercise—and there’s nothing wanting to post big numbers and balloon your bench press max—but you’re spurning all of the potential benefits that other moves could offer. You want to stimulate your muscles in different ways, so you can challenge them to adapt and grow as your training plan progresses. For that, you’ll need variety.
There’s a whole treasure trove full of workouts and exercises to be uncovered to blast the chest that can sculpt your pecs and push your upper body training days to the next level.
Here are some of the best chest exercises to do just that. Choose two or three to work into your routine, and for best results, rotate in new movements every 3 or 4 weeks.
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The Chest-Building Exercises
Sure, we just talked about branching out beyond the bench press. But you can’t avoid the exercise if you’re serious about training—or even if you just step foot into any typical strength facility in the world. The move is standard for a reason: it works. Let’s break it down with dumbbells for some variety.
Do it: This hypertrophy method means you’re more focused on building muscle than pressing max weight, so keep your butt on the bench, with your feet flat on the floor and your glutes and core engaged. You should also drive your shoulder blades down into the bench.
Lift your dumbbells up, squeezing the handles tightly. Once your back is on the bench, don’t just hold the weights with your elbows parallel to your shoulders. Keep your elbows at a 45 degree angle to help to keep your shoulders safe. Squeeze your chest to drive the weight up, then lower under control under the same path to just above your chest. Drive back up to hit another rep.
One of the absolute go-to chest exercises, the chest fly is all about creating tension through the movement. Your goal is not to flap your arms like a bird to take flight, like the name suggests—squeezing is the name of the game here. That means you’ll probably use less weight than you might expect.
Do it: Lay on a flat bench, gripping dumbbells in each hand. Press the weights up above your chest, keeping them from touching, with your pinkies turned slightly inward. Maintain full body tension on the bench.
Lower your arms down moving only at your shoulders, keeping a slight elbow bend. Only go as deep as your shoulder mobility allows. Squeeze your shoulder blades to raise the weight back up to the starting position, and emphasize the squeeze in your chest at the top.
Dumbbell Floor Press
No bench? No problem. Take your dumbbell press to the floor for a shoulder-safe chest pump.
Do it: Lay back on the floor gripping a pair of dumbbells tightly. Keep your feet flat on the floor, driving with your heels and squeezing your glutes. Keep your elbows at a 45 degree angle relative to your torso to keep your shoulders safe.
Press the dumbbells up and squeeze your chest at the top position. Lower back with control, allowing your elbows to rest briefly on the ground.
Band Chest Fly
For a great warmup before a chest workout or a killer burnout to finish one, try out the band chest fly. The move isn’t much different than its big brother, the cable fly (more on that below), but the use of stretch bands makes it more accessible.
Do it: Attach two bands to a stable base, like a power rack or tower. Grab the ends of the bands in each hand, wrapping around your palms. Stand in a staggered stance in the middle of the station. Your arms should be outstretched but slightly bent. Lean forward slightly at your hips and avoid rounding your back.
Without changing the bend in your arms, bring your hands together. Slowly reverse the movement, keeping the bands controlled.
Spend more time at the bottom of the movement to really reap its benefits. Start with light weights to get used to the move, and try alternating between overhand and neutral grips to switch things up.
Do it: Sit on an incline bench with dumbbells in each hand. Start with the weights held with your hands at your pecs, as if you were preparing for a press. Keep your chest strong, with a natural arch in the lower back.
Straighten your arms out to each side, maintaining your strong chest position. Pause for a count with your arms extended, stretching the muscles.
Half-Kneeling Chest Press
Take a knee for some chest gains. The half-kneeling chest press also gives you the opportunity to hone your core while you’re off-balance, offering even more benefits and making the exercise more realistic. “In the real world, we don’t get to work symmetrically. We’re kind of off balance a little bit,” said Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. “This puts you in an off-balance position.”
Do it: Kneel with one leg forward in front of a cable machine setup. Grab the cable with the same hand as the knee that’s down on the ground. Keeping your core tight and your up-knee straight, press the cable out in front of your chest. As you return your arm back to the starting position, avoid turning with the cable by squeezing your core and stabilizing your hip against the ground.
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
Pressing from an incline works the clavicular head of your chest, said Brad Schoenfeld, C.S.C.S., Ph.D. Working that muscle—which resides high on your chest—gives your pecs extra pop.
Do it: Lie on a bench with the backrest set at a 45-degree incline. Hold a pair of dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight and your palms turned toward your feet.
Lower the dumbbells to chest level, and then press them back up to the starting position.
Photograph by Beth Bischoff
Close-Grip Bench Press
You can lift more weight with a barbell than with dumbbells because they’re more stable. That’s why barbell presses generally build more raw strength in your chest.
Do it: Using an overhand grip that’s a bit narrower than shoulder width, hold a barbell above your sternum with your arms straight. Lower the bar to your chest. Hold for 1 second. Press the bar up.
When it comes to working their pecs, most guys just press. Adding the fly to your routine gives your pecs and front deltoids a new stimulus.
“I like using cables for this because they provide constant tension throughout the entire movement,” Schoenfeld said.
Do it: Attach two stirrup handles to the high-pulley cables of a cable-crossover station. Grab a handle with each hand, and stand in a staggered stance in the middle of the station. Your arms should be outstretched but slightly bent. Lean forward slightly at your hips; don’t round your back.
Without changing the bend in your arms, bring your hands together. Slowly reverse the movement.
Photograph by Beth Bischoff
Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
The exercise zeroes in on your lower chest, building serious size, said Tyler English, C.S.C.S., author of Natural Bodybuilder’s Bible.
Do it: Lie on a decline bench with your shins hooked beneath the leg support. Hold a pair of dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight. Your palms should face your feet and the weights should be just outside your shoulders.
Lower the dumbbells to your chest, pause, and then press them back up to the starting position.
Photograph by Beth Bischoff
Band or Chain Barbell Bench Press
Adding chains or bands to the ends of a barbell changes the load as you move through the different phases of the lift.
Each chain link weighs X amount of pounds, and that poundage is now something you’re actually lifting and managing. As you move through the eccentric part of the lift, lowering the weight to your chest, you’re lessening the load as there is more of the chain on the ground. When you press the weight up, you lift more links of the chain up, bringing that extra weight up. Bands work in a similar manner using the constant tension on the bar.
Do it: Hang a chain over each end of the barbell, or anchor resistance bands to the bench and place them over each end of the bar. Start without weight, in order to get used to the unstable bar.
Grab the barbell and lie on a bench. Using an overhand grip that’s just beyond shoulder width, hold the bar above your sternum, keeping your arms straight. Lower the bar to your chest, and then push it back to the starting position.
This explosive pushup nails the fast-twitch muscles in your chest, priming them for growth, said English.
Do it: Get into a pushup position, your hands just outside your chest, your feet shoulder-width apart, and your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core.
Lower your chest to the floor and then press up explosively so your hands come off the floor. If you can pull it off, clap your hands together before returning to the starting position on the ground.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press
This exercise hits your chest like any awesome bench variation. But what makes it particularly special is that your other side has to lock down so the dumbbell doesn’t pull you off the bench, says Dan John, strength coach and author of Intervention.
The end result: It sculpts your chest and abs to a greater degree.
Do it: Lie with your back flat on a bench holding a dumbbell in your right hand. Press the dumbbell directly over your chest until your arm is straight. Slowly lower the dumbbell to the right side of your chest.
Pause, then press it back up. Do all your reps on your right side, and then repeat on your left.
Performing pushups with your hands in an unstable suspension trainer works your core, chest, and stabilizer muscles harder than doing pushups on the floor, said English.
Do it: Grab the handles of a TRX strap and extend your arms in front of your chest. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your body anywhere from 45 degrees to parallel from the floor. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels.
Lower your chest toward the floor until your hands are just outside your shoulders. Keep your elbows in and your head in a neutral position as you lower. Brace your core throughout the movement.
Standing One-Arm Landmine Press
Most chest presses stress your shoulders. This exercise nails your chest while improving your shoulder mobility.
Your shoulder blade moves with you as you press, putting less strain on the joint, said Eric Cressey, co-owner of Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA.
And because your core has to lock down to prevent your torso from bending back or twisting, it also rocks your abs.
Do it: Perform this unique exercise by placing one end of a barbell securely into the corner, grabbing the opposite end with one arm. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, bending slightly at the knees while pushing your butt back.
Start with your elbow by your side with your wrist up near your shoulder. Brace your core and press your arm straight up and out toward the ceiling.
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