The 20 Best Chest Exercises to Build Stronger Pecs

The 20 best chest exercises to build stronger pecs

Looking to get a well-rounded chest workout? We've got you covered with these exercises that go well beyond the traditional bench press

THE CHEST IS a muscle group that takes up a great deal of attention for physique-minded guys. If you pause a moment to think about why, you won’t need long to figure out the appeal of chest-pumping workouts. The anatomical position of the muscle group is the answer. Your chest muscles sit at the top of your torso on the front side of your body, making it one of the first physical features anyone looking at you is likely to notice. Whether you’re checking out your own reflection in the mirror or being clocked by a stranger when you walk into a party wearing a tight-fitting t-shirt, you lead with your chest.

Still, some exercisers approach chest training with a very narrow approach. The International Chest Day model, which consists of a barbell bench press and little else, doesn’t give you a chance for a fully diversified chest workout. There should be much more to your chest muscle workouts than stacking plates onto a barbell and pressing into infinity—that can be a recipe for major problems down the line.

But anyone who wants to train for a balanced, healthy physique will understand that you need to train smart, not like a meathead (at least not all the time). There are more exercises that you should do to target your chest muscles. Variety is a major key for for muscle adaptation, so you’ll want to use different types of equipment and techniques to challenge your chest to help it grow.

You can build out a new plan using some of these exercises, which will spur muscle growth and help you to build strength. Choose two or three to work into your routine, and for best results, rotate in new movements every 3 or 4 weeks. Just remember, there’s nothing wrong with a big bench for your chest—as long as your workout doesn’t start and end there.

The chest-building exercises

Bench press

Why: 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.

How to 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.

Sets and reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Dumbbell chest fly

Why: 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.

How to do It:

  • Lie 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 emphasise the squeeze in your chest at the top.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps


Why: You’ve done push-ups a million times before, and if you want a well-rounded workout, you’ll keep at it until you’ve done them a million more times. You can’t do a more basic exercise to train your chest, so make sure you’re doing them properly.

How to do It:

  • Get into a high plank position with your weight on your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your feet close together, keeping a straight spine with your core and glutes squeezed. Keep your gaze down to keep your neck in a neutral position.
  • Lower your chest down to the floor, keeping your elbows close to your torso and not flaring them out.
  • Push straight off the ground all the way up to the top position with your elbows straight.

Sets and reps: 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Dumbbell floor press

Why: No bench? No problem. Take your dumbbell press to the floor for a shoulder-safe chest pump. This is another excellent option for building up your chest with home workouts, since all you’ll need are some weights and some space to spread out.

How to do It:

  • Lie 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.
Sets and reps: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Band chest fly

Why: 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) or the dumbbell fly, but the use of exercise bands makes it more accessible, and potentially another exercise you can do at home. “This exercise can be an extremely effective single or double arm exercise increasing hypertrophy and muscular endurance (providing that pump) without putting the amount of stress on the shoulder joints that a chest fly with a dumbbell would,” says athlete performance and development specialist Curtis Shannon, C.S.C.S.

“I like programming it as an accessory, warmup/priming, filler, or finisher lift. It can also be programmed with a global lower and upper body pull exercise, such as a deadlift or bent over row. Or simply use it as a “beach day” workout exercise that focuses on high volume for that “pump”.”

How to 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.

Sets and reps: 3 to 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps

T-bench glute bridge fly

Why: Take the bench fly, then add an idea from the floor press to hit your chest muscles in a shoulder-safe manner. You’ll also challenge your glutes and abs too, since you’ll be challenged to hold a difficult position.

How to do It:

  • Sit on the edge of a horizontally oriented weight bench, and place a set of dumbbells on your lap.
  • Kick the weights back, shift your shoulder blades onto the bench, and press the weights straight up. Drive your shoulders into the bench to “set” them, then squeeze your glutes and abs to form a bridge shape with your feet planted on the ground.
  • Open your arms to lower your elbows down to the bench, forming the shape of the letter T. Focus on the eccentric portion of the movement, taking 3 to 4 seconds to lower.
  • Then, squeeze your chest to fly the weights back up.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Machine chest press

Why: If you’ve ever stepped foot in a commercial gym, you’ve probably encountered this machine. Contrary to what you might have heard, machines can be great for your gains—it allows you to push your limits and train to fatigue without needing a spot—so learning the proper form is well-worth your time.

How to do It:

  • Align your seat to the point where the handles are about two inches below your shoulders.
  • Keep your shoulder blades tightly squeezed against the back pad, and your glutes and lower back wedged into the pad as well.
  • Drive your elbows down and tight, while pushing into the floor with your legs.
  • Press forward, squeezing at the top

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 12 to 15 reps

Deficit push-up

Why: Level up your basic push-up by levelling up. By adding a deficit, you’ll ramp up the difficulty and increase your range of motion, which will lead to more strength and muscle gains than the standard version of the pushup.

How to do It:

  • Put your hands on the raised surface slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, while keeping your abs and glutes squeezed.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and keep your core tight. Lower yourself down below the platform, almost to about an inch from the floor or as close as your body allows.
  • Pause momentarily from the bottom then press your hands down to drive up, keeping those shoulder blades squeezed and mid-back muscles nice and relaxed throughout the exercise.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps

Half-kneeling chest press

Why: 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.”

How to 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 stabilising your hip against the ground.

Sets and reps: 2 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Incline dumbbell bench press

Why: This is an upper body push exercise that targets the pectoralis major (upper chest), clavicular, costal and sternal head, along with the anterior deltoids, triceps, biceps and serratus anterior.

“This is a great exercise to implement into your program, giving your upper body push routine some variety,” Shannon says. “The mechanical load and position on the incline bench press provides a greater challenge than the flat or decline bench. This will essentially allow you to get a greater adaptational response with less weight than with the flat benchpress. I personally feel more muscle in the chest and less stress in the shoulder joint when I perform this exercise, in comparison to the flat bench.”

Shannon recommends programming this as either a primary or accessory lift. The prescription all depends on the load, intensity and volume.

How to 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, which should be flat on the floor. Keep your core tight and avoid arching your back, which means your butt should be glued to the seat.
  • Press the dumbbells up, directly above the shoulders. You might have seen some people in the gym knocking the weights together at the top, but there’s no need to do that here.
  • Lower the dumbbells to chest level—but don’t stress on how deep you go—before you press them back up for the next rep.

Sets and reps: 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Close-grip bench press

Why: 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. But this variation puts more focus on your triceps, so you’ll get the added bonus of extra work for the biggest muscles in your arms, too.

How to 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.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps

Cable fly

Why: 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.

How to 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.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps

Stance change kneeling fly

Why: Target your lower chest and get some extra oblique work with this exercise that you can take on even if you don’t have access to a cable machine. This fly variation is just as effective using a resistance band anchored to a rack or some other sturdy point as it is with a cable machine. Use this as a chest day finishing move.

How to Do It:

  • Kneel in front of the band’s anchor point, glutes and abs tight, right arm grasping the band, left foot on the ground.
  • Keeping your hips and shoulders square to the front and a slight bend in your elbow, perform a fly rep, pulling the band in front of you, wrist at about belly-button height. Hold when you get to this position.
  • Tighten your core and shift your left leg back so you’re kneeling on both knees.
  • Shift back to the starting position. Keep your hips and shoulders square to the front as you do this.
  • Return the band to the start position.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side

Plyometric pushup

Why: This explosive pushup nails the fast-twitch muscles in your chest, priming them for growth, said English. The movement also gives you another, more powerful option for at-home chest development.

How to 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.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 4 to 6 reps

Incline archer push-up

Why: The archer pushup is a super-tough bodyweight exercise variation that gives you a unilateral challenge, but the most notable part of this move is the positioning. By elevating your feet on a bench, you’ll put the focus on the upper chest, giving you a novel way to target that part of the muscle group without any extra gear.

How to Do It:

  • Set up in pushup position with your feet on a box, bench, or chair, then shift both hands out slightly and turn your fingers out. This is the start.
  • Lower down to the right side, keeping your left arm straight.
  • Pause at the bottom briefly, then press up off the ground.
  • Repeat for the prescribed reps, then switch sides.

Sets and reps: 3 sets per side

Plate squeeze press

Why: This minimal-gear exercise takes focus if you want to make the most of the move. The key is to create as much tension as possible to get the ultimate squeeze. Better yet, this type of sustained, focused contraction will help you target the inner part of the chest, which is often neglected by other pressing-style exercises.

How to Do It:

  • Kneel on the ground, squeezing your abs and glutes. Hold two small plates together in your hands, pressing them together close to your chest. Keep the tension by pressing them together throughout the exercise.
  • Press the plates outward, squeezing them into each other as you do. Work to keep the plates completely even with each other.
  • Draw your arms back in with the plates, continuing to force them together. Slightly angle your arms upwards, as if doing a 30-degree incline press.
  • Repeat the process, focusing extra-hard on keeping your elbows pointed to the ground. Pull back.

Sets and reps: 3 sets

Single-arm dumbbell bench press

Why: This exercise hits your chest like any awesome bench variation. But what makes it particularly special is that the other side of your body, specifically your core, has to lock down so the dumbbell doesn’t pull you off the bench, says Dan John, legendary strength coach.

The end result: The exercise sculpts your chest—and abs—to a greater degree.

How to 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. For even more of a core challenge, move even further to the side of the bench so you’re forced to create tension to keep your body balanced.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps per side

Spider-man push-up

Why: Start moving like a superhero and pile up time under tension to give your muscles an even greater challenge. You’ll also work your hip mobility as an added bonus.

How to Do It:

  • Start in pushup position, abs and glutes tight.
  • Lower into a pushup, bringing your chest an inch from the ground. Pause in this position.
  • Keeping your chest parallel to the ground, lift your right foot off the ground and drive right knee to touch your right elbow.
  • Drive back up as you return your right leg to standard pushup position. Repeat on the other side.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side

Standing one-arm landmine press

Why: Most chest presses stress your shoulders. This exercise nails your chest while improving your shoulder mobility. And because your core has to lock down to prevent your torso from bending back or twisting, it also rocks your abs.

How to 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.

Sets and reps: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side

Bear plank chest press

Why: This pressing variation flips your chest day upside down, challenging your stability and torching your core. You’ll need a cable machine or a pair of resistance bands set on high anchor points.

How to Do It:

  • Start in bear plank position, bands set overhead or cable handles in your hands, core tight.
  • Keeping your hips and shoulders square to the ground and your back flat, shift one arm back towards your torso. Pause.
  • Press down to the ground, still keeping hips and shoulders square. Repeat on the other side.

Sets and Reps: 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per side

What are your chest muscles?

The chest is a muscle group you might have heard referred to by one catchall name: the pectorals, a.k.a. the pecs. There are actually two muscles that make up your pecs, the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.

The pectoralis major is larger, as the name implies, and is superior (or located above) to the pectoralis minor, is smaller and located below the pec major. The pec major is tasked with adduction of the arm (movement in toward the body) and rotation of the arm forward, along with assisting other muscles in pulling the trunk up when your arms are above your head. The pec minor helps to move your ribs and shoulders.

The serratus anterior and subclavius are also chest muscles, which rotate the scapula and anchors and depresses the clavicle, respectively.

The benefits of training your chest muscles

  • Aesthetics
  • Better Posture
  • Increased Strength

Your chest is a fairly large muscle group, so you’d be hard-pressed to ignore it. Still, the benefits of chest training are important to keep in mind: Not only will a well-developed chest have aesthetic benefits in terms of how your shirts fit and how you’ll look without one, you’ll also see postural benefits (just make sure to balance out your chest day with back training, too). You’ll also be stronger anytime you need to push or swing using your arms.

Common chest workout mistakes to avoid

  • Too Much Bench Press
  • Poor Bench Press Form
  • Poor Incline Press Form
  • No Balance

Make sure you don’t just focus on bench press. You should also aim to use exercises that hit the other functions of your chest, like arm adduction, and allow you to emphasize the squeeze. When you do bench, however, listen to MH fitness director Ebenezer Samuel and make sure that you don’t flare your elbows. When you take on another common exercise, the incline press, keep your forearms perpendicular to the floor so that you can keep the focus on your upper chest muscles and avoid shoulder issues. Finally, make sure that as much as you target your chest muscles, you also train opposing muscle groups. Your back needs attention too, both for better function and a balanced physique.

How to train your chest muscles

You can train your chest at home or in a pinch with bodyweight moves like pushup variations, feature chest-centric movements in broader full-body workouts to spread the workload, and if you feel like you’re lagging, even ramp up the volume beyond the Monday standard with multiple sessions dedicated to chest in a week.

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. Just remember, if your goal is to build chest muscle, you should aim to work using the right protocols for hypertrophy, with the most efficient rep schemes and rest periods. Likewise, you’ll need to be eating right to gain muscle.

This story originally appeared on Mens Health U.S. 






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