The 9 Best Chest Exercises to Build a Superhero Chest

workout

These are the 9 best chest exercises that will build you the chest of Thor. 

Every gym bro’s favorite exercise in the gym is the bench press. The bench press is one of the big three lifts, along with squats and deadlifts, and it’s a good indication of one’s overall strength. And you use your chest muscles to push most of the load in this movement. Although the bench press is a crucial component of building a chiseled chest, there are a variety of chest exercises that will develop and strengthen your chest. Plus, they’ll improve your bench press. The problem is choosing the correct movements and omitting the rest. This article will cover the 9 best chest exercises to build a chest like Thor. 

Best Chest Exercises

  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Wide Grip Bench Press
  • Decline Barbell Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Flyes
  • Incline Barbell Bench Press
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Flyes
  • Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Cable Crossover

Barbell Bench Press

The barbell bench press is the most popular chest exercise. It’s part of the “big three”–along with squats and deadlifts–and it’s a good indicator of one’s overall strength. The barbell will let you load up on a lot of weight to vastly improve your chest and strength size compared to other exercises like the dumbbell fly (1). Plus, the shoulder-width grip will balance the weight of the barbell, further enabling you to use heavier weights. You’ll also target your shoulders and triceps as secondary muscles. 

Benefits of the Barbell Bench Press

  • This movement lets you use heavy weight since you’ll be able to use a shoulder-width grip and barbell.  
  • It’s a compound movement
  • This exercise targets your triceps and shoulders as well. 

How to Do the Barbell Bench Press

You’ll load a barbell with plates on either side. Then, you’ll lie flat on a bench and grasp a barbell shoulder-width apart. Next, lift the barbell and lower it to mid-chest level. Once the barbell touches your chest, press it back up. 

Wide Grip Barbell Bench Press

The wide grip bench press is similar to the barbell bench press with a medium grip (shoulder-width); however, as the name suggests, you’ll grab the barbell with a wider grip. A wider grip will engage more of your chest muscles. You’ll also bring the barbell through less range of motion and increase shoulder stability

Benefits of the Wide Grip Barbell Bench Press

  • It’s less range of motion. 
  • This movement recruits more of the muscles in your chest. 
  • The wider grip stabilizes your body more. 

How to Do the Wide Grip Barbell Bench Press 

Lie on your back on a flat bench and set your eyes to look directly at a fixed barbell. Grab the barbell wider than shoulder-width and lift it off (starting position). Lower the barbell to your mid-chest, then press it back to the starting position. 

Decline Barbell Bench Press

The decline barbell bench press is done with a medium grip but with a bench set at a decline. This decline will target your lower chest muscles. Also, the angle of the bench allows lifters to press more weight than the standard barbell flat bench press. Moreover, the downward slope of this exercise places less strain on your shoulders. 

Benefits of the Decline Barbell Bench Press

  • The decline bench press activates your lower pecs. 
  • You can lift more weight on this movement. 
  • You’ll have decreased shoulder stress. 

How to Do the Decline Barbell Bench Press 

Secure your feet into the decline bench set up and lie flat back on a bench at a decline. You’ll then grab the barbell with a medium grip and lower the load to your sternum. Next, press the barbell up without locking out your elbows. 

Incline Dumbbell Flyes

The incline dumbbell fly is performed with dumbbells at an incline. The incline will engage your upper pecs, and the biomechanics of the movement will isolate your chest muscles. It’s great for adding additional volume to your pectoralis major (pecs). 

Benefits of the Incline Dumbbell Flyes

  • This exercise isolates your chest muscles. 
  • The dumbbell incline fly targets your upper chest muscles. 

How to Do the Incline Dumbbell Flyes 

Set a bench to an incline to a 30-45 degree angle. Then, grab dumbbells and sit them on your thighs. Next, lie flat and lay your shoulder blades against the bench with your head resting on the seat, and straighten your arms to put the dumbbells overhead. Keep your feet balanced on the floor and lower your arms in an arc angle until you feel a stretch in your chest, then bring the dumbbells back up to the starting position. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows to reduce tension in your shoulders. 

Incline Barbell Bench Press

The incline barbell bench press is between a standard barbell bench press and a military press. As the name implies, you’ll bench press a barbell at an incline. The heavy load of the barbell at an incline will strengthen your upper pectoralis major (largest chest muscle). Also, the incline will be more taxing for your shoulders. 

Benefits of the Incline Barbell Bench Press 

  • It will target more of your upper pecs compared to the flat bench. 
  • You’ll engage your shoulder muscles. 

How to Do the Incline Barbell Bench Press

The barbell incline bench press is performed the same way as the flat bench press, except at an incline. First, find a barbell rack with a bench set at a 45-degree angle. Next, unload the weight, bring the barbell down in a controlled manner to your upper chest and then push the load up. 

Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

The incline dumbbell bench press is performed just as the barbell incline bench press is done, except you’ll replace the barbell with dumbbells. Dumbbells will allow you to correct any muscular imbalances and challenge your stability muscles and core more. Again, as with the incline barbell bench press, this exercise activates your upper chest muscles. 

Benefits of the Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

  • The incline dumbbell bench press targets your upper chest muscles. 
  • The dumbbells with increase core activation and activate your stability muscles. 

How to Do the Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 

Fix a flat bench to a 45-degree angle and grab two dumbbells (one in each hand). Lie supine on a bench and raise the dumbbells above your upper chest. Next, lower them down below your clavicle until the dumbbells are just above your chest on the outside. Then, press the dumbbells up toward the center of your chest. 

Dumbbell Fly

The dumbbell fly is an accessory chest exercise that increases your chest definition, core strength, and muscular balance. It’s a chest opener movement, so it may reduce back pain and improve your thoracic range of motion. Also, it will activate your biceps (2). 

Benefits of the Dumbbell Fly

  • It opens up your chest to reduce back pain and increase your range of motion. 
  • This exercise adds size to your chest. 

How to Do the Dumbbell Fly 

Find a flat bench and sit on it while holding a dumbbell in each hand. Then lie down supine and extend your arms, almost parallel to the ground. Engage your chest muscles to bring the dumbbells above the center of your chest in an arc motion. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows. 

Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press is the barbell flat bench press with dumbbells instead of a barbell. So like the barbell bench press, this compound exercise targets your chest, shoulders, and triceps. However, dumbbells will activate your stabilizers and core more and require more balance and coordination. Moreover, this 2021 study found that it can produce similar strength gains compared to the barbell bench press (3). 

Benefits of the Dumbbell Bench Press

  • This movement will build mass in your chest, triceps, and shoulders. 
  • It activates your core and stabilizers. 
  • This exercise improves your proprioception. 

How to Do the Dumbbell Bench Press 

The weight will be heavier with a dumbbell bench press than with dumbbell flyers, so once you sit down on a bench with the dumbbells held in each hand. Place them perpendicularly on your thighs, then kick back one leg at a time while falling back to lay flat on the bench. Next, bring the dumbbells to your side without flaring your elbows. Lastly, press the weight up. 

Cable Crossover 

The cable crossover is an exercise that squeezes your chest muscles together. Since it’s done on cables, it keeps tension on your pecs throughout the movement. Plus, it increases your range of motion. And the motion will hit your lower pecs more. 

Benefits of the Cable Crossover

  • The cable crossover targets your lower pecs more than other chest exercises. 
  • It will keep the tension equal through the full range of motion. 
  • You’ll experience a greater range of motion. 

How to Do the Cable Crossover 

Fix two cable pulleys at the top. Grab the pulley on either side and keep your arms straight, with a slight bend in your elbows. Then, in a downward arc motion, bring the weight down until your hands meet in the middle and you feel your chest squeeze together. 

About the Chest Muscle

The chest (pectoralis) muscle comprises four muscles: pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, and subclavius. The pectoralis major is the dominant fan-shaped muscle of your chest that stretches from your armpit to your collarbone and connects with your sternum. It’s responsible for moving your shoulder joint and attaching your arms to your body. 

Specific movements will target different parts of your chest muscles more than others. For example, the barbell bench press will target your mid-chest the most, the barbell decline bench press will hit your lower chest the most, and the barbell incline bench press emphasizes your upper chest. In addition, a barbell will let you load your chest with more weight, and dumbbells will fix lagging chest muscles and activate your core and stabilizers more. 

How to Progress Your Chest

It depends on your fitness level and goal when looking for ways to progress your pecs muscles. A beginner should start slow and keep the volume and intensity low. Advanced lifters can increase the volume and intensity as they continue a chest workout program. In general, it’s essential to increase the weight, volume, or reps to keep your chest growing and getting stronger. 

Training Volume and Frequency 

  • Beginners: Beginners can start targeting their chest muscles once a week and performing 4-5 exercises and 2-3 exercises each set. 
  • Intermediate: Intermediate lifters can train their chest up to twice a week, except they should only perform 3-4 exercises and 2-3 sets each chest workout. 
  • Advanced: Advanced lifters can train their chest muscles multiple times a week or have one or two big chest days, e.g., performing four sets of 3 different exercises twice a week. However, it’s still crucial for advanced lifters to be cautious of their recovery since resting is imperative for muscle growth

Whether you’re doing a full-body workout or a split routine will determine how many chest exercises you do in a day. For example, a beginner may have three separate full-body workouts spread out throughout the week and only perform one chest exercise per workout. In contrast, an advanced lifter may have a particular chest day and perform 4-5 sets of 5-6 movements. 

Rules to Follow 

Protect Your Shoulders 

When performing chest workouts, it’s essential to pay extra caution to protect your shoulders. That’s because your shoulders are involved in pushing/chest movements. Also, your shoulders are one of the most mobile joints in your body. And the more mobile your joints are, the more likely you are to get injured. 

Why Warm-Up Your Chest

A proper warm-up will increase the weight you’ll be able to lift on your chest exercises and protect your chest, triceps, and shoulders from getting injured. Start with light cardio for five minutes on a cardio machine of choice, e.g., elliptical, treadmill, etc. Then, perform 2-3 warm-up sets of the first exercise of your chest workout with a lighter weight. 

Keep Your Elbows From Flaring Out 

Flaring out your elbows during chest movements will increase your risk of injuring your shoulders. Therefore, when performing chest presses, such as barbell bench press and dumbbell bench press, it is crucial to utilize elbow sleeves for bodybuilding and powerlifting. keep your elbows in and don’t let them flare too far out. Keep in mind that the more inward they are, the more the exercise targets your triceps and the less it’s targeting your chest. 

References 

  1. Solstad, T. E., Andersen, V., Shaw, M., Hoel, E. M., Vonheim, A., & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2020). A Comparison of Muscle Activation between Barbell Bench Press and Dumbbell Flyes in Resistance-Trained Males. Journal of sports science & medicine, 19(4), 645–651.
  2. Solstad, T. E., Andersen, V., Shaw, M., Hoel, E. M., Vonheim, A., & Saeterbakken, A. H. (2020). A Comparison of Muscle Activation between Barbell Bench Press and Dumbbell Flyes in Resistance-Trained Males. Journal of sports science & medicine, 19(4), 645–651.
  3. Heinecke, Marc L.1; Mauldin, Matthew L.2; Hunter, Monica L.3; Mann, J. Bryan4; Mayhew, Jerry L.3 Relationship of Barbell and Dumbbell Repetitions With One Repetition Maximum Bench Press in College Football Players, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: February 2021 – Volume 35 – Issue – p S66-S71 doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000003539
As a personal trainer and writer, Terry loves changing lives through coaching and the written word. Terry has a B.S. in Kinesiology and is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer. He enjoys playing music, reading, and watching films when he's not writing or training.