The chest. The pectorialis major. The largest muscles of the upper body. Developing these muscles are an essential part of a complete workout regimen. Having a strong, chiseled chest, is a hallmark of fitness. The key to thickening and strengthening these muscle fibers means employing the best chest workout possible. The ideal chest workout will pump all sections of your pectoralis major: the outer pecs, inner pecs, upper pecs, and lower pecs.
When you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his hey day anyway), Lou Ferrigno, Frank Zane, and some of the greats of bodybuilding’s golden era, they all had chests that were full, symmetrical, and extremely well trained. A well developed chest not only garners all kinds of attention, but can be practical way to improve your overall strength.
An added bonus with chest exercises, is that the chest doesn’t work in isolation. As the chest is used for all types of pushing motions, the muscles of the arms (primarily the triceps) and shoulders (or deltoids) are closely linked to the muscles of the pectoralis major. Both your triceps and shoulders are also working as secondary muscles.
The best chest workout for you really depends on your goals. For size, strength, and chest depth, the best workout will incorporate heavy weight. For fine-tuning and “lining up,” the best workout will make use of lighter weights and higher repetitions.
Chest Workout Exercises
1. Bench Press
- This exercise is what I refer to as the “bread and butter of chest building.” The bench press has some very effective variations and grips that can be used to achieve your chest building goals. Variations generally include changes in bench angle and grip.
Bench Press Angles: Incline bench press, flat bench press, and decline bench press are the three types of presses that can be used to develop your upper chest, middle chest, and lower chest respectively. Keep in mind that the closer your incline gets to 90 degrees in either direction the more your shoulders and arms will be working.
Bench Press Grips: There are two types of grips to consider when doing the bench press: wide grip and close grip. Using a wide grip on your standard, olympic bar bench press works the muscle of the outer chest, while a close grip (elbows closer to the body) works more of the triceps and inner pecs.
Lowering the Weight: Two schools of thought with lowering the weight during a bench press are whether to lower the bar to the neck, or lower the bar to the chest. Lowering to the neck puts a slight emphasis on the upper pecs while lowering to the chest puts an emphasis on the center of the pecs.
- The dip an exercise that’s great for working the inner and lower pecs. It helps to the develop that line in the center of the chest. A dip is performed using two parallel bars. With dips as well, altering the grip, changes what part of the chest is working.
Dip Grips- A wider grip will work the the lower/outer region of your pecs, while a shoulder-width grip will work the lower and inner regions of the the chest.
3. Dumbbell Exercises
-Dumbbell press exercises closely mirror those of the flat bench press. Dumbbell exercises can also be done on an incline bench, flat bench, or decline bench. A benefit of dumbbell exercises is that it can provide an even greater stretch for the muscles while lifting (stretching and tearing are important elements of muscle growth).
4. Cable-and-Pulley Machine
-This is a great fine-tuning device for the chest as it allows you to safely control the contraction (squeeze) of your muscles during each and every rep. An great example of such an exercise is the two-handed cable crossover where both arms start out by your sides and cross over into an “X” at the end of the motion. Squeezing at the “X” point is a pure gold for the inner chest.
5. The Fly Machine
- This exercise can be used for both inner and outer pec exercise. Sitting at the fly machine you extend your arms (parallel to the floor) grabbing the handles of the machine. With each arm making an arc, you push against the machine’s resistance until your fists meet in front of you.
The best chest workout is the one you feel. People will favor some exercises over others because they result in a better burn. If your muscles are burning and screaming, you’ve probably found an exercise that suits you. Starting with the heavier weight exercises like the bench press and dropping weight as you go to some of the other exercises like the dumbbell press and cable crossovers is a a great method to work the pecs hard and finish them off properly.