What are the best exercises for a chest workout? The chest is a large and powerful muscle group you should never neglect.
The pectoralis major and minor are your primary muscles for pushing movements such as bench presses or pushups. In contrast, the deltoids, triceps, and other smaller muscles also assist in these moves.
The criteria we used to rank the best chest exercises were chest appearance, performance, and type of exercise. Here is our list of ranking criteria in order of importance:
- Size – Chest
- Definition – Chest
- Power – Ability
- Endurance – Ability
- Free Weight – Exercise
- Cable – Exercise
- Compound – Exercise
- Isolation – Exercise
- Body Weight – Exercise
- Flexibility – Ability
- Strength – Ability
We ranked appearance first because the point of a workout is to look good. We can feel good and build natural strength without working out. Also, we ranked two abilities ahead of exercise types because you need power and endurance to build muscle. To understand how endurance affects muscle size, check out our article on Why NFL Running Backs Don’t Last Long.
Finally, we ranked exercise types in the order that they help us build muscle. In comparison, some exercises are more important because you need them during your workout, while others are just as important because you need them to warm up before and cool down after working out.
So why do most people want a big powerful chest? Building a powerful chest will help improve your overall upper body strength because of the stabilizing function of the pecs during many compound exercises like pull-ups or military press. Also, it makes you look hot. There is no shame in being a little vain if it doesn’t go to your head. By saying that, we give you our countdown of the best exercises for muscle growth and definition.
Planks are a great bodyweight exercise; like most of the best chest exercises, it works the entire upper body. While the standard plank may focus on the core, variations of this exercise give special attention to the chest.
It is worth mentioning a solid core makes all of your other muscles look great. Nothing can undermine chest muscles more than a big or flabby stomach. But we are not here to sell you how planks improve your core. Instead, check out these plank variations that work your chest. You can use planks for an excellent chest cool-down exercise.
- Variations: Floating Plank- is a plank variation that focuses on your outer pecs, core, and front deltoid muscles. You can perform this plank variation by spreading your arms wide to do a wide pushup. Then lower your body down into a mid-push-up position. Keep your feet together and hold the position for 30-seconds.
- Star Planks- is a variation of the floating plank. However, instead of keeping your feet together, you spread them apart. This exercise distributes your weight evenly and is easier to perform than the floating plank. But like the floating plank, it works the outer chest, core, and deltoids.
The chest dip is an advanced bodyweight exercise that targets the major and minor pecs muscles. You can perform it, and there are great alternatives for those who cannot do dips with your body weight. You can use dips on light chest days or for warmups as well.
- Variations: Weighted Chest Dip- This version of the chest dip uses weights instead of your body weight to increase resistance.
- Parallel Bar Dips- Another advanced variation that uses parallel bars for support.
- Incline Bench Dips- You can perform this version of the dip with your back resting on an incline bench.
- Decline Bench Dips- Another advanced variation that targets lower pec muscles by using a decline bench for support.
Pushups are a classic bodyweight exercise that works the major and minor pecs and other upper body muscles. You can perform them anywhere, making them an excellent option for a quick chest workout. You can use pushups on light chest days or warmups like the dips. Also, you can use pushups when you can’t go to the gym, or you need to leave the gym early.
- Variations: Wide-Grip Pushups- Place your hands wider than shoulder-width apart to target the outer pecs.
- Close-Grip Pushups- Place your hands closer than shoulder-width apart to target the inner pecs.
- Divebomber Pushups is a more advanced pushup that starts in a high plank position and slowly lowers your torso toward the floor while keeping your hips elevated, which targets the pectorals.
- Weighted Pushup: You can use weighted pushups as a strength exercise to increase your upper body strength. Also, you can perform weighted pushups differently.
#7 Floor Press
The floor press is a safe bench press variation for beginners or those who lack the upper body strength to perform the bench press. It does not allow you to use as much weight as the bench, but anyone can use it, and it will help strengthen your chest muscles.
The best thing about this exercise is it provides a safe space to learn the correct form. So if you think your form needs some work or rehabbing, the floor press can help get you back on track.
- Variations: Decline Floor Press- This is like the decline bench press performed on the floor.
- Incline Floor Press- This is like the incline bench press performed on the floor.
#6 Machine Chest Press
The machine chest press is an excellent exercise for beginners or struggling with their bench press form. It is a very safe and easy-to-use machine that allows you to adjust the weight and resistance as needed.
- Variations: Incline Machine Chest Press- This is like the incline bench press but uses a machine instead of free weights.
- Decline Machine Chest Press- This is like the decline bench press but uses a machine instead of free weights.
#5 Pec Deck
A pec deck is a machine that isolates the pec muscles and can be used as either isolation or compound exercise. In addition, we often use it as a finishing move in many chest workouts.
Variations: Seated Pec Deck- This is the most common variation of the pec deck, and you should do it while seated.
- Standing Pec Deck- A less common variation that is done while standing.
- Reverse Pec Deck- Another less common variation focuses on the lower pectoral muscles.
#4 Cable Chest Fly
The cable chest fly is an excellent exercise for isolating the prominent pecs and is often used as a finishing move in many chest workouts. You can perform it with either cables or machines, and you can choose to use a neutral or pronated grip (palms facing each other).
- Variations: Seated Cable Fly is a great exercise to target the pectorals without stress on the lower back.
- Cable Crossover is a similar exercise that works both the significant and minor pec muscles by using two cables attached to a high pulley.
- High Cable Fly- This more advanced cable fly exercise uses a higher pulley and allows you to move the weight in a more natural arc.
- Low Cable Fly is a more advanced cable fly exercise that allows you to move the weight in an arched pattern and targets the pecs from different angles.
The pullover is an isolation exercise that targets the pec muscles. You can do it with either cables or machines, and you should perform this move slowly and with control for the best results.
- Variations: Seated Cable Pull Over is a great exercise to target the pectorals, putting no stress on the lower back.
- Machine Pull Over is a similar exercise that uses a machine instead of cables.
- Cable Pullover is a more advanced variation that uses two cables attached to a high pulley.
#2 Dumbbell Fly
The dumbbell fly is one of the best exercises to build a chest workout around and target the significant pecs and should be included in any chest workout routine. You can perform it with either cables or machines, and you can choose to use either a neutral or pronated grip (palms facing each other).
- Variations: Incline Dumbbell Fly is a great exercise to target the upper pectoral muscles.
- Decline Dumbbell Fly is a great exercise to target the lower pectoral muscles.
#1 Bench Press
The bench press is an excellent exercise for targeting the prominent pecs and should be included in any chest workout routine. It is a compound exercise that works the entire upper body and requires you to use your legs to press upon each lift.
- Variations: Incline Bench Press- Same as regular bench press, but performed on an incline bench, which increases the range of motion and targets the upper pecs more.
- The Smith Machine Bench Press allows you to move the weight horizontally, takings some of the stabilizing muscles out of play and focusing more on the pecs.
- Dumbbell Bench Press- Performing this exercise with dumbbells instead of a barbell allows you to hold the weights at your sides and work each pec muscle individually, which can help correct any strength imbalances.
- Decline Bench Press- This is simply a bench press performed on an angled decline bench that decreases the range of motion but increases resistance for more muscle growth.
Summary of the best chest exercise countdown
We hope you enjoyed our countdown. Was there any doubt that the bench press and its variations would come in at number one? And who could doubt that the fly would reach the number two spot? But how about number three? Did it shock you that the pullover came in that high?
The pullover is a free-weight and compound lift that is the only pull exercise on the list. That makes it unique, and when you get bored doing all those presses, it will give you something different to look forward to.
Free-weight, compound lifts build muscles and provide a full range of motions, but exercises that give you a complete range of motion also increase the risk of injury!
The machine exercises in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh places helped isolate and develop the chest even more. Of course, perhaps a fly is a fly, but we know that is not true. Nothing beats free weight, but developing the chest without wasting energy on the other muscles is too good to pass up.
The floor press is a free weight exercise, but the floor controls its range of motion, causing it to act as a machine exercise. Hey, the greater the risk, the greater reward.
Finally, coming in at the rear were the bodyweight exercises. You need bodyweight exercises because they give you the muscle functionality you need in the real world. Let’s face it; we don’t live in the gym, and what’s the point of having muscles if they are only for show? Also, bodyweight exercises come in handy for warmups and cool-downs.
While free weights (dumbbell and barbell) and machines (cable or resistance bands) enhance your appearance, bodyweight improves your performance.
But in the end, we always choose appearance over performance. Hey, let’s get real. Also, this is bodybuilding. You can use bodyweight exercises like machine weights for rehab, warmups, and cool-downs.
How to create a chest workout using the best exercises for the chest?
To build the chest ultimately, you must select exercises that target the inner, outer, upper, lower, and across the chest. Also, address the supporting muscles such as the shoulders and triceps. Not all chest exercises address problem areas and build mass.
Select some activities that create overall mass and some exercises that address problem areas. And don’t forget, safety always comes first, so it is smart to warm up and cool down with some chest exercises. But before you do that, you must know some basics about muscle hypertrophy. Here are the basics you need to know:
- Weight Per Repetition: 70% – 80% of 1RPM
- Repetitions Per Set; 8 – 12 reps
- Set Per exercise; 3 – 5 sets
- Total Sets Per Week; 8 – 26 sets
- Workouts; 2 – 3 times each week
- Rest Time; 48 – 72 hours
The Raw Numbers
Your genetics, age, and experience determine how you follow the muscle hypertrophy guidelines. Most people start somewhere in the middle of each range and then use progressive overload to choose their path forward.
Therefore, if you are beginning a new workout, you would start with 75% of 1rpm, ten reps, 3 – 4 sets per exercise, 17 – 24 total sets per week, and workout two times each week. Thus, 17 – 24 total sets a week divided by 3 – 4 sets for each exercise allows you to select 5 – 6 exercises.
Spice It Up
To build a chest routine, you must select a variety of exercises. Regarding mass building exercise selections, focus on compound exercises such as bench press variations with barbells or dumbbells, weighted dips, and incline or decline bench press.
In addition, you can use a pec deck machine or cable crossover for isolation exercises that focus on the inner and outer chest muscles. Finally, try using decline bench presses or weighted dips to target problem areas, such as the lower pecs.
Fit Your Needs
Your workout should fit your needs. For example, if you have a well-developed upper chest, focus on your lower chest. Then, focus on your problem areas with isolation lifts and use compound lifts to develop overall chest size. You can take care of areas that quickly develop with compound exercises.
Try new exercises to shock and stimulate the chest muscle, but more importantly, your brain. Then, when you switch up your workout, the workout will keep you from getting bored quickly and skipping workouts.
Example of how to use the best exercises to create a chest workout
Let’s put together a chest workout. First, we start with the bench because it is a compound exercise, and you don’t build a massive chest without it. Then we select another stable, the fly, an isolation lift that gives the special chest attention. Next, we choose the decline bench press to target the lower chest.
Finally, we chose the pullover to add a pull exercise to our workout. Adding some spice or variation to the workout will stimulate the muscles and the mind. So here is what our workout looks like:
2 Day Chest Workout: M/Th
- Pushups – 3 sets; 10 reps
- Bench Press – 3 sets; 10 reps; 75% of 1rpm
- Dumbbell Fly – 3 sets; 10 reps; 75% of 1rpm
- Decline Bench Press – 3 sets; 10 reps; 75% of 1rpm
- Pull-Over – 3 sets; 10 reps; 75% of 1rpm
- Floating or Star Planks – 3 sets; 30-second reps
Please keep it simple at the beginning, and once you learn the ropes, experiment a little. Experimenting will give you the best results while preventing your muscles from adapting too quickly to the workout.
You can change the sets, reps, and weight of each exercise. No rule states you must perform three sets of each exercise. Instead, do what gives you results and keeps you motivated to achieve your workout.
By having a list of exercises at your disposal, you can change it up every couple of weeks or once a month. Also, there is no need to worry if you are a beginner. Anything you do will work as long as you do it with the correct form and get in a good sweat.
The last word on the best exercises for a chest workout
Use the advice that matches your needs and goals, but remember to focus on compound exercises when building mass.
For example, targeting your problem areas with isolation lifts to develop overall chest size with compound movements for a complete workout of all your muscles during a single session. As with any program, use progressive overload and a periodization plan for the best results.
We hope you’ve found this article helpful in learning about some of the best chest exercises to build muscle.
But don’t forget that it takes more than just exercise to get significant results. Diet and rest also play a crucial role, so make sure you take care of yourself by getting enough sleep and eating well-balanced meals!
Chest workouts are a great way to build muscle and definition, but knowing which exercises will yield the best results is smart. We’ve compiled the top 10 chest workout exercises that we hope you find helpful in your training process. Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!