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Building muscle can be a complex process. You need to make sure your nutrition is in order, you’re training hard enough, doing enough weekly volume, and of course, performing the right exercises.
And while almost any exercise is going to help you build muscle if you’re eating enough, there are certain exercises that are going to be more efficient for hypertrophy, and give you more bang for your buck.
In the first article of this series, we talked about the best exercises for building boulder shoulders. Today, in part 2, we’re sticking with the pressing theme, and revealing the best chest exercises for mass…
The chest is made up of a number of different muscle groups, but when it comes to chest training, there are really three that you’re going to focus on: the pectoralis major, clavicular head, and the sternal head.
The pectoralis major, or the pecs, are the largest muscles in the chest. The clavicular and sternal head are actually part of the pecs, with the clavicular head running across your upper chest from your collarbone to your upper arm, and the sternal head runs from your sternum to your humerus.
Because of the range of motion and joints involved in training the chest, it’s going to respond best to a mixture of low rep/high weight, and high rep/low weight training, depending on the exercises being used.
I can feel the hate already. Go ahead, let the butthurt flow…
When it comes to muscle-building chest exercises, I prefer the flat dumbbell bench press to the flat barbell bench press, and here’s why.
In the hypertrophy game, it’s all about creating tension in the muscles. And because the DB bench press allows for a greater range of motion than the barbell bench press, that makes it slightly superior to the barbell when it comes to building mass on your chest.
Not only that, but with dumbbells, both sides of your body have to work independently of one another, recruiting more of the stabilizer muscles.
Suggested Volume: 4 sets of 8 reps
Just because it’s not first on the list, doesn’t mean I don’t like me some barbell bench press.
Like the flat dumbbell bench press, the barbell bench press is one of the best chest exercises you can do. Unlike the dumbbell bench however, it allows you to use more weight. This helps increase the tension and stress placed on the muscles.
The downside of the flat barbell bench press is that it can be very hard on the joints, specifically the shoulders and elbows. To combat this, you want to keep constant tension through the entire range of motion. You do this by stopping the movement just short of lockout at the top, and lightly touching the chest at the bottom, instead of bouncing.
I recommend alternating the flat dumbbell bench, and flat barbell bench press every 4-6 weeks.
Suggested Volume: 5 sets of 5 reps
The incline barbell bench press is great for hitting the clavicular head of the pecs, but many standard incline benches are set at too steep an angle, and end up working the front delts more.
Another thing that makes the low incline press one of the best chest exercises you can do is it’s not as hard on the shoulders as a flat bench press.
Skip the standard incline bench press, and instead set up an adjustable bench at a lower incline inside a power rack.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 8 reps
Dips are one of the best chest exercises you can do with just your bodyweight. In order to turn this into a chest exercise instead of an arm exercise, you need to lean forward and bring your feet up behind you. This will help emphasis the chest more, specifically the lower pecs.
To make more difficult, add weight.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 15-20, bodyweight
If you want an exercise to isolate the inner chesticles, this is it. The squeeze press is great for hitting the sternal head of the pecs, and in my opinion, is one of the best chest exercises for muscular development.
To get the most out of this exercise, squeeze the dumbbells together as hard as you can throughout the entire movement.
Suggested Volume: 4 sets of 10-12
On its own, the incline dumbbell bench press is great for targeting the upper pecs. Adding in rotation – where you rotate your palms from facing forward at the bottom, to facing each other at the top – helps to recruit more of the pec major.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
This not-often-done bench press variation not only helps target the upper chest, but is actually much easier on the shoulders than the traditional bench press.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 12 reps
What makes the seated machine press one of the best chest exercises you should be doing is that the machine allows you to keep constant tension through all portions of the lift. Seated chest pressing also decreases the use of the shoulder muscles, which allows you to further isolate the pecs.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 10-12 reps
I prefer cable flyes to dumbbell flyes for two reasons. One, the cable allows you to maintain constant tension throughout the lift. And two, dumbbell flyes can be particularly hard on the elbows and shoulders once the weight gets heavy enough. Cable flyes help reduce that stress.
Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
It’s hard to beat push-ups when it comes to the best chest exercises. The great thing about them is they are many different variations that can be used to target different areas of the pecs.
My favorite way to incorporate push-ups is as a finisher at the end of my workout, doing as many reps as possible.
Suggested Volume: 2-4 sets of as many reps as possible
There are few things more impressive than a massive chest. If you’re looking to put size on your pecs, start incorporating these exercises into your routine now.