Along with building a stronger legs, building a stronger chest is one of the most common fitness goals amongst fitness enthusiasts. A well-developed chest not only enhances your physique but also contributes to overall upper body strength and functionality. However, it's not as easy as you may think... you'll need to do a lot more than just bench press heavy!
Building a stronger chest requires a combination of effective exercises, proper technique, and smart training strategies. That said, we're going to show you how to build a stronger chest by giving you tips and a list of the best exercises that will hit your chest at every angle – let's dive right in!
How to build chest muscles effectively
Following the best chest exercises is one way to build muscle in your chest, but you can hit a halt in your progress if you're not changing things up. These strategies will help get you on the right track to building chest muscles without hitting any roadblocks...
The first and most important tip is to make sure your form and technique are on point! Focus on performing each exercise with controlled and deliberate movements, avoiding excessive swinging or jerking. With chest exercises, lifters make the mistake of having their elbows flared out, but this will just add stress to your wrists and shoulders. Instead, focus on keeping elbows tucked in at all times so your lats help drive the weight up and stabilize your shoulder joint.
So, before adding any weight to your barbell or dumbbell chest exercises, focus on quality over quantity. This will optimize muscle engagement and minimize the risk of injury.
This may be obvious to some but don't neglect progressive overload. This means progressively increasing the demands placed on your chest muscles. Gradually increase weights, repetitions, and sets. This progressive overload principle is essential for continuous improvement.
However, the mistake new lifters often make is focusing on those three things. There are various ways to drive progress without needing to increase weight, reps, and sets. So, if you've hit a halt in your gains and can't increase the volume or resistance, try one of the following tips...
Slow down your reps
Don't make the mistake of pushing out your reps as fast as you can. Instead, slow it down! Slowing down will help you focus and perform the lift with power and proper form. It will also help you develop a strong mind-muscle connection, which is key to maximizing the effectiveness of your chest exercises. Concentrate on engaging the chest muscles during each repetition, ensuring they bear the brunt of the workload rather than relying excessively on other muscle groups.
Change the angle
Incorporate a variety of chest exercises into your routine to target the muscles from different angles and promote well-rounded development. For example, take a break from barbell bench presses by doing an incline dumbbell chest press or using the chest press machine at the gym. And don't be afraid to ditch the free weights for the cable machine! The cable machine can provide a different challenge for your chest muscles that can help drive more progress.
Switch up your grip
Once you've mastered your form on important chest exercises, play around with your grip. Different grips place different stress on your muscles and hit different points for optimal growth. The two most popular grips you can start with are neutral (palms facing each other) and pronated (palms facing forward). Once you master one grip, practice the other.
Take a deload week when needed
Despite contrary belief, overworking isn't going to lead to effective muscle growth. Chest day isn't everyday, so remember to plan your workouts in a way that allows your chest muscles to rest before hitting them again. However, even with optimal rest, you may hit a wall. You might feel lethargic and aren't able to push out as many reps as you used to. When this happens, take a deload week.
A deload week is a way to take a break from your normal workout routine. It involves just scaling back from your usual routine, so incorporating an extra rest day and/or taking it lighter. For example, instead of focusing on lifting heavy, you can train with lighter weights and focus on form. The key is to scale back so you can recover and avoid a workout plateau.
Best chest exercises
Now that you know the best way to build chest muscles, we'll be giving you a list of the best exercises to include in your chest workout!
Barbell bench press
The barbell bench press is a classic compound exercise that primarily targets the pectoralis major, along with secondary involvement from the triceps and anterior deltoids. It allows for heavy loads and stimulates overall chest development.
How to do it:
- Lie down on a bench and under a loaded barbell and grab it with both hands in an overhand grip, palms facing forward. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-distance apart so you can comfortably lift the bar while hitting your pecs.
- Unrack the bar and place it over your chest so that your elbows are pointing outward and to your sides. Your arms should be parallel to the floor and perpendicular to your torso.
- Begin the movement by pressing the bar up until your arms are fully extended and in line with your shoulders.
- Without letting the bar tilt to the sides, squeeze your pecs in this position, then slowly return the bar to your chest and repeat.
Neutral grip dumbbell chest press
Similar to the barbell bench press, dumbbell chest presses engage the pectoral muscles but offer the added benefit of greater stability and unilateral training.
How to do it:
- Lay with your back on a flat bench with a dumbbell in each hand and your feet firmly placed on the floor.
- Keep your forearms close to your sides while you point your arms forward, holding the weights in a neutral grip.
- Begin the movement by pressing the weights upward until your arms are fully extended over you, making sure you’re keeping the weights in the same position.
- Hold to squeeze your pecs, then bring the weights back to the starting position and repeat.
Push-ups are a highly effective bodyweight exercise that targets the chest, triceps, and shoulders. They can be performed anywhere and modified to suit your fitness level. Beginners can start by doing elevated or bench push-ups and slowly move their way to regular push-ups.
- Get into a high plank position and maintain a straight body line from head to toe.
- Lower your chest to the ground, and push back up using your chest muscles.
Incline squeezed chest press
Incorporating an incline bench press into your routine targets the upper portion of the chest muscles, providing a well-rounded chest development.
- Adjust the bench to a 30-45 degree incline.
- Sit down on an incline bench with dumbbells resting on the lower thigh.
- Once you're laying back on the bench, bring the dumbbells up and press those bad boys together using a neutral grip (palms facing each other).
- Press dumbbells up with elbows to sides until arms are extended.
- Begin to slowly lower weight to the sides of the upper chest until a slight stretch is felt in the chest or shoulder.
Dips are a versatile exercise that engages multiple muscle groups, including the chest, triceps, and shoulders.
How to do it:
- Find a dip station, whether it’s just the regular parallel bars or an assisted dip machine for support, and stand in between the bars.
- Place your hands on the bars, firmly grasping them on each side with a neutral grip, and hold yourself up by extending your arms and lifting your feet off the floor. Make sure to sightly lean your torso forward instead of keeping it upright so you can focus on your chest instead of your triceps.
- Keeping a neutral spine position, begin the movement by slowly lowering yourself until your elbows are around shoulder level.
- Flare out your elbows, feeling the stretch on your pectorals, then go back to the starting position and repeat the movement.
Cable flyes are a great chest exercise because they isolate the chest muscles and emphasize their contraction. You can also adjust the height of the pulley to be higher or lower to target different areas in the chest.
How to do it:
- Attach D-handles to the cables, set them at shoulder height, and step forward, maintaining a slight bend in your elbows.
- Bring your hands together in front of your chest, and squeeze the chest muscles.
- Slowly return to the starting position, maintaining tension throughout the movement.
Chest dumbbell pullover
Dumbbell pullovers primarily target the pectoralis major, along with the serratus anterior and latissimus dorsi muscles.
How to do it:
- Lie perpendicular on a bench with only your upper back supported.
- Hold a dumbbell by its horn with both hands above your chest.
- Slowly lower it behind your head while maintaining a slight bend in your elbows.
- Return to the starting position by engaging your chest muscles.
Incline dumbbell flyes
This movement is similar to chest flyes, except the incline places a greater emphasis on the uppper chest muscles.
- Adjust the bench to a 30-45 degree incline, hold a dumbbell in each hand, and lower your arms out to the sides with a slight bend in your elbows.
- Maintain control and squeeze your chest muscles as you bring the dumbbells back up to the starting position.
Take your push days to the next level
Building a stronger chest requires dedication, consistency, and a well-rounded approach to training. By implementing the tips provided and incorporating a variety of effective exercises into your workout routine, you can target your chest muscles from different angles, promote growth, and achieve a well-developed and powerful chest.
Remember to prioritize proper technique, progressively overload your muscles, and maintain a strong mind-muscle connection for optimal results. Stay committed and enjoy the journey toward a stronger chest and improved overall upper body strength.
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