When it comes to building a solid physique, what is the best body part to focus on? Some people would argue arms and shoulders, which I surely agree with. Others would answer legs and back, which is also something you should be working on, without a doubt!
Here’s what I think most would say however…
When I think of a superhero physique; the chest or pectorals, as they’re primarily called, is the main muscle group that is focused on the most.
When I see bodybuilders like Arnold, they all have massive chests that embody power and strength.
Here are my 8 best and proven exercises to build a massive chest:
- Bench Press
- Incline Bench Press
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- DB Incline Bench Press
- Dumbbell Flyes
- Hammer Strength Chest Press
Naturally, these are just my recommendations on my decade of training, I’m not a bodybuilder but I do know what exercises work for most people. If you find some movements on this list aren’t working for you that’s okay, pick another couple exercises and work hard on those.
Remember, increasing your strength in the 5-20 rep range is what matters for building muscle. Pick an exercise, hammer it, eat for performance/building muscle and repeat. That’s all there is to it. If you want to learn more about what you need to be doing to build muscle check out this article on my top 21 muscle building tips.
And with that, let’s get to the article starting with #1, the Bench Press!
I’ve written about the Bench Press extensively and there’s a reason for that. When it comes to overloading the chest and building muscle it’s tough to beat!
The main pointers when doing this to build muscle is increasing the weight you can do in the 6-12 rep range. Since the chest is composed primarily of fast-twitch muscle fibers, the heavier your reps are the better.
Using big, compound movements will help it grow very quickly. That’s why the Bench Press is considered one of the best for this very reason. Make sure to pull your shoulders blades together, arch your upper back and lower the barbell with your shoulders tucked.
A lot of people recommend a bodybuilding-style bench press without tucking your arms. I don’t recommend this, while it may increase how much the pecs come into play on the bench, the strain on the shoulders isn’t worth it in my eyes.
Think about it, most of the guys that have muscle tears in their chest and shoulders are from benching like that. I hear about it all too often. I would rather have slower gains and no injuries over faster gains and being forced to take time off.
Be smart and take your time.
Incline Bench Press
Next up we have the Incline Bench Press! Using this movement gives you a slightly greater range of motion that, in theory, should help you build more muscle over the regular Bench Press. You also can target the upper chest fibers that are RARELY overdeveloped.
The only main downside to this movement is your ego. Because of the angle, you’re in while performing this exercise you can’t use as much weight. This is due to the shoulders assisting more compared to a flat barbell bench.
When using the Incline Bench you also want to be sticking to the 6-12 rep range. I would recommend doing this on your second upper body day of the week.
Doing Flat Bench and then switching to Incline Barbell Bench could result in excessive junk volume. Multiple heavy barbell movements in the same session is hard to keep the intensity up after all.
A better way to set it up is doing Barbell Incline Bench for sets of 6-12, then, following this up with Dumbbell Bench Press for 10-20 reps. This way you can work on the slow twitch muscle fibers after the fast twitch fibers.
Try this out on your next Bench day and let me know what kind of results you get!
DB Bench Press
Using the DB Bench Press for an assistance movement is a great idea for building the chest up! In some cases, it can build MORE muscle than it’s barbell counterpart! The main reason for this is due to the increased range of motion!
When you’re performing a barbell bench press, the barbell itself determines the range of motion. With Dumbbells, you can lower them much further! This increases the time under tension and growth response drastically. Also, because you’re pressing two dumbbells simultaneously, it helps build up your weaker arm as well.
The only negative with Dumbbell Bench Press is the instability it causes, they are dumbbells after all. You can’t use as much load unfortunately and that’s why we use lighter weights and higher reps.
Sets of 10-20, with 1 rep away from failure is what you should be aiming for. Doing these higher reps provides a different stimulus for the pecs and helps grow it through an increased range of motion. You can also pause the reps to really kill the stretch reflex and force your pecs to do the brunt of the work.
Definitely start doing Dumbbell Bench Press if you haven’t been doing them already. This isn’t an ego lift so don’t go heavier than 10 reps. Keep your shoulder and your pec tendon attached, please!
DB Incline Bench Press
Just like with the Barbell Incline Bench Press, the Dumbbell variation is a fantastic chest builder. And just like the flat DB Bench Press, we want to be using higher reps on these. 10-20 per set, 1 rep away from failure.
This movement isn’t much different from the Barbell variant, just make sure to set up properly. Shoulder blades together, a slight arch in the upper back, and tuck the elbows. That’s really it when it comes to incline variants. I really don’t believe you need any more than these two to build the upper chest.
The main way to add variety to these is by changing the level of your incline over time. You can start with a low incline and build up your strength with those. As soon as you start stalling, back the weight off and increase the incline. This changes the stimulus ever so slightly and allows you months of growth and variations to try.
I consider dips to be the squat of the upper body pressing muscles. The ability to press your whole body weight with just your chest, shoulders, and triceps is an amazing strength/mass builder. You can perform these just with bodyweight or add weight to them pretty easily!
If you’re not strong enough to do these loaded just start by doing a max rep set. If you can do 10 solid reps we can do the first workout with a couple of sets of half of that, 5 reps per set. From here, just keep building up until you can do a set of 20 as your first set. Then it’s time to start adding weight!
Just like with Dumbbells, I recommend doing sets of 10-20 on weighted dips. Any heavier than that and it puts your shoulder in a very precarious position which is never a great idea.
Start slow when adding weight, just like with Pullups.
5 lbs at a time and push 1 rep away from failure. As long as you do those 2 things and keep your shoulders healthy, you’re going to build a ton of muscle, not only in your triceps but your lower chest musculature as well.
Most people look at Pushups and see them as the wimpier version of Dips, and sure they’re definitely easier. But they DO in fact have an application when it comes to building your chest. On these, I recommend an even lighter load to work on getting a huge pump and decrease the amount of weight you need to add.
Sets of 20-30 should be your first goal, from there add 5 lbs at a time just like with all bodyweight movements. This gives you yet another rep range to work in to build up metabolites.
My recommendation for these are to do push ups toward the end of a workout as a finisher. UNLESS your goal is to get better at push ups. Then I would say keep them at the beginning when you’re fresh.
When I start my new trainees on their goal toward building muscle and strength, the main exercises are used to address basic weak points the majority of people have. Things like weak core, back, upper body, and lower body strength. So…everything.
The main movement I use to build up strength and muscle for the upper body are pushups. They’re a great teaching tool for how to stabilize your core and back correctly. Watch somebody do pushups incorrectly and realize how bad their low back slopes down, how their glutes aren’t activated and they just slope down rep after rep.
Doing pushups teaches them how to stay tight and build total body strength at the same time. From here we just start with low rep sets. Sets of 3-10 is the norm. Over time, they get up to sets of 20 and their entire bodies are stronger. I know I make it sound grander than it really is but for any beginners out there, building confidence from doing more pushups absolutely leads to greater gains in the future.
They aren’t just for beginners though as I went over before. Add some weight and keep the reps high. I guarantee you’ll see some growth. One Punch Man does 100 a day for a reason after all!
In general, I always recommend compound movements first. Go check out this article here for the main reasons why.
When it comes to Isolation movements, it really depends on what position the joints need to be in to do those exercises. For Dumbbell Flyes, you want to mimic your bench set up for the most part. Shoulder blades pulled together with a slight arch in your upper back.
Here’s the tricky part, you need to bend your elbows ever so slightly and only lower your arms as far as your shoulder mobility will let you. Take your time with this movement, it’s one of the only exercises that allows you to really isolate the chest so don’t ruin it by tearing a pec.
For this movement, I recommend a higher number of reps than the dumbbell presses, sets of 15-20 should work perfectly. The pump you can get from high rep dumbbell flyes is very different compared to other chest compound movements.
Another movement that is very similar is Cable Flyes. I have no experience with them but I know people swear by them for gaining mass. Because you have constant tension from the cables, it provides much greater time under tension than a DB Fly.
Pick the variation you feel the biggest pump in and get stronger in those higher rep ranges. When you stop getting those big pumps and you aren’t progressing anymore, pick the opposite exercise and repeat. You can get a lot of work out of these two exercises.
Also if your shoulders have enough mobility, you can try incline Flyes as well. It works the same was as Incline Benches do just with a higher rep range and increased tension. Try these suggestions out and let me know what worked best for you in the comments below!
Hammer Strength Chest Press
Here’s an exercise that I’ve only done when I worked at a commercial gym. Usually, I won’t recommend machines to most people. But when it comes to Hammer Strength machines I’m sold! These are plate loaded exercises and the chest press is one of the best.
The loading for this is going to be very similar to a compound movement; 6-12 reps, 1 rep shy of failure. This allows you to work on some heavy compound movements since the range of motion is fixed. The pump you can get with these types of machines is insane so definitely be ready for that.
However, since this movement is a machine I would recommend starting with Barbells and dumbbells first, then moving onto machine exercises. This allows you to get the harder, more stabilizing intense movements out of the way first.
That concludes my top 8 chest exercises to build a massive chest! It’s important to realize how to program these correctly and when to do so.
If you’re doing Bench Press, never get sore in your chest, never have a pump, and aren’t getting stronger in that 6-12 rep range, you need to switch something up. Pick a different exercise that targets the chest, try the incline out and see if that produces some soreness.
In my experience, if you aren’t seeing an increase in at least performance, don’t expect to grow much at all. Take the time when putting together a proper program for the chest. Don’t just go into the gym, plop down on the bench and max out. Maxing out does nothing for you except test your ego and risk injury.
When you work in the right rep ranges with the correct exercises for YOUR body, you will build muscle and get stronger. You just have to have a plan!
I hope you all enjoyed the article and got something out of it! Every time I sit down to write one of these I learn a little more about training. I hope every time you sit down to read these, you learn something as well.
Thanks for listening and I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!
Until next time,