Have you ever wondered what the absolute best muscle-building movements for your chest are? Wonder no more! Here are our top 5 pec-building picks.
This isn’t a list of the hardest chest exercises. It’s focused on the best-of-the-best mass builders, with a little bit of instruction and explanation to complement each choice. You can swap exercises in your current routine for these choices, build your own chest workout with a handful of them, or just try one when your standard chest workout gets stale.
1. Barbell Bench Press
Why it’s on the list: You can generate the most power with barbell lifts, so the standard barbell bench allows you to move the most weight. It’s also an easier lift to control than pressing with heavy dumbbells. The exercise is easy to spot and relatively easy to learn (if not master), There are plenty of bench-press programs you can follow to increase your strength.
In your workout: Do it toward the start of your chest workout for heavy sets in lower rep ranges. Consider varying your grip width for more complete chest development.
2. Flat Bench Dumbbell Press
Why it’s on the list: With dumbbells, each side of your body must work independently, which recruits more stabilizer muscles; dumbbells are harder to control than a barbell. Dumbbells also allow for a longer range of motion than the barbell bench press, both at the bottom and top of the movement. Flat dumbbell presses allow you to hoist a fairly heavy weight, and they make for a good alternative if you’ve been stuck on the barbell bench for ages.
In your workout: Do flat dumbbell presses toward the start of your chest workout for heavy sets in lower rep ranges. We don’t typically recommend doing dumbbell presses in addition to the barbell bench press, because both moves are so similar.
3. Low-Incline Barbell Bench Press
Why it’s on the list: Many benches are fixed at a very steep angle, which requires a larger contribution from the front delts than the chest to move the weight If possible, go for a less-steep incline to hit the upper pecs without as much stress on the delts. You can also easily do low-incline benches with an adjustable bench on the Smith machine.
In your workout: Many chest workouts start with flat-bench movements first, then progress to inclines, but it’s time to get out of that bad habit. Every so often, start with inclines. The benefit is that you’ll be fresher and can lift more weight, which puts a greater amount of stress on the upper pec fibers and could lead to more growth.
4. Machine Decline Press
Why it’s on the list: Some machines, like Hammer Strength, allow you to move each arm independently, which is a great feature on chest day. Besides doing a machine decline press straight on, you can sit sideways on the apparatus and press across your body one arm at a time, which delivers a completely different feel than when you sit straight-on.
One of the primary muscle actions of the pec major is transverse adduction—think cable flyes or pec-deck flyes to understand this action. By sitting in a sideways position, you can maximize your press with a pec-dominant horizontal adduction, effectively getting more from the movement.
In your workout: Do free-weight exercises first in your chest workout because they require more effort and stabilizer muscles than machines. With that in mind, this could be the last multijoint exercise in your routine.
Why it’s on the list: Free-weight pressing moves on a flat bench are great, but the machine press has some unique benefits. For one, it’s easier to slow down the repetition, both in the concentric and eccentric phases. Stack-loaded machines are also great for quickly doing dropsets.
In your workout: Again, do machine exercises at the end of your workout. For anyone looking to build mass, machines give you a greater chance to pump your pecs with minimal shoulder assistance.