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August 29, 2022 9 min read

Your chest and back muscles can be considered part of the glamor muscles family, meaning they’re the muscles you can see in the mirror. These muscle groups help to make up that desired beach bod many lifters strive for.

The chest and back also consist of large muscles that can push and pull a heavy amount of weight and contribute to better posture and function.

Building these muscles up can be important for aesthetics, but they can also be essential for a better quality of life in and outside the gym.

The Chest Muscles

Your chest muscles, also known as the pectorals or pecs, are the large muscles that span across the front of your upper body. 

There are three main muscles in this group: the pectoralis major, the pectoralis minor, and the serratus anterior.

Together, these muscles help to move your arms up and down and across your body. This is demonstrated through a popular chest exercise like the bench press because you’re pushing your arms away from your body as you press the weight up.

A strong chest can help you push heavier weight, but it can also help you more efficiently push open doors and push around the vacuum. 

These muscles also help to stabilize the shoulder joint, assist in better expansion of the chest for breathing, and help improve posture.

The Back Muscles

There are several muscles in the back, but some of the main ones you use are the latissimus dorsi, or the lats, the rhomboids, the trapezius, and erector spinae. 

Together, these muscles all help support your trunk and help to move your head, neck, shoulders and shoulder blades.

Whenever you bend over, twist, extend your back, squeeze your shoulder blades, or even turn your head, your back muscles are involved.

A back workout will include a lot of pulling exercises, and strengthening these muscles can help contribute to better posture and overall movement. 

Your upper back muscles specifically help to keep you body upright, but the entire back helps create a stronger, more stable spine.

Exercises for a Killer Chest & Back Workout

Making sure to exercise these muscles equally can be important for preventing muscle imbalances in your body. Incorporating enough pushing and pulling in your workout routine can help achieve this, and choosing the best exercises helps you get the most out of it.

The Best Chest Exercises

Check out some of the best chest exercises to help build your upper body strength and mass.

Barbell Bench Press

 

The bench press, also referred to as one of the Kings of exercises, is hugely popular in the bodybuilding and powerlifting community due to its ability to build maximal strength and muscle.

With a barbell, you can load a heavy amount of weight depending on your fitness level. 

This exercise can help increase your chest muscle mass and help build your overall upper body and pressing strength.

The bench press mainly works your pecs, but it gets help from your triceps and deltoids.

How to Do the Bench Press:

  • Lie on a flat bench with a barbell secured on the rack above you.
  • Roll your shoulders down and back, so you have a slight arch in your lower back. This can help you lift heavier and increase stability.
  • Grab the barbell with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with an overhand grip and inhale as you unrack the bar. Note that it’s important to have a spotter for safety reasons.
  • Keeping your elbows slightly angled in, start to lower the bar to your chest by bending your elbows.
  • When the bar reaches your chest, exhale and press up until your arms are fully extended, and you’re back to the starting position.

Dumbbell Chest Press

 

Similar to the bench press, the dumbbell chest press works the muscles in your chest, but using dumbbells help to exercise each side equally. 

Barbells can be great for building strength, but it can also cause imbalances if one side of the body is stronger and compensates for the weaker side.

The dumbbells can require more stabilization from your shoulders and core, so you likely won’t be pushing as much weight as you might with a barbell. However, this can be a great way to build muscle in your chest.

How to Do the Dumbbell Chest Press:

  • Lie on a flat bench with one dumbbell in each hand.
  • Start this exercise with your arms extended and the dumbbells above your chest.
  • Inhale as you slowly lower the dumbbells to your chest by bending your elbows. It’s important to keep your elbows angled in slightly to take stress off your shoulders.
  • When the weights reach chest height, exhale and push the weights all the way back to the starting position.

Dumbbell Chest Flyes

 

If your range of motion or movement in your upper body is lacking, you can try implementing the dumbbell chest fly into your chest workout. 

Although this exercise isn’t made for maxing out on weights, it can be a beneficial way to open up your chest muscles and help facilitate better movement and range.

The extended sideways movement of the fly allows for your shoulder to go through a greater range of motion, so lighter weights with slow controlled reps can be the best way to approach this exercise.

How to Do Dumbbell Chest Flyes:

  • Lie on a flat bench with one dumbbell in each hand. Face your palms inward, so they’re facing one another.
  • Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, slowly start to open up your arms like you’re going in for a hug.
  • Lower the weights until you feel a stretch in your chest without pain.
  • Squeeze your chest to bring the weights back up and together again.

Incline Bench Press

 

Training chest will typically include a lot of benches and a lot of presses. The incline bench press may look similar to the traditional bench press, but since you’re at an incline, you can target more of your upper chest.

Your upper chest can often be overlooked and neglected, but it can cause imbalances in your chest if it’s weak. You can help correct this by making sure to equally emphasize each part of the chest.

This exercise can also help fill out your chest more, contributing to a bigger and more balanced upper body.

How to Do the Incline Bench Press:

  • Set a bench at an incline at about 45 degrees.
  • Lie back on it with a barbell secured in the rack above you.
  • Inhale as you unrack the bar and slowly lower it to your chest.
  • When it reaches chest height, exhale and push the bar back up to the starting position.

Push-Up

 

As simple as it may sound, the push-up can actually be extremely beneficial for building upper body strength. This bodyweight exercise can be challenging for any level of athlete, but especially for beginners who may not have the strength to do a standard one.

This exercise largely targets the chest muscles, but it also recruits the shoulders, core, and back muscles for added strength and stability.

The push-up can be used as a warm up for your chest day or can be integrated into your workout program.

How to Do a Push-Up:

  • Set yourself in a plank position, so your hands are stacked under your shoulders and your back is flat.
  • Keeping your core tight and body in line, slowly start to lower your body to the ground by bending at your elbows. Like in a bench press, make sure to slightly angle your elbows in.
  • Lower your body all the way to the floor for a full range of motion.
  • Still keeping your core tight, press up from the ground, making sure your hips don’t sag.
  • Press all the way back up to the plank position.

The Best Back Exercises

Pushing exercises are important, but pulling exercises are equally as important to help keep a balanced, strong upper body.

Barbell Row

 

One of the best exercises you can do for your back is the barbell row, also referred to as the bent over row. 

Many major muscles including the lats, traps, rhomboids, and erector spinae are worked during this exercise.

The barbell row consists of a hip hinge stance, which can sometimes be challenging for beginners, so it’s important to use light weights at first. However, more advanced athletes are able to pull a heavy amount of weight during this exercise.

How to Do the Barbell Row:

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold the barbell with an overhand grip.
  • Roll your shoulders down and back to help keep your spine in neutral.
  • Keep your core tight as you start to hinge at your hips by pushing your butt back. It’s extremely important to not just bend over and be intentional with your hinge.
  • Hinge until your back is about parallel with the ground and make sure to keep your spine in neutral.
  • Drive your elbows straight back as you start to pull the barbell up towards you.
  • When the bar reaches your ribs, slowly start to lower back to the starting position.

Lat Pulldown

 

There are often debates about whether weight machines or free weights are better, but they both have their own unique benefits. 

Machines specifically have the ability to help build muscle mass since they eliminate the need for help from stabilizing muscles and can focus on the targeted area instead.

The lat pulldown targets exactly what the name suggests — your lats. They also recruit the traps, rhomboids, rear delts, and biceps to assist in the pulling motion.

How to Do the Lat Pulldown:

  • Sit comfortably on the seat of the machine facing towards it.
  • Grab the bar with a wide grip, keep your chest up tall, and pull your shoulders down and away from your ears.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you pull the bar down towards you.
  • When the bar reaches your upper chest, hold it there for a second before extending your arms back up to the starting position.

Dumbbell Row

 

Like the barbell row, the dumbbell row uses the same hip hinge and movement pattern but instead of using a barbell, you use dumbbells.

Dumbbells can be a great way to work out imbalances in your body since they have the ability to work unilaterally. 

Although the barbell row can be beneficial for maximizing strength, the dumbbell row can be better for building muscle since you’re typically using lighter weights with a higher volume rep range.

How to Do the Dumbbell Row:

  • Hold one dumbbell in each hand.
  • Roll your shoulders down and back before you start to hinge.
  • Push your hips back first to initiate the hip hinge motion.
  • Make sure your back stays flat during this movement and when you reach the starting position.
  • Drive your elbows behind you as you start to pull the dumbbells up towards your ribs.
  • When they reach your ribs, slowly extend your arms again.

Pull-Up

 

One of the best bodyweight exercises you can do for your upper body is the pull-up. It can be an extremely difficult exercise to get just one rep down, but it can also be extremely beneficial when you do it properly.

Primarily, you use your lats in pull-ups, but you also have help from your rhomboids, biceps, and shoulders. 

The great part about pull-ups is they can be easily modified based on your fitness level, so beginners to advanced lifters can feel challenged by them.

This is also an exercise that requires little to no equipment, so whether you’re working out at the gym or at home, you can do a pull-up.

How to Do a Pull-Up:

  • Grab a pull-up bar with an overhand grip and your hands placed slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Retract your shoulder blades to pull your shoulders down and away from your ears.
  • Focus on using your back as you begin to pull your body up towards the bar.
  • When your upper chest reaches the bar, slowly lower back down in the same path to get ready for the next rep.

Face Pulls

 

Lifters tend to gravitate towards bigger, heavier lifts because, let’s be honest, they can be more fun. But it’s important not to neglect smaller muscles and smaller movements because those smaller muscles help lift heavier and function better.

The face pull is a great way to strengthen your rhomboids, traps, and rear deltoids. 

Although it may not build a huge amount of muscle mass, it incorporates important movement patterns and positions needed for heavier rows, deadlifts, and even bench presses.

This exercise also helps contribute to better posture and overall movement and function.

How to Do Face Pulls:

  • Attach a rope attachment to a cable pulley. Make sure to set it high enough so it’s at least at eye level.
  • Grab the rope with both hands and take a step or two back to maintain tension in the cable.
  • Extend your arms and keep your chest up, making sure not to round your shoulders.
  • Retract your shoulder blades as you start to pull the rope towards your face, keeping your elbows wide.
  • When the rope is in front of your face, slowly extend back through the same path.

Build A Balanced Upper Body

You may like training a body part more than others or favor different exercises, but it’s important to work all parts of your body equally to maximize strength and balance.

Your chest and back consist of big, strong muscles and exercising them can help improve your performance and life outside the gym.

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