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May 09, 2021 10 min read

No shredded physique is complete without a sculpted and defined chest.

Getting those stringy muscle fibers to pop through like the biggest bodybuilders in the game is everyone’s dream. If you find your growth lacking in the chest area, you aren’t alone.

The pec muscles are among the most difficult muscle groups to engage and grow, with the outer portion of the pec being the hardest to see results. Even if you’re never skipping a chest day, there may be some exercises you could be incorporating to maximize your outer chest development. 

Pectoralis major muscle anatomy chart

Anatomy of the Pectoral Muscles

In order to more efficiently work your chest, it is important to understand the function and anatomy of the pectoral muscle region. Simply being aware of how the muscles move and operate will definitely give you an advantage in the gym. The pec group is a complex muscle group made up of four individual muscles: the pectoralis major, the pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, and subclavius.

The pectoralis major is the part of the pectoral group that is visible beneath the skin, especially when you are super ripped. This muscle is fan-shaped and very thick. In addition to its ability to make you look aesthetic when well-built, the pectoralis major aids movement of your upper arm, allowing you to move it away from and towards your body.

The pectoralis minor is beneath the pectoralis major and is a small, triangular muscle. While it cannot be seen, don’t underestimate its importance. This muscle connects to your ribs and supports both your pectoralis major and upper back. Your serratus anterior is slightly below the pectoralis major region. This muscle originates on the rib cage and also aids in the functions of the upper back. 

The subclavius is a very small muscle located just below — you guessed it — the clavicle. It aids in the stabilization of your collarbone when other movements are taking place and also helps your lungs to expand.

7 Exercises for Building Your Outer Chest

Due to the anatomy of the muscle group, there is no real way to isolate and engage the outer chest. However, if you’re suffering from an underdeveloped outer pec, don’t lose hope.

There are several chest exercises you can incorporate into your routine to kill those pecs, maximizing overall growth and promoting hypertrophy of the outer chest.

1. Dumbbell Fly 

The dumbbell fly is an amazing exercise for building your chest overall. Not only are dumbbell flyes simple to execute, but they are also incredibly versatile and personalizable to fit your needs and scenario. Form is everything when trying to properly grow your muscles, so here is exactly how to do a dumbbell fly on a flat bench: 

  • Get in the starting position, lying down on your back on the flat bench. Grab the dumbbells in either hand at chest level. Position the weights shoulder-length apart and avoid a position that is too high above your head. 
  • Press each weight upward above your chest, keeping the wrists and elbows straight. 
  • Once you’re in the upright position, begin letting your arms slowly fall toward the ground, keeping them mostly straight with a slight bend at the elbow. It’s called a dumbbell “fly”, so think of having wings on either side. Keep your chest puffed out and the small of your back slightly rounded. 
  • Extend through the movement, bringing the weights just slightly below back level. 
  • Bring the weights back up in a slow, controlled movement. Be sure not to tap the weights together at the top. 

Throughout the movement, don’t grip the dumbbells too hard or you’ll risk engaging other muscles more than your chest. It can be hard to prioritize your chest over other muscles in your upper body, so be sure you feel your chest engaged at all times.

2. Push-Up 

Simple push-ups are often overlooked when looking to build a chest. It requires no equipment, so it can be the last thing you think about in the gym. However, push-ups are great to incorporate both in and outside the gym, making them especially useful for at-home workouts.

Push-ups can seem self-explanatory, but in order to properly grow your chest with this movement, you might need a refresh on the proper form: 

  • Place your hands shoulder-width apart and put your palms on the floor. 
  • Prepare the rest of the body, placing your toes on the floor. Try to keep your body line as straight as possible. 
  • Push your weight off the floor in a controlled manner. Your core and glutes should be engaged throughout the movement. 
  • Extend through the movement and avoid rounding out your back at the top. Keep your elbows close to your side. 
  • Lower yourself down slowly and with control, hovering just above the floor at the bottom. 
  • Repeat until failure for best results. 

If you find this movement too easy, there are several ways to make push-ups much harder. Try adding a weight plate on your back or stagger your hands for more of a challenge. You can also make it a fast, explosive movement by adding a clap or crossing your arms at the top of the push-up.

bodybuilder doing cable crossovers in the gym

3. Cable Crossovers

The cable machine is the perfect tool for getting a shredded chest in the gym. It is incredibly versatile and allows for a huge range of motion. The crossover movement is among the best chest exercises for chest development. Getting it right can be difficult, here are the steps: 

  • Set up the machine with both pulleys at shoulder level and use the D-handle attachment for each cable. 
  • Next, grip the handles and bring yourself to the middle of the cable machine. Ground your lower body for stability, placing your feet shoulder-width apart. Some people also like to take on a staggered stance, placing one foot in front of the other. You’ll need to be very stable, so choose whichever feels most balanced. 
  • Extend your arms and chest outward with your elbows at a slight bend and your palms facing outward away from your body. 
  • Bring the cables forward to the front of your body. Your hands should meet out in front of you. Finish the movement by crossing your hands over each other, making an “X” with your wrists. 
  • Maintain a slow and controlled motion, extending the arms back out to the top of the movement. Allow your arms to extend slightly beyond your back and pause before continuing to the next rep. 

You can switch which hand is on top for each rep. Think of this movement as an open and close motion, where the chest muscles are extended on the open and squeezed at the close. This movement can also be varied by changing the height of the cables.

4. Cable Flyes

We’ve already established that the cable machine is one of the most beneficial tools you can use in the gym to build a perfectly sculpted chest. Another cable movement you can do are cable flyes, which are comparable to dumbbell flyes, and involves major extension of the chest. 

  • Set up the machine with both pulleys at the topmost level and use the D-handle attachment for each cable. 
  • Grip the handles and bring yourself to the center of the cable machine. Assume a stabilizing stance, whether that be with your feet shoulder length apart or in a staggered stance. 
  • Hinge slightly at the hips, being sure to keep your back neutral and straight. Palms should be facing outward and slightly down. 
  • Begin to pull the weights, moving your hands to meet out in front of the middle of your chest. 
  • Maintain a slow and steady movement throughout and slightly extend your arms back at the top of the movement. 

5. Bench Press

The bench press is an amazing compound movement, meaning it works multiple muscle groups at the same time. Bench press has been shown to drastically improve chest muscle growth over time.

Chances are, you are already quite familiar with this movement as it is incredibly popular in the gym. However, there are some things you can be doing to maximize chest growth with this movement. Proper form for a flat bench press can make all the difference: 

  • Lay back on the bench facing upwards. Prepare your back for the movement by squeezing your shoulder blades together and allowing your back to arch. This is crucial to engaging your chest as much as possible throughout. 
  • Grip the barbell just outside shoulder-width on either side. 
  • Lift the bar from the rack and bring the bar down to your chest, maintaining a slow and controlled movement throughout. 
  • Push the weight back up, being sure to keep your chest engaged. This is where many people make the mistakes that stunt potential chest growth as they allow their shoulders to round and the chest to cave in. Remember to keep your shoulders squeezed and back arched. 

This movement is easily varied through changes in the bench angle, such as using the incline bench or the decline bench. You can also try different hand placements, such as a close-grip bench press, or replace the barbell with dumbbells for a dumbbell bench press. 

6. Chest Dips 

Chest dips work chest, shoulders, and triceps. It has previously been thought that dips worked only the lower chest, however, dips are great for building overall chest mass and thus, getting some hypertrophy to that outer chest. Dips can be bodyweight only, or you can use a loading belt to add weight.

Either way, dips are a killer movement for getting your chest engaged. This movement can be quite challenging at first, but most gyms have an assist option on their dip bar machines and should be utilized when necessary in order to avoid injury. In some cases, you may have to use parallel bars. 

  • Grip the bars on either side, extending your arms so that your wrists, elbows, and shoulders all lineup. 
  • Before beginning the dip, squeeze your shoulders slightly together and down. Lift your feet off the footholds and bend your knees. Cross your feet behind you so that they don’t hit anything on the way down. 
  • Lean your weight slightly forward by angling your torso toward the floor, avoiding too severe of an angle downward. This will place a lot of the load onto your chest muscles. 
  • Unlock your elbows to begin the descent. You’ll want the descent to last about two seconds, being careful not to extend too much at the bottom. A good rule is to let your elbow reach a 90-degree angle. Keep your back straight and your shoulders squeezed. 
  • Push back up to the position where your elbow, wrist, and shoulder are in line, maintaining a slow and controlled manner of movement. 

7. Landmine Press

Landmines can be perfect for growing your chest without the stress of a bench press or chest dip movement, which can be especially hard on your shoulders. This movement is quite simple and is great for beginners. The landmine press can be done with both hands or just one hand, but a two-handed landmine press will more effectively engage the chest. 

  • Assume a stabilizing stance, with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • If you’re using both hands, bring the barbell to chest height and grip the bar with both hands in an overhand position.  
  • Next, press the bar over your head and slightly out in front of you. The barbell will have its own natural movement since it is fixed on the other end, so just follow that. 
  • Maintain a slow, controlled motion throughout, bringing the bar back to chest level at the end of each rep. 

The landmine press can be varied in many ways. Perhaps most popular is getting to the floor in a kneeling position. This will help increase the range of motion available from the fixed barbell. 

You can also bring the barbell to one shoulder, pushing it up over your head and bringing it down to the other shoulder. Alternating your shoulders is good for hitting those pecs from various angles.

bodybuilder side chest posing in the gym

My Outer Chest Still Isn’t Growing!

If you find your outer chest is still drastically underdeveloped despite trying all of these movements and never skipping a chest day, there is likely a simple explanation. You may even have a very developed upper chest and lower chest already, but find your outer chest really lacking.

This is not uncommon, but can easily be fixed through form evaluation or changing certain habits in the gym. Here are some things you should keep in mind when trying to grow your outer pecs: 

  • Develop tension at the origin of the muscle. For the pecs, the origin is just at and above the armpit. This tension can be achieved by an increased range of motion, being sure to elongate your pec muscles as much as possible in each movement. 
  • Create more tension in the elongated position and focus on chest expansion with a full range of motion. Most people aim to leave the position of an extended chest as soon as possible since this is typically the most difficult part of the movement. However, extension is vital for getting that mountainous outer chest. It may be obvious, but you should really feel activation and engagement in the outer chest as much as possible. 
  • Progressive overload is key to achieving hypertrophy. This also means don't start lifting heavy weights off the bat, as this can lead to injury. You should aim for heavy weight with proper form eventually. 
  • In addition to progressive overload, be sure you’re doing reps for hypertrophy. This is typically 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 12 reps
  • Seek variety by engaging the chest from several angles. 
  • Work on improving posture. Today’s lifestyles encourage rounded shoulders and a hunched upper back. This poor posture can translate into your workouts, which can inhibit your ability to engage and grow your chest. 
  • Be sure you’re getting the proper nutrition for muscle growth. For nearly everyone, this requires a calorie surplus with a focus on protein. Enough protein is absolutely imperative for muscle growth and tends to be where people fail in their diets.
  • You can incorporate a high-quality protein supplement into your daily food intake to boost protein consumption.

Getting a Beastly Outer Chest: The Last Take

While you may suffer from an underdeveloped outer chest, the truth is there is no muscle separation between the outer and inner pec muscles. Though the pectoral group has individual distinct muscles, you must work the muscle group as a whole to see progress. Incorporating the above movements and tips may be all it takes to get the killer outer chest of your dreams.

Muscle hypertrophy can be very hard to achieve, so don’t feel discouraged. It may be a while before you see real gains in your outer chest, but consistency and discipline will make all the difference.

If you’re really struggling with getting the muscle growth you desire, there are a plethora of shredding supplements and fat burners you can use in tandem with those killer gym sessions to achieve a built outer chest.