June 10, 2021 10 min read

Mondays may be hated for being the start of the workweek, but for lifters that also means chest day

The chest is the first thing you notice with someone’s physique, and so it’s obvious that guys love putting a lot of attention on it when working out. A powerful, flat, and broad chest not only exerts confidence, but also has a wide range of practical benefits.

 And while bulging pectoral muscles may be the aesthetic choice for some, there’s also a lot to be said about a lean and shredded chest area—especially if you’re struggling with man boobs.

As with most muscle groups, there are better and worse ways of developing the pecs. Below we’ve collected seven of the best exercises for a well-rounded chest workout. Because after all, “no pecs, no sex.”

chest muscles anatomy chart

Looking Under the Hood

A bigger chest not only means more glances next time you’re at the beach, but there are also (more) practical benefits as well. For example, a powerful chest will help you avoid shoulder injuries, improve your posture (helping you avoid injuries in the long-term), and it’ll have massive carry-over effects to pushing movements in day-to-day life, along with other push movements in the gym.

Your chest muscles—apart from looking good—are responsible for the adduction, rotation, and flexion of your shoulders. All pushing movements come down to the pecs. Well, “pecs” is oversimplifying it.

The pectoralis major is the largest muscle in the chest. It’s two-headed and goes from your breastbone to your upper arm. It’s activated when you raise your arms in front of you or push outwards. The pectoralis minor is triangle-shaped, lying right below the pectoralis major. This muscle is mainly responsible for bringing your shoulder blades forward, away from the spine.

Although not technically part of the “pec” family, there’s also the serratus anterior. This muscle is found at the sides of the chest and it’s necessary for lifting actions that bring a weight above your head.

Leaner and Flatter Chest Development

Before getting into the exercises, there’s an important distinction to make between a big chest and a flat, lean chest. If you’re looking to get rid of man boobs, keep in mind that there’s no way to target fat loss. This means that diet is going to be the most important aspect in getting the chest you want, by lowering your body fat percentage.

The workouts will help since they’ll be burning calories and making your muscles more prominent, but they’re secondary to a proper diet. And in order to grow your chest muscles, you’ll also need to be fuelling up with high-quality protein. Staying lean and growing muscle can be quite difficult, but sticking to lean cuts of meat will help in this regard.

Chicken breast is ol’ reliable in this scenario, but don’t be afraid of fat either—it’s important for a lot of other things that your body needs. Getting a flat chest will also come down to working each part of the pec and developing it sufficiently.

Give your upper, mid, and lower pecs the TLC they deserve, but also keep in mind that you might not need to be targeting areas as much as you do others (for example, the lower pectorals are already hit pretty hard in a regular bench press).

a bodybuilder doing a bench press

Best Chest Workout for Building Muscle

We’ve collected seven of the best chest exercises to get a broad and flat chest. While a large part of this will come from your diet and lifestyle, it’s still important to do these movements with proper form. This will ensure correct muscle activation and help you avoid injuries, ultimately leading to more gains.

When it comes to the breakdown of sets and reps, that will largely depend on your starting fitness level and your long-term goals.. If you’re trying to get a lean chest to get rid of man boobs and you’re a beginner when it comes to weightlifting, sticking to a rep range around 10 is the way to go.

You’ll be experiencing gains either way, so choosing how much of an exercise to do comes secondary. Otherwise, you want to be aiming for higher reps with lighter weights if you’re aiming for hypertrophy—or, muscle growth. And for strength gains, low reps and heavy weights is the strategy.

The important thing is (at least when you’re starting out) is to choose a range of exercises that work all of your pecs. This means hitting the top, mid, and lower parts of the pecs. Without further ado, here are our seven exercises for a lean and flat chest:

Bench Press

The barbell bench press is a juggernaut of a lift. It’s a favorite of lifters for its upper body development and particularly its effect on the pecs. Along with the pecs, the bench press also hits the arms and shoulder muscles. However, with the proper form, even your back and glutes should be engaged throughout the lift.

The flat bench press is the standard version: as the name suggests, all you need is a flat bench and a barbell with weights. You can also change the width of the grip to hit different muscles (for example, a narrower grip to hit more of your triceps and forearms).

However, placing the bench on a decline is good if you’re looking to add some volume onto your lower pec muscles—although this isn’t as necessary if you’re doing regular bench pressing properly. We’ll look at the incline bench press down below.

Another popular variation is the dumbbell bench press. Since the weights aren’t attached to one another, you’re not able to press as much weight as with a barbell.

However, the big plus is that your range of motion will improve and you’ll be training either side independently. This means that you can target any left/right muscle imbalances in your physique.

But let’s take a closer look at the conventional barbell bench press. To begin, you’ll want to lie on your back on a bench, with a grip on a barbell that’s slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Make sure that your feet are firmly planted on the ground, with knees slightly bent back and towards you.

Engage your glutes and core, ensuring that your hips remain on the bench throughout the entire movement. Slowly press the bar upwards and pause at the top. Then, reverse the movement until the bar just barely touches your upper chest.

Push-Ups

Everyone is familiar with the humble push-up, but just because it’s so familiar doesn’t mean it’s not useful. Done properly, the push-up is a fantastic way to develop your upper body and even your core, while also engaging your glutes. The main muscles worked are the delts, pecs, erector spinae of the back and triceps.

Begin positioning yourself on the floor with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width. Engage your core so your body is in a perfectly straight line and your elbows are locked out. Engage the glutes as well before you slowly lower yourself down until your chin almost touches the ground.

To make them more difficult, you can also place your feet on a higher surface. The steeper the decline, the more weight you’ll be pushing. Similar to the decline bench, but the decline push-up works your upper pecs rather than the lower.

Incline Bench Press

Another great movement for the upper pecs is the incline bench press. With the incline bench, the focus shifts onto the upper portion of the pecs and the front of the shoulders. It’s a great way to add size and depth to your chest since it works your muscles in a more well-rounded way (when combined with a regular press).

Like with the bench press, this one can also be done as an incline dumbbell press. This will allow for a greater range of motion and the ability to work both sides separately. The form is similar to the regular bench press, but you’ll want an adjustable bench that sits between 30 and 45 degrees.

The greater the angle, the more that your shoulders will be engaged. Remember to maintain a braced core and keep your feet firmly planted on the ground to increase stability throughout the exercise.

Cable Crossovers

When you’re looking to add some special love and attention to your pecs, cable crossovers are the way to go. While the bench press will always be the go-to when it comes to heavy, compound movements that hit the chest hard, cable crossovers go a step further in emphasizing the pecs (while de-emphasizing other areas).

The benefit with crossovers is also that you’ll be hitting your chest from a very different angle than with other classic chest exercises. This move does absolute wonders when it comes to defining your chest muscles, and it’s a solid exercise to include in your routine.

You will need a pulley machine set at the highest level. Begin by standing in front of the center of the machine with your feet planted shoulder-width apart and torso bent slightly forward. Keep your back straight and your core engaged as you pull both of the handles downwards and across your body. Then, slowly reverse the movement.

Dumbbell Flyes

Dumbbell flyes will hit every part of your chest, but especially the sternal fibers. These are the ones that attach to your sternum and good development in this area will lead to the “separated” look between the pecs.

When it comes to hitting a wide swath of chest muscle, the flye is even better than the bench press. Begin by lying with your back down on a bench. Hold a pair of dumbbells above you, palms facing each other. Following an arc, lower the weights down to the sides of you, keeping them as far out as you’re able to.

Weighted Dips

Dips are often thought of as a triceps or even back exercise, but they’re useful in many more areas—especially when talking about the chest. The key to doing dips (to target the chest) is to lean forward during the movement. Leaning back, or keeping a more neutral positioning will place a greater emphasis on the back muscles. Your triceps will be hit either way.

Another key for emphasizing the chest is by doing dips with weights attached to you. This will make the exercise more intense and force your chest to put in more work to get you back up. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart on the bars and locked out at the top.

Look straight ahead and lean slightly forward, engaging your glutes and core. Bend your knees and begin the movement by bending your elbows until they come down to at least a 90-degree angle.

Pec Deck

Although some may scoff at machines, the pec deck is one of the best exercises if you’re looking to build chest muscles. Because it’s a machine, it locks you into one plane of movement. This allows for a much greater degree of stability, allowing you to place all of your focus on your chest area.

If you’re looking to add a bit of extra volume at the end of a workout, this is a great way to go about that. The most important thing with a pec deck is to properly engage your chest muscles—you want to be making slow movements at an appropriate weight so you don’t leave any gains on the table.

Progression in Your Chest Training

While the exercises above will set you up for a broad and powerful chest, you’re going to need to put in the work to continue improving. This will come from progressively overloading your muscles, and there are several different ways of going about this.

The simplest and most obvious is just using more weight. However, with bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, that can be challenging. Instead, you can either ramp up the rep counts or do more sets. Changing the angle of the workout can also be beneficial. For example, doing decline push-ups at a steeper angle will force you to use more of your body weight.

Changing the tempo can also lead to different results. The slower you go, especially during the negative movement, the more gains you can expect. 

You can also introduce supersets into your workouts, where you minimize rest times and get to seriously gas out your muscles. Drop sets are also a good strategy: leaving the last set with as many reps as you can do.

This will push your muscles even harder and introduce a lot of volume into your workouts. Different strategies will work better for different people, but the point is to always be challenging yourself and pushing harder. With enough effort and a good routine, you’ll be guaranteed consistent gains.

A Well-Rounded Workout Routine

And while progressive overload will get you solid results consistently, you’re also going to want to choose the right exercises. This depends largely on your athletic level and your goals, but picking workouts that test a wide swath of muscles is the best way to go.

For example, the exercises we’ve chosen above will hit your upper, mid, and lower pecs. Depending on the complexity of the muscle group, most exercises will target a specific range of motion and a bunch of muscle fibers. To get the most out of working out, you want to be introducing a lot of variety.

And although chest days are a gym favorite for a reason, balancing out your development is just as (if not more) important. A broad, lean, and powerful chest looks good—there’s no doubt about that. But a well-proportioned upper body, with big shoulders and arms, and a chiseled torso and legs look even better.

Making the Most out of Your Training Program

We already touched on this at the very beginning, but the right chest workout is only a small part of the overall battle to a leaner and broader chest. Most of your efforts should go into your diet—as boring as that may sound. You need to support your chest (and all of your other muscle mass) with a well-rounded diet of healthy and whole foods.

This means avoiding processed carbs, sugars, fried foods, and all-around unhealthy foods. You want to replace these with healthy sources of complex carbs such as quinoa or oatmeal, topped with healthy sources of fat, such as fish or avocado.

For your muscle-building needs, the most important ingredient will be protein.

However, not all protein is created equal—many vegetarian-friendly options don’t necessarily provide full sources of protein, and indulging in very fatty red meats isn’t the healthiest option either.

The more of this knowledge you get under your belt and the more you workout, the easier it’ll become to fine-tune broad pieces of advice and truisms to your particular needs. Everyone is different—that much is obvious.

But for long-lasting gains that make you feel and look good, it’s going to take an in-depth knowledge of your body and all of the things that make it tick.


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