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October 29, 2021 9 min read

Chest exercises can help you sculpt a bigger and more defined chest. This is one of the most impressive muscle groups to build because a big chest really makes you look powerful and strong.

Here are seven of the best barbell chest exercises and some tips for how to do them with the correct form.


Making Rapid Progress With Chest Training

To get stronger and bigger, you need to add more weight or more reps to each of your chest sessions. This can be easier said than done. Even if you add just a pound to your bench press each workout, you will eventually reach a limit. One of the best ways to improve your progress is to combine an increase of both reps and sets. 

So if you are currently able to bench press 200 pounds for one rep, take 80% of that (160 pounds), and lift it for four sets of four reps. Add one rep each week until you are up to four sets of eight reps. Then, increase the weight by up to five pounds and start the progression over at four sets of four reps. 

It is a good idea to start with heavier sets of chest work first and then follow that effort up with a few lighter weights to add more volume.

Otherwise, there is a chance that you might  pre-fatigue your muscles too much and then you will feel too weak to lift weights heavy enough to build any real strength.

Best Chest Exercise #1: Barbell Flat Bench Press 


The bench press is a classic exercise and it should be a staple in your routine if you are aiming for more chest size and strength. The bench press uses the muscles in your chest, triceps, and shoulders, so you will be sure to build a muscular torso with this exercise.

Compared to other chest exercises, you can load the bench press up with a relatively heavy amount of weight. Lay back down on a bench, arch your lower back slightly, and place your feet on the floor.

Pull your shoulder blades together for better stability and upper back strength. Grab the bar (with any number of varying grips) and squeeze the hand hard to flex the arm and grip muscles as much as possible. With the load unracked, think about pulling the barbell to the body to touch the sternum/base of the chest. Press the weight upwards. Keep your back tight and your shoulder blades pulled together. 

Best Chest Exercise #2: Incline Bench Press 

Pressing a barbell (or a pair of kettlebells or dumbbells) from an incline uses more of the muscle fibers in the upper chest and uses the shoulder muscles a bit more. For that reason, many weightlifters like to use this type of chest press variation since it has more carryover to exercises like log presses and axle bar clean and presses.

Some benefits of the barbell incline bench press include more shoulder and upper chest activation especially when you compare the movement to the other flat press variations. The incline bench press will have carryover to overhead pressing variations, because it also strengthens the deltoids.

Adjust a workout bench to a 45-degree angle and set up with a shoulder-width grip as you would use for a standard flat bench press. Unrack the loaded barbell and begin to pull the load downwards to line with the upper chest (a few inches below your clavicle). With the shoulder blades pulled together and your elbows angled at about 45 degrees, go ahead and push the barbell upward. 

Best Chest Exercise #3: Decline Bench Press 

The pectoralis major is a thick, fan-shaped or triangular convergent muscle in your chest. The pectoral major may be referred to as “pecs”, “pectoral muscle”, or simply “chest muscle” because it is the largest and most superficial muscle in the chest area. The barbell decline bench press, the third major barbell bench press variation, focuses mainly on your pectoral fibers in the lower chest.

This pressing variation is sometimes considered a little less strenuous on the lifter’s shoulders than the standard bench press because of the slightly shifted shoulder angle. 

Some benefits of the barbell decline bench press include a decreased amount of strain on your shoulder joints, which is caused by the angle of the bench you are using for this exercise. There is also a much greater emphasis on the lower pectoral fibers which can build strength and lead to rapid muscle gain.

Your starting position should be securing your feet into a decline bench set up and securing your upper back and hips to the bench (as you would in the flat bench press). Unrack the weight and pull the load down toward the sternum while keeping the shoulder blades pulled together in a close-grip motion.

Press through the barbell to lock your elbows. Be sure not to allow your elbows to flare out at all when completing this movement. 

Best Chest Exercise #4: Dumbbell Bench Press 

The dumbbell bench press is better if you are using lighter weights. You need to control two dumbbells at a time, which works your chest (and the smaller stabilizer muscles around your shoulder joint) differently than the bench press. If you have a weaker side, then this unilateral nature of this movement allows one side to catch up to the other. If you often have shoulder or elbow pain, using dumbbells allows you to change the grip and arm angle to find a comfortable pressing position. 

If you have shoulder or elbow aches, the dumbbell bench press makes it easier to find this comfortable pressing position. You might get the benefit of better joint and muscle stability when you are lifting two separate dumbbells. Since each side has to work to lift the dumbbells, you can let the weaker side of your body catch up. 

Sit up on a flat bench and then hinge forward to pick up each dumbbell. Place each weight on each of your knees. Lean back and push the dumbbells back towards you (carefully) with your knees, while also pressing the weights over your chest. Lower the weights and keep your elbows tucked in at a 45-degree angle until your elbows break 90 degrees. Then, drive the dumbbells back up. You can also press from a neutral position by turning your palms so they are facing each other. 

Best Chest Exercise #5: Chest Fly 

The chest fly can be done with dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, or with cable crossovers or pullovers. It is a popular bodybuilding exercise to stretch the muscle fibers and lead to muscle growth. This will help drive nutrient-rich blood to the target area to improve your time of recovery. Using dumbbells will also help improve your body’s ability to coordinate because you are forced to stabilize each weight independently as you are building muscle. 

When you do the chest fly, the range of motion will lead to more muscular coordination as you are forced to stabilize and lift two separate dumbbells. The chest fly stretch, which is achieved by extending the arms with some light weights, will really work your chest’s muscle fibers and pump the area with nutrient-rich blood. 

Lay back on a bench (either flat, decline, or incline), with a dumbbell in each of your hands. With a slight bend in your elbows, lower your arms out to your sides slowly in a controlled way. Then reverse the motion to engage the chest. You should almost look like you are hugging a thick tree trunk.

Best Chest Exercise #6: Dip 

You will be fully suspended for the dip, and so you will use your complete bodyweight. You will also be using your triceps, which are essentially involved in all pressing movements, so working them at the same time as your chest will help strengthen the synergistic muscles together.

You will find that you can quickly strengthen the triceps and pecs together by using 100 percent of your body weight, which is far more than what you would ever lift during a floor press session of regular  push-ups.

Even though they require you to lift more weight, many beginners find dips a little easier to do than push-ups.

Grab the dip bar firmly and place yourself at the top of the dip position, with the upper back tight and shoulder blades squeezed together. Angle your torso slightly forward and allow the elbows to bend as they slightly tuck inwards towards the sides of the torso.

Lower yourself down until your elbows start to bend at about 90 degrees. When you are ready, simply press through the handles and bring your body into an upright position at the top of the dip movement.

Best Chest Exercise #7: Svend Press 


The Svend press (or plate pinch) is a low-impact exercise and so it is a lot safer compared to the heavy pressing movements we’ve discussed above. It also requires less equipment. This is a pressing movement that will not call on you to have to wait for everyone else to finish their bench press sets. The squeeze and press combination will create a lot of time under tension to create some serious muscular hypertrophy.

Take two smaller weight plates (five or 10-pound plates) and press them together between your hands. Your arms should be extended outwards in front of you. While you are actively pinching the plate together and not letting them slip apart (keeping constant tension), pull the plates towards your sternum as you keep the chest up and shoulder blades pulled together.

Once you bring the plates to the sternum area, flex the chest and press the weights back out, while keeping the plates pressed together and the inner chest muscles engaged. To avoid dropping any of the plates on your toes, you need to squeeze the weights together continuously.

That movement will get your large pectoral muscles activated at a rapid pace. Then, you can extend your arms to squeeze the chest together even more. 

How Often Should You Train Your Chest? 

Beginners (with a year or less of training) should aim for about 12 weekly sets. A novice trainee (with two to four years of training) can increase the volume to 16 sets per week, and veterans (four or more years of training) may be able to get in up to 20 weekly sets. Because the chest is one of the larger muscles in the upper body, you can train it more often than your shoulders or arms. 

However, your chest training frequency also depends on your workout split. If you are a bodybuilder who only chest trains once a week, then 20 HIIT sets may be too much for a single session. However, if you follow a full-body split, six sets of chest per session three times per week will yield 18 total sets but with less fatigue per workout. 

Powerlifters, who often need to focus on maximum chest strength, may decide to do one low-rep, strength-focused session and then one higher rep,  hypertrophy-focused workout. For those athletes, 20 sets is not too hard to reach.

Their muscles will generally need at least 48 hours and up to 72 hours to recover properly. 

If you are mostly working out for general health, then we recommend training your chest twice per week. It is quite common to pair your chest with your triceps and the other muscles of your upper arms because those muscles work together in many types of lifts. You might also decide to train your entire upper body (chest day) and then your lower body (leg day) over two different sessions.

People will vary widely when it comes to which types of exercises they prefer to do. You will often find that some people who already have strong upper body strength tend to prefer chest day, and people who already have strong lower body strength tend to prefer leg day.

Seeing Some Real Results

All of these exercises are great ways to build a bigger chest. All of them can be performed with varying  reps and sets to help you produce rapid muscle and strength gains. Doing these chest exercises with substantial weights can quickly lead to hypertrophy, which is something that can directly build all of your major muscles, not just the ones you are training at the time. 

If you are going to do chest exercises on a regular basis, we recommend that you take the time to warm up properly before beginning your workout routine to reduce the risk of injury. Always include a solid overall nutrition plan and a lot of rest in your workout program. Your results will greatly depend on these few factors, and also on how well you are able to recover after working out.

If you're looking to add a lot of muscle mass, the  Beach Bod Stack  is for you. But if you are trying to improve your endurance and reduce your recovery time, Hyperade. is the go-to supplement to replenish glycogen stores quickly so you can power through any workout.