BEST UPPER CHEST WORKOUT
The upper chest is an area that a lot of guys struggle to develop. It doesn’t have to be that way!
You’ve probably been doing incline bench presses to build your upper chest…
And maybe it’s not growing like you wish it would.
If the incline dumbbell bench press is supposed to be the ‘go-to’ upper chest exercise, why isn’t it resulting in the muscle growth you’re looking for?
I’m about to show you why that is.
It’s the reason why doing workouts made up of carefully selected exercises based on the actual science is so important, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.
You see, unlike other areas of the chest, the upper pecs (the top half that starts up at the collarbone) allow for a degree of targeting that other areas of the pectoralis major muscle do not.
This means that if yours are lacking fullness, the right exercises for building the upper chest will fix it!
You just need to make your anatomy work to your advantage, adhering to the principle of following the fibers, and you’ll see how it is possible to build the upper chest muscles much more quickly than with incline presses alone.
I’ll give you 8 different exercise options here to help you get the job done:
No excuses. It’s time to hit those upper pecs with a heavy dose of science!
HOW TO TARGET THE UPPER CHEST
Let’s take a look at the anatomy of the upper pecs so that it’s easier for you to understand how following the fibers is the key to a bigger chest.
When we’re talking about the ‘upper chest’, we’re referring to the clavicular head of the chest muscle that has attachments at the clavicle and the humerus or upper arm bone. This upper portion of the chest is separately innervated, which allows us to be able to target this area more specifically than any other area of the chest.
The direction of the fibers in the upper chest area runs from up and in toward the clavicle to down and out toward the upper arm. In other words, when your arm is placed at your side and away from your body, the upper chest is responsible for bringing it up and across your body at a diagonal.
If we can employ exercises and workouts that move the arm in the same direction that the muscle fiber runs, we can effectively target the upper chest.
Most good upper chest workouts would include the incline bench press. But this is a great example of an exercise for the upper chest that takes the arm through some, but not all, of that range of motion.
The initial orientation of the arms is great when you are incline pressing.
It can be hard to tell when you’re laying on the bench that the arms are not pressing at a perpendicular angle to the chest, but angled somewhat up from perpendicular. If you sit up from lying on the bench but keep your arms in the same position you can visualize this.
However, the incline dumbbell press does have some limitations. If you could choose exercises that include the same angle of the arms and also incorporate some adduction into the movement, you would be able to get a much better chest contraction.
In other words, if the arms are moving up and in, you’ll be able to better target the fibers of the upper chest.
I’m going to show you 8 exercises that you can add to your chest workout routine that follow exactly this movement pattern to help you build a bigger upper chest.
8 BEST UPPER CHEST EXERCISES
Now that we’ve covered the anatomy and direction of the fibers, I’ll help you leverage that science to work to your advantage as I always do!
Below you’ll find cable, resistance band, dumbbell and bodyweight upper chest exercises that you can incorporate into your chest workouts.
Before we continue, I want to make it clear that you do NOT want to pile all of these exercises together into a single targeted ‘ultimate upper chest workout’. You should be including some of them into your chest workouts as part of a comprehensive science-based training plan, like I do in my ATHLEAN-X workout plans.
You want to be sure that science takes center stage not only in your chest workouts, but in every workout you do.
Here are the 8 best exercises that incorporate these principles to help improve your upper chest development!
1.) DUAL CABLE UCV RAISE
First up is a variation of the UCV raise, which is usually done with a dumbbell. I like it because it incorporates that preferred movement pattern we’ve been talking about.
This time we’re going to be working both arms simultaneously with the cables.
This exercise takes advantage of a PNF or proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation which is a physical therapy based principle that encourages our bodies to move as they neurologically prefer to move.
This is good news if you’re trying to get better recruitment of the upper chest fibers, which is exactly what we’re after!
Exercise notes: Start position is with your arms at your sides held slightly away from the body. Perform cable crossovers up and across the body with both arms at the same time to get that adduction and full chest contraction. Don’t allow the chest to cave in, but instead stick the chest out as you cross. Slowly lower the cables and repeat.
2.) UPPER CHEST DIP
The next exercise is an advanced twist on the dip, which is a classic exercise for building your lower chest. The dip follows the fibers in a different direction to hit the abdominal head of the pectoral muscle.
However, there’s a way we can change the way we do the dip to preferentially hit the upper pecs.
But I won’t lie. It’s hard!
You’ll need a set of dumbbells for this, but you’re not going to be lifting them. Rather, you’ll place them on the floor and hang onto them with your hands, with your feet walked up the wall behind you. Mimic a dip, coming down and pushing yourself back up, similar to decline pushups. You’ll see that your arms are in exactly that correct position to target the upper chest.
This is a tough exercise option for the upper chest, but if you’re up for the challenge it’s definitely worth it.
Exercise notes: As you come around to the front, try to really squeeze. Even better, if you have the ability you can roll the dumbbells ever so slightly toward each other to get a little more adduction.
3.) PUSHAWAY PUSHUP
We have another bodyweight upper chest exercise that’s slightly easier than the last, but no less effective. This is a great option if you’re doing a home workout for chest.
In the Pushaway Pushup, the initial position of the arms is not vertically directly beneath your chest but out in front of you a little bit. When you push your body back up, it’s not directly up but up and back so that you’re targeting the upper chest.
Exercise notes: In addition to pushing back, actually squeeze your biceps together to get some adduction and an intense contraction in the upper chest. If this variation feels too difficult, you can shorten the position by hiking your butt in the air into a pike pushup or an incline pushup, which will still target the upper chest.
4.) SUNRISE / SUNSET
I really love this next exercise because you’re getting the upper chest contraction when your arms come up from below and also when they come back down from above.
Exercise notes: In the ‘sunrise’ portion when the arms are moving up, they’re following the fibers as they come from the low outside position up toward each other at the top position. When you reverse into sunset position, we come out to the side and back down, diving in from the top. As we’re driving the arms down, we’re finishing in the contracted position with arms angled up and an added internal rotation of the arms that can intensity the chest contraction as well.
5.) UPPER CHEST UPPER CUT
If you’re looking for an exercise that will allow you to incorporate heavy weights, this next option fits the bill. That’s because it allows us to shorten the range of motion and the moment arm, making it possible to load the upper chest more effectively.
Using cables for this exercise allows us to use a consistent line of force because the cables can follow our movement all the way up.
Exercise notes: Start with your elbow at your side and drive it upward until it’s in front of your chest. You should feel a strong contraction in the upper chest.
6.) LEAN BACK CABLE PRESSES
For this exercise we’ll take incline bench pressing and add a small tweak to it to make it infinitely better!
You’ll start by sitting at the end of a bench and leaning back slightly above 20 or 30 degrees. That places your arms in the correct position to hit the upper chest. The cables provide forward resistance. They want to pull your arms down and forward, forcing you to resist and pull back.
You’ll have to drive your arms up against resistance with the cables, whereas with dumbbells alone, they’re only being acted upon by gravity.
I promise you’re going to feel this more than you’ve have felt on any other incline dumbbell bench press you’ve done before!
Exercise notes: Make sure you lean back in this incline cable exercise. If you don’t lean back, you’ll shift the focus away from the upper chest, giving you more of a shoulder workout instead.
7.) JAMMER PRESS
Next, I wanted to provide you with an athletically explosive option for your upper chest training.
Yes, it’s possible…
You don’t always have to pin yourself down on a bench to train your chest. The first step to being more athletic is being on your feet!
You’ll need a jammer machine for this exercise, which not every gym has. But if you do have access take advantage of it, because this exercise places you in the correct position to build your upper chest.
Conversely, if you sit down on a bench and press straight up, you’d be hitting the shoulders. It also doesn’t allow you to be explosive or athletic because you’ve taken your feet and legs out of the equation.
Exercise notes: Start with feet in a split stance to give balance and stability. Load up the weights, and drive and accelerate them upward.
8.) LANDMINE RAINBOWS
I saved my absolute favorite for last!
You’ve probably seen a one-armed dumbbell shrug which shortens the moment arm of the pecs and allows you to use heavier weights to hit the upper chest. You can opt instead for these Landmine Rainbows, which allow for a smooth arcing motion and a much larger range of motion than that shrug.
Exercise notes: Don’t allow the torso to rotate with the arm as it drops down to the side. We’re trying to increase the moment arm in this exercise to take advantage of the arc that the landmine provides. When you get to the top, contract and squeeze and then switch hands. Continue alternating right and left.
I’ve provided you with 8 great exercises to get an upper chest workout at home, an upper chest cable workout or an upper chest workout with dumbbells. If there are any workout tips I want you to take away from this, they are to follow the fibers and make sure your upper chest workout routine includes adduction.
- The upper chest is separately innervated from the rest of the pectoralis major muscle, making it possible to target it more specifically than other areas of the chest.
- Most workouts to build upper chest will include the incline dumbbell press, and while it places the arms in a good position for hitting the upper pecs, it lacks the adduction that creates a better chest contraction. Not involving adduction in your upper chest training is a common mistake that can hinder your upper chest growth.
- I’ve given you 8 great upper chest exercises that include both the preferred arm position as well as adduction to help you get the best possible upper chest workout for mass.
As you can see, it’s incredibly important to make 100% sure that science factors into your exercise selection, not only for the upper chest but in every single workout you do.
If you don’t, you may just be doing a whole lot of hard work for nothing.
I can help you maximize your training effort and apply science to the entire body by training every muscle like it matters. Because frankly, it does! If you want to train like an athlete leaving nothing to chance, check out my Program Selector to see which ATHLEAN-X program best fits your training goals.