THE ULTIMATE CHEST WORKOUT GUIDE
Most people think that if their chest training includes exercises for the upper, middle and lower pecs they are covering all their bases.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg!
There is a LOT more to chest training than you may think, especially if you’ve found your pecs are slow to grow.
In this complete guide to chest workouts, I’ll give you an overview of chest muscle anatomy, and show you the best chest exercises and workouts for every region of the pec muscles regardless of what equipment you have at your disposal.
This step-by-step guide is broken down into sections to help you find exactly the information you’re looking for. I’ll also be answering some commonly asked questions related to pecs and chest workouts including how to get rid of man boobs and whether it’s possible to build your chest with minimal or no equipment.
Here are some of the topics that I’ll cover in this chest training guide:
Before we begin looking at some of the best chest exercises, let’s take a look at the different areas of the pectoral muscles one by one so that you’ll be well oriented as we discuss exercises to hit each of these areas.
1) CHEST MUSCLES ANATOMY
The pectoralis major muscle is made up of 3 parts whose fibers run in different directions.
That’s because they originate from different areas on the clavicle and sternum.
The Upper Chest fibers originate from the clavicle and run toward the humerus. They go upward in a diagonal toward the center of the chest.
UPPER CHEST FIBERS
The Mid Chest fibers that come off the sternum are oriented in a horizontal direction almost straight across the chest.
MID CHEST FIBERS
The Lower Chest fibers originate from the bottom of the sternum and travel diagonally down toward the center of the chest.
LOWER CHEST FIBERS
We can use the fibers running in different directions to our advantage when it comes to choosing chest exercises to hit different areas of the pecs. We’ll talk about that more in the sections that follow.
Before we start looking at exercises, I want to cover an important issue… chest fat.
2) WILL CHEST WORKOUTS GET RID OF MOOBS (CHEST FAT)?
This is one of the most common questions I get when it comes to chest training.
Unfortunately, the answer may not be what you were hoping to hear.
If you’ve got man boobs or excess chest fat, you probably hate it and are dying to get rid of it. But first it’s important to differentiate between two types of chest fat.
There are only two possible causes for chest fat.
One is gynecomastia, which is a medical condition caused by a hormonal imbalance in the levels of testosterone and estrogen. It can be a genetic issue, but it is also a common side effect of anabolic steroid use. Thankfully, gynecomastia is not a very common issue.
A much more common cause of excess chest fat is nutrition and lifestyle factors. Since men tend to store most of their excess bodyfat in the chest and stomach, it is common for overweight men to have moobs.
Below is a chart showing you how to determine whether you are dealing with gynecomastia or excess weight.
If you fall into the ‘excess weight’ camp, I’ve got good news and bad news for you.
The good news is that you CAN get rid of your man boobs.
The bad news I that you CAN’T get rid of moobs with chest workouts.
You’ll need to work to reduce overall bodyfat in order to lose your chest fat because there is no way to spot reduce fat in just one specific area of the body.
The most important factor in losing body fat is nutrition, and that’s definitely the right place to start. However, I’m not talking about dieting. Diets are temporary, and I’m sure you want to lose your chest fat for good.
Instead, you need a sustainable nutrition plan… one that you can stick with over time and that doesn’t feel restrictive. A lot of people aren’t sure what a plan like that would look like. That’s why I’ve designed the X-Factor Meal Plan that accompanies every one of our ATHLEAN-X programs to be chock full of foods you’ll love so that you’ll never feel deprived. The plan supports both building muscle mass and losing body fat and is customizable to your tastes, goals and dietary restrictions.
3) WHAT IS THE BEST CHEST WORKOUT?
The best chest workouts should hit all three areas of the pectoralis major: upper chest, middle chest and lower chest.
We can do this by making sure we choose exercises that follow the varying orientations of the upper, mid and lower chest fibers.
But we can’t stop there!
We also need to choose exercises that provide overload for each of these three areas, as well as allow us to work across midline, which is a key part of the chest’s range of motion.
Let’s take a look at some example exercises for each of these.
BARBELL BENCH PRESS – MID CHEST OVERLOAD
HOW TO DO IT: Starting position is lying flat on a bench holding the barbell with a grip wider than shoulder width apart. Lower the barbell to your chest and push explosively upward before lowering again. As you lower the barbell, your upper arms should go slightly below the bench to put the pecs on stretch.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This is the ideal exercise for overloading the mid chest because you can continue to increase the weight on the bar as you get stronger.
HORIZONTAL CABLE CROSSOVER – MID CHEST ACROSS MIDLINE
HOW TO DO IT: Starting position is using the cable crossover machine with one handle in each hand, palms facing forward away from you. Maintain a slight bend in the elbows as you push forward and inward, allowing your hands to cross over your forearms.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This exercise gives us the opportunity to work the middle chest fibers across midline, which is one of the most important parts of the pectoralis major’s range of motion.
INCLINE BENCH PRESS – UPPER CHEST OVERLOAD
HOW TO DO IT: Start out lying on a bench on an incline with one dumbbell in each hand, and feet flat on the floor. Push through your upper chest as you push the arms upward. Then lower the dumbbells down to the chest.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The incline position allows us to place more emphasis on the upper chest.
LOW TO HIGH CABLE CROSSOVER – UPPER CHEST ACROSS MIDLINE
HOW TO DO IT: Starting position is using the cable crossover machine with the arms of the machine at a low angle. Grab a handle in each hand and maintain a slight bend in the elbows as you raise the arms upward and inward, allowing the wrists to cross at the top of the movement.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The crossing over and upward portion of this movement works the upper chest across midline.
WEIGHTED DIP – LOWER CHEST OVERLOAD
HOW TO DO IT: Using a dip station, support the weight of your body by grabbing the handles of the station and bringing your feet off the floor, calves crossed. Angle your upper body slightly forward as you bend the elbows and lower your body down, and then push up again.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This is the best exercise for creating overload in the lower chest. You’ll also be working the arms and shoulders at the same time.
HIGH TO LOW CABLE CROSSOVER – LOWER CHEST ACROSS MIDLINE
HOW TO DO IT: Starting position is using the cable crossover machine with the arms of the machine at a high angle. Grab a handle in each hand and maintain a slight bend in the elbows as you lower the arms downward and inward, allowing the wrists to cross at the top of the movement.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The crossing and downward portion of this movement is ideal for working the lower chest fibers across midline.
4) WHAT ARE THE BEST CHEST EXERCISES?
In the previous section I showed you some of the most important elements of a great chest workout and some exercises for each.
But if you’re looking for even more of the best chest exercises for middle, upper and lower pecs, I’ve got you covered there too!
Let’s take a look at a couple more of my favorites for each area and I’ll also give you some great resources chock full of more great chest exercises.
BEST EXERCISES FOR MID CHEST
In addition to the Barbell Bench Press and the Horizontal Cable Crossover I showed you above, I’ve got a couple more favorite exercises for mid chest.
ONE ARM DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS
HOW TO DO IT: Starting position is lying on a bench with a dumbbell in one hand. Angle your body to the same side as the dumbbell, placing more weight on the glute on that side. Drive your arm up and across the body to get adduction.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: By using a single dumbbell and angling your body toward the dumbbell side, you are able to get the adduction that is required to really hit the mid chest.
HOW TO DO IT: Start position is lying on your back across a bench with feet planted firmly on the ground, holding a dumbbell with both hands. Bring the dumbbell over and back behind your head, squeezing the dumbbells together as you return to start.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Squeezing the hands together as you pull the weight overhead creates a great adduction from the top down.
These are two great exercises to target the mid chest fibers for you to include in your chest workouts.
BEST EXERCISES FOR UPPER CHEST
The Incline Bench Press and the Low to High Cable Crossover are some of the best upper chest exercises, but I want to give you a couple more you can add to your arsenal.
If you have access to a cable machine, there are two great exercises I’d recommend, the Upper Chest Upper Cut and Lean Back Cable Presses.
UPPER CHEST UPPER CUT
HOW TO DO IT: Stand sideways to a cable machine with the arm of the machine set to about waist level. Grab the handle with the hand closest to the machine and move in a punching movement up, in and across midline. You should feel a strong contraction in the upper chest.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This exercise allows us to use cables to shorten the range of motion and the moment arm so we can hit the upper chest more effectively.
LEAN BACK CABLE PRESSES
HOW TO DO IT: Starting position is sitting on a bench in front of a cable machine with the arms of the machine set low. Lean back slightly to 20 or 30 degrees to place your arms in the correct position to hit the upper chest. Drive your arms upward as the cables provide resistance.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The leaning back makes this more of an upper chest movement instead of a shoulder movement. While with dumbbells your arms are only being acted upon by gravity, this cable movement also provides forward resistance, making this a very effective upper chest move.
BEST EXERCISES FOR LOWER CHEST
The Weighted Dip and the High to Low Cable Crossover are a great combo of the best lower chest exercises, but there’s a couple more good ones I wanted to share with you.
If you have access to a complete gym including a cable machine, the Jackhammer Pushdown and the Standing Cable LC Press are excellent exercises for lower chest.
HOW TO DO IT: Starting position is standing in front of a cable machine with a short straight handle attachment. Grab the ends of the attachment with both hands, open the elbows out to the side, angle your chest just slightly forward over the top of the bar and push downward. Let the elbows ride upward along your sides as you return to start. The elbows should go up and down the entire time.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: By placing the elbows out to the side you are working the lower chest instead of triceps.
STANDING CABLE LC PRESS
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your back facing a cable machine and grab just one of the handles for this unilateral exercise. As you press forward and down, focus on the elbow going low and riding high on the way back, trying to make contact with the sternum at the end point of the exercise. Twist to open up a little at the top of the exercise to get the shoulder into external rotation, and when you push down there will be a bit of internal rotation as the elbow drives toward the lower chest.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This exercise does a great job of following the fibers of the lower chest in exactly the direction they move in.
5) HOW TO DO CHEST WORKOUTS AT HOME?
Some people think that you need a complete gym with barbells, cable machines and other machines to get a great chest workout, but that just isn’t the case!
It’s absolutely possible to build your chest using home workouts regardless of what equipment you’ve got available, whether we’re talking about just a set of dumbbells, a simple resistance band or no equipment at all.
In the sections that follow, I’ll show you the best shoulder exercises with dumbbells, resistance bands and bodyweight.
And when you give them a try, you’ll see just how effective home workouts can be!
6) WHAT IS THE BEST DUMBBELL CHEST WORKOUT?
If you have access to a set of dumbbells but not a complete gym, it’s still possible to get a great chest workout, and even build size and strength!
In fact, you can train the chest with dumbbells for any goal including strength, power, hypertrophy, metabolic overload, or even total body.
Let’s look at an example exercise for each of these goals.
DUMBBELL WEIGHTED DIP – STRENGTH
HOW TO DO IT: Tie a dumbbell around your waist using a dog leash and get into the dip apparatus. Lift your legs up and then lower your body down and then back up, keeping the elbows at a 90-degree angle or greater.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This exercise doesn’t sacrifice shoulder stability and allows you to achieve progressive overload by increasing the weight of the dumbbell as you get stronger.
PLYO TAP – POWER
HOW TO DO IT: Start in pushup position with two dumbbells in front of you on the floor placed about shoulder width apart. Perform a pushup, but on the way up, explosively push your body upward and tap the tops of the dumbbells with your hands.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This exercise allows you to express your power by accelerating through the repetition. The length of your arms is not a stopping point as it is in the bench press because you can choose to push yourself as high as you can go through these reps.
ECCENTRIC FLOOR FLY – HYPERTROPHY
HOW TO DO IT: Starting position is lying on the floor with dumbbells in each hand, held directly overhead shoulder width apart and angled at about a 45 degree angle to the chest. Press to the top as in a normal bench press, and lower the weight slowly with a slight bend in the elbows as in a dumbbell flye.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The slow eccentric lowering of the weights puts stress on the pectoral muscle. You can use a heavier than normal weight in this exercise to increase the muscle growth effect.
LADDER STYLE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS – METABOLIC OVERLOAD
HOW TO DO IT: Start by lying on an incline bench with dumbbells in each hand. Press the weights up and then lower them, pausing for one second at the bottom of the rep. On the next rep pause for two seconds, and continue to add one additional second of pause to each rep.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: In metabolic training, we feel the burn and push through it to create muscle growth. Doing this exercise in ladder form will definitely get you to feel a strong burn very quickly!
BENCH PRESS UP – TOTAL BODY
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on an incline bench with dumbbells in each hand. Press the dumbbells up and then explosively sit up and forward before lowering your body back to the bench and then lowering the dumbbells down.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Similar to the Turkish getup, in this exercise you have to perform incline bench presses, but also keep the dumbbells up overhead as you push the rest of your body up and forward. If you want to take this exercise to the next level, you can add a standing component after the sit up.
7) HOW TO DO CHEST WORKOUTS WITH RESISTANCE BANDS
Resistance bands are another very useful tool when it comes to chest exercises.
One of the best things about them is their portability. You can use them at home, at the gym, or anywhere on the road you happen to be.
While you may think that to build chest muscle you need heavy weight, you’ll be pretty surprised what you can accomplish with resistance bands.
Let me show you three of my favorite resistance band chest exercises.
HOW TO DO IT: Start by anchoring the band to a piece of furniture or gym equipment at about chest height. Grab the inside of the band with the heel of your hand and keep the elbow locked as you drive the arm into adduction across the chest.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: We are able to isolate the chest by keeping the arm in close rather than far away from the chest. This should make you feel a very powerful chest contraction.
HOW TO DO IT: Anchor a band to the side and behind you. Get into pushup position with the palm of your hand inside the band. Perform a pushup and then as you come back to the top, reach across with the band to crossover the opposite palm.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This is a simple way to get more adduction out of a standard pushup by using a band. Adduction is one of the most important functions of the chest, and the best way to ensure you’re hitting the mid chest.
RESISTED PUSH-UP / BENCH PRESS
HOW TO DO IT: Wrap a band around your back and place the palms of your hands into it in pushup position. Perform a pushup, feeling the resistance of the band as you push back upward. Be sure to drive upward powerfully and with full elbow extension.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This is essentially a push up with resistance, but it is made more effective by pressing quickly and powerfully upward.
8) WHAT ARE THE BEST BODYWEIGHT CHEST EXERCISES?
Think it’s impossible to build your chest muscles at home with no equipment? Think again.
I’ll show you four exercises (3 pushup variations and a dip variation) that hit all three areas of the pectoral muscle: mid chest, upper chest and lower chest.
You can use these exercises together in a home workout that uses metabolic overload to create the necessary microtears in the chest muscle to spark new growth.
You will see me using a bench and a dip station to do these exercises, but they can be adapted to the home environment by using any piece of furniture in lieu of the bench and the corner of a kitchen counter instead of the dip station.
STANDARD DECLINE PUSHUPS
HOW TO DO IT: Elevate your feet on a bench or a piece of furniture similar in height and perform decline pushups with your legs straight behind you.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: This feet-elevated position is ideal for hitting upper chest fibers.
STANDARD FLAT PUSHUPS
HOW TO DO IT: Start in high plank position with hands and feet on the floor. Lower yourself down as far as you can without letting the upper body touch the floor.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: Standard pushups are the quintessential bodyweight chest exercise to hit the mid chest.
STANDARD INCLINE PUSHUPS
HOW TO DO IT: Elevate your hands on a bench or a piece of furniture similar in height and perform incline pushups with your legs straight behind you, toes on the floor.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The elevated hands position in the pushup is the ideal position for hitting lower chest.
TRIPLE PULSE AND ECCENTRIC DIPS
HOW TO DO IT: Perform 3 dip pulses with elbows bent at 45 degrees, lowering slowly in the eccentric of the third rep.
WHAT MAKES IT EFFECTIVE: The slow lowering of the eccentric portion of every third rep helps create that intense metabolic burn.
Regardless of what equipment you have available to you, I’ve given you some of the best exercises for lower, middle and upper chest to add to your toolbox.
Remember, building a big defined chest isn’t only about hitting the three areas of the pectoral muscle. You also must be sure to overload each area, and work the chest across midline, which is one of the most important parts of its range of motion.
Give the exercises in this guide a try, and you’ll be on your way to a bigger, stronger more impressive chest!
If you’re looking for a complete plan to build lean muscle and strength in every muscle group in the body, find out which of our ATHLEAN-X programs best suits your goals and equipment possibilities:
Program Selector ==> See which program best fits your goals
AX1 ==> Train at Home With Dumbbells and Minimal Equipment
XERO ==> Train at Home With No Equipment