Top 13 chest exercises

Struggling to add mass, width, and stunning HD resolution to your chest? Crank up the poundage and start pushing weight.

An iron-clad, barrel chest immediately projects Hulk-like strength and screams masculinity. It’s one of the most immediately noticeable muscle groups, regardless of whether you’re rendezvousing on a beach or suited up and dressed to impress — both in a positive and negative way.

And if you’re a lady, chest moves are absolutely essential. They’re the single best way to develop complete upper body strength, and they help build a sheath of muscle tone across the triceps and shoulders.

In short, work your chest; gender notwithstanding.

The strategy: first blow up your pecs with a stable of powerful compound exercises; second, chisel out definition and striations with targeted isolation moves. That 1-2 punch allows the chest to handle massive weight and volume—an essential for building overall mass and size—but simultaneously sculpts out a separated mid-line, strong definition along the perimeter, and a deep chest that spans from ribs to clavicle.

I have pulled together 13 of the most effective chest exercises to absolutely pummel your pecs and construct a powerful, hulking chest. Combine various moves using the blueprint below to form an unbelievably killer, comprehensive chest workout gauntlet.

 

The 13 Best Chest Exercises To Pummel Your Pecs


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I have split up chest exercises into tiers based on priority and overall effectiveness. While you should leverage everything (especially to emphasize weak points), tiers 1 & 2 should always form the foundation of your routine.

  • Tier 1: The Essentials — Dumbbell Chest Press, Barbell Bench Press, Swiss Ball Chest Press, Dips, Push Ups
  • Tier 2: Targeted Power Moves — Incl. Dumbbell Press, Incl. Bench Press, 1-Arm Incl. Press, Decl. Bench Press, Closed Grip Bench Press
  • Tier 3: Shaping Accessories — Dumbbell Flies, Cable Crossovers, Pullovers

Tier 1 is stuffed with all-around compound moves that slap on mass and size across the entire chest. They’re your hard-hitting anchor exercises. Tier 2 consists of targeted compound moves that leverage a variety of angles and arm positions to hammer the upper and lower chest. Tier 3 is made up of accessorizing isolation moves that mainly contribute aesthetics and bring up specific areas of focus (lower chest, mid-line, outer line).

As a general blueprint (think of it as a LEGO project), use the following format to construct an effective chest workout on the fly:

  • Tier 1 (1-3): Pick 2 — 1 press and 1 bodyweight exercise. Press for 4 sets x 12 reps; do 3 sets of either dips or push ups to finish the workout.
  • Tier 2 (4-8): Pick 2 — 1 incline move and 1 additional move. Do 3 sets x 12 reps of both.
  • Tier 3 (9-11): Pick 1. Do 3 sets x 12 reps.

 

1. Dumbbell Chest Press


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How To:

Tier: 1

Primary Target(s): Chest (All), Triceps

The dumbbell chest press is the most important move for comprehensive chest development, especially if you’re new to the lifting game. Some people swear by the traditional bench press, but the dumbbell version requires massive single-arm stabilization, which helps actively shape the pecs.

It’s also considerably more difficult, especially as the weight starts to skyrocket. Because of that, you won’t be able to handle as much weight as you would with a barbell.

  • (1) Lie on a flat bench with two dumbbells straight above your chest. Draw your shoulder blades back and place a slight arch in your back.
  • (2) Slowly lower until the dumbbells are parallel with your chest. Your arms should be at a 45° angle with your torso — not 90º.
  • (3) Powerfully contract your chest and press the dumbbells straight up. Squeeze your inner chest at the top.

 

 

2. Barbell Bench Press


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How To:

Tier: 1

Primary Target(s): Chest (All), Triceps

Like the dumbbell chest press, the barbell bench press blasts the entirety of the pecs. It’s a great way to overload the chest, slap on muscle mass, and build major strength. The barbell variant allows the body to handle a much heavier load—and a higher upper limit—than it can with dumbbells.

  • (1) Lie on a flat bench with a loaded barbell. Position your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Draw your shoulder blades back and place a slight arch in your back.
  • (2) Slowly lower until the barbell is right above your chest (the bar can touch, but don’t bounce it). Your arms should stay at a 45° angle with your torso — not 90º.
  • (3) Powerfully contract your chest and press the barbell straight up.

 

 

3. Swiss Ball Chest Press


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How To:

Tier: 1

Primary Target(s): Chest (All), Triceps

The motion is identical to the dumbbell chest press, except that you’re propped up on a Swiss ball. Because you’re constantly engaged and off balance, it requires significant core stabilization, hip strength, and balance to coordinate the entire movement.

That combo jacks up the difficulty, keeps the chest engaged, and amplifies the contraction throughout the movement. Your chest will sizzle.

  • (1) Place your shoulder blades directly on top of a Swiss ball. Raise your hips and form a flat bridge with your body.
  • (2) Keep your body as straight as possible, balance on the ball, and powerfully press the dumbbells overhead. Squeeze at the top.
  • (3) Slowly lower until the dumbbells are parallel with your chest and your triceps are touching the ball. Repeat.

 

 

4. Dips


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How To:

Tier: 1

Primary Target(s): Chest (All), Triceps

Dips are an extremely effective bodyweight move that simultaneously hit the chest and triceps. Given the unique movement pattern and extended range of motion (you’ll get a massive stretch at the bottom), they’re a potent way to dig into the chest in way that’s different from most traditional presses.

  • (1) Hop up on two parallel bars and lock out your arms. Lean forward slightly to increase the amount of tension on the chest. Pull your shoulders back.
  • (2) Slowly lower yourself until your triceps are parallel with the floor.
  • (3) Powerfully contract your triceps, squeeze your chest, and press yourself back up to a full extension.

 

 

5. Push Ups


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How To:

Tier: 1

Primary Target(s): Chest (All). Triceps

Whether you’re doing traditional push ups, one-arm push ups, twisting push ups, or incline push ups, they’re a versatile move that deserve a spot in every chest routine. Pick your favorite and do them as an accessory to weighted work (or as a killer bodyweight move whenever you don’t have a gym).

 

6. Incline Dumbbell Chest Press


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How To:

Tier: 2

Primary Target(s): Chest (Upper), Triceps, Front Deltoids

The incline dumbbell chest press is a compound move that targets the upper half of the chest (including the front deltoids). It helps develop strong separation across the clavicles and down the top part of the mid-line.

  • (1) Set up a bench so that it’s at a 45º angle.
  • (2) Dig your feet into the ground and press the dumbbells straight up over the upper part of your chest. Keep your arms at 60º with your torso.
  • (3) Slowly lower until the dumbbells are in line with your collarbone. Powerfully press up and SQUEEZE your pecs together at the top.

 

 

7. Incline Barbell Bench Press


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How To:

Tier: 2

Primary Target(s): Chest (Upper), Triceps, Front Deltoids

Like the dumbbell version, the incline barbell bench press also targets the upper chest. It’s a powerful way to add mass and thickness across the top half of the pecs.

  • (1) Lie on a incline bench with a loaded barbell. Position your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • (2) Lower the barbell to the top portion of your chest.
  • (3) Powerfully press up to a full extension.
  • 8. 1-Arm Incline Dumbbell Chest Press


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    How To:

    Tier: 2

    Primary Target(s): Chest (Upper), Triceps, Front Deltoids

    It’s a clone of the incline dumbbell chest press, except that you’re only using one dumbbell — that isolates all of the weight on one half of the body, which forces the given side to contract, balance, AND stabilize simultaneously. The combination produces an amplified contraction that tears up the upper pecs.

    • (1) Set a bench to a 45º incline. Grab one dumbbell and press it over the top half of your chest. Hold the bench with your other hand.
    • (2) Slowly lower the dumbbell until it’s parallel with your collarbones. Powerfully press it back overhead.
    • (3) While you’re moving throughout the movement, make sure to keep your torso straight — try not to lean to the side that you’re pressing on. Repeat for the opposite arm.

     

     

    9. Decline Bench Press


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    How To:

    Tier: 2

    Primary Target(s): Chest (Outer, Lower), Triceps

    The decline bench press is a compound exercise that hammers the lower, outer section of the chest. Because you’re on a decline, the triceps drive the barbell at the bottom of the movement.

    • (1) Lie on a decline bench with a loaded barbell. Your arms should be slightly wider than shoulder width. Keep you shoulder blades pinched back throughout.
    • (2) Slowly lower the barbell down to the lower part of your chest.
    • (3) Hold for .5s, contract your chest, explode through your triceps, and powerfully press the barbell straight up. SQUEEZE your triceps and pecs at the top.

     

     

    10. Close-Grip Bench Press


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    How To:

    Tier: 2

    Primary Target(s): Triceps, Chest (Middle)

    The close-grip bench press primarily blasts the triceps, but it’s also a killer move to carve out a pronounced line down the center of the chest. Instead of using a wide grip, you’ll use a narrow grip.

    • (1) Lie on a flat bench with a loaded barbell. Tuck your elbows in so that they’re attached to your torso. Your hands should be slightly more narrow than shoulder width.
    • (2) Slowly lower the bar down to the lower half of your chest — keep your elbows pinned into your body.
    • (3) Powerfully contract your triceps and press the weight straight up. Squeeze your chest at the top.

     

     

    11. Dumbbell Flies


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    How To:

    Tier: 3

    Primary Target(s): Chest (Outer, Middle), Biceps

    Dumbbell flies are a lightweight isolation move that stretttttttttttttch out the chest, help add width, and hit the outer/lower perimeter. They also help chisel out a deep line down the middle.

    Stay light — using weights that are too heavy can overload the rotator cuffs and overstretch the chest, which often leads to major injuries. Focus on strict form and a strong contraction at the top.

    • (1) Lie on a flat bench with two dumbbells over your chest.
    • (2) Place a slight bend in your elbows and slowly lower the weights straight out to the side of your body. Lower until they’re parallel with your chest.
    • (3) Powerfully squeeze your pecs—as if you’re giving an uber-powerful hug—and pull the weights back up to start. Squeeze together as hard as possible at the top. Repeat.

     

     

    12. Cable Crossovers


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    How To:


    Tier: 3

    Primary Target(s): Chest (Outer, Middle), Biceps

    Cable crossovers are a standing variation of dumbbell flies. Unlike flies, crossovers apply significant tension at the peak of the movement—not just the bottom—which amplifies the contraction down the middle of the chest. They also extend the total time under tension (TOT), which increases overall muscle activation and breakdown.

    • (1) Set up a cable stack so that the handles are at shoulder height. Lean forward slightly.
    • (2) Place a slight bend in your elbows and powerfully pull the cables down diagonally until your hands meet. They should be in line with the bottom half of your chest. Squeeze the contraction as hard as possible (again, it’s like a massive hug).
    • (3) Slowly release the handles and return back up to start. Repeat.

     

     

    13. Dumbbell Pullovers


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    How To:

    Tier: 3

    Primary Target(s): Chest (Lower), Lats, Triceps

    Unlike most chest exercises, dumbbell pullovers are a pulling movement that extend the rib cage and dig into the lower chest. The lats also play a major role.

    They’re a great way to leverage a distinct movement pattern, build out the lower/outer portion of the chest, and improve overhead RoM.

    • (1) Lie perpendicular across a flat bench — keep your shoulders pinned down and your hips raised. Your body should form a bridge.
    • (2) Hold the top half of the dumbbell and press it straight over your chest. This is starting position.
    • (3) Place a slight bend in your arms and slowly lower the dumbbell back behind your head.
    • (4) Powerfully contract your lower chest and lats and powerfully pull the dumbbell back up to start. Repeat

 


 

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