Everyone should have a good, well-rounded upper body training program. Meaning they hit every major muscle group in the upper body - Biceps, triceps, shoulders, back, and chest. Most have no issue doing so, but women often are skeptical about training the upper body due to fears of becoming too bulky. This form of thinking is old, and more and more women are strength training and lifting weights, but there's still one major muscle group that tends to get left behind... The chest muscles.
Women have the pectoralis major muscle on either side of the chest, directly beneath the breast tissue. The pectoralis minor, a smaller muscle, is located on the upper chest (beneath the pectoralis major). These muscles are known as the pecs and cover your entire chest. There is also the serratus anterior muscle (on the side of the chest along ribs) and the subclavius muscle (located between the clavicle and first rib). These four muscles make up one of the largest muscles in the upper body, the chest. So although women have breasts, it's still important to train the pecs in order to build better overall upper body strength.
There are many more reasons as to why chest exercises for women are important, and we're here to tell you not only why you should workout your chest, but also how to start by giving you the best chest exercises that you should include in your workout routine to start getting better gains all around 💪
Why are chest workouts important?
Neglecting to train your chest, but still training other major muscles like the back, lower body, arms, and core, can lead to developing muscular imbalances in your body. Muscular imbalances can make it harder for you to perform other exercises correctly, like compound exercises. Compound exercises like the deadlift, squat, kettlebell swings, etc. require multiple muscles to work through the movement, meaning your chest muscles might be needed to pull or push the weight. Having weak chest muscles can lead to the inability to perform those types of exercises correctly which can then lead to a strain or injury. Not only that, but it can lead to bad posture!
Bottom line is, you want to start training your chest! In order to...
Have better posture: Your shoulder and back muscles aren't the only ones keeping you upright, your pecs play a role in it too! They support your shoulder blade and the shoulder joint itself to help you maintain upright and stable.
Help you breathe easier: The pecs help support your posture and having better posture opens up your chest which allows you to easily take deeper and better breathes. In fact, the pec muscles, specifically the pectoralis minor, is what helps open up your diaphragm. The pec minor is a small triangular muscle that stretches any time you breathe which then allows your rib cage to expand. Having shortened weak muscles will impair your breathing because your diaphragm won't open up to its fullest extent.
Help you work other arm muscles: A few key chest exercises are compound movements that call other surrounding muscles into action, specifically the shoulders, back, and triceps. Let's take push-ups, for example, they work mainly the pecs, but other muscles at play are the delts, triceps, core, quads, and hip flexor. The chest press is another good example because different variations of it can help target specific muscle groups like the triceps. You can do a dumbbell chest press to focus mainly on building up the chest or use a barbell to perform the move which helps target the triceps. The point is, working out your chest will help you tone and build other muscles at the same time.
The 6 best chest exercises for women
Training your chest is simple, you can either select a few chest exercises to do during your full upper body workout or you can implement a training split, like the push/pull split, and do it on your push day. For those who don't know, push exercises are chest, shoulders, and triceps. Doing this will allow you to target your chest muscles at least 2x a week which is more than enough.
Now to the fun part... What are the best chest exercises for women? Luckily, push-ups aren't the only option, there are so many exercises to choose from! We put together six of our favorite beginner-friendly chest exercises that can be done at home or at the gym! Luckily to get a good upper body workout you don't need unlimited gym equipment, you just need a set of dumbbells so if home workouts are your thing then you can easily implement these into your routine. These six exercises will help strengthen the chest muscles along with other upper body muscles to help you gain strength all around - Even if you’re working at home! We've also included snippets of Iulia - Founder of UPPPER and Fit With Iulia - performing the exercise to help ensure your form is correct!
Just a heads up, we left out push-ups from our list since everyone knows that is the ultimate chest exercise. This doesn't mean you shouldn't include them in your workout routine. In fact, push-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises that you should master. So remember to practice it on your upper body or push days! Do a few reps to warm-up, and if you can't do a full push-up, work your way up to it by doing an easier variation like kneeling or inclined (here are tips on how to nail a push-up)!
The bench press, also known as the chest press, is second to push-ups when it comes to key chest exercises. This is the building block of chest exercises because it zeroes in on the pectoral muscles, while also engaging other muscles (depending on the variation you're doing). We're going to focus on a dumbbell chest press, which targets the pecs, shoulders, triceps, lats, traps, rhomboids... Pretty much your entire upper body.
How to do it: Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and lie with face-up on a bench (or floor for home workouts) and your feet planted firmly on the floor. Extend elbows to a 90-degree position, triceps should be resting, while holding dumbbells above your chest. Exhale and brace your core while extending the dumbbells towards the ceiling. Pause, and bring the weights back down to the starting position.
Tips: Only your arms should be moving during this exercise, your legs should remain planted on the floor. If legs begin to flail and lift off the ground then the weight you're using is too heavy, in this case, switch to light dumbbells. Those who want more of an advance move, use a barbell instead and focus on bringing it down to your chest.
This is a great exercise, also known as the dumbbell fly, for opening your chest muscles, it also can help reduce upper back pain and tightness in the upper body. It mainly targets the chest, but it also works the stabilizing muscles in the shoulders, triceps, and core. This move can be quite difficult with a heavier weight, so start off with light dumbbells then work you're way up to heavier ones.
How to do it: Lie on the floor or bench with a dumbbell on each hand and resting on the tops of your thighs with palms facing each other. Lift the dumbbells to hold them with extended arms directly over your chest. Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, inhale and lower arms out to the sides in a "T". Don't allow your elbows to dip below the bench or fully touch the ground. When the dumbbells reach shoulder height, pause, exhale and squeeze your chest to pull the dumbbells back to the starting position.
Tips: This is primarily a chest move so remember to move through it slowly to feel your chest go through the movement. To make it more challenging, simply use a heavier weight, just make sure you're able to do the last few reps with correct form and without over-arching your back.
This exercise is not entirely home-friendly since it does require a cable machine which is typically found only in gyms. We'll give an example of a variation you can try at home, but if you can, use the cable machine at your local gym! Cables work similarly to resistance bands, unlike free weights, they provide a steady level of resistance. This will allow you to engage the small stabilizing muscles in your chest along with your pecs.
How to do it: Set the handles at both ends of the pulleys at the highest level. Stand in the center of the cable matching with one foot forward and your feet about hip-width apart. Grip the handles in each hand, and bend your torso forwards slightly, making sure the spine is neutral and back straight and elbows bent slightly as well. Engage your core and begin to pull both handles down and across your body, handles don't have to be touching. Squeeze your chest muscles in this position, and slowly reverse back to the start.
Home workout variation: Resistance bands work similarly to cable machines, so you'll need a long resistance band for this variation. Attach your band on a door hook, or simply wrap it high up around a sturdy pole. Once you have your band in a secure place turn to face the other way holding one end of the band in each hand. Move far away enough to increase the tension into the band and stand with one foot forward and feet hip-width apart. Then take your arms out to the sides opening up your chest. Slowly bring your hands together in front of your chest, keeping a slight bend in your elbows. Pause and squeeze at the top of this position, then begin to open your arms up again.
Tip: This move is similar to the chest fly, so remember to move through it slowly and squeeze at the top of the movement to really feel the chest muscles work.
This exercise targets mainly the pectoral muscles but also hits the upper arms, specifically - Lats, shoulders, and triceps.
How to do it: Lie on your back on a bench, or on the floor. Flex hips slightly. Grasp one dumbbell from behind or from the side with both hands under the inner plate of the dumbbell. Position dumbbell over the chest, directly above your head, with elbows slightly bent. Keeping elbows bent slightly throughout the movement, lower the dumbbell over and past your head until upper arms are in-line with torso. Pull the dumbbell up and over the chest.
Tips: Do not let the dumbbell go too forward! The starting position places the weight directly above your head, so it should not go any further than that.
Seated Arnold press
The Arnold press is a variation of the shoulder-dominant move the shoulder press. Except this variation puts a bigger emphasis on the chest, along with the triceps. This makes it a great move for push days because you hit all three major muscles!
How to do it: Start by sitting down with torso slightly leaned back, legs extended in front of you with the knees bent softly and heels on the floor. Your arms should be at the sides holding a set of dumbbells. Bring arms in front of the body with elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and in line with shoulders. Keep the shape as it is, but bring your arms wide out to the sides and press weights slightly above you. Then reverse the movement and bring elbows back in front of the face.
Tip: The exercise is as is it is above, except to target the chest lean back a bit more by adjusting the bench, and squeeze your chest muscles as you bring elbows together.
Incline Dumbbell Squeezed Press
Yes, this is another chest press move, but adding a different angle challenges different muscles, as does holding the dumbbells together instead of at the sides. The incline helps you work the top section of the pecs, and also works your shoulders and triceps more than the regular bench press.
How to do it: Sit down on an incline bench (between 45 to 60 degrees) with dumbbells resting on the lower thigh. Once you're laying back on the bench, bring the dumbbells up and press those bad boys together using a neutral grip (palms facing each other) Press dumbbells up with elbows to sides until arms are extended. Begin to slowly lower weight to sides of the upper chest until slight stretch is felt in chest or shoulder.
There you have it! We hope this has convinced you to start training your chest 2x a week, if you don't already 😉 Implementing these six exercises, along with push-ups and other chest variations, into your training routine will help you build up strength in your chest and your entire body!
And in case you need some extra support when pushing heavier weights, check out our Wrist Wraps! Using wrist wraps will help stabilize your wrist and allow you to push heavier weights. Just don't use them for warm-ups or if you're using lighter weights, they mainly benefit you when you need to push heavier weights.