Everyone should have a good, well-rounded upper body training program. This means having a workout routine that hits 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 heavy weights, but there's still one major muscle group that tends to get left behind... The chest muscles.
Despite what you may think, women can benefit from building muscle in their chest just as much as men do! And fortunately, the best chest exercises for men are the same for women. Trust us, there are many reasons why everyone should work their chest.
We're going 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?
Aside from the vain reasons of having a bigger chest, you should implement a few chest exercises in your training to prevent an imbalance in muscle and strength.
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, require multiple muscles to work through the movement, meaning your chest muscles might play a supporting role and need to pull 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 also lead to bad posture! Basically, it's essential to train your chest.
Here are other ways a stronger chest can be beneficial...
You'll improve your posture: Your shoulder and back muscles aren't the only ones keeping you upright, your pectoral muscles (pectoralis major and minor) play a role in it too! They support your shoulder blade and the shoulder joint itself to help maintain you upright and stable.
It'll help you breathe easier: The pecs help support your posture and having a 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, are what help 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.
It'll 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.
Best weight lifting chest exercises
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 workout 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. This will help to make sure you target the upper chest and all the smaller surrounding muscles to help you build effective strength.
Now to the fun part... What are the best chest exercises for women and men?
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! 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).
The barbell bench press is the best for activating all muscles in the chest, but also your shoulders, triceps, lats, traps, rhomboids. However, it's not beginner-friendly, so we're going to focus on a dumbbell chest press, which is still extremely beneficial!
If you need help with wrist stability or additional support to push extremely heavy weight, grab a pair of UPPPER Wrist Wraps - you'll be able to push heavier weight for longer!
How to do it:
- Grab a pair of dumbbells with an overhand grip and lie face-up on a flat bench (or floor for home workouts) and your feet flat 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.
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 rest 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.
Low cable chest flyes
This exercise is not entirely home-friendly since it does require a cable machine, typically found only in gyms. Cable exercises are similar to resistance bands, unlike free weights, they provide a steady level of resistance.
This is one of the best upper chest exercises you should try if you're able to! It helps specifically to work your clavicular head to muscle found on the upper chest. So, if building your upper chest is a goal of yours incorporate it into your upper chest workouts.
How to do it:
- Place the pulleys at the low position, select the resistance to be used, and grasp a handle in each hand.
- Step forward, gaining tension in the pulleys. Your palms should be facing forward, hands below the waist, and your arms straight. This will be your starting position.
- With a slight bend in your arms, draw your hands upward and toward the midline of your body. Your hands should come together in front of your chest, palms facing up.
- Return to the starting position after a brief pause.
Tip: Want to work your lower chest? The best lower chest exercise is this one's counterpart! Simply lower the cable so its at the lowest setting and perform a low cable chest fly to help target the lower chest.
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 the 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. They come in a pair, are the perfect length, and come in various colors so you can match with your lifting gear.
Who are we?
We're UPPPER Fitness Gear – your new favorite fitness gear company! Founded by Iulia Danilova (Fit With Iulia), we strive to make lifting gear that is high-quality, durable, comfortable, stylish, and most importantly, designed to help elevate your workouts to the next level.
Find what your gym bag is missing at UPPPER Collection.