Besides making you look masculine and strong, a broad and chiseled chest can add to your physique’s aesthetics. And for this reason, pecs are usually amongst the top three favorite muscle groups to train for most bodybuilders.
It is no secret that most lifters like to start their week by training chests. This phenomenon is so common in gyms worldwide that Mondays are labeled International Chest Days. If you train your pectoral muscles on the first day of the week, you too are contributing to this trend.
Since chest workouts are popular amongst trainers, most of us expect gym regulars to have a chest that could give Superman a run for his money. However, run your eyes through your gym, and you’ll probably see Matthew McConaughey’s lookalikes from the Dallas Buyer’s Club.
Building a broad and thick chest is easier said than done. You need a balance of compound, isolation, and bodyweight exercises in your training regimen to get the best bang for your buck.
No two exercises hit the muscle the same way so it is important to include a variety of pectoral movements in your training regimen to ensure optimal stimulation.
This exercise list is for you if you’ve ever found yourself short on chest training ideas. Bookmark this page and come back to it every time before you walk into the weight room to destroy your pecs.
- 42 Best Compound, Isolation, and Bodyweight Chest Exercises
16 Best Compound Chest Exercises
- 1. Barbell Bench Press
- 2. Incline Barbell Bench Press
- 3. Decline Barbell Bench Press
- 4. Dumbbell Bench Press
- 5. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
- 6. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
- 7. Weighted Push-Up
- 8. Dumbbell Pullover
- 9. Machine Chest Press
- 10. Smith Machine Chest Press
- 11. Weighted Dips
- 12. Landmine Chest Press
- 13. Dumbbell Squeeze Press
- 14. Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
- 15. Dumbbell Incline Press To Fly
- 16. Guillotine Press
- 10 Best Isolation Chest Exercises
- 16 Best Bodyweight Chest Exercises
- How To Use These Exercises in Your Workout
- Wrapping Up
42 Best Compound, Isolation, and Bodyweight Chest Exercises
In this article, we have listed the best pectoral exercises to build muscle size and strength. Plus, each exercise carries a few pro tips to maximize muscle fiber recruitment and engagement and is linked to its dedicated guide page. Feel free to check them out to delve deeper into a particular movement.
16 Best Compound Chest Exercises
Compound chest exercises are multi-joint exercises that work multiple muscles at the same time. These movements can help build a solid foundation, size, and strength.
Most people like to perform these exercises at the beginning of a workout—before fatigue sets in. Here are some of the best compound chest movements that should be a part of your exercise arsenal:
1. Barbell Bench Press
- Most people overlook their feet placement during the bench press. Your heels should be directly under your knees to help generate power.
- Maintain a slight arc in your back while performing the bench press. There should be a big enough gap between your lower back and the pad so that your hand could pass through it.
- Grabbing the bar as hard as possible can help lift heavier.
- Do not flare your elbows too wide as it can put unnecessary tension on your shoulder rotator cuffs.
- Keep your shoulders pulled back to better target your pecs.
2. Incline Barbell Bench Press
- If you have a weaker upper chest, you should begin your chest training routine with the incline barbell bench press.
- Touch the bar to your upper chest just a few inches away from your chin.
- The incline angle should be between 40 and 60 degrees to the floor to target your upper pecs optimally.
3. Decline Barbell Bench Press
- Do not lift your hips off the bench while performing the bench press variations.
- Keep your shoulder blades retracted and shoulders pulled back to minimize anterior delt recruitment during the exercise.
- Touch the barbell to your nipples. Most people make the mistake of performing half reps while doing the decline barbell bench press.
4. Dumbbell Bench Press
- Flaring out your elbows can put unnecessary tension on your shoulder rotator cuffs.
- The dumbbells should be at your chest level at the bottom of the movement.
- Rotating your wrists slightly inwards will reduce the tension on your shoulders and wrists.
5. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
- Setting the bench at an angle of more than 60 degrees will put more tension on your shoulders than your pecs.
- Keep the reps slow and controlled to target the upper pecs effectively.
- People with stronger shoulders generally set the bench more upright, taking tension away from the pecs. Challenge yourself by switching your bench setup.
6. Decline Dumbbell Bench Press
- If the decline bench at your gym is not steep enough, you could fix its angle by placing one end over an aerobic step.
- Touch the dumbbells at the top and squeeze your pecs for a better chest pump.
- 10-15 is the best rep range for this exercise. Spending longer on this exercise causes the blood to rush into your head.
7. Weighted Push-Up
- The push-up is one of the most versatile pec-training exercises.
- Besides your chest, weighted push-ups target your back and anterior delts.
- If you’ll be performing this exercise using a weight plate, you might need a training partner.
8. Dumbbell Pullover
- The dumbbell pullover is a great exercise to bring up your lower pecs.
- Place the dumbbell on your chest and lower it towards the floor at the bottom of every rep.
- Going too heavy on this lift can take tension off your chest and put it on your triceps and back.
9. Machine Chest Press
- Due to the use of a machine, many people mistake this exercise for an isolation exercise.
- The machine chest press primarily targets your pecs but also works your anterior delts and triceps.
- Maintain constant tension on your pecs while performing this exercise by not locking out your elbows at the top.
10. Smith Machine Chest Press
- Adjust the flat bench so the Smith machine barbell is above your nipples.
- Don’t flare your elbows too wide to avoid unnecessary tension on your shoulder rotator cuffs.
- Advanced lifters can test their limits on this exercise as a Smith machine has safety latches at every few inches.
11. Weighted Dips
- The weighted dips are one of the most badass chest training exercises. They might look easy but will have you begging for mercy.
- Pause and contract your pecs at the top of every rep.
- At the bottom, your armpits should be at the bar level.
12. Landmine Chest Press
- The landmine chest press can be a hard exercise to master, but it will leave you with muscle-ripping upper pec pumps as you get more proficient at the lift.
- More than the weight, your focus should be on contracting your upper chest with every rep.
- Use a landmine attachment tool for better stability during the exercise.
13. Dumbbell Squeeze Press
- Compared to the conventional dumbbell bench press, the close grip dumbbell press, or dumbbell squeeze, emphasizes the inner chest.
- While performing the exercise, focus on actively pressing the dumbbell against each other for better inner chest activation.
- You could also perform this exercise using a couple of weight plates.
14. Close-Grip Barbell Bench Press
- Although the close-grip barbell bench press is primarily considered a triceps exercise, it trains the chest as well, especially if you follow a full range of motion.
- For better chest recruitment, flare out your elbows more than you would during an orthodox close-grip bench press.
- If you have trouble establishing a mind-muscle connection while performing this exercise, you could do this lift on a Smith machine.
15. Dumbbell Incline Press To Fly
- The incline press to fly works the upper and inner pecs.
- Keep your reps slow and controlled to get the best bang for your buck.
- Your objective with this exercise should be to achieve a muscle-popping pump. Drop the weight and focus on contracting the life out of your pecs with every rep.
16. Guillotine Press
- It is one of the more advanced exercises on this list.
- The Guillotine press involves bringing the barbell towards your neck, making it inherently risky. Always have a spotter while you perform this exercise, and do not try to beat the strongest lifter in your gym on this lift.
- This exercise works the entire chest with a focus on the upper pecs.
10 Best Isolation Chest Exercises
Isolation exercises are single-joint movements that target a specific muscle group. The best chest isolation exercises will help you achieve a nasty pump and build definition in your pectoral muscles.
1. Dumbbell Fly
- Keep your elbows slightly bent throughout the exercise. However, try extending your arms at the top and bringing the front of your elbows as close as possible to each other.
- Maintain a natural arc in your back while performing the exercise.
- For maximum inner chest stimulation, your elbows should be slightly below your torso at the bottom of the movement.
2. Incline Dumbbell Fly
- The upper pecs are a lagging muscle group for most people and are harder to isolate during the incline dumbbell fly. Keep the weight light and focus on contracting your muscles throughout the lift.
- Set the incline between 40 and 60 degrees for best muscle fiber recruitment.
- If you cannot feel a pump in your upper pecs, slow down the eccentric part of the lift.
3. Decline Dumbbell Fly
- Many lifters make the mistake of bending their elbows too much while performing the fly movements. Your lower arms should not be perpendicular to the floor.
- Bending your arms too much puts unnecessary tension on the rotator cuffs. On the other hand, maintaining a slight bend in your elbows emphasizes your inner pecs.
- The decline dumbbell fly can put too much pressure on your shoulder rotator cuffs if you go too heavy on this exercise.
4. Pec Deck Fly
- The pec deck fly is many lifters’ bread and butter chest isolation movement.
- It helps focus on your chest without having you worry about balancing the weight.
- You could also use the butterfly machine if you do not have access to the pec deck fly machine.
5. Cable Crossover
- The cable crossover is one of the exercises that most people love to perform, but only a few do it correctly.
- At the contraction point, your wrists should be stacked on top of each other.
- To target your middle chest, adjust the pulleys so they are at your chest height.
- You could also perform the incline and decline variations of the cable crossover with a bench.
6. Flat Bench Cable Fly
- Adjust a flat bench so your chest is in line with the pulleys.
- Changing the rep tempo can fire up your dormant muscle fibers.
- Follow a slow and controlled motion throughout the exercise.
- Focusing on your breathing can improve your muscle contractions.
7. Cable Chest Press
- While performing the cable chest press you will be standing a foot or two ahead compared to your stance in the cable crossover.
- The cables should be touching your upper arms throughout the exercise.
- You could also perform this exercise while seated on a military bench to better isolate your pecs.
8. Incline Cable Chest Press
- Place the incline bench so the pulleys are in line with your shoulders.
- While performing this exercise, perform the concentric part of the lift explosively and the eccentric in a slow and controlled motion.
- Due to the motion path, you should perform this exercise on a functional trainer (smaller cable pulley machine) than the conventional cable crossover machine.
9. Decline Cable Chest Press
- To better target your lower pecs, perform this exercise on a decline ab bench.
- The pulleys should be in line with your lower pecs and upper abs.
- Like the incline cable chest press, keep the eccentric slow, and concentric part of the motion explosive.
10. Cable Iron Cross
- Most lifters confuse the cable iron cross for the cable crossover. Cable iron cross is the exercise most lifters are referring to while talking about the cable crossover.
- Pause and contract your pecs as hard as possible at the bottom of the lift.
- Make sure you’re not using momentum by swinging back and forth to lift the weight.
16 Best Bodyweight Chest Exercises
Although resistance exercises might be a hit amongst gym-goers, they aren’t absolutely necessary for building chiseled pecs. The following bodyweight exercises can help you build a shapely chest:
- Make sure your body is in a straight line throughout the exercise. Letting your hips slump or forming a bridge can take tension off your pecs.
- Controlling your rep tempo by slowing down the eccentric part of the lift can put more tension on your chest.
- Pause and contract your pecs at the top of every rep.
Push-ups are arguably the most effective bodyweight chest exercises. Here are the 12 push-up variations that should be a part of your bodyweight chest training routines:
2. Wide Push-Up
- Place your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Setting your feet wider than this distributes your weights, reducing the resistance on your pecs.
- For more pectoral stimulation, rotate your hands outward so your fingers are facing away from your body.
3. Narrow Push-Up
- For this variation, place your hands under your chest.
- During the eccentric part of the lift, flare your elbows to your sides. Lowering towards the floor by bending your elbows towards your legs will put more emphasis on your triceps.
4. Spiderman Push-Up
- While at the top of the movement, round your body a little for better oblique stimulation.
- If your hips are constantly shifting during the Spiderman push-up, it’s a sign you may need to do more hip mobility work.
5. Diamond Push-Up
- While performing the diamond push-up, your index finger and thumbs should be touching.
- Make sure you’re not sagging your hips while performing this exercise.
- Keep your elbows tucked to your sides throughout the movement.
6. One-Arm Push-Up
- The single-arm push-up is an advanced exercise and needs some practice to master.
- If you are a beginner, extend your non-working arm to your side and place your hand on an elevated platform like a chair or bed for support.
- Spread out your hand on the floor for better stability.
7. Decline Push-up
- Place your feet on a sturdy surface. Using a soft surface like a flat bench can hamper your stability.
- On the other hand, if you want to work on your stability, you can place your feet on a stability ball.
- The higher the elevated surface, the more will be the pressure on your pecs. However, make sure your body is in a straight line from head to toe. Do not let your hips or torso sag during the exercise.
8. Incline Push-Up
- The incline push-up is best for newbies as it places less tension on your upper body than the conventional push-up and the decline variation.
- Start from a waist-high incline push-up position and gradually move towards a lower position as you get better at the exercise.
- Performing the incline push-up using a barbell is more effective than using a flat bench because grabbing the bar with an overhand grip allows you to generate more power.
9. Pike Push-Up
- The pike push-up is an incredibly effective exercise for working the upper pecs, shoulders, and triceps.
- This exercise should be a part of your exercise arsenal if you want to work towards a handstand push-up.
- After assuming a push-up position, lift your hips up by walking toward your hands. The higher you lift your hips, the more tension will be on your upper pecs.
10. Yoga Push-Up
- The yoga push-up combines the conventional push-up and downward dog yoga position.
- Keep your pecs contracted throughout the range of motion to work all three sections of your chest.
- Follow a slow and controlled motion to make the most of this exercise.
11. TRX Push-Up
- This is a deficit push-up variation that works your pecs and core stabilizers.
- You might experience greater arm recruitment in this exercise compared to the other push-up variations due to the unstable TRX.
- Extend the TRX outward as you lower yourself into a push and bring them closer during the concentric part of the motion.
12. Chaos Push-Up
- The chaos push-up is probably the hardest push-up variation.
- Use a lighter resistance band for greater pectoral muscle fiber recruitment.
- You could also vary your hand position to add variety to the exercise.
13. Plyo Push-Up
- Plyometric (plyo) pushups are an advanced exercise that works your chest, triceps, abs, and shoulders.
- They help build explosive pushing strength but are a high-impact exercise, meaning they put more stress on your joints than low-impact push-up variations like the incline and wide push-ups.
- You could also clap your hands while your hands are not touching the floor. This variation is called the clap push-up.
- While performing dips on parallel bars, flare your elbows to focus on your chest and bend forward slightly.
- You could also perform this exercise on a flat bench but make sure you don’t lock out your elbows at the top. Doing so will primarily target your triceps.
15. Double Bar Roll-Out Chest Fly
- Place the non-working ends of the barbell in a corner to ensure they stay together.
- Grab the barbells a few inches below the collars so your shoulders do not touch the weight plates at the bottom of the push-up.
- Pause and contract your pecs at the top and bottom.
16. Slider Chest Fly
- Since you’ll be pushing into the sliders, and effectively the floor, you’ll achieve a muscle-ripping pump performing this exercise.
- Perform this exercise on a smooth surface or grass for a better range of motion.
- This exercise is a variation of the double bar roll-put chest fly.
How To Use These Exercises in Your Workout
Most lifters follow similar chest training routines. It is also one of the reasons why most people are never successful in building a barrel chest.
Although compound exercises help build size and strength and isolation exercises help improve conditioning and balance, you shouldn’t overly rely on either.
An ideal chest workout should maintain a balance between compound and isolation exercises. For example, you could perform three compound and two isolation in the first week and two compound and three isolation in the next.
Furthermore, you could perform a bodyweight chest exercise at the beginning of a workout to warm up your pecs and joints and one at the end to finish the session with a pec-ripping pump.
Lastly, alternate between starting your chest workouts with compound and isolation exercises to ensure your body doesn’t get used to your training style.
Next Read: 86 Best Isolation Exercises By Muscle Groups
Use a combination of these exercises in your next chest workouts, and it won’t be long before folks in your gym start looking at you as someone who knows their stuff.
This exercise wiki gives you forty-two chest training ideas that you can mix and match into hundreds, if not thousands, of combinations. Try all these exercises and find out which works best for you. Cycle through these exercises regularly so you never hit a plateau. Best of luck!