Bulk Up Your Upper Body: 5 Essential Workouts for a Bigger Chest

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Novice and advanced lifters alike have difficulty building their chests. But the pecs are a sign of strength and power and can significantly enhance your physique. 

So, what are the best bigger chest workouts? What is your routine missing, and how can you build a massive chest?

An athlete trains at the gym to get a bigger chest
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Don’t panic. We cover everything you need to know and more in the article below. Read on for more information.

Who Should Use This Chest Workout?

Before we dive into the most effective chest exercises, it’s critical to ask, “Who is this workout program for?”

Selecting the proper chest workout regime is crucial for achieving your fitness goals, whether a more impressive physique, a bigger bench press, or more functional strength. This program can help you achieve most purposes, but it is better suited for some than others. 

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That said, you can still pick and choose some of the exercises below to incorporate into your routine. 

Those Who Use a “Bro-Split”

This chest workout routine might be proper for you if you follow a classic bodybuilding split or “bro-split.” 

The program includes multiple chest exercises, so it is better suited for those who train 1–2 muscle groups per training session.

You can mix these exercises with your back day or have a chest training day. If you’re following a bodybuilding split, performing 1–2 chest sessions per week is recommended. Two chest days per week may be better for muscle growth and chest size.

Those Who Want to Address Lagging Chest Muscles

This chest workout regime may suit you if you want to address lagging chest muscles.

If you’re unsatisfied with your pecs, you might need additional volume and chest isolation exercises to really develop your chest. These movements will target the entire pecs, including the lower, upper, and mid-chest.

This can help you with well-balanced chest gains. Like the bodybuilding split, two chest days per week will help you build the most chest mass, strength, and size. 

Warm-Up

So you’ve decided this chest program is right for you, and you’re ready to jump into your first chest session? Not so fast; you need to warm up first!

Warming up is integral to any effective workout, especially for the chest, as the shoulder joint is involved. The shoulder muscles and joints are complex, making them prone to injury. 

Preparing your body before your training session increases your heart rate and body temperature, allowing blood to flow freely. This improves athletic performance, range of motion, and concentration, helping you tackle intense workouts. 

5–10 Minutes of Light Cardio

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The most important part of a warm-up is increasing your body temperature and heart rate. This will pump nutrient-rich, oxygenated blood to your muscles and improve your performance.

Start with 5–10 minutes of low-intensity cardio. Increase your heart rate to roughly 55–65% maximum capacity. You can use a treadmill, elliptical, or stair climber if you go to a commercial gym. 

Jump rope, jogging in place, and bodyweight movements also work well. The details don’t matter much if you get your heart pumping and raise your temperature.  

Dynamic Stretches

Dynamic warm-ups are necessary to reduce injury and strain and enhance training performance. Dynamic stretches move your joints through a full range of motion, allowing them to warm up and prepare for heavier loads. 

There are plenty of stretching options, but here are a few to keep in mind:

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  • Small and large arm circles
  • Pendulum circles
  • Shoulder rolls and shrugs.
  • Chest hugs
  • Overhead pressing movements without any weight. 

Complete a few sets of chest stretches before each session. The stretches shouldn’t take any longer than five minutes but offer significant advantages. 

Pyramid Sets

Before you jump into loading weight plates onto the bar, it’s essential to perform a few pyramid sets. This means performing a few sets with lighter weights and working your way up to heavier weights. 

Pyramid sets prime your muscles and mind for the working set. Here’s an example:

  • Set 1: 10 x 50% working weight.
  • Set 2: 8 x 60% working weight.
  • Set 3: 5 x 80% working weight.

After these three sets, you would perform the exercise with your desired weight and rep range. It’s important to use lighter weights in manageable rep ranges so you don’t burn out before your working set. 

1. Flat Barbell Bench Press

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The Standard Bench Press is hands down one of the best chest exercises. As a compound exercise, flat bench presses train multiple muscle groups, including the pecs, front deltoids, and triceps. 

The flat barbell bench press is commonly used in athletic, powerlifting, strongman, and CrossFit competitions, as you can load the barbell with heavy weights. It should be a staple in your chest workout routine for developing size, explosive power, and strength. 

Benefits

  • Chest focus: The flat barbell bench press targets your chest muscles directly, helping to develop a fuller and more muscular chest.
  • Compound movement: It’s a compound exercise, meaning it works for multiple muscle groups at once, including your shoulders and triceps, which can lead to more overall muscle growth.
  • Progressive loading: You can easily increase the weight you lift over time, stimulating muscle growth and strength development in your chest.

How to Perform

  1. Lie down on a bench. Make your lower back slightly curved, and put your feet on the ground.
  2. Pull your shoulder blades close to each other to become more stable and make your upper back stronger.
  3. Hold the bar and grip it tightly to engage your arm and hand muscles as much as you can.
  4. When you’re ready to start, imagine pulling the heavy barbell towards your body until it reaches your chest’s center or the bottom of your chest.
  5. Push the weight upwards, remembering to keep your back firm and your shoulder blades pulled together.
  6. That’s one repetition.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Bouncing bar: Don’t bounce the barbell off your chest. Maintain control and touch your chest gently to prevent undue strain on your chest muscles and to ensure a consistent workout.
  • Arching back excessively: Avoid excessively arching your lower back, as this can lead to an improper lifting position and potential lower back discomfort. Keep your back reasonably flat on the bench.
  • Lack of spotter: Refrain from attempting heavy lifts without a spotter, especially if you’re pushing your limits. A spotter can assist in case you struggle with weight, enhancing safety during your workout.

2. Incline Bench Press

Incline Presses are a fantastic movement for strengthening the upper body. Compared to the flat bench, the incline angle engages the upper chest, front delts, and triceps more. You can think of it as a combination of a bench and an overhead press. 

This makes it worthwhile if you have lagging upper pectoral muscles or you need a balanced training routine. Because the incline angle engages the shoulders, there’s more carryover to overhead pressing exercises as well. 

You can also perform the Incline Dumbbell Bench Press variation as a way to target each side of the body independently. 

Benefits

  • Upper chest emphasis: The incline bench press targets the upper part of your chest more intensely, contributing to a well-rounded and defined chest appearance.
  • Variety in angle: Changing the bench angle challenges your muscles from a different angle compared to the flat bench press, promoting balanced chest development.
  • Supporting muscles: While primarily focused on the chest, the incline bench press also engages your shoulders and triceps, aiding in overall upper body strength and muscle growth.

How to Perform

  1. Tilt a weight bench to a slanted, 45-degree angle. Lay on it like you would with a standard-weight bench.
  2. Take the weighted barbell off its resting place and start lowering the weight until it’s in line with your upper chest, a bit below your collarbones.
  3. Keep your shoulder blades close together, and bend your elbows at around 45 degrees.
  4. Now, push the barbell upwards.
  5. Pause at the top of the moment before lowering it back to your chest. That completes one rep. 

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Excessive ego lifting: Avoid lifting weights that are too heavy for you to control with proper form. This can lead to compromised technique and potential injuries.
  • Shallow range of motion: Don’t perform only partial reps by not lowering the barbell fully to your chest. Maintain a full range of motion to engage your chest muscles effectively.
  • Incorrect bench angle: Ensure the incline bench is set at an appropriate angle (usually around 30-45 degrees). A too-steep angle can stress your shoulders, and a too-flat angle might not effectively target your upper chest.

3. Dumbbell Floor Press

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Although you can’t use as much weight, the Dumbbell Floor Press is one of the most underrated movements for building tricep and chest mass. This exercise has a reduced range of motion, requiring more support from the tricep muscles.

Many powerlifters incorporate this movement to improve lockout strength on the standard bench press. It doesn’t allow you to use your legs either, making it a very effective isolation chest exercise. 

Benefits

  • Stability and control: Performing the dumbbell floor press on the ground enhances stability and prevents excessive shoulder strain, allowing you to focus more on your chest muscles.
  • Range of motion: The movement’s limited range of motion ensures constant tension on the chest muscles, which can lead to effective muscle engagement and growth.
  • Joint-friendly: With reduced stress on your shoulder joints, the dumbbell floor press is a safer alternative for those with shoulder issues while still promoting chest development.

How to Perform

  1. Lie down on your back, and place a dumbbell beside you.
  2. Turn your body and hold the dumbbell with both hands. Push it up, and let go with one hand.
  3. Your feet can be on the ground, or you can stretch your legs – choose what feels better for you.
  4. Move the dumbbell down until your upper arm touches the ground.
  5. Push it back up until your arm is straight. Get ready again and do the same for a few times. Then, switch to the other side and repeat.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Flaring elbows: Avoid letting your elbows flare out excessively during the movement. Keep them at a comfortable angle to prevent unnecessary stress on your shoulder joints.
  • Neglecting core engagement: Don’t forget to engage your core muscles. A stable core helps maintain proper posture and stability during the exercise.
  • Rushing through reps: Avoid rushing through repetitions. Perform each rep with control and focus, ensuring that you maintain tension on your chest muscles throughout the entire range of motion.

4. Chest Dips

Many consider the Dip a tricep exercise, but it is an exceptional movement for strength and chest growth. It targets the entire chest, including the upper, lower, and middle portions. The action is straightforward and can be performed with parallel bars or an assisted machine. 

You can use the dip with body weight alone or perform the weighted variation with a bit of weight. That said, you will want to work up to using weight to reduce the chance of pain or injury. 

Benefits

  • Lower chest targeting: Chest dips emphasize the lower part of your chest, aiding in sculpting a balanced and well-defined chest appearance.
  • Bodyweight resistance: Using your body weight as resistance challenges your chest muscles effectively, promoting muscle growth and strength development.
  • Versatile workout: Chest dips can be performed on parallel bars or assisted dip machines, offering flexibility in intensity and variation to keep your chest muscles engaged.

How to Perform

  1. Hold onto the dip bar with a firm grip. Put yourself in the top position for doing dips, making sure your upper back is tight and your shoulder blades are close together.
  2. Lean your body a bit forward and let your elbows bend a little as they move in towards the sides of your body.
  3. Lower yourself down until your elbows are bent about 90 degrees.
  4. When you’re set, push through the bars and lift your body back up to the starting position for dips.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Overarching the lower back: Maintain a tight, upright back as you perform the dip. Too much of an arch can strain your lower back and shift the focus away from your chest muscles.
  • Dipping too low: Don’t dip too low to the point where your shoulders go below your elbows. This can stress your shoulder joints and increase the risk of injury.
  • Using momentum: Avoid using momentum to lift yourself up. Focus on controlled and deliberate movements to ensure that your chest muscles are doing the work.

5. Cable Flye

Isolation chest exercises, like the Cable Flye, are a must for any chest routine. The cable machine provides a unique advantage, as it offers content time under tension the entire time. It places less stress on the joints while offering a deep stretch for the pec muscles. 

You can use light weights in high rep ranges, allowing you to build endurance and muscle hypertrophy. The movement also requires you to maintain core control, helping you build balance, stability, and coordination. 

Benefits

  • Constant tension: Cable chest flies maintain consistent tension on your chest muscles throughout the movement, which can promote effective muscle engagement and growth.
  • Isolation and stretch: This exercise isolates your chest muscles, especially the inner portion, and provides a deep stretch at the bottom of the movement, enhancing muscle development.
  • Controlled movement: With the adjustable pulleys and smooth cable motion, you can control the resistance and focus on a full range of motion, which can lead to optimal chest muscle activation.

How to Perform

  1. Change the height of the pulleys on the cable machine to be around the same level as your shoulders. Make sure they’re at the same height.
  2. Stand in the middle of the cable pulley machine with your feet about as wide as your shoulders.
  3. Hold one handle of the cables in each hand. Your palms should face forward, and your arms should be straight out to the sides. Keep a little bend in your elbows.
  4. Take a step forward to make the cables tight. This is how you start.
  5. Keep a slight bend in your elbows. Breathe out and slowly move your arms forward like you’re giving a big hug. Think of wrapping your arms around a big tree trunk.
  6. When you finish the movement, your hands should come together in front of your chest, but don’t let them actually touch.
  7. Pause for a moment, then breathe in as you go back to the starting position, doing the movement in a controlled way.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Excessive weight: Avoid selecting a weight that is too heavy, as it can compromise your form and lead to improper muscle engagement. Choose a weight that allows you to maintain proper control and form throughout the movement.
  • Jerky movements: Avoid using jerky or rapid movements when performing cable chest flies. Keep the motion smooth and controlled to ensure effective muscle engagement and reduce the risk of injury.
  • Incorrect posture: Don’t hunch your shoulders or round your back during the exercise. Maintain good posture with your chest up and shoulder blades slightly squeezed together to target the chest muscles effectively.

Chest Muscles Explained

Understanding the chest muscles will help you develop more muscle mass, perfect your technique, and select exercises that suit your fitness goals. There are two primary muscles in the chest: 

  • Pectoralis Major: The pec major sits on top of the pectoralis minor and is the largest muscle in the chest. It has a thick fan shape, helping you lift your arms up and down and across the body. 
  • Pectoralis Minor: The pec minor starts between the 3–5th rib and has a triangular shape. The muscle helps with abduction and rotation and works with other muscles for upper-body stabilization. 
  • Serratus Anterior: This muscle isn’t directly connected to the chest but rests on the lateral sides of the ribcage. The serratus anterior performs similar functions, like flexing the arm and protracting the shoulder. 

Chest exercises also utilize minor muscles, like the triceps and front deltoids. You should notice a deep stretch in your pectoralis major when you perform exercises correctly. If you rely on supporting muscles like the triceps and the shoulders, you may need to adjust your technique.

Why Should You Train Your Chest?

Besides being powerful muscles, why should you prioritize developing a muscular chest? Numerous benefits come with a huge chest, including better health, strength, and appearance. Here are a few to keep in mind:

More Upper Body Strength

Strengthening your chest has benefits inside and outside of the gym. You use your chest daily when you push open doors, lift objects, or carry groceries inside. These activities and compound lifts—like bench pressing—will become easier and more efficient. 

Enhanced Physique

A decent chest can go a long way when regarding physique. You can achieve a balanced and sculpted upper body by training your pecs, which contributes to a more aesthetically pleasing appearance. This can boost your confidence and self-esteem, helping you inside and outside the gym.

Improved Posture and Stability

A muscular chest can help counteract the effects of poor posture, especially if you spend long hours sitting or working at a desk. Strengthening your chest muscles pulls your shoulders back and promotes better upper-body alignment. This reduces the risk of rounded shoulders and forward head posture.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Exercise Makes Your Chest Look Bigger?

If we could recommend three exercises to perform on chest day, it would be the flat barbell bench press, incline bench press, and the cable flye. These bench presses will engage the entire chest, while the cable flye effectively isolates the muscle fibers. 

How Can I Make My Chest Bigger?

You can make your chest look bigger by eating enough protein, getting adequate training volume, and prioritizing rest. Training the pecs 1–2 times per week is enough volume for most lifters, but you will need to prioritize a protein-dense diet to build muscle mass. 

Why Is It So Hard to Build a Big Chest?

It can be difficult for some lifters to build their chest due to genetics, low training frequency, poor diet, and incorrect technique. Be sure you use the correct technique to feel a deeper stretch in the pecs. You won’t put on muscle if you aren’t training enough or eating correctly. 

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About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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