12 Super Effective Chest Exercises for Men

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Most men want a bigger, stronger chest. Don’t believe me? Look at the queue for the bench press in the gym… I rest my case.

Limiting your chest exercises to various forms of bench press isn’t a good strategy though. 

Man doing incline bench press in gym
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Whilst the bench press is one of the most effective chest exercises around, it’s not the only way for us to build a strong, powerful and well-sculpted chest. In order to do that you want to perform a range of different chest exercises, using a variety of movement patterns, loads and reps ranges. 

There’s also more to chest training than vanity. It can also help improve your strength and performance in other activities, and it will help improve shoulder health and function when done correctly. 

The issue is that there are many different chest exercises to choose from, making it hard to know where to start. In this blog post, we will discuss 12 of the most effective chest exercises for men, as well as some tips for getting the most out of your workouts.

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Picking the best chest exercises

There are a few different factors to consider when choosing chest exercises.

First, you need to think about your fitness level, your capabilities and experience. If you have healthy shoulders with a full range of movement, lucky you – anything is an option! If you have sore or stiff shoulders, you’ll have to work to improve your range of movement first. 

Second, you need to consider your goals. If you are looking to build mass, you will need to focus on exercises that work the chest muscles through a full range of motion. If you are looking to improve your strength, you will need to focus on exercises that use heavy weights.

Finally, you need to consider your equipment availability. If you only have access to dumbbells, you will need to choose exercises that can be done with dumbbells. If you have access to a gym, you will have more options.

In this article I’ll show you exercises using all kinds of different equipment, so suit a range of options…

Dumbbells? Barbells? Bodyweight? Which is best?

The reality is there’s no ‘best’ form of resistance – they all have their place. 

If you are a beginner, you may want to start with bodyweight exercises or exercises with light weights. Once you have built up some strength, you can move on to exercises with heavier weights.

The important thing isn’t to rush your progress. Only perform advanced or heavy exercises when you’re ready to. 

Simple tips to improve chest exercises

Getting the most from your chest training…

Exercise through a full range of movement

The four pectoral muscles combine to create a large, fan shaped muscle tissue across the upper chest. They allow the arms to move internally and overhead, as well as rotate internally. To do this, they act on the shoulder joints, the rib cage and the upper abdominal region. 

This means we need to lift through a full range of movement, and in different angles and directions. We need to use different starting positions with our hands to ensure we hit the different muscle heads – in particular the Clavicular head and the Sternocostal head.

Apply balance to your exercises

With so much influence on the shoulders and arm movements, effective chest workouts need to have adequate balance so they don’t cause injury. 

In a 2006 study, researchers coined the phrase ‘Bench Presser’s Shoulder’ referring to an ‘overuse insertional tendinopathy of the pectoralis minor muscle’. This is far more common than people realize, and it’s easy to avoid if you include a sufficient variety of chest exercises in your chest day workouts.

Make sure you don’t just repeat thousands of reps of presses every year in an attempt to build more muscle mass and upper body strength

Slow down!

One of the major issues I see in the gym is people rushing their movements. When it comes to muscle growth, you want to maximize time under tension. This means slowing the tempo of your lifting down, so the muscles are engaged for a longer period of time. 

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This is also backed up in the research. A study from 2012 titled ‘Muscle time under tension during resistance exercise stimulates differential muscle protein sub-fractional synthetic responses in men‘ found that…

‘…results suggest that the time the muscle is under tension during exercise may be important in optimizing muscle growth.’

Slowing down your weight training is an effective way to increase chest muscle activation, and therefore build bigger chest muscles. It also allows you to lift lighter weights, which can help some lifters reduce their injury risk during training.

Mix things up

Muscles respond well to different stimulation. Exercise variation is also an effective way to avoid overuse injuries. Chest exercises in particular need to be performed with variety, because they involve the shoulder joint – the joint with the greatest range of movement in the body.

By performing exercises with a range of different movements, angles, starting position, rep ranges, loads etc, you’ll help to build strong, healthy pec muscles and minimize the risk of injury. 

Fit man does bench dumbell press in a gym
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The 12 Chest Exercises I suggest…

This list includes the chest exercises I use most in both my own training, and that of my personal training clients. It encourages a mixture of bench press variations, chest exercises to enhance shoulder mobility, arm angles, instability exercises and more. 

You could use these chest exercises on rotation forever and you’d hit all of the major chest muscles, enjoy effective chest training and the wide range of physical and performance benefits that come along with it. 

1. Barbell Flat Bench Press

I had to start with the king of chest exercises – the barbell bench press. It’s the go-to approach for most people when it comes to increasing chest size, and building that armor-plated chest so many people dream of! Use a full range of movement, and lift as heavy as you can whilst maintaining excellent form. 

2. Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

When you introduce an incline to a chest exercise, you activate the upper chest region more. You also include the front of the shoulders more than on the flat. The reason we’ve used dumbbells here is because you allow for a greater range of movement, meaning you push from a stretched position. It also forces each side to work independently. Incline presses are super effective. 

3. Dumbbell Fly

The bench fly is one of the exercises that Arnold Schwarzenegger used to build his chest. His particular technique used a huge range of movement, opening up the chest and shoulders as wide as possible. This is a great way to use a pair of dumbbells to build muscle, stretch the chest and improve shoulder health all at the same time. 

4. Deficit Push Ups

A lot of people dismiss bodyweight chest exercises, saying they’re too easy. The deficit push up is a way to change that opinion completely. By placing your hands shoulder width apart, elevating them off the floor and increasing your range of movement you completely change the difficulty of the push up. You hit the core more and the chest muscle activation is turned up several notches!

5. Pullovers

Arnold said this was his favorite chest exercise, and who am I to argue?! Whilst I use it for the shoulder and upper back mobility benefits, it’s also a legit chest exercise. The pull over puts the arms, chest, lats and shoulders into a stretched position, and the stability required to keep the dumbbell in place over your chest switches on the chest muscles. 

6. Dips

The dip is a great exercise for the entire chest region – they are a great lower chest exercise, there’s a lot of shoulder and tricep work and (if done correctly) core engagement to maintain spinal rigidity. Overall the exercise is a very effective way to get a good chest hit whilst using a body weight exercise and simple technique. It’s another good way to stretch the shoulders too. 

7. Floor Press

The floor press is a way to isolate the sticking position many lifters have during the bench press. The floor limits the range of movement, so the lowest you can drop your arms is a 90-degree angle. This is a way to practice the middle of the push, which many lifters find a difficult position to move through. The benefit of this is it helps to improve muscle activation during bench press movements. 

8. Push Ups

The entry level chest exercise for many. The chances are if you’re reading this, you’re capable of lots of push ups. That doesn’t mean that a push up isn’t a good chest exercise – you perform them with a high volume. This hits all of the biggest chest muscles, the core and the triceps. It’s also a way of protecting the joints and allowing the shoulder blades to move. 

9. Landmine Press

I like the landmine press a lot, and think of it as one of the more under-appreciated chest exercises. It’s a very effective way to hit the chest, shoulder and tricep area in one movement. It’s also a fantastic way to train core stability. The movement angle mimics the incline bench press, and the anti-rotation element has a great core benefit. You can do it with a parallel or staggered stance. Overall, it’s a great variation of chest pressing. 

10. Chaos Push Ups

If you want to nudge your push up game a few notches, try the chaos push up. It’s a way to force the stabilizing muscles of the chest, shoulders and core to switch on. It lights up everything, and takes a seemingly easy exercise and dials it up to 11! The chaos push up requires you to keep your core tight, the feet flat on the ground and your upper body activated fully. This is a TOUGH chest exercise. Make sure you use thick resistance bands for the exercise. 

11. Decline Bench Press

The decline bench press is a way to target the lower chest muscles. You can do it with either dumbbells or barbells. Ideally you’ll have a decline bench, but if not, stack a couple of weight plates under the bottom end of your bench. This will provide your weight bench with a sufficient enough downward angle to achieve the movement pattern you need. The decline push is the go-to way to hit the lower chest.

12. Atomic Push Ups

The atomic push up is another variation of the push up that takes the exercise far beyond the original version. From the chest point of view, it’s a basic push up. The difficulty comes when you add the lower body instability and the core training elements into the mix. By taking the feet off the floor in an unstable way (the TRX allows your legs to move and swing), you force the core to engage in a way that it doesn’t with other chest exercises. Maintaining a balanced position as you bring the knees into a tuck is hard!

Common mistakes to avoid with chest exercises

To make your chest day as effective as possible, here are a few additional tips…


If you overdo chest training and don’t balance it with enough stretching, you’ll end up with internally-rotated shoulders. This can lead to injuries, postural issues and muscle imbalances. Stretching at the end of every chest session is important for shoulder and neck health.

Range of movement

Always lift through the largest range of movement you can. Half reps will hurt your progress, and they’ll also limit the amount of benefit your joints get. When you take a weight to end range, you help to stretch the muscles. This improves joint health significantly. 

Weight over form

Too often I see guys in the gym performing ego lifts – using as heavy a weight as possible, at the expense of form. I understand when lifting maximally form goes out of the window sometimes, but if absolute strength isn’t a goal, never add weight at the expense of form

Include lots of variety

You’ll notice in this chest exercise list there is a lot of variety. We use different equipment and movement patterns. This is key to prevent stagnation of interest – you always want a new challenge. It also means there’s ongoing physical benefits. Finally, variety is a way to prevent overuse injuries. 

Factoring chest exercises into your workout plan

How should you train your chest as part of an overall workout plan in order to make the most from it? Here’s my thinking…

Full body workouts: If you prefer full body training, take these lifts and split them across your weekly workouts. You might do three chest exercises per workout, across four weekly workouts. This is the way I’d approach it. 

Split routine: If you do a push/pull/legs, or a body part split, take these exercises and add them into your training as you see fit. You could do 6 across one workout, then the other 6 across another. You might do all 12 in one workout, but for fewer sets. 

They’re all great chest exercises, so do what works for you!

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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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