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The 14 Best Exercises For a Bigger Upper Chest, Ranked From Most to Least Effective

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Curious about the best exercises for your upper chest?

We’ll uncover exercises that not only enhance your upper body aesthetics but also balance your strength and muscle development.

upper chest exercises
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Expect to discover how these workouts can elevate your performance in sports and everyday activities, adding a refreshing variety to your routine.

Why You Should Train Your Upper Chest

  • Improved Posture and Shoulder Health
    • A well-developed upper chest enhances posture by counteracting the common forward hunch from device use.
    • Strengthens muscles that pull shoulders back, aligning them over the hips for a healthy spine and shoulder mechanics.
  • Enhanced Upper Body Aesthetics
    • Develops a full, rounded chest, a key feature of an athletic build.
    • Adds depth and dimension to the chest, making it appear more prominent and sculpted, appealing to bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts alike.
  • Balanced Strength and Muscle Development
    • Training the upper chest ensures even muscle growth, preventing disproportionate strength and aesthetics.
    • Reduces the risk of muscle imbalances and injury, particularly during compound exercises like bench presses or push-ups.
  • Improved Performance in Sports and Daily Activities
    • A stronger upper chest boosts performance in sports requiring upper body strength, like swimming and boxing.
    • Enhances ability to perform daily activities, such as pushing doors or lifting objects overhead.
  • Variety in Your Workout Routine
    • Incorporating upper chest exercises adds diversity to workouts, challenging muscles in new ways.
    • Promotes muscle growth and strength, keeps workouts engaging, and helps avoid training plateaus.

How We Chose Each Exercise

EMG Data
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To help us choose the best upper chest exercises, we leaned heavily on two critical sources: electromyography (EMG) data and the seasoned perspectives of fitness experts. This combination allows us to rank exercises not just by popularity or hearsay, but through a lens of scientific and professional experience.

So, here’s how to better train your upper chest:

The Best Ones

Incline Dumbbell Press

Incline Dumbbell Press
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The incline dumbbell press emphasizes the upper pectoral muscles. The use of dumbbells allows for a greater range of motion, further engaging the upper chest.

How to Perform:

  • Sit on an incline bench, each hand holding a dumbbell at shoulder level.
  • Press the dumbbells up until your arms are fully extended.
  • Lower them back with control.

Incline Bench Press

Incline Bench Press
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The Incline Bench Press, with its bench set at an angle, specifically focuses on the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, effectively targeting the upper chest.

How to Perform:

  • Set the bench to a 45-degree incline.
  • Lie back, gripping the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Lower the barbell to the upper chest, keeping elbows at 45 degrees.
  • Press the barbell back up, focusing on using the chest muscles.

These exercises are considered the best for upper chest development. The traditional incline bench press, especially at a 30-45 degree angle, targets the upper chest effectively. The ability to progressively overload with weights and the direct targeting of the upper chest muscles make these exercises superior.

Second Best Ones

Incline Cable Press

Incline Cable Press
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The Incline Cable Press uniquely targets the upper chest by combining the incline angle with the constant tension provided by cables, enhancing the focus on the clavicular head of the pectoralis major.

How to Perform:

  • Set a bench to an incline position between two cable towers.
  • Grip the cable handles, and sit on the bench.
  • Press the handles upwards and together, simulating a bench press motion.
  • Slowly return to the starting position, maintaining tension throughout.

Low to High Cable Crossover

Low to High Cable Crossover
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This exercise emphasizes the upper chest by moving from a lower to a higher point, effectively engaging the upper pectoral muscles through a wide range of motion.

How to Perform:

  • Set the cable pulleys to the lowest level.
  • Stand in the center, gripping the handles.
  • With a slight forward lean, pull the handles up and inwards, crossing them over your chest.
  • Slowly release back to the starting position, controlling the movement.

Underhand DB Bench Press

Underhand DB Bench Press
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The Underhand DB Bench Press, with its reverse grip, shifts the focus more toward the upper chest and front deltoids, offering a unique muscle engagement.

How to Perform:

  • Lie on a flat bench, holding dumbbells with an underhand grip (palms facing toward your head).
  • Press the dumbbells up in a straight line, fully extending your arms.
  • Lower them back down to the chest level, keeping the movement controlled.

Upper Chest Dip

Upper Chest Dip
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Upper Chest Dips target the upper chest by emphasizing the forward lean and depth of the dip, engaging the upper pectoral muscles effectively.

How to Perform:

  • Use parallel bars, gripping them firmly.
  • Lean forward as you lower your body, keeping your elbows close to your body.
  • Descend until your shoulders are slightly below your elbows.
  • Push back up, focusing on using the upper chest muscles.

These exercises are highly effective for upper chest development. The incline cable press resists arm flexion and adduction, providing high tension. The low to high cable crossover targets specific upper chest fibers well. The underhand bench press is shown to be 30% more effective for the upper chest than some incline bench press variations.

Great Ones

Upper Chest Pullover

Upper Chest Pullover
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The Upper Chest Pullover uniquely engages the upper pectoral muscles by extending and contracting them in a way that specifically emphasizes the clavicular head, providing a deep stretch and contraction.

How to Perform:

  • Lie on a flat bench with a dumbbell held in both hands above your chest.
  • Keeping your arms slightly bent, lower the dumbbell back and over your head.
  • Stretch as far as comfortable, then pull the dumbbell back to the starting position, focusing on using your upper chest.

UCV Raise

The UCV Raise effectively targets the upper chest by utilizing a combination of upward and outward movement, engaging the clavicular portion of the pectoralis major.

How to Perform:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells at your sides.
  • Raise the weights diagonally in front of you, forming a ‘V’ at the top.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting position, maintaining control.

DB Incline Squeeze Press

DB Incline Squeeze Press
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This exercise emphasizes the upper chest by combining an incline press with a squeeze at the top, which intensifies the contraction in the upper pectoral muscles.

How to Perform:

  • Lie on an incline bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Press the dumbbells up, squeezing them together at the top of the motion.
  • Lower them back down, then repeat, maintaining the squeeze throughout.

Pushaway Pushup

The Pushaway Pushup adds an extra element to the traditional pushup by pushing the body away at the top of the movement, engaging the upper chest and serratus anterior muscles.

How to Perform:

  • Begin in a standard pushup position.
  • Lower yourself to the ground, then explosively push up and slightly forward.
  • Return to the starting position, focusing on the upper chest as you push away.

These exercises are effective but slightly less so than the top-tier exercises. The Upper Chest Pullover is surprisingly effective for the upper chest, despite being a back exercise. The UCV Raise improves upon the limitations of the Cavaliere Crossover. The DB Incline Squeeze Press adds adduction stress for better muscle activation.

Good Ones

Dumbbell Crossover

The Dumbbell Crossover specifically targets the upper chest by combining a crossover movement with a standing, angled body position. This exercise emphasizes the upper pectoral muscles through a unique range of motion.

How to Perform:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding dumbbells at your sides.
  • Lean forward slightly, keeping your back straight.
  • Raise the dumbbells in a crossover motion, one arm at a time, diagonally across the chest.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell back and repeat with the other arm.

Kneeling Landmine Presses

Kneeling Landmine Press 1
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Kneeling Landmine Presses engage the upper chest by allowing a vertical press motion from a kneeling position, focusing the effort on the clavicular head of the pectoralis major.

How to Perform:

  • Kneel in front of a landmine setup, holding the barbell end with both hands at chest level.
  • Press the barbell upwards, fully extending your arms.
  • Lower it back to the chest level, maintaining a controlled motion.

Decline Pushups

Decline Push Up 1
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Decline Pushups effectively target the upper chest by elevating the feet, which changes the angle of the pushup to put more emphasis on the upper pectoral muscles.

How to Perform:

  • Place your feet on an elevated surface like a bench, with your hands on the ground, wider than shoulder-width.
  • Lower your body by bending your elbows, keeping your core engaged.
  • Push back up to the starting position, focusing on the upper chest.

Lean Back Cable Presses

Lean Back Cable Presses
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Lean Back Cable Presses focus on the upper chest by allowing you to press the cables forward while leaning back slightly, changing the angle of resistance to target the upper pectorals.

How to Perform:

  • Stand in front of a cable machine, grabbing the handles at chest height.
  • Lean slightly forward, then press the handles forward and slightly up.
  • Lean back as you return the handles to the starting position, maintaining a consistent tension on the cables.

These exercises are good for the upper chest but are not the best. They offer benefits such as mimicking the fiber direction of the upper chest (Cavaliere Crossover) or providing a safer option for those with shoulder pain (Kneeling Landmine Press). Decline pushups are a solid bodyweight option but have limitations in developing top-end strength.

References

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7579505/
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8877248/

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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