ChestFrequently Asked Questions

What are the basics of building chest strength and size?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can get both just by hitting it hard at the gym. Before we dive into those exercises that will help you blast your pecs, let’s go into the basics of how workouts that strengthen your chest differ from workouts that grow them like the Hulk’s.

1. There’s a difference between chest strength and chest size

Don’t confuse chest strength with chest size. You need to train differently for each one of these. 

The bench press is your friend if you want a stronger chest. You’ll also be doing other exercises to support your bench work and lift as much weight as you possibly can. When you’re lifting heavy weights, your reps will decrease, but that doesn’t matter because it’s exactly what you need to have stronger muscles. 

Now, when you’re looking at building muscle size, you need to lower those weights a bit and increase the reps. 

Of course, when you’re building muscle, you’re also going to get stronger. Likewise, when you’re getting stronger, you’re also going to build muscle. You will see both results no matter which goal you choose. It’s just the rate of seeing results that’s going to change. 

2. It’s about those muscle contractions

Building your chest muscles is about muscle contractions—don’t believe anyone who says otherwise! When you’re lifting, you’re not just trying to get the weights from point A to point B. Your muscles need to work in every second of every lift, and muscle contractions really force your muscles to work.

Focus on your pecs with every lift. Flex those muscles as if their size depends on it (it does). When you’re lowering those weights, do it slowly and in a controlled motion. Don’t just drop them.

3. Hard-hitting reps

Now, just because I said you need to lower those weights to hit higher reps doesn’t mean you can take it easy. You need to lift enough weight to test your limits. 

If your goal is a bigger chest, start off with about 4 to 5 sets of compound exercises like bench presses and inclines. Next, do your additional exercises, aiming for between 3 to 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Then you’ll move onto 4 to 5 chest exercises. 

4. Get the pose right

A good pose can really show off those gains, so you need to get it right. Most guys prefer to call it flexing, but no matter what you call it, it helps to shape and define those chest muscles. I’d recommend having a mirror handy and then start practicing these 3 poses. 

  1. For the first pose, you need to place both your hands on your hips. Flare out your elbows and squeeze your pecs.
  2. For the second pose, press your hands together in a praying position while squeezing your chest. 
  3. When you’re in a side-bicep post, push out your chest and squeeze your pecs. 

There you have it – three really effective flexes that will show off your hard work.

Can you break down the basics of chest muscle anatomy?

If you’re serious about building your chest size or strength, then you need to know about how your chest muscles work. Believe me, when you know where your muscles are and what exercises focus on which areas, you’ll become a pro at picking out those exercises that give results. 

Basically, your chest is made up of 2 muscles. They’re named the Pectoralis major and the Pectoralis minor. Together, they are called the pecs. The Pectoralis minor is just beneath the Pectoralis major. These muscles start right at your clavicle and they run all the way to your armpits. 

Whenever you pinch your arms together, bring your arms up and down to your sides or engage in arm wrestling, you’re using these two muscles. The best exercises to build these muscles are the dumbbell fly and bench press (but I’ll get into this later). 

Even though you’re focusing only on these 2 muscles when you’re training your chest, you may want to think of your chest as having 3 parts—the upper, lower and middle parts—and train each part separately.

If you are working out your upper chest, the incline bench (angled between 30 to 45 degrees) is your best bet. If you want to blast your lower chest, go with a 30 to 40-degree decline bench to do your dumbbell and barbell exercises. If you want to focus on your middle chest, use the flat bench. 

What are the best chest workouts and exercises?

Now let’s move onto the best chest workouts and exercises. Remember, these exercises can be used for both building muscle and gaining strength. The difference lies in the weights and number of reps you do, as I’ve explained before. 

1. The barbell bench press 

This exercise is a must if you want to achieve your chest goals. The barbell is the perfect equipment for building strength because you can lift the most weight with it. Barbells are also great because they’re easy to control and learn when you’re just starting out. Remember, you’ll want to do this exercise at the beginning of your workout, when you have the most energy. Another tip to remember is a wider grip is better for your chest. 

2. The flat bench dumbbell press 

If you’re bored with the barbell, dumbbells are a great alternative. Dumbbells force each side of your body to work independently, causing your stabiliser muscles to go into overdrive. You will also get a longer range of motion with these, which is great for muscle development. Do this exercise at the beginning of your workout, but if you’ve already completed a barbell press, you don’t need to do this exercise anymore. It will just be a waste of time.

3. The low-incline barbell bench press

This exercise is great if you want to work on your upper chest muscles. Of course, you’ll need an adjustable bench to be able to do this. Using a close grip on the bar is also going to help fire up these muscles. 

If you’re one of those guys who have been starting your workouts on a flat bench, it’s time to let go of that habit and move straight into an incline workout. This means you’ll start out with more energy and hit the incline lifts with more power. 

4. Machine decline press

If you have access to a machine that lets you work your arms independently, add it to your chest day. Better yet, sit sideways on the machine and press one arm across your body at a time. This is fantastic for your pecs.

5. Incline dumbbell press

You might already know about the perks of a fixed bench press, but did you know that an adjustable dumbbell press can get you places the fixed bench press can’t? When you can change the angle of your bench, you’re hitting more muscles that you wouldn’t be able to hit otherwise. If you’re doing this exercise (and other incline presses), try to do them sooner in your workouts so you’ll be able to take on more weights. 

6. Dips 

Using a dip station, hold the dip handles to support your bodyweight, bend your knees and raise your feet. Lean forwards as much as you can and flare those elbows as you dip. Dips are perfect even if you don’t have a spotter. Try doing these at the end of your routine if you still have the strength. If not, do them earlier. 

What's the best chest exercise equipment?

Free weights are great, but we can’t deny the perks of using machines!

There’s nothing like the right equipment to help you achieve your chest goals. If you want to make real headway with your chest strength or size, you may want to consider using or buying the proper equipment.

1. The pec deck machine  

The perks of this machine are all in the name—it’s great for your pecs. Why? Because it isolates them during your workout. By now, you’re probably aware of the benefits of isolating muscles during your routine. The way that you sit on this machine also influences which area of your chest will be targeted. 

2. Chest press machine 

The chest press primarily targets your chest muscles, but it also works your shoulders and triceps. With this flexible machine, you’re getting the benefits of the weights, but you won’t have to worry about hurting yourself because you can’t drop them. This machine is great whether you’re working on your muscle size or strength.

3. The barbell 

How can we talk about chest equipment without bringing up the good ol’ barbell? This equipment can be as simple or as fancy as you want it to. Whether you use the standard or Olympic type, a straight bar or a curl bar, the barbell will always be an essential to any chest workout.

4. The bench 

We talked a lot about bench pressing in this article, but now let’s talk about the bench that you need to actually do this exercise. Benches can come on their own or as part of a home gym set—it’s up to you and your budget to choose what to invest in. They can either be fixed (usually in a flat position) or adjustable (you can change it to a flat, upright, incline or decline position). I’ve spoken so much about the benefits of working your chest at an incline or decline that I don’t think I need to say which of the two benches I’m going to recommend here. 

5. The seated chest press machine

The seated chest press machine is, as you can probably guess from the name, just the seated or upright version of a bench press movement. With this stack-loaded machine, it’s easier to lower the reps. It is also great for drop sets, and very helpful if you really want to build your pecs.

Working your chest is simple when you know how it’s done. Whether you’re training your chest for strength or size, the right equipment and exercises will get you there.  

How to Build Upper Chest?

Three words: Incline Bench Press. Two Words: Decline Pushups. Another three words: All chest exercises! There is no way to completely isolate or target your upper chest – that is a myth created by online gurus to try and sell you information and workout programs.

Instead, keep the mindset that ALL chest exercises will build your upper chest to some extent. Incline Bench and Decline Pushups are good because they keep the hands in line with the upper chest fibres. This is why gurus say they are best for upper chest. But really, there’s no need to complicate chest training. If you want to build you upper chest, you need to build your WHOLE chest (upper, middle and lower) by doing chest exercises!

How many Chest Exercises per Workout?

It depends! The number of chest exercises you should do per workout depends on your goals, what type of training you are doing, as well as how long you’ve been training for. For a beginner on a full body program, 1 or 2 chest exercises per workout will be great! If you are doing a Push Pull Legs or Upper Lower Split, 2-4 chest exercises will work great. If you are doing a bro split, 3-5+ chest exercises per workout will work great.

There’s no right or wrong answer. If you are trying to build muscle, the total number of sets you do each week is more important than the number you do each workout. Science generally says that anywhere from 10-20 sets per week, divided into 1, 2 or 3 individual workouts, can all stimulate growth.

You need to find what works for you, and what style of training you enjoy. Personally, I like an Upper Lower Split, so I will do 2-3 chest exercises each workout, 2-3 times a week. I’ve found this is enough for me to both grow and recover. Plus, it keeps me wanting to go back and train again sooner. You might prefer training Chest with Shoulders and Triceps, or just doing chest isolation movements once a week, for lots of sets – again, experiment and see what works best for you!

How to Build Chest Muscle at Home?

Pushups and Dips are the best exercises to train your chest at home. Stick to the same set and rep protocol as you would in the gym, with free weights – 3-5 sets, 8-12 reps, is a good place to start. You can do Incline Pushups, Decline Pushups, Explosive Pushups, Slow Pushups, Close Grip and Wide Grip Dips.

There are so many variations to keep training fun and effective. You can do this with no gym equipment or by improvising. Try using equipment you already have in your house, such as a pair of sturdy chairs. You can even purchase some cheap home gym equipment like a pair of parallettes, or some gymnastics rings to make your home chest exercises even harder (due to the instability of the rings).

How to workout Lower Chest?

We can’t directly target the lower chest. If we want to build the lower chest, we should aim to build our whole chest! Exercises like the Dip, Pushups and Bench press will all help you to build your lower, upper and middle chest.

Cable exercises like high to low cable flyes are also another great chest training variation. Some people find that a close grip works their chest more. Others prefer a wider or shoulder width grip for chest training. When you do any chest exercises, if you feel strong and safe, and can feel the chest muscles working, rest assured your lower chest will grow!