Chest exercises are classified as horizontal pushing movements. Why? Because they are all typically done by pushing or pressing some type of weight away from your body in the horizontal plane.
Common examples of some of the best chest exercises include:
- Flat Bench Press (with a barbell or dumbbells)
- Incline Bench Press (with a barbell or dumbbells)
- Decline Bench Press (with a barbell or dumbbells)
- Dips (with a slight forward lean)
- Chest Press Machines (flat, incline or decline)
- Dumbbell Flyes, Pec Deck Machines, Cable Crossovers
Figuring out which are the best chest exercises for your specific workout routine and incorporating them all properly isn’t quite as simple and easy as just randomly picking your favorites and doing them all on “chest day.”
There’s a lot more to the exercise selection and implementation process, and my articles about different types of weight lifting exercises, how to figure out which are truly the best exercises for your body and goal, my favorite workout plans, and my guide to workout routines will help you figure it all out.
Either way, no matter which you end up using in your workout routine, proper form MUST always be used. This is not only to avoid injury, but to ensure the chest is actually going through the full range of motion and doing most (if not all) of the work.
To help you understand the basics of proper form, here is a brief description of how some of the best (and most popular) chest exercises should be performed…
Flat Bench Press
You can’t write about the chest without writing about the flat barbell bench press. Almost ALWAYS the main exercise in every chest workout routine, the bench press is one of the best compound exercises there are, period.
It can be done with a barbell or with dumbbells (both are equally effective for building muscle) and, while it primarily trains the chest, it also trains the triceps and shoulders secondarily. Here’s how it should be done…
- Lie flat on a bench, feet firmly on the floor. Make sure that your butt, back, shoulders, and head are firmly positioned on the bench.
- Roll your shoulders back and down so the shoulder blades are firmly pressed against the bench and the chest is sticking up.
- With a slightly wider than shoulder width grip and your palms facing forward, lift the bar off the rack and hold it above you with your arms straight up and extended.
- Lower the bar down to your chest until it either touches your chest or comes within an inch or so away. Do NOT bounce the bar off your chest.
- Press the bar straight up until arms are extended.
Having trouble increasing your bench press? Check out some tips for increasing your bench press.
Incline Bench Press
Pretty much everything I just said about the flat bench press applies to the incline bench press, with the main exception being that it is performed on an incline bench instead. The chest, shoulders and triceps are still trained just the same, except a little more emphasis is shifted onto the shoulders. This chest exercise can also be performed using dumbbells or a barbell. Again, both methods are effective.
Decline Bench Press
Just like the incline, the decline bench press is exactly like the flat bench press, except it is performed on a decline bench. It’s still primarily a chest exercise, and the shoulders and triceps are still hit secondarily. The biggest difference is that there is less stress on the shoulders (as opposed to the incline bench press, which increases shoulder recruitment).
Flat Bench Dumbbell Flyes
The first isolation chest exercise mentioned so far, dumbbell flyes mostly take the shoulders and triceps out of the movement completely and shift all of the emphasis onto the chest. Dumbbell flyes can also be done on an incline or decline bench.
Here’s how it should be done…
- Lie flat on a bench, feet firmly on floor.
- Make sure that your butt, back, shoulders, and head are firmly positioned on the bench.
- Press the dumbbells straight up above you. Your elbows should be slightly bent and your palms should be facing each other. In this position the dumbbells should be touching each other (or pretty close).
- Keeping a slight bend in your elbows, slowly lower the dumbbells away from each other in an arc. Lower them until a comfortable stretch is felt in the chest area.
- Raise them along the same arc back to the starting position. (Another way to understand this exercise is to imagine you are hugging a tree.)
Now Use Them Correctly
So, those are a few of the best chest exercises, and that’s a basic break down of how they should be performed. Like I mentioned before, the key now is to actually use them correctly in your workout routine. Those articles I mentioned earlier will show you exactly how to do that.
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