Can anyone develop a massive, muscular chest like Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Mr. Universe and star of countless, impressive shirtless shots? Perhaps not. But what anyone can do is build up strength and mass in their upper body region. In the following, we’ll show you a thing or two about the basics of chest muscle development; we will also talk about chest muscle anatomy, stress the importance of having a toned back and shoulders for support, and discuss various types of exercises, suited for your gender, level of fitness, available equipment, and goals. We’re not promising Terminator-level pecs to one and all, but we do guarantee that you will walk away more toned, stronger, and with a chest that looks closer to what you’ve always imagined it should.
The exercises proposed below are simply designed to help you make your chest bigger, whether with the help of machines, or without it. Most of them have been inspired by professional bodybuilding moves, which means you’re going to need a form of weights, such as the barbell, bowflex, kettlebell, or dumbbell to perform them. Others can be done in your own home, with nothing but your bodyweight. For some it might be useful to have access to resistance bands or cable machines, but if cables or a band are out of your reach, you can still achieve chest definition with our total body workout tips. Just how intense your workout plan ends up being is entirely up to you, your level of health, whether or not you’re an advanced bodybuilder, and just how serious you are about gaining rock hard, huge muscles.
Another tip about the exercises below is that most of those on our list have been inspired by the website bodybuilding.com, but also by famous workout plans such as P90X, TRX and Crossfit. The mens exercises were also taken from the crazy professional workouts of stars such as Greg Plitt, Kai Greene, Scott Herman, Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler and Phil Heath.You can put together not one, but several killer chest expander workout plans, with various levels of intensity and difficulty, all depending on how serious you are about cutting your muscles to the ultimate point. We recommend putting together a cheat sheet of sorts, for your workout, no matter how insane or extreme you choose to make it. Also, if any of the moves below don’t seem familiar, remember that you can always find them in video form online, or check out pictures of how they’re supposed to be performed.
The anatomy of chest muscles
In both men and women, the muscles of the chest have the same structure and are, of course, located in the same region of the upper body. From a physiological and anatomical perspective, the chest muscles are those located right beneath the neck, above the stomach, and also including the shoulder muscles. As anyone knows, these muscles are essential for a wide range of basic movements – basically everything that includes a motion of the head, arms, and shoulders. And since they’re also supported by the rib cage and connected to your upper back, these muscles also play an important part in helping you breathe. So you can easily understand why it’s important to keep them healthy, toned, and strong, even if developing chest muscle mass isn’t necessarily your immediate goal. It’s also essential to avoid exercise induced chest pain. If that insanity workout-inspired superset of butterfly exercises for the chest looks like it’s too much for you, don’t push yourself over the limit of feeling pains.
Now that we’ve established the basics of chest anatomy, let’s take a look at the various sub-groups that make up this larger group, as well as at what motions they help you perform on the daily. Further down, we’ll also be taking a look at several basics for training, plus essential chest exercises for beginners who want to add some mass to their pecs. Most of them are mens exercises, but there’s no reason a woman can’t lift just as well as a man, is there? So, read on, get educated, and then get pumping until your chest becomes as big as Arnolds!
Chest muscles of the pectoral girdle
The pectoral girdle is a group of bones, which comprises the collar bone (or the clavicle, by its more scientific name), as well as the shoulder blade (or scapula). Without the pectoral girdle, the shoulder joint would have a limited range of muscles and would also move less precisely; so, the muscles in this area contract to make your shoulders more stable and to help you move only as much as necessary.
The pectoralis minor, together with the serratus anterior, are situated on the frontal, outer side of your chest. They’re attached to the shoulder blade at one end and to the frontal part of your ribs on the other. Whenever your shoulder blade moves forward and to the side (as it does when you push, punch, or throw something), these muscles are definitely involved. The pectoralis minor is located immediately underneath the pectoralis major, on the inner side of the blade.
When most people refer to chest muscles, be they fitness experts or not, what they’re talking about is the pecs: the pec major and minor. These two sub-groups are situated right below the clavicle and are inserted at the sternum and armpit (i.e. your humerous bone). They fulfill three essential functions to help move your body forward:
· Bringing your arm up and down, on the lateral of the body;
· Pitching your arm on any lateral;
· Flexing your arm, as in the typical arm-wrestling position.
Beginner tips for chest building
Now that you know a bit of anatomy, just enough to get you going, but not as much as to confuse you, here are the essentials of chest building that all absolute beginners should have some knowledge of.
· The most commonly ‘prescribed’ exercises for chest building include flies and bench press routines – more on them below.
· The chest is actually one big chunk of mass, but that doesn’t mean this is how you should work it out. Before deciding on a chest exercise routine, understand that you will actually be exercising three different sections: the upper chest, middle area, and lower region of the chest, both isolated and at the same time with other muscles. Complex as this may sound, in practice it only means you’ll have to adjust the angle at which you exercise.
· Here are the best types of exercises, according to the area of the pecs they focus on. Don’t worry if you don’t know exactly what each one looks like – we’ll be expounding on each further below:
o Upper chest: The best type of stimulation for your upper chest muscles is achieved on a bench with at least a 30-45% incline. Consider the incline barbell, tipped dumbbell bench press, and incline dumbell for best results, even as a beginner chest builder.
o Middle chest:To mix things up and get a good workout of the mid-chest region, you will need a flat bench. The top recommended exercise for mass building in this area is the flat dumbbell fly, the dumbbell bench press, and the flat barbell.
o Lower chest:Once more, alter the angle to put the nether region of your chest muscles to work. Lie down on a bench with a decline of some 30 to 45 per cent, and try the decline barbell, decline dumbbell flyes, as well as the dumbbell bench press.
· Don’t over-exert yourself in the beginning. The importance of this piece of advice can’t be stressed too much. In the beginning, you should be aiming for a low range of repetitions (4 to 6) or, at best, a moderate rep range (8 to 12).
· Push yourself, in terms of how much you’re lifting. Bearing the above pointer in mind, if you’re just getting started on your chest building journey, it’s a good idea to use the heaviest weights you can lift safely. This way, you’ll be en route to a solid muscle mass foundation in no time, instead of slowly building up form. This is particularly true for absolute beginners who are aware of the fact that their chest is a weak area.
· Choose free weights instead of machines at first. With free weights, you get a range of movement that’s far more ample than with a weight lifting machine. This is not to say that gym machines can’t do a great job at building chest mass, but that, at least at first, this range of motion will help you cope with your new workout regimen.
· You need to be in perfect form, when you start lifting weights for chest building. This is as true of chest building workout routines as it is of any other type of body building. Poor form will only allow you to develop bad habits in the way you execute the exercises and, worse still, runs a high risk of leading to injury down the road.
Chest exercises for mass
When it comes to chest exercises, men and women typically have different goals; and while this holds true about most of the other major muscle groups as well, it’s particularly true for the pecs. While men want a certain type of mass, women are generally more focused on the toning aspect of such training techniques. In the following, we explore some great chest workouts for men, as well as some of the best chest toning routines for men, which will help them build mass without ending up looking like a pro bodybuilder (unless, of course, this is the look you’re going for – case in which, more power to you, ladies!).
The common thread to these chest exercises both for men, as well as to those for women, is that they are suitable for just about anyone. The complete beginner can pull them off successfully, while the seasoned fitness enthusiast can also gain something out of them. Ultimately, what they go to show is that there’s no such thing as being doomed to having an underdeveloped chest. No matter how small you start off, no matter how discouraged you may become after countless hours on the bench that don’t seem to be taking you anywhere, the conclusion we would like you to walk away with, after reading up on these exercises, is that you, too, can develop the chest you’ve always wanted for yourself.
The most effective chest exercises for men
The following exercises are divided into the three groups outlined above: the first ones work out your upper chest muscles, the second group is for the middle chest area, while the last set is for your lower back. You can also combine all these different chest exercises to create a workout routine for the chest at the gym that’s specifically designed to build chest strength and chest size, respectively – there’s an outline for those routines at the very end of this section. Be sure to include pushups in each routine, as they are incredibly effective for your chest, irrespective of the area you’re targeting. Aim for three sets of 12 repetitions at the end of each routine, with a lowering segment that lasts about 5 seconds for each rep. Do the pushups right at the end and you’ll be sure to feel your chest getting stronger by the day.
One final word, before we dive right into the exercises themselves: the following exercises should be used for 4 to 6 weeks before you can think of any noticeable results. The trick to keeping them efficient is to gradually increase the weight you’re lifting – if possible, with each individual workout. And above it all, don’t forget to maintain proper form, otherwise all your efforts will have been in vain.
The barbell (incline/decline) bench press
This exercise for the chest is suitable for beginners and it’s fit both for men, as well as for women. It’s a compound strength exercise, which also works out your shoulder and triceps, aside from your pectoral muscles. For the initial position, lie down on a bench, be it a flat one, one with an incline, or one with a decline. You will need a medium grip for the barbell, so as to create a right (90 degree) angle with your forearms and upper part of your arms, right in the middle of the movement. Take a deep breath in, then slowly start lowering the bar from its rack, until it touches the mid-section of your chest. Then breathe out and revert the movement: bring the bar back up, all the while focusing on your chest muscles for force and support. Once you’ve reached the top of the motion, lock your arms into position and contract your muscles for a second. Then, start over from the initial position, for the prescribed number of repetitions.
Throughout this exercise, make sure you’re not pushing the bar too far out in front of you. At the lower-most point of the movement, you want the bar to touch the middle part of your chest and not any other area. Don’t let the barbell bounce off your chest muscles – make sure you are in full control of their contractions at all times. Finally, if you’re a beginner at weight lifting, or at this particular type of exercise, you’re best advised to use a spotter, or to lift a moderate amount of weight.
The (incline/decline)dumbbell press
This compound strength exercise is also suitable for beginners, be they male or female. Aside from your chest, it works your shoulder and tricep and it relies on push force. For the initial position, you’ll need to lie down on a flat bench, or on one with an incline or decline, depending on the chest muscle area you want to exercise during that particular day’s routine. Your arms should rest at the top of your thighs, palms facing each other, with a dumbbell in each hand. Lift each dumbbell at a time with the force of your thighs, until you’re holding them forward, with the arms shoulder-width apart. Then, turn your wrists around, to have your palms face away from you. At this point, you should be holding the dumbbells right by the sides of our chest, with your arms bent at a 90-degree angle. You need to be in full control of the movement of your arms, since this is actually the initial position of the exercise itself.
Breathe out and push the dumbbells upward with your chest muscles. Once you’ve reached the top of the movement, with the dumbells right above your chest, contract your pecs, hold the position for one second, then start lowering down your arms. The best form for this exercise is to take about twice as long to bring the dumbbells down than you did to bring them up.
At the end of your prescribed set of repetitions, make sure not to drop the dumbbells to your side, as you risk damaging your rotator cuffs rather seriously. Also, to lift the weights with your thighs, you need to slightly kick forward once they’re rested at the top of the muscle. This motion will help you gain the necessary momentum to push the weights upward with the aid of your chest muscles. You can also do this exercise with the palms of your hands facing each other at all times; another alternative is to twist your wrists while pushing the dumbbells upward. At the top of the movement, your palms will be facing away from each other. Just make note of the fact that this way of performing the exercise puts a lot of pressure on your shoulders – don’t attempt it this way, if you’ve previously sustained an injury in this area.
This exercise works by isolating a segment of your chest muscles and then working them out to the fullest, through the use of push force. You start out with a dumbbell in each hand, lying down on a bench, with the palms of your hands resting at the top of your thighs. Use your thighs to kick up the dumbbells, as you did in the above exercise. The aim of this movement is to bring them up, at shoulder level, with your palms facing one another. Then, press them upward, but don’t lock out – stop the motion right before this happens. Slightly bend your elbows; make sure your arms are not completely outstretched, as this risks to overexert the tendon in your bicep, and then start lowering both your arms at the same time. You will be performing an ample lateral circular motion, to the point where your chest muscles feel outstretched. Make sure to keep your arms still throughout this motion – the only moving part should be your shoulder joint. Then, resume the initial position, in a reverse arched movement, as you breathe out and contract the chest muscles. You should hold them contracted for at least a second. A different way of performing this exercise involves having your palms face forward throughout the routine.
Chest building routine for strength
For the chest strength routine you’ll be using a barbell and bench throughout. Include three sets of 4 to 6 repetitions of medium grip barbell bench presses, followed by three sets of 4-6 repetitions of medium grip barbell incline bench presses, then three sets of 4 to 6 repetitions of decline barbell bench press, with three sets of 8 to 12 chest dips at the very end.
Chest building routine for mass
The mass enhancing routine for chest building is very similar to the one described above, that’s aimed at building strength. The main difference is that, for size and mass, you’ll be using a set of dumbbells, while seated on a bench. Start off with three sets of 8 to 12 reps of incline dumbbell presses, then three sets of 8 to 12 decline dumbbell bench reps, then three sets of 8 to 12 dumbbell bench presses, finished off with the samethree sets of 8 to 12 chest dips.
Are chest building workouts recommended after an injury?
As usual, you should never start a workout regimen for any muscle group without consulting with your physician beforehand. This applies to chest workouts to the same extent as it does to any kind of physical exercise – and it’s all the more important for people who have sustained back, arm, or shoulder injuries in the past. However, a past accident doesn’t mean you can’t try out such a fitness regimen on for size. Provided that you start out light and easy, with some basic free weight exercises, you’ll be building up muscle mass in the chest area before you know it. And you’ll also stay safe in the process, where your recovery and past injury (or surgery) is concerned.
There are, indeed, certain types of chest exercises which you should avoid, if you’ve suffered an injury to the hand, wrist, or elbow. You can still perform the pectoral deck, for instance, with padding against your biceps and triceps. Of course, you’re far better off in such a situation if you work out at a gym. At home, with nothing much aside from a set of dumbbells, you should probably not risk aggravating your injuries, by working out without the proper supervision. You can also take this opportunity to focus on other parts of the body, which you may have inadvertently ignored, in your quest to build chest muscle mass and strength. Shoulder injuries are by far the trickiest to work around, if you still want to focus on the chest – don’t attempt this without the assistance of an expert. But do check out the leg extension and leg press machines at your gym, in the meantime, while you work back toward recovery in your upper body area. Consider cardio, too, especially treadmills and stationary bikes – to make sure you stay in shape in the meantime.
Chest exercises for women
If men vie to put on muscle mass and build strength in their pecs, most women and girls take a slightly different approach to chest exercises. In plain English, what they’re aiming for is a suppler, firmer chest – not one that’s necessarily more massive. The great news is that there are plenty of chest exercises for women out there that will have the same effect on your chest as a lifting would. The even better news is that you will be able to entirely forego surgery or any other similar type of intrusive interventions. There are even specific exercises for women that address various types of pains, such as the knee-chest exercise for a tipped uterus.
The reason for which these exercises work is basic anatomy. Women have the exact same chest muscle groups as men: the pectorals major and the pectoralis minor. The only difference is that, due to hormonal makeup and the ratio of adipose tissue in female bodies, these muscles are typically concealed beneath a layer of fat, more elegantly referred to as the breast tissue. Aside from these two main muscle sub-groups, there are several other smaller muscles at play. The entire complex of chest muscles is connected to the breast bone and the humerus, much like in men. The following exercises are the seven most effective ones collected from several fitness experts, in terms of chest lifting. They work all the three sections of the chest, the upper, middle, and lower areas. Check them out and try them on for size – you will not consider a visit to the plastic surgeon’s office for your breasts any time soon, if you do.
1. Pushups for women
Start out by lying flat on your stomach. Place the palms of your hands on the ground, right by your armpits, then, with your elbows slightly bent, push your body straight up into the air. Unlike the male version of the pushup, this chest workout routine for women involves bending your legs at the knee at this point. Focus on your core muscles, contract them throughout the movement, and cross your ankles. Then lower your body to the ground and revert to the initial position as you breathe in.
As you may already know, pushups are some of the best compound exercises for women and men alike. Not only can they be successfully performed in the privacy of your own home, without the need for any extra equipment, but they also work your shoulder, back, and abdominal muscles.For added difficulty, support your body weight on your toes, as you push upward; the most difficult version you can try involves propping up your feet on a stability ball.
2. Bench presses
We’ve covered them above, too, but this version is slightly modified, as to fit a woman’s goals for chest workouts. You also don’t actually need a bench for this variant, since you begin with the middle of your back propped up against a stability ball. Allow plenty of room for your shoulder blades to move, when in the initial position. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and hold a pair of dumbbells by your armpits. Your hands should be pointing forward. Count to three and push your arms up, as straight up above you as you can. Then slowly lower them back down again and repeat for as many times as you see fit.
This version of the bench press is a wonderful compound exercise for women: not only does it work your chest muscles, but it’s also great for your shoulders, as well as for core strength. As an added benefit, the use of a stability ball always helps improve posture, balance, and coordination. It can also help you develop ab muscles like rocks, but also lose weight.
3. Triceps dips
While seated on a bench of chair, stretch out your legs before you, thenplace your arms by your sides, with the palms facing ahead of you. With your hands in place, slowly lift your body weight off the chair or bench. Then, slowly lower yourself down again, with your arms slightly bent at the elbows. Return to the initial position at a similar pace. This chest routine for women is great if you’re looking to tone both your arms and your chest, your tri ceps and your abs – justin time to show them off in that lovely collection of summer dresses sitting in your closet.
4. Medicinal ball slams
Pick up a medicine ball, with your feet at hip-width distance. Standing with your knees slightly bent, try to lift it as high above your head as you can, then slam the ball to the ground. Pick the ball back up again and repeat – strive for three sets of 20 such slams. This compound exercise, which actually works much in the same way as cardio does, works your legs, arms, shoulders, and chest all at the same time. The harder you slam the ball, the more of a workout your chest will be getting in the process. Pro tip: this exercise will leave you feeling absolutely exhausted, if done right, so it’s probably a good idea to include it right at the end of your routine.
Burpees are a difficult kind of exercise, but they are totally worth it, as far as muscle development is concerned. This compound technique for women includes a pushup in the beginning, followed by a jump, as high up in the air as possible. After you’ve done the pushup, jump forward with your legs, while keeping your hands on the ground. Your goal is to reach a bent-over pose. Then, lift your hands off the ground and jump high into the air. Bend over one more time, lay the palms of your hands on the ground, and jump back with your legs, until you’ve resumed the post-pushup position. Repeat. A good goal is four sets of 20 reps, with up to 30 seconds of rest in between each set.
There are few other cardio exercises as complex and beneficial as the burpee. Your chest muscles will be getting a workout during the pushup stage, of course, but also right before you jump up into the air. At that point, your chest muscles will be working to maintain the stability of your body – while your shoulders and arms will also be getting some workout action in the process.
6. Straight arm pull-overs
This is another exercise that requires a stability ball, but unlike the previous one, which was a compound fitness routine, this one works by isolating a certain muscle group. Lie across the ball, with the upper area of your back propped up against it. Your feet should be positioned flatly on the ground, with your knees bent at a ninety-degree angle. Hold a pair of dumbbells in each hand, then raise your arms straight up above your head. Then slowly lower the arms back down, behind your head, by pushing your shoulder blades as far behind you as possible.
A variant of this chest muscle isolation exercise for women, which also involves the core, will require you to bring your knees and feet close together. As you lift your arms above your head, you will feel the core muscles stretching, too.
7. Straight arm crossovers
If you want a chest exercise for women that doesn’t require weights, then this one might be exactly what you’re looking for. Since it puts your chest muscles to some rather hard work, consider either completing it by itself, or performing it right at the end of your workout routine. Lie on your back, with your knees bent. Hold your arms straight above your shoulders and point your fingers up, with the palms of both hands outstretched. Then squeeze your fingers together and focus on contracting your arm and chest muscles. Now slowly move your arms and palms closer together, toward each other, until the meet in the air and cross over. Then, switch as to end up with the opposite arm in front. Repeat the movement for a minute and pick up the pace as you progress.
It’s important to always finish off a cardio routine for women with some light stretches. There are plenty of great stretching exercises available on the Internet for free, or to download as .pdfs, so we won’t bother with them. Just remember to hold each stretch for at least 20 to 30 seconds.
Chest exercises at home
If you’re looking for chest exercises without weights, without a bench, without a stopper – with nothing more than your own body weight to tone your chest – then you’ve come to the right place. In the following, we’ll be bringing you a chest building routine without dumbbells or barbells, which you can perform either at the gym, or right at home. Now, some may scoff that chest exercises without bench and dumbbells will never be as efficient in getting your muscles shredded and helping you get rid of the extra flab. In a certain sense, they’re right: bench presses and other exercises that use weights are very effective in building chest muscle mass and strength. However, what these naysayers ignore is the incredible efficiency of the pushup.
So, if you’re looking for a chest exercise routine without weights, give this program a try. The only prerequisite is that, before you begin, you are able to do 20 pushups in a row. With this skill up your sleeve, you should be able to tone up and look ripped in about eight weeks’ time. If 20 consecutive pushups is too much for you, then prepare for three weeks before the program, by performing three sets of as many pushups as you can pull off, with thirty seconds in between sets. And, yes, in case you were wondering, the whole routine is based on the pushup and variations on it. For added difficulty, you can also use a stability ball to prop your feet up on. Here are the exercises:
The wide pushup
This is essentially your basic pushup, but performed with your arms at a wider distance apart than a standard pushup. Do 3 sets of 10-15 reps, with 1-2 minutes rest between them.
The alternating shuffle pushup
While you perform the reps in each set of pushups, bring your palms closer together, until they’re touching each other. Once you’ve gotten them side by side, sidle them further apart, until you’ve reached the shoulder-width distance again. Also perform 3 sets of ten to 15 reps, with a really useful 1 to 2 minutes’ break between sets.
The diamond pushup
You may have seen this one in the movies, since it’s a classic. Basically, this is a normal pushup, but with your hands close together and your index and thumb describing a diamond shape. The number of sets and reps should be the same as above.
Perform the above three types of pushups for three non-consecutive days a week, allowing for at least one day between chest workouts without weights.
The following exercises for the chest, which use no weights, should be performed for two days a week, on four consecutive weeks. You’ll be striving to perform four sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of each type of pushup below, with 1 to 2 minutes of rest between repetitions.
The one-arm pushup
Prop one arm up on a step or box and do a pushup. Then switch arms and repeat, for one complete repetition.
The crossover pushup
Place one palm on the same box or step and do a pushup. Then, place the other palm on the same box, next to the first one. Put the initial hand down on the ground, repositioning your arms at shoulder-width distance. Do a second pushup, for a single full rep.
The box diamond pushup
Remember the diamond pushup from before? Good – because this variation on the pushup exercise for the chest will have you performing it, but with both your hands up on a box.
The explosive box pushup
With your palms in diamond position on the box, pull your body down to the ground and push into the box, so that it lands between your palms – which should also end up on the floor. Then, as your body is lowered, press your palms onto the box again, with your palms still in diamond position, but back up on the box. This is one complete repetition.
For the final two weeks of this chest workout routine without weights, you will be performing the above four exercises, but without any breaks for rest between them. Do 10 reps of each, two days a week, with some 3 or 4 days’ rest in between.