The 10 Best Muscle Building Exercises: Chest Edition

Young man at the gym chest workout with dumbbells

iStockphoto / djiledesign

Welcome to Part 2 of a 7 part series on the best exercises for mass. Last time, we talked about the best exercises for building massive shoulders. Today, our muscle group of choice is so popular in the brommunity that it has it’s own day of the week. I’m talking of course about the chest…

Chest Training and Anatomy

The chest is made up of a number of different muscle groups, but when it comes to chest training, there are really three that you’re going to focus on: the pectoralis major, clavicular head, and the sternal head.

The pectoralis major, or the pecs, are the largest muscles in the chest. The clavicular and sternal head are actually part of the pecs, with the clavicular head running across your upper chest from your collarbone to your upper arm, and the sternal head runs from your sternum to your humerus.

Because of the range of motion and joints involved in training the chest, it’s going to respond best to a mixture of low rep/high weight, and high rep/low weight training, depending on the exercises being used.

Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

I can feel the hate already. Go ahead, let the butthurt flow…

When it comes to muscle-building chest exercises, I prefer the flat dumbbell bench press to the flat barbell bench press, and here’s why.

In the hypertrophy game, it’s all about creating tension in the muscles. And because the DB bench press allows for a greater range of motion than the barbell bench press, that makes it slightly superior to the barbell when it comes to building mass on your chest.

Not only that, but with dumbbells, both sides of your body have to work independently of one another, recruiting more of the stabilizer muscles as well.

Suggested Volume: 4 sets of 8 reps

Flat Barbell Bench Press

Just because it’s not first on the list, doesn’t mean I don’t like me some barbell bench press.

Like the flat dumbbell bench press, the barbell bench hits the pecs pretty hard. Unlike the dumbbell bench however, it allows you to use more weight. This helps increase the tension and stress placed on the muscles.

The downside of the flat barbell bench press is that it can be very hard on the joints, specifically the shoulders and elbows. To combat this, you want to keep constant tension through the entire range of motion. You do this by stopping the movement just short of lockout at the top, and lightly touching the chest at the bottom, instead of bouncing.

I recommend alternating the flat dumbbell bench, and flat barbell bench press every 4-6 weeks.

Suggested Volume: 5 sets of 5 reps

Low Incline Barbell Bench Press

The incline barbell bench press is great for hitting the clavicular head of the pecs, but many standard incline benches are set at too steep an angle, and end up working the front delts more.

Skip the standard incline bench press, and instead set up an adjustable bench inside a power rack.

Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 8 reps

Chest Dips

In order to turn this into a chest exercise instead of an arm exercise, you need to lean forward and bring your feet up behind you. This will help emphasis the chest more, specifically the lower pecs.

To make more difficult, add weight.

Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 15-20, bodyweight

Dumbbell Squeeze Press

If you want an exercise to isolate the inner chesticles, this is it. The squeeze press is great for hitting the sternal head of the pecs.

To get the most out of this exercise, squeeze the dumbbells together as hard as you can throughout the entire movement.

Suggested Volume: 4 sets of 10-12

Rotating Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

On its own, the incline dumbbell bench press is great for targeting the upper pecs. Adding in rotation – where you rotate your palms from facing forward at the bottom, to facing each other at the top – helps to recruit more of the pec major.

Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Reverse Grip Bench Press

This not-often-done bench press variation not only helps target the upper chest, but is actually much easier on the shoulders than the traditional bench press.

Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 12 reps

Seated Machine Chest Press

What’s really great about this exercise is the machine allows you to keep constant tension through all portions of the lift. Seated chest pressing also decreases the use of the shoulder muscles, which allows you to further isolate the pecs.

Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 10-12 reps

Incline Cable Flyes

I prefer cable flyes to dumbbell flyes for two reasons. One, the cable allows you to maintain constant tension throughout the lift. And two, dumbbell flyes can be particularly hard on the elbows and shoulders once the weight gets heavy enough. Cable flyes help reduce that stress.

Suggested Volume: 3 sets of 12-15 reps


It’s hard to beat push-ups when it comes to chest exercises. The great thing about them is they are many different variations that can be used to target different areas of the pecs.

My favorite way to incorporate push-ups is as a finisher at the end of my workout, doing as many reps as possible.

Suggested Volume: 2-4 sets of as many reps as possible

There are few things more impressive than a massive chest. If you’re looking to put size on your pecs, start incorporating these exercises into your routine now.

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