15 Best Chest Exercises to Build Muscle

15 Best Chest Exercises to Build Muscle

Everyone can appreciate a good chest. It is, after all, considered by most gym-goers and professional athletes one of the most vital body groups to train. This is due to a wide array of reasons, but namely broadening and tightening your physique while also slimming you down.

In addition to its appearance enhancing qualities, training your chest also has the added benefit of significantly increasing your physical strength- but you probably already knew that. Depending on your goals, you’re either gunning for one or both of those chest-building traits.

So, to help you get there as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible, we’ve put together a ranking of the best 15 proven exercises with a short section explaining what they are and also provided detailed but simplified instructions on exactly how to do them- pictures included.

That said, we won’t hold you up any longer. Check out these 15 popular chest-building exercises that world-class athletes and pro bodybuilders use to build a bigger, more pronounced torso. If you have any questions or feedback regarding an exercise, let us know down below!

1. Flat Bench Barbell Press

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Push, Compound | Gear: Barbell | Target: Pectoralis major

This timeless exercise is arguably the most popular chest movement seen in the gym today. If you haven’t already, you’ll quickly notice that the flat bench press sits at the top of nearly every fitness guide out there worth their salt- and with good reason. It’s simple and highly effective.

Flat Bench Barbell Press: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Flat Bench Barbell Press Directions

Start by finding a flat bench with a safety rack (to prevent injury from uncontrolled weight- just in case). Lie back on the bench and grip the barbell with both hands slightly over shoulder width from each other. Your shoulder blades should feel like they’re ready to push the bar up and off.

Grab the bar to push it up and over the rack, until it’s held parallel above your chest and then slowly lower it, inhaling on the way down. Remember to keep your arms, elbows, shoulders, and body stable. Your wrists should be straight (not bent) with palms facing out from your body.

Once you’ve lowered the bar to your mid-chest, begin exhaling and reverse the movement (raise the bar towards the ceiling). Repeat this movement for as many reps as you need. If you feel your muscles starting to fail, simply re-rack the bar or have your spotter assist the effort.

Pro Tip: If you’re having difficulty isolating your chest, try to hyper-focus on the muscles you intend to use. Keep your feet flat, knees spread and back naturally arched (good form is vital). It’ll also help to have a friend behind you ready to pull the bar up if it becomes overwhelming. If you feel joint pain or think it might be harming you, stop and utilize a different exercise.

2. Incline Bench Barbell Press

Difficulty: Intermediate| Force: Push, Compound | Gear: Barbell | Target: Chest, delts, triceps

This exercise is very similar to #1 except for the small fact it uses a literally higher angle of approach to building muscle. And, by small, we mean huge because it turns it into a totally different compound chest exercise. We love this movement because it ticks all the right boxes.

Incline Bench Barbell Press: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Incline Bench Barbell Press Directions

Like the flat bench barbell press, you’ll want to find an incline bench with a safety cage/rack. Sit back on the bench with your feet on the ground, retract your shoulders, and maintain a long and neutral back. Grab the bar with both hands (pronated grip) at a little over shoulder width apart.

With your wrists straight (not bent), lift the bar out from the rack and position it over your torso. Remember to take it slow and steady. Begin inhaling and lower the bar to your sternum. Once you’ve touched your chest with the bar, reverse the movement and bring it back up to the top. Repeat this as many times as you need to and then re-rack the bar when you’re finished.

Pro Tip: Sometimes the muscles can suddenly give up without warning and cause an incident. Prevent this from happening in the first place by having a spotter watch your movement. If you feel pain or your form degrading, rack the weight and take a break or simply switch exercises.

3. Incline Bench Cable Flyes

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Compound | Gear: Cable Crossover | Target: Upper chest

As you likely already know, the Incline Cable Fly machine is one of the most sought after pieces of equipment in any gym. Its ability to provide a wide range of powerful exercises is further increased when you add an incline bench to the equation. This is due to its constant tension.

Incline cable flyes
Incline Bench Cable Flyes: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Incline Bench Cable Flye Directions

Start by positioning an incline bench in between both cables in front of the weight stack(s). The pulleys should be set to their lowest possible position. Sit back into the bench with your feet flat on the ground, knees spread apart, and back naturally arched to ensure proper form. Grab both of the D-Handles with your hands. Your arms should be extended with a slight elbow bend.

At about shoulder height, begin inhaling and engage your chest to bring your hands toward each other. Maintain the slight bend in your elbow and, when the handles are a few inches apart, exhale and reverse the movement, slowly lowering the handles back to their original position.

Pro Tip: When both handles are at the top, hold the position and squeeze your chest for a few seconds before slowly returning. This will help maximize your total muscular engagement.

4. Incline Bench Dumbbell Press

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Press, Compound | Gear: 2 Dumbbells | Target: Upper chest, shoulders

It’s not uncommon to see someone performing a dumbbell press on the incline bench at your gym. This is understandable for a few reasons. First, benches are few in number- get em while they’re hot. Two, it activates a huge array of shoulder muscles you use in day-to-day activity.

Incline Bench Dumbbell Press: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Incline Bench Dumbbell Press Directions

Find two dumbbells and place them by each side of your bench. Sit up straight on the bench and grab the two dumbbells off the floor with the palms of your hands facing in. Set their ends down on top of your legs just behind your kneecap to where it’s comfortable for a few seconds.

Lie back into the bench while you hold both dumbbells close to your chest. Once you’re in position, extend each dumbbell out from your sides. Your palms should now be facing outward. Begin inhaling and slowly press the dumbbells up to meet at the top. Don’t bounce the weights.

Squeeze your chest at the top for a second, then exhale and steadily lower the dumbbells until you reach your starting position (about chest level).

Pro Tip: Proper form is important for a good experience. To prevent injury, keep the dumbbells tilted at a slight 45-degree angle to keep the elbows in a neutral position (not fully locked out).

5. Flat Bench Dumbbell Press

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Push, Compound | Gear: 2 Dumbbells | Target: Chest, shoulders

Similar to #4, the flat bench dumbbell press is one of the best exercises you can do to gain both chest and shoulder definition as well as increase personal stability. This is because it mainly targets the upper ‘pectoralis major’ muscle and also recruits triceps for additional stability

Flat Bench Dumbbell Press: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Flat Bench Dumbbell Press Directions

Holding two dumbbells, sit on a flat bench and let them rest vertically on top of your thighs. While gripping the dumbbells like a hammer (arms forward, palms facing each other), lay back on the bench and use your thighs to help raise the dumbbells in front of you one at a time.

When both dumbbells are to the sides of your chest at shoulder width, turn your wrists forward. This will be your starting position. Begin exhaling and slowly press the dumbbells up to each other without colliding the weights. Hold them for a moment at the top and squeeze your chest.

Then, begin inhaling and reverse the movement to slowly bring the weights back down. That’s it.

Pro Tip: When finished with your set, be slow and steady in how you release the weights. Never drop them in an uncontrolled way or from a height because this may hurt the floor, weight, you, or others around you. Instead, set them back on your thighs or lightly set them on the ground.

6. Dumbbell Pullover

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Push, Compound | Gear: 1 Dumbbell | Target: Chest, lats, triceps

The dumbbell pullover is among the most controversial exercises. Popularized in the 1950s, it’s seen as ‘upper body squats’ to some and harmful to gains by others. Truth is, many legendary bodybuilders like Arnold attribute their epic chests to dumbbell pullovers. So, just like any other exercise, pay the necessary attention to your form, movement, and weight and you’ll do great.

dumbbell pullover
Dumbbell Pullover: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Dumbbell Pullover Directions

This exercise can be very effective at building muscle when performed properly. Please use caution and keep it controlled, especially if it’s your first time.

Start by securely placing a dumbbell up vertically on the side of a flat bench, leaving enough room for your shoulders to lie down perpendicular on its surface. Your head and hips should be off the bench and your feet planted firmly onto the floor, knees apart with a slight back arch.

With your back straight and body at a 90-degree angle relative to the bench, firmly grasp one of the undersides of the dumbbell using both hands and hold it over your head. There should be a moderate bend in your arms. This will be your starting position.

While only bending at the shoulders and keeping your arm’s locked, slowly lower the weight in an arc down behind your head until you’ve reached bench height and feel your chest stretch, inhaling on the way down. Hold this position for a second and squeeze your chest. Start exhaling and reverse the movement to slowly raise the dumbbell back to the starting position.

Pro Tip: Dumbbell pullovers mainly target the pecs, but they also recruit a large number of other assistive muscles and thus require a strong pre-existing mind-muscle connection. Because of this, we recommend waiting to include it as a final movement as part of your chest routine.

7. Leverage Decline Chest Press Machine

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Push, Compound | Gear: Hammerstrength | Target: Chest, triceps, delts

The lever chest machine is one of the most versatile chest exercises you can do in the gym. Depending on the angle it’s set to, it can target a wide range of different muscles on your pecs.

Decline Chest Press: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Leverage Decline Chest Press Directions

Begin by placing a solid amount of weight that’s right for you over each of the pins. After stacking the weight, adjust the seat’s height if necessary to a position that’s comfortable enough to press repeatedly. Sit into the chair with your back arched and knees out in front.

With your shoulder blades retracted, grab the handles (should be located in front of the lower pecs) with a pronated grip and press outward, exhaling and bending the elbows as you do so.

Once you’ve reached the top of your rep, begin inhaling and hold the bars for a second while you squeeze your chest. Then, reverse the movement and slowly lower the bar, resisting it all the way back until you’ve returned to your original starting position by your chest.

Pro Tip: Try to shoot for 8 – 12 repetitions per set on this machine. Because it’s so simple to use, the only major factor you need to know about is which weight to add and maintaining form.

8. Leverage Incline Chest Press Machine

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Push, Compound | Gear: Hammer | Target: Chest, triceps

The leverage incline chest press machine is the exact same machine used in exercise #7. The difference, however, is the angle it’s set to and thus different muscles are worked on your chest. Because the angle is higher, you’ll be working your upper chest instead of the lower pectoralis.

Leverage Incline Chest Press: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Leverage Incline Chest Press Directions

Start by adding an equal amount of weight that’s right for you over each of the pins. If you need to, adjust the seat’s position to a height that’s comfortable to consistently maintain after you’ve added the plates. Then sit into the chair with your spine arched and feet apart flat on the floor.

Retract your shoulder blades (chest out) and the grip the handles with your palms facing out. The bars should naturally rest near the top of your pecs. Exhale as you press forward and up. There should be a slight bend in your elbows as you progress through the movement.

When you’ve reached the top of your rep, start breathing in, pause and hold your grip for a moment and contract your chest. After that, reverse the movement and slowly return and resist the bar until you’ve reached the starting position.

Pro Tip: Like the decline chest press, this exercise is most commonly used in pyramid intervals consisting of 8-12 reps per set. The main factor to be aware of is your body’s form and weight.

9. Pec-Deck Machine Flys

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Push, Isolate | Gear: Butterfly Machine | Target: Pec major and minor

Also known as the ‘butterfly’ machine, the pec deck is one of the most effective exercises to get a bigger chest. It targets a wide variety of assistive muscle groups, but namely the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor to help give you a wider, more sculpted and well-defined physique.

Pec-Deck Flyes: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Pec Deck Machine Flys Directions

Like any machine, the first step is ensuring you’re maintaining proper form. Set the weight to a level you’re moderately comfortable with and adjust the seat to your height if necessary. When sitting, your back should be arched, arms extended from your sides, and feet flat on the floor.

Once your form is set, grasp the handles with your palms using a pronated grip. Your elbows should be slightly bent. This will be your starting position. With your arms parallel to the floor, exhale and push the handles out and forward until your knuckles nearly contact each other.

When the handles are in the middle, breathe in and hold this position for a second to squeeze your chest. You may now slowly reverse the movement back to the original starting position.

Pro Tip: To avoid potential injury to your arms or shoulders, keep your elbows slightly bent, back arched, chest forward, and shoulders retracted. Make sure you feel constant tension by utilizing a full range of motion, squeezing your chest muscles, and exercising slowly.

10. Resistance Band Pectoral Flys

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Push, Isolate | Gear: Resistance Bands | Target: Upper chest

Resistance bands are a wildly underestimated and often neglected tool in the average gym. While most purely stick to iron and nothing else, there’s a reason why the best trainers, athletes, and celebrities all incorporate bands into their fitness routines (and why you should too).

Resistance Band Flyes: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Resistance Band Pectoral Fly Directions

There are several different levels of difficulty when it comes to resistance bands. To begin, you’ll first need a band that suits your personal level of fitness. You can do test different bands by wrapping them around a tall, preferably narrow and stable object (like a pole or vertical bar).

Once you’ve found or already have a band that’s moderately comfortable to use, wrap it around the center of the pole to where both handles are sticking out evenly. With your back facing the poles, step forward with your elbows extended slightly back from your sides at shoulder height. Move forward with your chest out until you feel tension. One foot should be in front of the other.

With your starting form secured, start exhaling and bring your arms forward until the knuckles almost touch each other. At this position, keep your elbows slightly bent and squeeze your chest for a second. Next, inhale and slowly reverse the movement to return to the beginning.

Pro Tip: Resistance bands are extremely versatile and can be used anytime for your workout. However, when it comes to chest flys, we suggest using it to warm up and enhance blood flow. Moreover, if it’s your first time using resistance bands, start low to feel out form and stability.

11. Landmine Chest Press

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Push, Isolate | Gear: Landmine Bar | Target: Chest

This exercise is a personal favorite of many fitness trainers for helping build a wider, more pronounced chest. Because it’s rare in most people’s fitness routines, landmine chest presses are versatile and particularly useful for keeping your pectoral muscles confused (and growing).

Landmine Bar Press: 3 Sets of 6-8 Reps

Landmine Chest Press Directions

Find a landmine bar (bolted into the floor) and add weighted plates until you’re moderately comfortable lifting the bar. In order to find out where you’re at, start low and then work higher.

Once you’ve added the plates, it’s time to set up your form. In a squatting position, lean forward and grab the bar with both hands a few inches from the top. With your elbows locked in and the top of the bar nearly touching your chest, press up and raise the bar forward in front of you until you’re standing with your back arched and elbows tucked. This will be your starting position.

With the bar now being held above your clavicle, begin exhaling and push the par away from you. Your shoulders should be back and elbows tucked in together. Once the bar’s extended, squeeze your chest for a second and return to your starting position, inhaling on the way down.

Pro Tip: Remember to perform this exercise slowly. Increase your weight in small increments so that if you need to let the bar go, you can control its descent without hurting yourself or others. You can also try performing this exercise on your knees if standing is an issue or too difficult.

12. Standing High Cable Crossover

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Press, Isolate | Gear: 2 Cable Stacks | Target: Full chest, ant. delts, lats

This exercise is highly effective at building a bigger chest due to its wide, full range of motion. Essentially, cable crossover’s are a ‘golden child’ of sorts when it comes to chest exercises. That’s because it targets both the upper and lower pectoral muscles and has constant tension.

High Cable Crossover: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Standing High Cable Crossover Directions

Before you begin, lock each pulley into an equal height preferably high above your head. Once both pulleys are ready, set the weight and then grip both pulleys. Your body should be lined up evenly between both pulleys with your arms extended (palms facing forward) by their tension.

Next, on either leg (whichever feels most comfortable), take one good step forward and bring your arms out in front with you. As your body shifts forward, lean your torso over your waist and keep your feet firmly planted on the ground for increased stability. This is how you’ll first start.

Once your form is set, begin inhaling and lower your arms down from their full extension in front of your body until both of your knuckles meet. Your elbows should maintain a slight bend. Once the knuckles have touched, hold this position for a second and squeeze your chest. After this, slowly reverse the movement and return to the starting position, exhaling on the way up.

Pro Tip: Getting and maintaining proper form is the hardest part of this exercise. Remember that your torso shouldn’t move and to keep your elbows slightly bent to prevent injuries.

13. Standing Low-Cable Crossover

Difficulty: Easy | Force: Pull, Isolate | Gear: 2 Cable Stacks | Target: Upper Chest

Low-Cable cross overs utilize the same mechanics of high-cables (#12), however, the muscles worked are different. Rather than target the whole chest, low cables put a serious emphasis on the upper pectoralis. It also recruits some other muscles to assist like the delts and biceps. Low cable cross overs are also considerably faster to set up and get into proper form easier.

Low-Cable Crossover: 3 Sets of 8-12 Reps

Standing Low-Cable Crossover Directions

Start by setting both pulleys into their lowest height positions and set your desired weight. Once they’re lying on the floor, stand in the center between them and grab the stirrups with a pronated (forward) grip. With the palms of your hands now facing away, step forward (keeping one leg in front of the other) until you feel some tension. Keep your back straight and arms out.

Once you’re ready to begin the exercise, exhale and bring your hands up to the center of your chest until your knuckles and palms face each other. When your palms are side by side in front of you, hold that pose for a moment and squeeze your chest. Inhale and reverse the movement down in the same order you went down and return to your starting position.

Pro Tip: While this exercise is simple to perform and setup, it’s important to always take it slow, particularly if it’s your first time or if you haven’t used it in a while. Start at a low weight to gauge where you are physically on that machine and add additional stacks as necessary.

14. Medicine Ball Crossover Pushup

Difficulty: Intermediate| Force: Push, Compound | Gear: Medicine Ball | Target: Chest, shoulders

Not to be confused with crossfit, this exercise is one of the best chest builders we’ve personally come across in our years of fitness experience. Beloved by trainers and professionals alike, it’s an explosive workout that targets and engages your chest like no other. We highly recommend.

medicine ball crossover push ups
Medicine Ball Crossover Pushups: 3 Sets of 10-14 Reps

Medicine Ball Crossover Push-up Directions

Set a medicine ball on the floor and lower yourself into a push-up position next to it with your elbows tucked close to your sides. Place your right hand on the ball and leave your left hand on the floor. This will be your starting position.

With your back straight, slowly lower yourself to the floor until your chest nearly scrapes it and then forcefully push yourself back up and to the right so that your left hand is now on the ball and your right is on the floor. Basically, the ball never moves at any point- only your body does.

Pro Tip: Proper form is more than helpful on this exercise; it’s critical. A few good pointers would be to keep an eye on your back and hips to ensure they’re both sag-free And, as you return from switching arms, make sure you land softly and not on a stiff arm (to also prevent harm). Form is key for this simple yet effective exercise. Make sure your back stays straight and don’t let your hips sag.

15. Chest Dips

Difficulty: Tough | Force: Push, Compound | Gear: Parallel Bars | Target: Chest, triceps, delts

Chest dips are one of our most favorite exercises. If it’s your first time or it’s been a while, getting your form right will likely be easier said than done. Many people sometimes need a few weeks to a couple of months of training to do one. If you can’t, go check out the assisted dips!

Parallel Bar Chest Dips: 3 Sets of 8-10 Reps

Chest Dips Directions

Find and secure an empty parallel bar stand. Facing out from the stand, grip the bars and using your arms and exhale while pressing your body up. As you push up, lean your chest forward and keep your elbows slightly bent close to the sides of your chest. Your chest should feel tense.

When at the top with your hands at arm’s length beneath you, , hold your position for a second and squeeze, then inhale and slowly return down. Remember to keep your chest leaned forward with your arms slightly flared out during the rep so you target your chest and not your triceps.

Pro Tip: The most important factor to be aware of is to keep your chest slightly forward. This forces your body to contract your pectoral muscles to press back up instead of other muscles.