Exercise For Cutting Up Your Chest
Defining and sculpting your chest doesn’t just make you look great at the gym or when you hit the beach, but it also makes a range of tasks, from lifting to pushing objects, much easier to do on a daily basis. Working your chest area means developing the pectoral or ‘pec’ muscles, the largest muscles in the chest, which work alongside smaller supporting muscles such as the latissimus dorsi muscles or ‘lats’ and the shoulder muscles.
Developing the size and strength of your pecs doesn’t happen overnight though, even with an incredible training program and diet, so many lifters add muscle-building supplements into their routine to improve their physique. One of the most popular options is a high-quality protein powder as protein is crucial for gaining muscle. It can also help to add in necessary calories and increase the levels of hormones that are related to muscle growth. We recommend adding a protein shaker to your gym bag to remind you to top up before or after your workouts.
Sculpting your muscles takes a lot of dedication, hard work, and a well-designed exercise routine. You’ll need to restrict your diet to help you reduce excess fat and ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs, as well as make sure that the exercises you include target your chest from a variety of angles. The results you’ll see from customizing your workout in this way by making it well worth the effort. While there are plenty of moves that will work your chest muscles, the following six exercises are some of the best you can include into your workout for greater definition, size and strength to your upper body.
How to Get Started
Developing a successful workout for your chest muscles means considering how your chest muscles actually work and the functions they perform. For example, the pectoralis major allows you to bring your arms together horizontally and enables you to raise your arms straight in front of you, rotate them and pull them back to your sides.
When you factor this into your workout, you can ensure that your chosen exercises build on different areas of the chest for more definition and strength. To ensure your workout includes all of your chest muscles, it’s important to incorporate a range of motions and exercises into your routine. These include:
- Presses using the flat or incline bench, or seated machine chest presses
- Hitting the dumbbell racks for lifts and flies
- Pulling motions using the cable fly bench, cable crossovers, and dumbbells
Beginners should consider starting off with lower weights and building up gradually to avoid injury and overstraining the muscles. Likewise, the number of sets and repetitions you perform will depend on your fitness levels, strength, and overall goals. If you’re aiming to increase in size, aim for one to three sets of 8-12 reps, or 3-6 sets of 1-12 reps if you’re a seasoned lifter. Looking to gain strength? Try one to three sets of 8-12 reps if you’re new to lifting, or two to six sets of 1-8 reps if you’re more experienced. Aim for a weight that’s between 60 to 80 percent of your maximum, depending on how much experience you have.
Barbell Bench Press
Studies have shown that this exercise recruits the pecs more than any other, as it requires you to work against a lot of resistance which in turn develops the chest muscles more effectively. The more tension you can exert onto your pecs, the more muscle fibers the body recruits to push the weight away from your chest, which causes more calories to be burned and more muscle for your body to rebuild post-workout.
The bench press is great at increasing muscle growth and adding mass to your frame, but it’s also brilliant at increasing your push strength which will help you out with other exercises like dips. And because it doesn’t just work your pecs but also your shoulders, hand flexors, and triceps, it’s ideal for maximizing the efficiency of your workout. Bench presses should be performed with a partner to spot you and make sure you can comfortably lift the weight.
- Position yourself on the bench with your back flat, and your head, shoulders, and buttocks on the bench (the bar should be above your eyes). Remember to keep your feet firmly on the ground.
- Hold the barbell with your palms forward and thumbs wrapped around the bar, then move it into the starting position over your chin or upper chest, which your spotter can help you with, keeping your elbows and wrists straight.
- Inhale and lower the bar slowly until it reaches your chest, below your armpits – flare your elbows out slightly as you lower the bar.
- Exhale as you push the bar up, keeping your back flat against the bench and your wrists straight.
Incline Dumbbell Fly
Incline dumbbell flies work your upper pecs which often get ignored in the workouts of guys building their pectorals. Horizontal presses work the chest muscles hard, but they also use muscles such as the anterior deltoid, otherwise known as the shoulder muscles, and triceps to help you lift the weights.
The dumbbell fly is an isolation exercise that cuts out those muscles and forces your pecs to handle the weight without any assistance. By performing the dumbbell fly on an incline, you’re adding extra resistance for the important upper-chest area. If you want to build up slowly to add a greater challenge to your workout, you might consider adjustable dumbbells which you can modify as you get stronger.
- Lie on a bench set to a 30 or 45-degree angle, keeping your feet flat on the floor.
- Take a dumbbell in each hand with a neutral grip and extend your arms above your chest – be sure to keep a slight bend in your elbows and keep your wrists straight.
- Slowly lower the dumbbells in a wide arc down to your sides and stop when your elbows reach shoulder level before performing the process in reverse.
If you want to build on the size and strength of your chest, you need to add in a variety of exercises that work it from all different angles – some isolation exercises and some compound moves that work multiple joints and muscle groups at once. That’s where cable crossovers come in.
The cable crossover is an isolation exercise that targets the chest muscles directly and it’s a favorite of bodybuilders because of how effective it is at adding definition. The continuous resistance and tension that cable crossovers provide is an optimal feature of this exercise that reduces wasted energy and it’s also an easy exercise to vary since there are different techniques and ways to perform the move.
- Select the resistance you want to use and position the pulleys above your head, holding them in each hand.
- Imagine a straight line between both pulleys and step forward in front of it, pulling your arms in front of you and bending slightly at the waist. This is your starting position.
- Bending your elbows slightly to avoid too much stress on your biceps, extend your arms straight out at both sides in a wide arc until you can feel a stretch in your chest, inhaling as you do this. Remember to keep your arms and torso stationary as you perform this move, maintaining movement only in the shoulder joint.
- Return to the starting position as you exhale and lower the weights using the same arc motion as before.
- Hold for a second at your starting position then repeat the movement.
This exercise is a little controversial among fitness enthusiasts, with many arguing that it doesn’t below in a list of chest exercises but that it’s better suited for working the back instead. While there’s no denying it does wonders for toning and strengthening the back, it’s also a staple that the best bodybuilders of all time have in their repertoire and that shouldn’t be overlooked.
The dumbbell pullover targets the pectorals and serratus muscles, as well as latissimus dorsi – the largest muscle in the upper body. The pullover is one of just a handful of exercises that works the chest from a completely different angle, contracting from top to bottom instead of the typical chest exercises that either involve a fly motion or press the weight. So if you’re trying to mix up your routine and want to develop strength from a different angle, this is a great move to add into your regular regime.
- Lie on a bench with your upper back, neck and head supported, keeping your feet flat on the floor.
- Hold a dumbbell with your arms extended above your face and slowly lower it backwards, keeping a slight bend in your elbows and allowing them to come to a point at which they become level with your ears.
- Flex through your chest and lats to reverse the direction of the dumbbell, bringing it back over your head and starting the process again.
Almost as effective as the bench press in terms of the impact it has on activating your pectoralis major, a pec deck is a weight machine which features two levers that you pull towards each other, causing the upper body muscles to contract. This utilizes several muscles but because only one joint is used to perform it, it’s actually considered an isolation exercise.
The machine acts as the stabilizer, so you’re not relying on your muscles to do this for you, but it does target the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor and the serratus anterior – the muscles that lie alongside your chest wall, above the first eight ribs. Don’t be tempted to add extra weight when performing this exercise though as it can lead to injury and put excessive strain on your upper body.
- Place your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart, and keep your back firmly against the seat. Lift your arms until they’re at shoulder level – your elbows should be between 75 and 90-degree angles.
- Put your elbows on the center of the pad on each wing of the machine and them slowly push the wings together, stopping just before they touch.
- Reverse to the starting position and repeat.
Bodyweight exercises are fantastic for building your upper body, training not just your chest but also your triceps and shoulders. And if you add in a dip belt, you can increase the resistance and challenge as well, so it’s versatile with where you’re at with your progress. Dips are easy to learn and set up, and you can perform them at just about any gym so they’re a useful addition to your regime.
Dips activate more muscle groups because your body isn’t supported by the Olympic weight bench, so you need to stabilize yourself and control each movement more carefully. When you rely on your core stabilizers, you get a bigger testosterone boost, lose more fat and develop a more even distribution of muscle throughout the body. This is also a great exercise for developing the outer chest, helping your chest to not only look bigger and the muscles more distinct, but also helping it look wider for a more overall masculine look.
- Take a firm grasp of the parallel dip bars and lift your body, keeping your elbows straight and your wrists in line with your forearms.
- Put one leg over the other to stabilize the lower portion of your body and be sure to control your abs by pulling them in.
- Exhale and slowly bend your elbows to lower your body, keeping them by your sides and keeping your legs directly under your body to minimize tilting or swinging.
- Keep lowering until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle and your upper arms are parallel with the floor.
- Pause and then straighten your elbows, using the bars to push up and return to starting position – remember to keep your body vertical and your wrists straight.