The chest is a strong focus point for those seeking physical perfection. It was depicted from Greek Mythology to DC comic book hero’s as being a sign of strength, power, and often authority. This article and accompanying video takes a look at a number of effective exercises and variations that are beneficial in truly shaping the chest. It makes a great addition to the standard movements performed within a typical chest routine.
Before even starting my warm up routine with weights, I focus on not just warming up the pectorals, but also the connective tissues and fibers involved within practically every chest movement. I’m talking about joint mobility and muscle fiber elasticity. Both are vital for a safe and productive workout. You can work within the full range of motion and flexibility, which also allows for optimal recovery, growth, and future progress.
As seen within the video above (0:35 seconds in), I perform 4 movements. They include a banded isometric chest push, banded shoulder hang, barbell chest stretch, and kettlebell pec smash. Following that, I do several sets of light incline dumbbell presses and flat bench dumbbell flyes. Ten minutes later I am warmed up and prepped for the workout ahead, which doesn't use much weight. I’ll this routine perhaps once a month, with the three other weeks focusing on much more of the typical chest-type movements. There, I use greater weight with progressive overload.
Perform all the exercises in a superset fashion, meaning after you complete the first exercise, perform the second movement. Allow no more than 45-60 seconds and repeat the same superset two more times.
Barbell incline presses are a longtime favorite of mine during chest days. The involvement and stress on the upper pectorals within an incline press can really make a different to the shape of your chest. With these, I use a grip no wider than your shoulder-width, and elbows kept angled forwards. I feel the upper region of my chest pump up like never before.
Use incline bench that’s only 1-2 clicks down from being vertical, I rest my lower back and shoulder blades against it. I keep my chest lifted high and shoulders pulled far back, holding the bar with an open grip and keeping my elbows from flaring too far outwards. I press the barbell upwards, ensuring my chest contracts as I push.
I’ve found it not necessary to lower the bar all the way to my chest, but rather only to chin height (keeping the head at least in a neutral alignment with the spine). This helps keep the pectorals somewhat contracted, and requires a lot less stress going through the elbows and shoulder joints.
Your focus should be controlling the barbell in a smooth and controlled manner, exhaling as you press upwards, and inhaling through the nose as you lower the bar back down at a slightly slower tempo. At all times throughout each set contract the pectorals as you press and lower the weight.
This next movement appears at first to be more shoulder focused, although it’s the positioning of the elbows that place the focus upon the upper region of the chest.
Whether you opt for the landmine barbell press (as demonstrated within the video), or want to set up your own version by angling the barbell into a corner with a heavy dumbbell placed over it, the principle remains the same. Cup the end of the barbell with a plate added, lift it up to chest height while being supported on your knees directly below the bottom of the end of the barbell you are holding. This is important as it sets the curvature of the angle at which your pressing upwards.
Keep your elbows pulled inwards, push the barbell up. It follows a curvature away from you the higher that it goes. Try not to lean in towards it but remain fixed in the same position from which you start in. As you do, consciously engage the pecs, increasing the contraction the higher your push. At the top, pause for a split second while still squeezing the chest hard, and then lower back down at a slower tempo. The key is remain kneeling, sit back on your heels, and push the bar upwards by driving through your arms. Keep the elbows relatively tucked in as well.
Superset #2: Alternative Single-Arm Low Cable Fly, & Incline Bench Resistance Band Flys.
3 sets of 15 & 15 reps each.
The first two exercises focused on pressing movements. Now we shift our attention to a fly movement, starting with alternative single arm low cable flys.
The reason I opted for this low position is quite simple. The routine focuses on detail and this highlights the benefit of this movement.
One of the main benefits of performing this one arm at a time is a further range of motion. When both arms are used simultaneously, they meet at the center point. Focusing on one arm per rep, you raise the handle far across you. This brings your elbow almost in front of your face.
The change of angle (from high to now a low position) also means you work your chest through an entirely different angle. It stresses the fan-shaped pectoral muscles in a different manner than when performed with a higher pulley setting. I’ve found keeping a lighter weight and concentrating more on getting a great contraction during each rep allows you “feel” the muscle work and get a pump.
You can perform against an incline bench (positioned center, and forwards of both the cable pulleys). It may help you feel more stable, as well as eliminating any swinging or momentum present during the standing version.
Having performed cable flys, why is it necessary to perform the same type of movement again? Given that these exercises are performed as supersets, think of it as a drop set.
By using resistance bands secured behind the incline bench, you perform the same fly movement. But you feel an increasing amount of resistant the closer your hands get to the top.
This particular movement isn’t about how much weight or resistance you move. It’s about how much tension you create. Hold momentarily with your pectorals at the top of each rep. Consciously engage and contract the muscle during every repetition. During each of the 3 sets, position the band further and further back behind you. It forces you to work the chest through different ranges and positions.
Superset #3: Wide-grip pull Ups, & Side-to-side Medicine Ball Push Ups
3 sets of 12-15 (and to failure on final sets).
Almost as soon as I began lifting weights, I included wide-grip pull-ups in my chest routine. I welcome the stretch across the pectorals as I pull myself upwards. But it’s not quite the same as a standard pull-up.
For starters, my grip is wider apart. I tilt my chest upwards as if making a connection between my chest and the bar.
This subtle change allows you to really open up the chest and stretch out all of the fibers and connective tissues. Thi is something else we typically do not focus on during usual chest workouts.
If you’re unable to lift your bodyweight for the desired amount of reps, commit to as many as you can. Alternatively, use a resistance band looped around the bar directly above you and perform the movement.
Keep the movement as fluid and smooth as possible. Focus on your breathing, exhaling as you lift up, and inhaling as you lower back down.
I remember one of the first times that I really felt my chest pumped. Before picking up my first weight, it was in a science class at school. It was based around performing a number of different exercises for 60 seconds. For some reason, I believed I could push my body weight up and down for a full minute rather than jump rope for the same amount of time. I may have missed the point of the teacher about energy expenditure. But I experienced my chest pump up in a way like never before.
With this variation of a push up, you maneuver left and right over a medicine ball. Lower yourself down on one side of the ball with one hand positioned upon the ball and the other on the floor. Follow by the a reversal as you pass over to the other side.
Unlike the majority of most chest exercises, this movement forces each side of the chest to work at different range of motions. With the right hand on top of the medicine ball, your left hand is on the floor and lower than the right by at least 6-8 inches. This translates that your one pectoral gets a much deeper stretch than the other one.
Just like with all the exercises and movements within this workout, the focus is on detail within the chest and not simply size or strength. Think of it as filling in the cracks within your typical training routine. This enhances not just the aesthetic qualities of your physique, but also the flexibility & health of your joints and greater mobility. After all, you owe it to your body to look after it and have it perform at its best.