10 Great Exercises for Strengthening and Conditioning the Chest

Develop a Big and Strong Chest

woman doing horizontal dumbbell chest press
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A strong, built chest not only looks good but it also enhances upper-body strength for a range of activities, especially in contact, and combat sports. It is important not to neglect the chest muscles and the structure on which they depend.

Incline Press

Do this with a barbell or dumbbells. Use a standard adjustable bench at an angle of around 45-60 degrees. This exercise is best done with dumbbells but you could use a barbell if you have an appropriate bench frame.

A Smith machine can also be used. The incline press works the upper part of the big chest muscle, the Pectoralis major, as well as the front deltoid of the shoulder and the triceps.

Bench Press

This is the standard horizontal bench press, which is usually performed on a non-adjustable bench, unlike the incline and decline presses. The flat bench press gives you a more complete workout of the pectoralis muscles. (The incline press bulks up upper part of the pecs, which is often underdone.) You can also use the vertical chest press machine for variety.

Decline Press

With the decline press the bench rest is adjusted down so that your upper body declines at an angle. Doing presses on the decline targets a very specific part of the pectoralis -- the inside groove of the big pecs, which is highly regarded by bodybuilders for symmetrical chest development. You can also do this exercise on a Smith machine.

In fact some exercisers prefer to do it on a Smith machine. 

Parallel Bar Dips

Although dips are traditional exercises for the triceps muscles of the back of the arms, the parallel bar dip hits the pecs as well, more so when the chest is forward than upright. Various dip machines are available, some require you to support your bodyweight, others have your feet on the ground.

Dumbbell Chest Press

The dumbbell press is a good exercise to mix in with the barbell bench press because the enhanced range of motion stretches the pectoralis muscles more than the regular bench press. Tight pecs can result in a tear, which is not a trivial injury. Lie flat on a bench and push dumbbells up ensuring no rotation takes place.

Flys (Dumbbell, Cable and Pec Deck)

Flys are exercises in which loaded arms are abducted and adducted across the chest. You can do this with a bench and dumbbells, with cables in a cable frame, or with a Pec Deck machine. Flys are excellent for chest expansion as well as hitting the Pectoralis major.

Incline Dumbbell Flys

Perhaps the best of the fly exercises is the incline dumbbell fly. Don't use weights that are too heavy with this exercise in order to protect shoulders and pecs. Do 10-15 reps.

Push-Ups

The humble push-up is useful for giving the chest a workout when you don't have access to weights or machines. The push-up works on the shoulders and triceps as well.

Dumbbell and Barbell Pullovers

Pullovers are not pull-ups, nor are they triceps extensions or skull-crushers. Face up on a bench, you hold a light barbell above the eyes, with an overhand grip and hands shoulder width apart. Slowly lower the barbell behind the head with arms outstretched and return to starting position. This is a great exercise for working the chest, triceps and some back muscles as well. 

Good Form and Good Sense

Unless you're training to be a competition powerlifter, there is no need to push the boundaries of your maximum lift with chest exercises, especially if shape and size is your main goal. Injury should of course aim to be avoided, as chest muscle and shoulder injuries can be painful and take some time to fix.

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