Best Exercises for Chest Development [EXPERT GUIDE]
Dream of a stronger, thicker chest? Want to increase your bench press but just can’t seem to make it happen?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Many people struggle to develop their chest and even find that they hit frequent training plateaus when they are training.
In this guide, we are going to break down the importance of training the chest, how you train it best and which exercises are most effective.
Let’s get into it.
Why Bother Training Chest?
Do I really need to explain this one? Beach season, looking great in a dress shirt, and having optimal strength in a gym setting – building strength in the chest is a very important asset in your life.
Moving past how the chest looks great when it is well built, the chest is a muscular system that accounts for most of the movement in the shoulder. It is either the main muscle or a synergistic muscle to assist other movements.
Due to the position of where the pectoralis major inserts (humerus), the chest muscles have a large impact on most ranges of motion at the shoulder.
In other words, if your chest is weak, you may have a better range of motion, but you will also find that you struggle to grow stronger in other shoulder exercises.
What am I getting at here?
The chest is not just a muscle that you should pay attention to due to its look and size, it is also a highly functional muscle that is used in most of your big lifts and is essential for healthy shoulders.
Take time to work your chest in a way that it balances out the rest of your upper body. Believe me, there is a happy medium between a big chest and a functional strength.
How to Train The Chest
Most guys know that the chest can be trained in the bench press – but why is that? In most cases, pushing movements start with the power in your triceps – which is why most guys won’t have weak triceps, but how does the crest factor in with pushing movements – like the bench press?
As we talked about before, the biggest muscle in the chest (pectoralis major) inserts on the humerus and originates on the sternum.
This means in any pushing movement where the shoulder joint it being pulled back, stretching the chest and a contraction occurs – you will be training the muscles.
With this in mind, training the chest has many, many avenues. It isn’t just about how much you can bench. In order to properly train the chest, we should look to train in all ranges of motion at variable inclines. This will help to pool blood and stress the muscle in all aspects of the muscle.
Cable flies – high and low, chest presses – high and low, even dips with varying intensities can help to improve your strength and workload when you are training the chest for optimal strength.
Best Exercises For Training the Chest
When it comes to training the chest we should always remember that it is a relatively large muscle system which means that (in most cases) the more weight we use the more stress we will put on the muscle – which is good.
Here are the best exercises for training the chest:
The could be the best of the best when it comes to training for optimal strength and size. The incline press does a very good job of isolating the chest while providing you with very good translatable strength.
If you choose to use the incline bench in your strength program just keep in mind that it does put a lot of stress on the shoulder so keep your volume a little lower than normal – perhaps 1-2x a week at a max and less than 8 reps per set.
We all know this one – but far too many of us get caught up with wanting to go heavy on bench and they neglect the fly. Using the fly will help to provide you with strength through a complete range of motion and will also help to ensure that you are training your body to stretch and contract properly.
On top of those benefits, you will also notice that you almost solely concentrate your force to isolate the chest and do not have very much help from the triceps or shoulder. I’d recommend using the fly as an exercise for conditioning or burning out the chest at the end of a workout.
There really might not be a better bodyweight exercise for hitting most of the muscles in your upper body. The dip is a great exercise to hit the chest, shoulders, triceps and even requires a decent amount of core strength.
Understand that the dip has a similar mechanic to the incline press you should make sure to keep your volume in check and never do this exercise unless you are warm and mobile.
The dip will also be best utilized when you train for power. By this, I mean lowering yourself to the bar slowly and exploding up to your top-range of motion on every rep.
Low Cable Raise
This is one of the hardest exercises to do right – but if you can lock it down you will have a very effective exercise for chest development.
The low cable raise is an exercise that you can use to develop strength in the anterior shoulder and chest at a very low intensity. Again this is one of the exercises where you could load up on weight, but it really wouldn’t be recommended. Instead, you’d be much better off to exercise with a lighter load and a slower rep speed. I this way you can ensure that you are growing stronger without putting excessive stress on the shoulder and entering injury territory.
Mastering Chest Development
When it comes to mastering your chest development you must always consider that this is a long-standing process. Sure you could see some pretty massive increases in strength in a couple of weeks – but is this really what you want?
I’d be willing to bet that you are reading this article because you simply want to get stronger and avoid pain. For many of the gym-goers that do not focus on volume or intensity, the pain will be a huge factor.
If you are considering stepping up your game to master your chest development you should take a look at the above exercises and develop a strong foundation of strength at a low volume and slowly work your way up.
Remember, this is a long-standing process that will takes time and dedication.
The shoulder and chest system can be delicate, and truth be told, there is no reason you should enter injury territory if you are smart about your training.
Related: How Heavy Should You Be Training?
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based and practical approach to Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello’s writings have been published in several languages on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who are in need of strength, mobility and conditioning programming to optimize their fitness through his Earned Fitness program.
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