The chest- it’s one of the primary parts of the human body. Essential for form and overall strength, the chest serves a critical purpose in your ongoing fitness journey.
In this post, we’ve compiled a complete list of chest building exercises.
Whether you’re looking for compound chest exercises, body-weight chest exercises, isolation exercises, or chest exercises with dumbbells – this list has it all!
Some of these chest workouts will build muscle bigger, faster, and stronger – like most compound exercises.
Other workouts will help you target muscle deficiencies or focus on your chest muscles if you’ve incurred injuries elsewhere – like the isolation exercises.
In our quick reference guide below each chest exercise includes a few crucial reminders and is linked to a how-to YouTube video to help you master the movement and form.
Let’s dive in!
Chest Building Exercises | Compound | Isolation | Bodyweight
Compound Chest Exercises
To say ‘chest day’ seems relatively simple and, to be honest, our pectoral muscles are not overly complicated. Yet one of the keys to a sculpted chest is the use of compound exercises.
The best compound chest exercises will target multiple muscle groups including the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, but will also engage parts of the arms, back, and shoulders.
Here are a few of the best compound exercises that you can tackle on your next gym session-
- Place your hands on the bar slightly wider than shoulder width apart
- Your forearms should be vertical, directly beneath the bar
- Maintain a slight arch in the lower back and flat feet throughout the motions
- The upper arms should be at a 45 degree angle to the body
- Be sure to pinch the shoulder blades together
- Keeping your elbows tucked slightly closer to the rib cage than with other variations
- Your foot placement can be forward or back, whichever you prefer
- Keep the core engaged to provide stability as you lower the bar
- Be sure to bring the bar over the body, do not keep it too high
- The bar should track towards the lower chest as it descends
- Push the bar straight up to avoid straining the shoulders
- Use a lower weight dumbbell in each hand to start as stabilization is more difficult than the barbell variation
- Bring the weight down towards the chest not the shoulders
- Don’t lower the weights too far! Stop when the elbows are at about 90 degrees
- The Bench should not be too high, you should feel majority of the strength coming from the upper chest, not the shoulders
- Keep the wrists straight and directly under the weight
- Be sure to put the weights down in a controlled manner! Otherwise you risk injury.
- The technique is very similar to other dumbbell press exercises but the motion is slightly different
- Bring the weights slightly wide of the body on the way down
- As you bring the weights back up to the starting position bring the dumbbells together so they are nearly touching
- Adjust the seat so the handles are about in line with your nipples
- Be sure the bar is set to a comfortable starting position, you shouldn’t have to stretch back too much to grip the handles
- Don’t let the wrist bend as you push the weight, keep them inline with your forearms
- Lean forward to help target the chest
- Keep the shoulder blades tight together
- Engage the core and maintain controlled movements throughout the exercise
- Stand so your knees are about shoulder width apart
- The starting position of the bar should be just below the chin
- Be sure to get the full range of motion bringing the elbows to the chest and fully extending
- Be sure that your form for the push up is perfected before adding weight
- Connect the weight to your waist using the proper belt and clip
- Spread the fingers for added stability and control
- Hand placement should be just on the edge of the textured grip
- The elbows should descend close to the torso and not flared
- The bar should descend to where the ribs meet, lower than the usual flat bench or incline bench exercises
- Get a strong comfortable grip before starting
- The motion should come from a rotation of the shoulders and a slight bend in the elbows
- Engage your chest and lats as you bring the dumbbell over the body
- Before adding weight to the bar do one repetition to check the placement of the bench
- Keep the form the same as the barbell bench press
- The smith machine can help to relieve some of the tension put on the shoulders, it’s an excellent choice if you have previous shoulder injuries
Isolation Chest Exercises
- Begin with a relatively light weight to get down the form first
- The dumbbells should be positioned over the center of the chest
- Bend the elbows slightly as you lower the weights
- Squeeze the pectorals as you return to the starting position
- Keep your palms facing directly inward
- Maintain a slight bend in the elbows
- Don’t lower the weights too far! Arms should stop when they are about parallel to the floor
- Great exercise for building a big chest
- Keep your feet flat on the ground and a slight arch in the back
- The dumbbells should track in line with the chest the entire time, don’t alter the angle or direction
- Use the D-Handle attachment for the cables
- Stagger your feet to improve balance
- Your arms should start perpendicular to the floor and track slightly lower as you bring your hands forward
- Make sure to keep the arms straight throughout the exercise
- Perform this exercise with pulleys in the high position
- Keep the heady and body in line and straight
- Bring the arms down to meet in front of your waist
- Keep the upper arms parallel to the floor
- The pushing force should come from the elbows not the hands
- Squeeze the chest as much as you can and hold tension for a moment
- Set the pulleys to the lowest level
- Keep the feet planted on the floor
- As you raise the weights bring the palms nearly touching to fully isolate the chest muscles
- The incline bench can be set at about 45 degrees
- Bring the arms up and slightly forward
- Don’t allow the weights to touch down, keep tension the entire time
- Excellent for isolating the lower chest
- Maintain the same bend in the elbows the entire time
- Keep a fluid motion, make sure it doesn’t turn into a chest press movement
- Set the pulleys at about waist height
- Maintain a slight bend in your knees throughout the workout
- The torso can pivot during the motion but make sure to utilize the chest as well
- Step forward and stagger your stance for balance
- Your arms start low and should come forward and upward during the repetition
- The arms should be extended and level with the chest at the ending position
- Use your trunk and core to maintain balance
- Be sure to use a lighter weight than you use for other bench press exercises
- Incredible workout for toning stabilizer muscles
- Similar form to barbell and dumbbell chest press workouts
- It can be slightly more difficult to maintain form as you are pushing forward and not up
- To counteract this use slow and controlled movements
- Set up with the pulleys on the low attachment and the bench at 45 degrees
- The palms should face forward towards your feet
- Get the full range of motion and really contract the chest at the top of the repetition
- Use the military bench for this exercise
- The elbows start high with your upper arms perpendicular to the floor
- Push your arms forward and down towards your knees
Body-Weight Chest Exercises
- Hands should be spread about shoulder width apart for this push up
- Keep your body straight, don’t allow the hips to rise or fall
- As you slowly lower your body keep your elbows tucked in to the torso
- Hot tip: imagine pushing the floor away rather than pushing your body up
- When the hands are placed wider it focuses more on the pecs and will help to build a bigger chest
- Hands should be wider than shoulder width
- If you begin to feel stress in your shoulders your hand placement may be too wide
- Aim for 3-4 sets of 20-30 reps with a short rest period, you can do it!
- The narrow grip push up will incorporate the shoulders and triceps as well
- Place your hands beneath your chest
- Keep your elbows tucked but they may need to flare slightly as you lower your body
- An incline push up will isolate the upper chest more than other push ups
- The form is nearly identical to a regular push up but you place your hands on a raised platform
- Keep your upper arms at about 45 degrees
- The opposite of the incline push up this will focus more on the lower pecs
- Place your feet on a stable raised surface like a step box, flat bench, etc.
- Engage the core to maintain a straight body and neutral spine
- Lower your body until your forehead nearly touches the ground
- The archer pushup is a fun and challenging alternative to other push ups
- Hand position should be slightly wider than your shoulders
- Shift your body to one side and bend at the same sides elbow to lower yourself
- Keep the opposite arm straight and at 90 degrees to your body
- In addition to the chest the diamond push up will truly engage your triceps
- Touch your index fingers and thumbs to create a diamond shap with your hands
- As you lower your body the ‘diamond’ should come to the center of your chest
- Avoid allowing your elbows to flare
- The deep push up will extend the range of motion and allow you to drop further than other push ups allow
- The form is similar to that of a regular push up
- Place hands and feet on a raised platform with a gap in the center to allow your torso to drop deeper than the floor would normally allow
- Utilize various items such as chairs, benchs, stools, and stepping boxes
- This is one of the most advanced push up techniques so be sure to take your time
- You have to have a wide foot stance to compensate for the ‘missing’ arm
- Keep the working arm in the usual position, don’t move it to the center
- Really tense the core which will increase stability and help to keep a rigid form
- Body weight flys are done by using EZ curl bars or barbells as rollers
- Place a small weight plate on one end of the bars
- Start with the bars and your hands near the center of the chest and slowly roll them outwards in a controlled manner
- Bend the elbows slightly and engage the chest to roll the bars inwards
- There a few different variations of dips you can perform, some focus more on chest where others isolate the triceps
- Moving the hips back and leaning forward will concentrate on the chest more
- Don’t fully extend and lock the elbows, keep tension the entire time
- Flare the elbows slightly and roll the shoulders back as you lower the body
Chest Exercises With Dumbbells
For convenient reference, we created a list just for dumbbell chest exercises. You can find the links and key points in the list above!
How To Use This List Of Chest Exercises
Gym-goers should start with the chest compound exercises list.
These will comprise the foundation of your chest workout. Pick 3-4 compound chest exercises for your chest-focused training.
Give them all a try and see which ones you’re most comfortable with.
Some exercises just won’t resonate with you—and that’s fine! It’s up to you to pick and choose and discover which work for you and which don’t.
Part of the reason we created this exhaustive list is so you can pick and choose what you like.
Next, choose 1-2 isolation chest exercises. You don’t need to include these in every workout, but they’re great for overcoming plateaus, muscle imbalances, and recovering from injuries.
And if you only have access to dumbbells, use the convenient list of dumbbell exercises above.
If you don’t have access to a gym or any weights, build your workout with the bodyweight chest exercises.
Most of these are compound movements, engaging most of your upper body. They’re a great alternative for those times when you want to (or need to) go equipment-free.
Now that you’ve seen the vast amount of chest exercises at your disposal lets look at the importance of the pectorals and how to target them in more detail.
The Best Chest Exercises According To Gym Experts
Although you can do plenty of different exercises to work your chest, a select few are worth the title of the “best chest exercises.” We think these include the following:
Barbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Bench Press
The incline and neutral barbell and dumbbell bench press are the best compound chest exercises.
These exercises put maximum strain on your pec muscles and engage your arms and core as well, and get you outstanding results, fast.
So, what are you waiting for? Use this list to find the exercises you enjoy the most!
Get to work and start building the chest of your dreams.
Our team at The Fitness Tribe often collaborates together to produce content. Many times the content is not written by a single author, instead it is usually a team effort.