Almost everyone who lifts weights would love to have a bigger and stronger chest.
The best chest workouts will help develop your pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, along with muscles that support chest exercises, such as the serratus anterior.
While there are dozens of excellent chest exercises that you can shuffle around to create varied chest workouts, in this guide, we have picked some of the best chest exercises and provided step-by-step instructions to help you perform them in your next chest workouts:
- Incline Bench Press
- Cable Iron Cross
- Dumbbell Chest Press
- High-to-Low Cable Fly
- Plate Press
- Push-Up With Hold
Let’s dive in!
How to Structure Chest Workouts
In general, there’s no right or wrong way to strengthen your chest or structure your chest workouts.
However, some of the best chest workouts could utilize a variety of strength training tools and forms of resistance rather than focusing solely on dumbbells or weight machines.
Performing different chest exercises with dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, cable machines, bodyweight, and other strength training equipment will help you provide a varied training stimulus to your chest muscles to maximize your strength and muscle gains.
When doing chest workouts for strength, aim for 2-6 sets of 3-5 reps, with at least 85% of your one-repetition maximum (1RM) for the load. The fewer reps you perform, the closer to 100% of your 1RM you should strive for.
For chest workouts for hypertrophy (muscle growth), aim to perform three sets of each exercise, using loads that are 70 to 85% of your 1RM for 8 to 12 reps.
The Ultimate Chest Workout
Here are some of the best chest exercises for strength, mass, and power:
While dips are best known for targeting the triceps, it’s also a great chest-strengthening exercise.
Adding dips to your chest workouts is an effective way to see some transferable improvements in your bench press, push-ups, and other pressing lifts because the pecs and triceps work synergistically with any pressing exercise.Doing upright dips on parallel bars requires pressing up your entire body weight, which is more load than with a standard push-up.
As such, dips are even more effective at increasing strength and mass than push-ups. For chest workouts for mass, power, and strength, you can also add a weighted vest.
Here are the steps to perform this chest exercise:
- Lift your body onto the dip bars so your arms are straight, and lean your torso forward slightly.
- Lower your body by bending your elbows until your upper arms are roughly parallel to the floor.
- Push through your palms to raise your body back up to the starting position.
#2: Incline Bench Press
This is a great exercise for chest workouts for mass and strength.
The incline press targets the upper portion of the pectoralis major muscle, pec minor, and the deltoids in your shoulders.
Here are the steps for this chest-strengthening exercise:
- Place a bench inside the power cage or squat rack and set it at a 45-degree angle.
- Lie back on the bench and grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Lift the bar to unrack it and then raise it up as high as possible, being mindful not to bend your wrists as you lift.
- Slowly lower the bar back down towards your chest, keeping your elbows tucked into your sides rather than flared out, and your forearms should be vertical.
- Once the bar reaches chest level, press it back up for the next rep.
#3: Cable Iron Cross
Chest workouts often fail to include this nifty cable chest exercise, yet it’s a great strengthening exercise.
The large range of motion gives you more time under tension to increase your gains, and it’s a good chest opener as well.
Here are the steps for how to perform this cable machine chest exercise:
- Move the pulleys to the highest settings and stand in the center of the cable machine between the two cable uprights holding a handle in each hand.
- Stagger your stance with one foot in front of the other for balance.
- Hinge your hips so that your torso is leaned forward about 20 degrees, but keep your back straight and chest up.
- Keeping your arms neatly straight—just a slight bend in your elbows—pull both handles from high to low down and across your body by squeezing your chest muscles.
- Hold the squeeze at the end position where your arms are crossed over one another in front of your body for 2 to 3 seconds.
- Slowly return to the starting position with your arms out to the sides and nearly straight.
#4: Dumbbell Chest Press
The dumbbell chest press allows you to work each side of your pecs individually.
Plus, the dumbbell chest press is easier for beginners to learn and master and potentially safer than trying the barbell bench press in your chest workouts.
Note that to make this more of an inner chest exercise, bring your hands close together, and to make it a middle chest exercise, your hands should be roughly shoulder-width apart.
Here are the steps:
- Lie on your back on a weight bench with your knees bent to 90 degrees and feet flat on the floor.
- Grip the dumbbells so that your palms are facing away from your body, and bring each one into the chest press position so that your fist hovers roughly over the armpit on that side.
- Exhale as you press the dumbbell straight up into the air above your body.
- Inhale as you slowly lower them back down to your chest without fully touching them down.
#5: High-to-Low Cable Fly
This is one of the best chest exercises and should be a staple move when you are trying to put together the best chest workout for strength and mass.
Because of the angle of pull up to the high position, you have a great opportunity to really squeeze your inner pecs at the end range of motion to target your inner chest.
Here are the steps for this chest-building exercise:
- Set the handles on a dual cable station just above shoulder height.
- Grab a handle with each hand, with your thumbs pointing upward as you make a fist.
- Step into the center of the functional trainer or cable machine so that there is tension on both cables, lifting the weight stack. There should be tension on the cables throughout the duration of your set.
- Stagger your legs so that one foot is in front of the other. This is your starting position.
- Keeping just a very slight bend in your elbows, sweep your arms relatively parallel to the floor but dip them down slightly as they come across the front of your body and meet in the middle straight out in front of your chest.
- Pause and squeeze the end position for several seconds, focusing on contracting the inner portion of your pecs.
- Slowly return to the starting position, resisting the pull of the cables to control the movement yourself to maximize the eccentric strengthening phase of the exercise.
#6: Plate Press
Sometimes called the Svend press, the plate press is a good exercise to add to chest workouts for mass and strength.
It also strengthens your shoulders and can improve grip strength.
You can perform the exercise with a weight plate or with a dumbbell.
Here is how to do this exercise:
- Stand upright with good posture and your core and glutes engaged.
- Squeeze a weight plate between your two hands so that your palms are flat along either side of the plate, or hold a dumbbell vertically and stack your two hands on the handle.
- Begin with the weight in at your sternum and then press straight outward, holding the end position with your elbows locked out for several seconds before slowly bending your elbows to return to the starting position.
- Make sure to keep the weight parallel to the floor. Do not let the load cause your arms to dip downward.
#7: Push-Up With Hold
Push-ups are the classic bodyweight chest exercise.
Adding a hold at the bottom increases the intensity by requiring an isometric contraction. Instead of immediately pressing back up to the starting position, pause and hold yourself in the lowered position for 5 to 20 seconds.
Gradually increase the length of time for each isometric hold as well as the number of reps you do. Start with 3-5 reps with a 10-second hold and build up to 10-20 reps with up to a 30-second hold.
If you are doing chest workouts for power, you can also do clapping push-ups, where you press explosively into the ground once your chest is lowered down and then quickly clap your hands together under your chest before catching your body with your hands back on the ground.
For more chest workout ideas, check out a no-equipment chest workout here.