Muscles grow best when you load them— the heavier the stress, the more they grow. You can load and build the chest muscles better when you do multiple joint exercises, such as bench presses and incline presses. These exercises allow you to use heavy weights and overload the chest muscles to the max. They also build accessory muscles, such as the triceps and deltoids, that allow you to work the chest muscles harder. Finish off your chest-building program by doing exercises that isolate the chest muscles, such as incline dumbbell flyes and pec deck flyes.
The bench press is a mainstay for developing the pecs, deltoids and triceps. This is an important exercise because you can overload your pecs and develop upper-body strength better than with almost any other exercise.
Lie on the bench with your feet flat on the floor. Grasp the bar slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Move the bar from the rack to a point over your chest. Lower the bar in a straight line slightly below your nipples (end of the breastbone). Push the weight straight up to the starting position.
Most people use poor technique when doing the bench press. Use the major muscles in your body to assist with this lift— tighten the muscles in your legs, abs and back and squeeze your shoulder blades together. When lowering the bar to your chest, inhale and expand your chest and belly. This will help you generate more power during the lift.
Keep your elbows in so your upper arms are at 45º angles to the sides of your body. Bench pressing with your elbows sticking out places too much strain on your shoulders, and reduces power. As you push the bar upward, contract your glutes, press your feet into the floor and drive the bar upward explosively, exhaling as you perform the lift.
This is an excellent exercise for developing mass in the upper chest. Do it on an incline bench with a built-in rack. Use a spotter— even when lifting a light weight— because when setting up for the exercise, you grasp the bar with your shoulders externally rotated, which is a vulnerable position. The spotter will protect your shoulders from injury.
Lie or sit on the incline bench and grasp the bar slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Have the spotter assist you to move the bar directly over your upper chest. Lower the bar to your upper chest and press the bar to the starting position. Use the same techniques described for the bench press for increasing power during the lift.
LIFT #3: INCLINE DUMBBELL PRESS
This exercise is excellent for isolating and balancing the muscles of the upper chest. Grasp the dumbbells and sit or lie on the incline bench. Place the right-hand dumbbell on your lower quad and boost it to chest level using your thigh. Do the same with the left-hand dumbbell. Keeping the dumbbells high on your chest, press them overhead and then return to the starting position.
LIFT #4: INCLINE HAMMER PRESS
Doing inclines on this machine helps build the upper chest because you get a superior overload without having to balance the weights.
LIFT #5: INCLINE DUMBBELL FLYE
This exercise is good for isolating the upper chest. Lie on the incline bench holding the dumbbells together at arms length, elbows bent slightly and palms facing each other. Lower the dumbbells to the side of your chest and in line with your ears. Return to the starting position using same path. Keep your chest high and your head on the bench.
LIFT #6: PEC-DECK FLYE
This exercise is also excellent for isolating the pecs. Sit on the machine with your back flat against the seat. Adjust the wings at 90 degrees. Place your forearms on the pads and draw the wings toward the middle until they touch. Return to the starting position.
LIFT #7: CABLE CROSSOVER
This is a good exercise for building the upper-body muscles. Also, you build the core muscles— the abs, back and side muscles— because they must stabilize your spine when doing the exercise.
Grasp the handles of the upper pulleys and extend your arms upward in a “V” with palms facing downward. Bend your arms slightly and bend at the waist. Pull the handles downward until your hands touch each other at about waist level; return slowly to the starting position.
Brooks, G.A., T.D. Fahey, K. Baldwin. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004. 4th edition.
Elliott B. C., G. J. Wilson and G. K. Kerr. A biomechanical analysis of the sticking region in the bench press. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 21: 450-462, 1989.
Fahey, T.D. Basic Weight Training for Men and Women. New York: McGraw Hill, 2004. 5th edition.
Gibala M. J. Nutritional supplementation and resistance exercise: What is the evidence for enhanced skeletal muscle hypertrophy? Can J Appl Physiol, 25: 524-535, 2000.
Rodrigues J. A., M. L. Bull, G. A. Dias, M. Goncalves and J. F. Guazzelli. Electromyographic analysis of the pectoralis major and deltoideus anterior muscles in horizontal “flyer” exercises with loads. Electromyogr Clin Neurophysiol, 43: 413-419, 2003.
Tarpenning K. M., R. A. Wiswell, S. A. Hawkins and T. J. Marcell. Influence of weight training exercise and modification of hormonal response on skeletal muscle growth. J Sci Med Sport, 4: 431-446, 2001.