Top 10 Chest Workouts to Build Strength

The chest muscles are important for functional everyday movement patterns such as moving your arms up and down and across your body. Strong chest muscles, or "pecs," provide a foundation for many different exercises and athletic sports. These are the top 10 exercises to build strength in your chest muscles.

1

Push-Ups

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Watch Now: How To Do a Push Up

One of the most common chest exercises is the push-up. The push-up is an excellent way to work the chest without equipment. It's also a favorite because it's a compound movement that involves multiple muscles and joints. That means it doesn't just work the chest, it also involves the arms, shoulders, core, and legs.

For working the chest muscles as well as the arms and core, there's nothing like a good old-fashioned push-up. This traditional version is a great way to work the upper body without equipment.

  1. Get down on your hands and knees, positioning the hands a bit wider than the shoulders.
  2. Push the knees up so that you're resting on the hands and toes. Keep the abs engaged and make sure your body is in a straight line from head to heels.
  3. Bend the elbows and lower into a push-up until your elbows are at about 90 degrees.
  4. Press back to start and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps.

Tips

  • Don't lead with your chin. Keep your head down so that your neck is in alignment with the rest of your body throughout the movement.
  • Avoid sagging in the middle. If you do, lower to your knees.
  • Strengthening the core can help provide more stability.
2

Modified Push-Ups

This modified version of the push-up, on the knees, gives the back and upper body extra support. If you're a beginner or don't have as much upper body strength, this is a good move to start with.

  1. Start on all fours with hands a bit wider than the shoulders.
  2. Walk the knees back a bit in order to lean your weight on your hands and flatten the back from the head down to the back of the knees.
  3. Pull the abs in, and keeping back straight, bend the elbows and lower body toward the floor until elbows are at 90-degree angles.
  4. Push back up and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps.

Tips

  • Don't lead with your chin. Keep your head down so that your neck is in alignment with the rest of your body throughout the movement.
  • Avoid sticking the rear up in the air in order to make the exercise easier.
3

Push-Ups on an Exercise Ball

An exercise ball can add a different element to traditional push-ups, making them easier or harder, depending on where you position it. For instance, you could prop your feet up on the ball, which is a more advanced push-up.

If you need a modification, make this move easier by moving the ball up (so that the shins or thighs are resting on the ball).

  1. Kneel on the floor with the ball in front of you and roll forward on it, walking the hands out to where you can comfortably support your body with the abs in, shoulders retracted and the body in a straight line.
  2. Place the hands a bit wider than your shoulders and check to make sure you're not sagging in the middle. If you are, try rolling back a bit for more support.
  3. Bend the elbows and lower down until your elbows are at about 90 degrees.
  4. Press back to start and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps.

Tips

  • Don't lead with your chin. Keep your head down so that your neck is in alignment with the rest of your body throughout the movement.
  • Reposition the ball as needed to give yourself more support. Keeping the ball under the hips or upper thighs will provide the most support for the body.
  • Keep the body in a straight line. Don't sag in the middle, and don't let your shoulder blades ride up. Your upper back should be flat.
  • To modify, try this move on your knees or on your toes.
4

Push-Up With a Medicine Ball

The nice thing about push-ups, besides all the muscles they work, is that there are so many variations that you can always find a version that works for you. This exercise is great for the upper body, but it's also great for the core.

Elevating one hand on a medicine ball adds a new challenge, and rolling the ball from hand to hand engages the abs and adds a dynamic element you don't often get with traditional push-ups.

  1. Get into a push-up position on the knees (easier) or the toes (more difficult). Make sure the body is in a straight line with the abs in and the back straight.
  2. Place one hand on a medicine ball and keep the other on the floor. Get your balance and then lower into a push-up.
  3. Push back up and roll the ball across the floor to the other hand and lower into a push-up.
  4. Continue rolling the ball back and forth for each push-up for 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps.

Tips

  • You can often find soft medicine balls which make this move a bit easier.
  • Keep the body in alignment. By elevating one hand, you may not have the same range of motion, so only lower as far as you comfortably can while maintaining good form.
  • Keep the body in a straight line. Don't sag in the middle, and don't let your shoulder blades ride up. Your upper back should be flat.
5

Barbell Bench Press

The bench press is another great standard move for the large muscles of the chest. The shoulders and triceps are also involved in this exercise, making this a compound movement. For a variation, try this on an incline bench, which will target the upper part of the chest.

  1. Lie down on a bench, step, or the floor. Begin with the barbell hovering just over the chest with your elbows bent. Place your hands on the bar a bit wider than your shoulders.
  2. Contract the chest and push the weight straight up over the chest until the arms are fully extended and elbows are locked.
  3. Bending the elbows, lower the weight down until the barbell touches your chest. Usually, this will mean your elbows are just below the level of the chest.
  4. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Tips

  • Keep the abs contracted throughout the movement to protect your back.
  • Keep the motion slow and controlled—try not to use momentum.
6

Dumbbell Chest Press

Doing a chest press with dumbbells instead of a barbell can add a different element to your chest exercises since both arms now have to work independently from one another. This is great for working both sides of the body, and the dumbbell chest press makes a nice complement to the barbell exercise.

  1. Lie down on a bench or step and begin with the weights in each hand straight up over the chest. Hold the dumbbells as if they are one barbell (in a straight line perpendicular to the body). Or use a neutral grip, where the palms are facing one another.
  2. Bend the elbows and lower the arms down until the elbows are just below the chest (arms should look like goal posts).
  3. Press the weights back up, completely extending the arms, and bring the weights closer together.
  4. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Tips

  • Keep the abs contracted throughout the movement to protect your back.
  • Keep the motion slow and controlled and try not to use momentum.
7

Standing Chest Press With Resistance Bands

Using a resistance band is a great way to target the chest in a different way and change things up when the usual exercises get a little dull. The band can actually make this exercise feel tougher, but you always have control over the level of tension by standing closer or further away from the center of the band.

  1. Wrap the band around something stable behind you and hold handles in both hands so that the bands run along the inside of the arms.
  2. Position yourself far enough away so that you have tension on the bands.
  3. Begin the movement with the arms bent, palms facing down.
  4. Squeeze your chest muscles and press your arms straight out in front of you, keeping the band stable.
  5. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Tips

  • Don't let the elbows go too far back as you bring the arms in. This could strain the shoulders, and you want to keep all the work in the chest.
  • Keep the motion slow and controlled—try not to use momentum.
  • Adjust your position or loop the bands around your hands if you need more tension.
8

Chest Fly With Dumbbells

The chest fly is another way to work the major muscles of the chest with a focus on the outer part of the chest. Flies make a nice complement to both chest presses and push-ups because those moves are compound; the fly is an isolation movement.

  1. Lie on the floor, bench, or step. Hold weights over the chest with the palms facing each other.
  2. Keeping the elbows slightly bent, lower the arms out to the sides and down until they're level with the chest.
  3. Keep the elbows in a fixed position and avoid lowering the weights too low.
  4. Squeeze your chest to bring the arms back up as though you're hugging a tree.
  5. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps.

Tips

  • Do this exercise on a ball to add a balance challenge.
  • Use lighter weights. You should also take care when lowering the arms down to avoid hurting the shoulders or losing control of the weights.
9

Chest Squeeze With a Medicine Ball

The chest squeeze is a subtle move and more of an isometric exercise that works the chest and shoulder muscles. While this isn't the most intense exercise, it's a great way to warm up the chest before other exercises.

  1. Sit up straight on an exercise ball or chair with your back straight and abs pulled in.
  2. Hold a medicine ball at chest level with your arms bent at 90 degrees and squeeze the ball to contract the chest.
  3. While continuing to squeeze the ball, slowly extend the arms, pushing the ball out in front of you until the arms are straight.
  4. Keep steady pressure on the ball throughout the movement.
  5. Bring the ball back toward the chest and repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 10 to 16 reps.

Tips

  • Add this move on at the end of your chest work to get a little extra fatigue in the muscles.
  • You can also lower your hands to about 45 degrees to target your lower pectorals.
10

Chest Press With Dumbbells (Alternating)

This variation of the traditional dumbbell chest press is more challenging than it seems, especially if you do it on an exercise ball. By alternating the arms, you add a new dynamic to the move where you have to engage your core to keep the body stable.

When doing this version, you may need to go lighter on the weights. You might also want to try it on a bench or floor before moving on to an exercise ball.

  1. Lie down on a bench, step, ball, or the floor. Begin with the weights in each hand straight up over the chest, dumbbells perpendicular to your body.
  2. Keep the left arm in place while bending the right elbow and lowering the arm down until it's at or just below the chest (the arm should look like a goal post).
  3. Press the arm back up until it is fully extended. Then immediately repeat the move on the left arm while keeping the right arm in place.
  4. Continue alternating sides, engaging the abs to keep the torso from moving.
  5. Repeat for 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 16 reps on each arm.

Tips

  • Keep the abs contracted throughout the movement to protect your back.
  • Keep the motion slow and controlled—try not to use momentum.
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