10 Great Chest Workouts for a Stronger Upper Body
Your chest is one of the biggest muscle groups in your upper body and it helps you perform tons of important movements. So if you’re looking for some chest workouts to show this area the love it deserves, well, we get it.
That’s why we’ve rounded up the 10 best chest workouts that target these frontside muscles and seriously strengthen your entire upper body. From a three-move routine to help you build push-up strength to a quick bodyweight chest workout at home to a sweaty upper-body and core routine, we’ve got you covered with a slew of super-effective chest workouts.
Now, when you hear chest workout, you may immediately think of push-ups. And while it’s true that push-ups are a stellar exercise for challenging and strengthening your chest muscles, they’re not the only option—not by any stretch. The best chest workouts feature a variety of exercises that target this muscle group from all angles, including push-ups, alternating chest presses, chest flys, plank up-downs, and much more.
Before you jump into these awesome workouts, there are some things you should know about chest strength and why it’s an oh-so-important part of your overall fitness. We tapped personal trainer Evan Williams, CSCS, founder of E2G Performance in Chicago, for intel on what muscles make up the chest, the benefits of strengthening your chest, and how often to incorporate chest work into your fitness routine.
What muscles make up the chest?
The chest is made up of two muscles: the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. They’re often referred to as the pecs or pec muscles.
The pectoralis major is the bigger chest muscle that attaches to your upper arm, spans across the chest to your collarbone, and connects to your sternum (the bone in the middle of your chest), as SELF previously reported. The pectoralis minor is the smaller chest muscle that sits underneath the pectoralis major and runs from your shoulder blade to your rib cage.
Why is having a strong chest so important?
Your chest makes up a good portion of your overall upper-body strength, Williams says. So if you want a strong upper body, having a strong chest is key. More specifically though, a strong chest is needed to perform any kind of pushing movement, both at the gym (think push-ups) and in day-to-day life (envision pushing a full grocery cart, or putting a heavy box back onto a shelf). By taking the time and effort to strengthen your chest, you can improve your pushing abilities in all scenarios.
And, because your chest plays an important role in good posture, strengthening your chest can help you stand up straighter, Williams says. Lastly, because your pecs help stabilize the shoulder joint, strengthening them can help improve your shoulder health and reduce risk of injury, Williams adds.
How often should you work your chest muscles?
As a general rule of thumb, Williams suggests doing chest-strengthening work about twice per week—though the right amount for you will depend on your current fitness level and goals. This can look like isolated chest work, but more realistically, you’ll make sure to hit these muscles doing upper-body workouts or total-body workouts, as long as they sufficiently work the pecs.
Just make sure to pencil in enough rest between sessions so your chest muscles have sufficient time to recover. Williams recommends a two-day break.
Chest workout tips
When doing your actual chest workout, there are a few important things to keep in mind to have the safest and most effective session possible.
First, always make sure to warm up beforehand so that you don’t jump in with tight, cold muscles. Properly warming up and lengthening your muscles can help improve your performance and reduce the risk of injury in your workout. (Here’s an easy upper-body warm-up you can try.)
Williams also suggests rolling or stretching out your pec minor before and after the workout. The pec minor, in particular, tends to get tight after chest strength work and as a result of poor posture, he says. You can help relieve some tightness by facing a wall (a doorway works particularly well), placing a lacrosse ball (or other similarly sized hard ball) on the pec minor (which is located underneath the shoulder on the front of the body, close to the armpit) and then pressing the ball against the wall to massage and lengthen the tissue.
During your chest workouts, no matter what chest exercise you’re doing, make sure that your shoulder blades are pulled down and back. This positioning will help activate your chest muscles and protect your shoulders, Williams says. Also, if you do chest exercises and feel too much tension in your shoulders, take a moment to either readjust your form or change the weight you’re using so that the tension redirects to your chest. Need some extra help activating your chest muscles? Try squeezing your pec muscles and abducting your arms (move them out to the sides away from your body), Williams says.
10 Best Chest Workouts
Ready to fire up your pecs and gain serious upper-body strength? Here are the 10 best chest workouts you can do at home with minimal to no equipment.