Chest Workout: 5 Most Effective Exercises to Build Muscle

Updated in February 2024

This workout plan targets the chest muscles and includes different types of exercises so that all chest muscles are stimulated while training. There are specific exercises you can try that focus on just one or two areas. When working out the chest, It is important to combine exercises that train different chest muscles so that your muscles can bulk up and grow evenly.

The pectoral muscles are a group of muscles that are divided into two parts: the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. Generally, normally, gym workouts will target the pectoralis major muscles, which are more visible and closer to the outer body. However, this muscle is further divided into 3 parts, the upper, the mid-area and lower areas. All of these should be worked out.

Just like with an strength-training exercises, your load or weight should be adapted to your individual capacity. Training with excess weight can lead to improper execution and form. It is important to know that developing muscle mass takes time, and is not done by simply increasing weight.

Your workout plan should involve at least 3 to 4 different exercises, which target both the pectoralis major and minor muscles. Ideally, you should pick any of the following exercises:

1. Inclined chest press with dumbbells

Targeted muscles: upper pectoralis major

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This exercise is done with a weight bench that is set at an incline (as guided by your trainer). Then you should:

  1. Lean your back on the inclined bench, holding dumbbells that are appropriate for you
  2. Stretch your arms perpendicularly above your body, almost touching the dumbbells to each other. Your elbows should be slightly flexed.
  3. Lower your arms until you feel your chest stretch and until your arms form a 90 degree angle. You should inhale with this movement.
  4. Raise your arms back to your starting position, exhaling as you lift the dumbbells.

You can do 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps, with 1 minute rests between each set. A good tip is to start with lighter weights and increasing weight gradually, aiming to decrease the number of reps you complete. For example, try completing set of 12-12-10-8 reps.

This exercise can also be completed on a normal bench without the incline, at a horizontal level. This will target the mid-pecs instead of the superior pecs.

2. Barbell chest press

Targeted muscle: mid-area pectoralis major

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This is one of the most traditional chest exercises, but it is also very complex and is very effective in developing the volume or mass of the mid-area pec and general pec. To complete this exercise correctly, you should:

  1. Adjust the bench to a horizontal position and lie on your back. 
  2. Hold the barbell with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Lower the barbell, flexing at the elbow until the bar taps your chest. Inhale while lowering.
  4. Straighten your arms once again, pushing the barbell away from you until your arms are completely stretched. You should exhale while raising the bar.

You should complete 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps, with a 1 minute rest between each set.

This exercise can be done with the help of another person, especially when you try to increase your weight, to prevent the barbell from falling on your chest. Alternatively, you can do this exercise with dumbbells.

3. Dips on parallel bars

Targeted muscles: lower pectoralis major

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Dips are very used to work out the tricep muscles, however a small change in this exercise can help to target the lower pecs. To do this exercise, you should:

  1. Hold the bars with your arms stretched below you and lift your feet from the floor, balancing your body weight in your hands
  2. Bend your arms slowly until you reach a 90 degree angle. Lean your body slightly forward.
  3. Stretch your arms below you again to return to your starting position.

You should complete 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps, with a 1 minute rest between each set.

With this exercise, it is important to lean your trunk forward when you lower to ensure your lower chest is the targeted muscle group.

4. Push-ups

Targeted muscle: mid-area pectoralis major

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An easy exercise that anyone can do at home is a push-up. It works out the mid-area pectoralis major and also strengthens the arms. To do this exercise, you should:

  1. Get into a plank position, with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  2. Flex your elbows and lower your chest to the floor, keeping your elbow facing out and your abdomen tight.
  3. Raise yourself back to your starting position.

You should complete 4 sets of 15 to 130 reps.

5. Cable cross-over

Targeted muscle: upper and mid-area pectoralis major

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This is a good exercise to finish off you chest workout. It works out both the upper and mid-area pectoralis major, as well as the region between the two pectoral muscles, creating even greater definition. You should use a cable machine for this exercise and follow the steps below:

  1. Hold both handles of the cable machine at shoulder- level.
  2. Pull the handles down, until your hands touch in front of your waist. Keep your elbows slightly flexed.
  3. Return to the initial position with your hands at shoulder-level.

You can complete 4 sets of 12 to 15 reps, with a 1 minute rest between each set.