Fitness & Exercise
7 Best Chest Exercises for Men
Build Chest Brawn
Exercises that define and sculpt your chest help you look your best at the beach or the gym and lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. On top of all that, while you improve your look, you lift your mood too.
Here’s a look at the best exercises to build your strength and size and replace unwanted chest padding with muscle.
Versatility and Moderation Count
Include a mix of exercises in which you press, lift, and pull to work your upper, middle, and lower chest muscles. If you’re a beginner, start low and slow: 1 to 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps. Increase to 8 to 12 reps as you build strength. Be sure to rest for 60 to 90 seconds between exercises.
When lifting weights—whether it’s machine, kettlebells, barbells, or dumbbells—avoid injury and pain by hefting just enough weight to fatigue you after your first set of reps. If you’re struggling, reduce the weight. There’s no magic beginning number. The weight should match your body size, strength, and experience.
The Top 3
In a study for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), researchers at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse used electromyography (EMG) to measure pectoral activation in nine chest exercises:
- barbell bench press
- bent-forward cable crossovers
- seated chest press
- incline dumbbell flys
- pec deck
- suspended push-ups
- stability-ball push-ups
- standard push-ups
Results showed that the barbell bench press is the most effective chest toning exercise, coming in at 100 percent pectoral muscle activation. The pec deck comes in second at 98 percent, followed by the bent-forward cable crossover at 93.
#1: Barbell Bench Press
Position yourself on the bench with your feet firmly on the ground and your back flat. (The bar should be directly over your eyes, and your head, shoulders, and buttocks should be on the bench.)
Grasp the barbell with palms forward and thumbs wrapped around the bar. Move the bar into starting position, with help from a spotter if needed. Position the bar over your chin or upper chest, keeping your elbows and wrists straight.
Inhale, and lower the bar slowly until it just touches your chest below your armpits. As you lower, flare your elbows out slightly to build pectoral strength. Next, exhale and press the bar up, keeping your wrists straight and your back flat.
#2: Do the Pec Deck with Caution
Resist the urge to add extra weight—you’ll increase your risk of injury. This exercise isn’t for you if you have had a shoulder injury.
Your feet should be flat on the floor, at least shoulder width apart. With your back firmly against the pad, lift your elbows until they reach shoulder level. (The angle of your elbows should be between 75 and 90 degrees.) Place your elbows on the center of the pad on the wings of the machine.
With smooth and slow movement, push the wings together, stopping just before they touch. Reverse to the starting position using control.
#3: Bent Forward Cable Crossover
You need a high pulley machine for this exercise. You can do this exercise either with your feet planted hip-width apart, or with one in front of the other as if you are walking. Be sure that your hands are below your shoulders and your elbows are crooked a bit.
Make your movements slow and controlled—no jerking—as you bring your hands together and extend your arms. For a wider arc and more resistance, move your arms down first and then in toward each other to cross one hand over the other. (Avoid overextending the cross.)
Bring your arms slowly back to the starting position with control.
The Next Best Thing
After the top three chest exercises, the next most effective are the chest press machine, inclined dumbbell flys, and dips. The chest press achieves 79 percent muscle activation, and both the inclined dumbbell flys and dips were measured at 69 percent activation.
Press On for Chest Definition
Adjust the chest press bench so that you sit with knees bent slightly and your feet on the floor. Grasp the handles, and exhale as you push them away until your arms are straight out. Keep your elbows slightly bent. As you inhale, pull the bars toward you slowly and with control, without letting the weights touch.
Inclined Dumbbell Flys
Incline the bench at an angle of 45 to 60 degrees. Take a dumbbell in each hand and lie on the bench, feet firmly on the floor. Press your shoulders, back, head, and buttocks to the bench. Position the dumbbells near your chest and armpits with your palms facing. Keep your wrists straight. Exhale, pull in your abs, and slowly press the dumbbells up to a position directly above your chest. Your arms should be shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows straight but not locked. Inhale and lower the dumbbells slowly in a wide arc until they are level with your chest. Keep the dumbbells parallel. “Fly” the dumbbells toward the ceiling in the same gentle arc.
Grasp the dip bars firmly and lift your body. Keep your elbows straight, your head in line with your trunk, and your wrists in line with your forearms. Bring one leg across the other to stabilize the lower part of your body, and pull in your abs. Exhale, and bend your elbows to lower your body. Keep your elbows at your sides. Your legs should be directly under your body to avoid tilting or swinging. Lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle and your upper arms are parallel with the floor. Keep your wrists straight. Pause, and then straighten your elbows, pushing into the bars with your hands, and return to starting position. Keep your body vertical and your wrists straight.
Drop and Give Me a Firm Chest
No equipment at home and no time for gym visits? No problem. The ordinary push-up, the bane of military recruits and the pride of accomplished gym rats, provides 61 percent chest muscle activation. That’s significantly less than the bench press, but push-ups offer convenience and triple the muscle-building benefits: they strengthen your chest, arms, and shoulders.
Get the most from your push-ups by paying close attention to your form. Tighten your abdominals, keep your back flat, and keep your elbows close to your sides. With your hands directly under your shoulders, lower yourself slowly and with control, and then press up. The only equipment you need is the mirror in which you admire your newly toned chest.