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What are Different Types of Chest Exercises?

By Jessica Gore
Updated Feb 24, 2024
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Chest exercises are generally designed to target the pectoralis major, a large muscle responsible for the flexion and adduction of the arm. The pectoralis major works in conjunction with a smaller, deeper muscle, the pectoralis minor. Collectively, these paired muscles are often referred to simply as 'the pectorals.' Although each pectoralis major is a single unit, chest workouts often target specific areas of the chest as if they were separate entities.

Many chest exercises, such as the classic bench press, work the chest area in a general way. These movements represent an excellent starting point for those who are new to resistance training. Other exercises are used to target the inner, outer, and upper pectorals separately. Once training advances beyond the novice level, a well-balanced workout usually includes chest exercises that target each area of the chest individually.

The upper pectorals are usually worked by any chest exercises performed on an incline bench. Generally speaking, a steeper incline targets a higher section of the chest. For that reason, it is typically recommended that the bench be set between 35 and 50°, depending on personal preference and comfort. Incline bench presses, incline dumbbell presses, and incline flyes are all good choices to target the upper pectorals.

Inner pectoral development adds noticeable definition to the sternum area on both men and women. Once considered one of the hardest areas to target, the inner pectorals are best activated by movements that allow the arms to come together, or cross in front of the body, at the end of each repetition. Cable crossovers and pec deck machines are designed to make this motion possible. If these machines are not available, dumbbell flyes can be substituted to mimic the same motion.

Perhaps the most neglected area of the pectoral muscles, the outer chest, is nevertheless an important target point. A well-developed outer chest gives the appearance of a narrowed waist and acts to balance the hips. This particular region is well-targeted by chest exercises requiring a wide grip, such as the wide grip bench press, and wide grip dips on the parallel bars.

As balance is important in all weight-training programs, it is recommended that chest exercises be complemented by exercises that stimulate those muscles that work in cooperation with the pectorals. Synergists of the pectorals — those muscles that assist in the exercises above — include the biceps, triceps, deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles. Antagonists, those that carry out movements opposite to those of the chest, include the rhomboids and latissimus dorsi. These exercises can take place either during the same workout, or on an alternate day.

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Discussion Comments
By StarJo — On Apr 19, 2012

@wavy58 – There are a couple that have helped me build up my chest muscles. I use the palms of my hands for both exercises.

I place my palms together with my elbows pointing out, and I interlock my fingers. I push both hands against each other, using strong force. I hold this position for twenty seconds, and then I take a break. I do four reps total.

The other exercise is done in the same position, but rather than holding the force, I exert it in short bursts. I do forty short presses about a second long, one right after the other, and then I rest. I only do two reps of this exercise.

By wavy58 — On Apr 19, 2012

Does anybody know any good chest workout exercises I can do using my own body resistance? I can't afford to join a gym, and I don't have any workout equipment at home.

I have heard a little about isometric exercises, but I don't know any specific ones. I do know that it is possible to build your chest muscles up using only your own resistance. I would love to be able to do this, because I am rather flat-chested, and any bulking up I can do in that area will help.

By seag47 — On Apr 18, 2012

Some exercises work for the chest, even though they were designed to target other areas. The main one I can think of is your basic pushup.

Depending on how far apart you spread your arms when doing a pushup, you can focus on either chest or your back muscles. Of course, the main function of a pushup is to strengthen your arms, but other muscles get in on the action.

If you keep your arms close together, you will work mainly your back muscles. If you spread them far apart, you will be working your outer chest muscles, and you can fill them flexing if you pay attention.

By cloudel — On Apr 17, 2012

The butterfly press is a really good chest exercise. I have a home gym that makes it easy to do this maneuver, and I can fill how much my chest has firmed up since I started doing it.

The workout machine I use has two arms with weight attached by a pulley. I sit down and pull the arms inward toward my chest.

When I first started doing this exercise, I got sore quickly. It really challenged me, because my chest muscles were very underdeveloped.

Now, I am able to do two reps of ten with the weight set at twenty pounds. This is enough to do some significant toning of the chest.

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