Building a muscular physique that’s pleasing to the eye takes time, a good nutrition plan, and an effective upper chest exercise plan. Experienced bodybuilders know that a reliable upper body program is about more than bench presses, lateral raises and dumbbell flies. They know that to build the perfect physique, they need to focus on each muscle group, including the upper pecs. Often over-looked or under trained, the upper pecs are smaller muscle fibers that stretch across the collar bone region and connect with the shoulders. These fibers play a significant role in moving the arms forward and backward and up or down. Here are seven of the best exercises explaining how to work upper chest to boost muscle growth and promote fuller, more balanced pecs.
Reverse-grip Bench Press
The reverse-grip bench press is a powerful but underutilized variation of the traditional bench press. It’s executed by gripping the bar with the palms facing the chest instead of away from it. The reverse-grip bench still uses the chest, with up to 30% more activation in the upper pecs. It also uses the triceps to lift the weight instead of the biceps and shoulders.
- Start by lying flat on the bench,
- Grab the bar or dumbbells using the reverse grip,
- Push the barbell straight up,
- Keep the elbows slightly bent,
- Ensure the elbows don’t flare out,
- Lower the weight slowly using resistance, not momentum,
- Tap the barbell to the chest briefly and
- Push the weight back to the starting position
Incline Bench Press
One of the best upper chest exercises is definitely the incline bench press. When the bench is inclined, the upper pecs are activated along with the shoulders. For a well-formed, aesthetically-pleasing physique, use the inclined, flat and declined bench press variations to target both upper and lower chest fibers. For a more challenging workout, use a set of dumbbells instead of a barbell. Swapping out the barbell for a pair of dumbells adds another layer of difficulty because it requires smaller stabilizing muscles to keep dumbbells stable during the movement.
The decline push-up is a fantastic at-home exercise to build a big upper chest. Simply place the feet on an elevated surface like a bench, chair, exercise ball or TRX.
- Kneel with the back toward the raised bench,
- Put the hand on the floor with the shoulders over the wrists and elbows,
- Place the feet on the bench one at a time,
- Ensure that the core, glutes and quads are engaged for balance,
- Bend the elbows and push the chest to the floor, and
- Return to the start position by pressing into the floor and extending the elbows
Keep the neck and back straight throughout the exercise. If at any time during the push-up you feel pain in your wrist, elbow or shoulders, stop immediately.
Flys are another powerful no-bench alternative for upper chest exercise. It targets the same muscle groups as the incline or reverse-grip bench press (i.e., the chest, shoulders and triceps). The scapular retraction in the movement improves posture and opens the chest, and releases tension and tightness in the upper back. It’s versatile too. You can perform a chest fly without equipment while at your desk for a quick burst of energy or opt for a resistance band, a set of dumbbells, or cables. Perform an incline bench dumbbell chest fly:
- Lie flat against an inclined bench with a dumbbell in each hand.
- Stretch out the arms at chest level with the elbows slightly bent and pointed outward.
- Exhale and lift the arms above the head, so the dumbbells are almost touching.
- Inhale and slowly move down to the starting position.
Front Dumbbell raise
The basic movement involved in a front dumbbell raise makes use of shoulder flexion, which involves the upper chest fibers. It’s a simple move to execute, too. With a dumbbell in each hand,
- Start with the arms at your side,
- Exhale while raising the arm to 90 degrees,
- Lower the arms, inhaling as you do,
- Keep the knees and elbows slightly bent and the wrists neutral,
- Use controlled smooth movements and
- Apply resistance instead of momentum when lowering the arms
Upper Chest FAQ
Here are the most regularly asked questions we receive about training the upper chest.
Is There a Reverse Chest Press Exercise?
Absolutely. The reverse-grip bench press is an excellent chest press exercise and an effective way to build your upper chest muscles. Instead of gripping the barbell traditionally, grasp it so that your fingers face you.
Which Type of Bench Press Is the Hardest? Why?
The short answer: incline dumbbell bench press is the hardest, and here’s why. Incline bench press variations are more difficult to perform since the movement relies on smaller muscles like the upper pecs and deltoids instead of the more considerable chest muscle.
Should I Use an Incline or Flat Bench?
Both. While the flat bench activates the major pectoral muscles, the incline bench press uses the upper pectoral muscles
and anterior deltoids.
Is It Necessary to Feel the Chest While Doing Bench Press?
The bench press is a compound exercise that involves the chest, shoulders and triceps. Still, the movement relies heavily on the chest muscles, so you should feel your chest muscles during the exercise. If you’re not feeling your chest fibers contract and stretch during your workout, here are some tips that could help you:
- Make sure that your grip isn’t too narrow. A narrow grip bench works the triceps more than the chest.
Check that you have proper form and positioning. If you’re not performing the exercise correctly, you won’t get the growth you want.
- Train your triceps. You need strength in your shoulders, triceps and chest to perform a bench. So make sure all three groups can handle the same weight.
How Do I Balance My Chest Muscles?
A good start is to ensure that you’re working the entire pec. That includes the upper, lower and middle chest muscles. Have a look at your chest workout routine, and make sure you’re hitting the whole chest area at least twice in each training session. Using dumbbells instead of barbells can help the weaker side get stronger if one side is more developed. Finally, regular yoga or pilates can also help with chest flexibility and strengthening your muscles.
Can I Build a Big Chest Without a Bench Press?
Of course, you can. As long as your workout program incorporates mechanical tension, muscle damage and metabolic stress – the three mechanisms of muscle growth – you don’t need a bench. Pull-ups, push-ups and chest dips are some bodyweight alternatives to benching. If you still want to lift weights, try cable flyes, cable cross-overs, dumbbell flies and the dumbbell Arnold press instead. Whatever replacement you choose, make sure you’re still working the upper, middle and lower pecs.
How Can I Get a Bigger Chest Size During a Lockdown?
To keep your gains during a lockdown, firstly stick to your eating plan. A lockdown is not the time to throw caution to the wind. Nutrition
is as important as fitness when building muscle. Next, make sure that you’re following a workout plan
tailored to the resources you have available. This might mean doing dumbbell-only routines
or committing to a no-gym, no-equipment workout program.
What Are the Best Exercises to Build Big Triceps?
Triangle push-ups, dips and tricep kickbacks are by far the most effective exercises for bigger triceps
. Because push-ups and dips rely on bodyweight to complete the movement, you’re less likely to rely on momentum.
How Do I Build My Upper Chest?
The fastest way to grow your upper chest is by incorporating exercises that target the upper pectoral region
. The reverse-grip bench and incline bench are examples. Next, do your upper chest workout earlier in your session when you’re still fresh, and your muscles aren’t tired. Finally, make sure you’re not overtraining. Aim for 12 to 20 sets per chest session or three to five different upper chest exercises of four sets each.
What Is the Best Workout for the Upper Chest?
Bench press and dumbbell press exercises are suitable for activating the chest muscles
. When you perform chest press exercises at an incline
of 44 degrees, it activates the upper chest fibers responsible for shoulder flexion. To create an effective upper chest workout:
- Start your training with heavy compound movements, so one to three incline bench press variations at four to six reps per set.
- Focus on two incline isolated dumbbell exercises or cable exercises, aiming for 10 to 12 reps set.
- End your workout with two to three machine exercises – if you have access to them – or bodyweight exercises at 15 to 20 reps to tire out the muscle.
Ideally, you’d want these last two exercises to be lighter weights but still aim to lift as heavy as possible for 15 to 20 reps. We’ve put together a comprehensive upper chest workout you can use during your next push day.
Upper Chest Workout:
|1. Reverse-Grip Bench Press
|2. Incline Barbell Press
|3. Incline Dumbbell Flyes
|4. Incline Dumbbell Narrow Press
|5. Seated Incline Cable Fly
|6. Decline Push-Ups