5 Most Effective Exercises To Build Chest Muscle

Brad Borland
Written By: Brad Borland
February 13th, 2015
Updated: June 13th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
175.2K Reads
5 Most Effective Exercises To Build Chest Muscle
Maximize your chest muscle by giving traditional exercises a twist that takes full advantage of their motions, making them twice as effective.

Before you skim down and click away you most likely have an intimate relationship with many of the chest exercises laid out here. Bench presses, dumbbell presses and various other traditional movements are nothing new. But let’s kick these old-school lifts in the butt and breathe new life into these powerful and effective exercises to help you build seriously impressive pecs!

Below are five of the most effective exercises for building your chest into the best it could possibly be – but there’s a twist. With each lift let’s add a little something new to squeeze out every ounce of advantage you can to maximize your progress and build monumental pecs.

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1. Flat and Incline Bench Barbell Press

The granddaddy of chest exercises really needs no formal introduction. The beauty of barbell pressing is that since it is a multi-joint move it allows you to use a maximum amount of weight to overload the pecs – something fly movements can’t do. Practicing plenty of textbook form and leaving your ego at home, all forms of bench pressing is old-school but still rises to the top for results.

The Twist

Try modifying any form of the barbell press by adding chains or bands which will add what is called linear variable resistance, forcing you to develop power and strength along specific points of the press. It is sure to help strengthen weak points and add plenty of new muscle. Alternately you can even perform a light set of dumbbell flys to pre-exhaust the pecs prior to pressing. This will keep your shoulders and triceps nice and fresh so your pecs get the brunt of the pounding.

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2. Flat and Incline Bench Dumbbell Press

As a close cousin to the barbell versions dumbbell presses allow you to independently utilize your arms in a unilateral way. This will expose your weak side and force you to shore-up your strength ultimately creating balance and symmetry. Dumbbells also allow you to apply more muscle tissue to the lift due to the fact you are focusing not only on pressing but also balancing the weight as you press.

The Twist

The brutal, honest truth is that most individuals don’t perform dumbbell presses correctly. Sure, they all talk about how you can get more of a range of motion but who do you really see that puts this into practice? Next time you venture over to the dumbbell press do this: Lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest – all the way down for a full stretch (you will have to use lighter weight). At the bottom, pause for a count of two and then press back up and actively squeeze your pecs for a full contraction, don’t just press. 

3. Flat and Incline Bench Dumbbell Fly

Probably the most mutilated exercise to date is the chest fly movement. After using too much weight to begin with most will quickly turn what’s supposed to be a wide fly motion into a press. This completely negates the advantages of the chest fly. Be sure to use lighter weight, a large arching motion and just a slight bend in your elbows. Oh, and save the pressing motion for presses.

The Twist

Aside from practicing textbook form with a manageable weight, be sure to get a deep stretch and a squeeze at the top of the movement. Additionally, try twisting the dumbbells at the top so the pinky-side of your hands meet. Once your pecs are exhausted from strict flys, then you can start to press the weight as with dumbbell presses. 

4. Flat and Feet-Elevated Push-Up

Nothing is more timeless than the traditional push-up yet few take advantage of what it can potentially do. The simple, almost caveman-like act of pushing your own bodyweight off the ground is a true display of mastery over one’s own body. Along with pull-ups, dips, sit-ups and countless others, the push-up remains an effective bodyweight muscle builder.

The Twist

There is much more to the push-up than straight sets ‘til muscular failure. For starters, do this: Near the end of your normal chest routine perform a round of multi-angle push-ups. Start with your feet elevated on a bench for reps, then immediately perform reps with your feet on the floor and lastly, put your hands on the bench while your feet remain on the floor to squeeze out the last bit of muscle fibers left untouched. Do as many rounds as you can while maintaining perfect form.

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5. Chest Dip on Parallel Bars

It’s no secret that the chest dip is one serious chest annihilator. Whether done with a weight belt around your waist or free-style this functional beast should be a staple in any chest program. With the ability to be performed anywhere, the chest dip has some differences from the traditional triceps dip. With a forward lean and arms angled slightly outward the focus should be on the pecs stretching and contracting.

The Twist

Other than additional weight or high reps to failure the chest dip can be modified into so much more. You’ve heard of 21s for biceps curls; how about apply the same insanity to dips. Try seven reps in the bottom half of the movement, then seven reps near the top half and finally attempt seven full-range reps. If you still have more gas left in the tank, try weighted chest dips.

2 Most Effective Programs for Building Your Chest

Try each program once per week. For example, program A on Monday and program B on Thursday.

Incline Bench Banded Barbell Press 3 5-8
Flat Bench Twisted Dumbbell Fly 3 10-15
Multi-Angle Push-Up Complex 3 Rounds Failure
Superset: Incline Bench Dumbbell Fly w/Incline Bench Barbell Press 3 6-12
Flat Bench Paused Dumbbell Press 3 6-8
Parallel Dip – 21s Style 3 Rounds -

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Posted on: Mon, 07/25/2016 - 12:51

IMO, most of this is just incorrect. Firstly, it starts off by saying that the beauty of bench pressing is you can use the maximum amount of weight to overload the pecs as opposed to a fly movement. The problem is, the pec isn't even the primary muscle activated during this movement. It is one of the more ineffective movements for optimal pec development. If you want to overload your anterior delts and triceps, then I guess go for it. If your goal is to enter a power lifting contest, then yes, by all means! But if your goal is maximum pec development, then this doesn't make any sense. Then it goes on to talk about incline movements, which are completely useless since there is no "upper chest' muscle, then pushups...which, again, highly ineffective and finally dips which are potentially the worst exercise you could do for pec development. Sure, there is an added 'twist' to the movements, but the movements are fundamentally wrong for maximum pec development.

Posted on: Sat, 08/01/2015 - 16:02

HeY but in this article u dnt talk about decline....why?

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Posted on: Mon, 08/03/2015 - 15:38

I know I will get some hate by saying this but the decline press is mostly a shoulder and triceps builder. That is why doing close-grip bench presses on a decline is very effective.

Posted on: Fri, 02/27/2015 - 11:33

Love this article! Going to throw some of these into my chest workout this afternoon. Thanks, Brad (and Anton)!

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Posted on: Fri, 02/27/2015 - 14:41

Thanks, Trevor. Let me know how you do!

Posted on: Mon, 02/23/2015 - 10:56

Great read!

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Posted on: Mon, 02/23/2015 - 22:30

Hi Hector. Thanks!

Posted on: Sun, 02/22/2015 - 23:07

Loved the dumbbell Flies twist, tried it today and got awesome muscle contraction :)

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Posted on: Mon, 02/23/2015 - 22:30

Hi Adam! That's great! Keep me posted if you try some of the others...

Posted on: Sun, 02/22/2015 - 09:10

This was one of the most helpful articles I have read in a while. No BS advice, just simple tips to help improve gains. It's refreshing not to read about some revolutionary exercise that's going to get you big. We all know the staples work and this article gave some solid tips for making them better. Great work Brad and M&S!

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Posted on: Sun, 02/22/2015 - 17:40

Hi Woody! Thanks so much. We are trying hard to bring you straight up great content. Stay tuned, we have so much more good stuff coming soon!

Posted on: Thu, 02/19/2015 - 16:01

Good information , but i have some questions

Posted on: Thu, 02/19/2015 - 08:25

Good article, thanks!

Posted on: Wed, 02/18/2015 - 14:31

Great no BS article about chest building. Like the idea of the twists, and will be trying these on international chest day next Monday :)

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Posted on: Wed, 02/18/2015 - 15:20

Thanks, Matt! Ha, yeah - international chest day is right!

Posted on: Wed, 02/18/2015 - 07:25

I would also add incline cable flies....to hit the top portion of the chest....and really squeeze it.

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Posted on: Wed, 02/18/2015 - 10:56

Seth, definitely a great one!

Posted on: Tue, 02/17/2015 - 19:27

Hi Brad,
I like your ideas on variations in these exercises. For years I have been supersetting db presses after strict flies, I touch the db's together, palms facing and press until failure for awesome chest workouts.
I will try your pre exhaust suggestion and 21's on chest dips. Thank you.

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Posted on: Wed, 02/18/2015 - 10:56

Thanks, Mike!

Posted on: Sun, 02/15/2015 - 08:13

Good information. I'm going to try some of these in my workouts.

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Posted on: Wed, 02/18/2015 - 10:55

Thanks, Pete!

Posted on: Sat, 02/14/2015 - 11:20

I tried doing "21s" in dips and it was BRUTAL! Nice tip man, thanks

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Posted on: Sat, 02/14/2015 - 15:24

Hi Dan, nice! And thanks for the compliment.