9 Tips for Building a Big Upper Chest

9 Tips for Building a Shelf-Like Upper Chest
Need help adding muscle to your upper chest? Check out these 9 tips and give the included workout a shot for the ultimate upper chest development!

There are some iconic photos that stand the test of time.

One of them is of Arnold Schwarzenegger hitting his classic side chest pose.

His pecs in that pic are full and large. They look like you could set a shaker cup on them and not worry about it falling off.

While many people who aren’t into fitness would think that he must bench press a lot of weight, we know different.

We know that to build that shelf-like set of pecs, Arnold did a lot of work specifically to develop his upper chest.

Never in the history of bodybuilding has a competitor been criticized or marked down by judges for their upper pecs being too big. There has been a few guys who did take some heat for not having enough meat up there.

Even if you don’t plan to ever step onstage, you’re likely training for beach season or to just look good without a shirt on. This means that you need to concentrate on the upper chest area.

Take these nine tricks under advisement for future chest sessions and you’ll be pleased with your progress.

1. Start with the upper pecs

Any intermediate or advanced athlete knows that if you find a weakness in your game then that is where you should start so you can attack it when you have the most energy. So when you plan your workouts for chest day in the future, make sure the upper pecs are where you start.

Related: 10 Training Tips to Maximize Your Chest Workouts

While you might believe that saving it for the end would be best because your other areas will already be fatigued, you won’t be able to give the upper pecs your best effort at that point.

Commit your weakness to the start when you can hit it heavy and with maximum intensity.

2. Establish that mind-muscle connection early

When that Arnold dude would train, he has said he would take his mind into the muscle he wanted to work so he could maximize the work and stress he placed upon it.

This is exactly what you need to do when training for upper pec development. You need to warm up and perform each rep with the goal of feeling only that area working.

Slow down the reps, pause in between, do whatever you have to do so that when you go through the set, the tension is where you want it to be.

M&S Athlete Establishing Mind Muscle Connection

3. Use both barbells and dumbbells

There has been a debate for many years now about which is better, barbells or dumbbells. The answer is c, both. Both have their own distinct advantages.

First, barbells allow you to add serious weight since you’re pushing one object with both sides. Dumbbells are awesome because each side has to do its own share without assistance from the other. This is why you can likely bench more weight with the bar than the equivalent of a pair of dumbbells.

So which should you use first? Alternate back and forth between them. One week start with incline dumbbell press and the next go with the barbell version.

Reap the best of both and your results will speak for themselves.

4. Don’t just use one angle

Whoever it was that came up with the adjustable bench doesn’t get the credit that he or she deserves.

These benches allow you to adjust the angle of the bench so you can work on multiple angles. This is perfect for chest day.

One criticism of standard incline benches is the angle hits too high and the delts become more involved. With the adjustable benches, you can lower the incline without going flat. This low angle can help you blast the upper pecs while minimizing the involvement of your front delts.

Use these different angles on your dumbbell work and don’t be afraid to shove that bench in a rack for barbell work either. If you don’t have access to an adjustable bench, first you should talk to management at your gym because they need one.

Second, take the flat bench you have and place it on a solid step, box, or plate. Make sure you have someone help you here because you want to make sure the bench doesn’t move while you’re working.

M&S Athlete Targeting the chest with an incline angle

5. Don’t lock out

So when you press a weight up, the triceps want to join the party so they take over when you lock out. This is great for powerlifting but if you want to develop your upper pecs this is bad.

To keep the tension on the muscle you want to work, you should stop the presses as your arms start straightening out.

As soon as you can feel the triceps start to activate, that is when you should stop and begin lowering the weight back down.

6. Incline Cable Flys

This could be the key that unlocks the chest that you will treasure (pun intended). Take one of those awesome adjustable benches and place it in a cable station.

Use the low pulleys with single hand attachments. Once you’re set on the bench, perform flys just like you would with dumbbells.

Cables serve two purposes. First, they allow you to keep constant tension on the muscle which is awesome because those pecs can be stubborn and forced to do more work. Second, the cables are in a fixed path of travel so you’re able to isolate the area much better.

Make sure you get a good stretch at the bottom and you flex the pecs hard when you lift the handles up. Once you become more familiar and comfortable with this movement, you’re probably going to make it a permanent fixture in your chest routines.

7. Push Up With Your Feet Up

This is likely one of those tips you heard from a coach or relative when the topics of pushups would be talked about. What they told you is true though.

When you raise your feet up, your bodyweight shifts and it makes performing them more challenging. It also shifts the focus to the top.

You don’t need to try to do handstand pushups but placing the feet up on a bench or box will serve you nicely.

8. Don’t Forget Decline

“Wait. what? Decline is for lower pecs.” Yes, that is what many trainers and experts would have you believe and they do target the bottom of the chest but I suggest that you go read my previous edition of “Training Talk” where we discussed the barbell bench.

Related: Build a Bigger Chest With This Mass Building Workout

As I shared there, a study was done that concluded that decline was the most effective angle for the entire chest area which included the upper pecs.

To place that extra tension on the upper pecs, use a closer grip, say shoulder width apart, and lower the bar right to the bottom of the pecs.

9. Stretch between sets

This is one that’s common for training in general but it’s important here too. In between sets you need to stretch the chest so you can expand that fascia which is a thin layered skin that surrounds your muscle fibers.

This is so you can make more room for blood to get in the area. This is crucial for improvement in strength and growth.

Your pump at the end of the session will be better for you doing this which means in the long run, your results will be better too.

Sample Upper Chest Emphasis Workout

Exercise Sets Reps
1. Incline Barbell Press 3* 6-8
2. Low Incline Dumbbell Press 3 8-10
3. Incline Cable Flys 3 10-12
4. Close Grip Decline Barbell Press 3 12
5. Push Ups (Feet on Swiss Ball) 3 failure

*Perform 2 warm up sets before your working sets of incline barbell press.
**
Alternate starting with dumbbells and barbells. For the next week do standard incline dumbbell and low incline barbell.
***60 seconds rest between sets.