There have been many advances in training over the course of the last century. Exercises have been discovered and new methods of lifting have been determined to help athletes improve at a much greater and safer rate. Yet in spite of that, there are still people who believe that all they have to do to make their chest bigger are bench presses and pushups.
Now if that is all you have access to it beats nothing at all but the fact is you have to take a more calculated approach if you want your chest to look its best and be as strong as possible. That means you have to break the chest down into sections and the most important part could be the upper chest.
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About the Upper Chest
The majority of the chest is made up of the pectoralis major but there are other muscles that complete the package. They include the pectoralis minor, serratus anterior, and subclavius. The main purposes of the pec major are the adduction and medial rotation of the upper arm. It also draws the scapula in and acts individually when you flex your upper arm.
Since the focus here is on the upper chest, we’re going to be devoting our attention to the clavicular head of the pectoralis major. This group of muscle fibers originate at the anterior area of the medial clavicle and run to the humerus. The best way to train this area is when the body is in an incline position. The upper pecs are involved in other chest movements as well but the greatest effort of the clavicular head is when the majority of the resistance is shifted to the top of the chest at an angle.
Beginners Chest Training
If you’re someone who is new to training, you are in a good position because you can see the benefits of upper chest training early and see even better gains than you already would. This three exercise workout includes two that focus on the upper chest. They are basic movements that are simple to understand and perform.
The incline barbell press is self-explanatory but instructions are available if you need them in the M&S Exercise Guide. The push ups might be intriguing to you because of your feet being elevated. Place your feet up on a bench or seat and assume a pushup position. Doing this will put your body at an angle and will shift the majority of the focus to the clavicular head.
If you can’t perform all of the reps desired, simply move your feet from the elevated position to the floor and continue until the set is over. This is a natural drop set of sorts since your feet will be lower.
Beginner Level Chest Workout
|Incline Barbell Press||3||12, 12, 12||90s|
|Push Ups with Feet Elevated||3||12, 12, 12||60s|
|Flat Dumbbell Flys||3||12, 12, 12||60s|
Home Gym Training
There has been a boom in home gym training but for many, there are limited resources. Some of you reading this may not have more than dumbbells and an adjustable bench. The good news is you can still have an effective upper chest workout. If you don’t have heavy dumbbells, just perform your reps at a slower tempo. Take 3-5 seconds to lift the weight and 3-5 more to lower them.
If you have bands, then wrap the bands around the bottom of the bench directly underneath you and hold each end in your hands. You should still feel the effects of the exercise this way. Now if you have access to more equipment in your home gym, then by all means substitute any movement here for one you can do.
Dumbbell Only/Home Gym Chest Workout
|Incline Dumbbell Bench Press||3||10, 10, 10||60s|
|Incline Dumbbell Flys||3||12, 12, 12||60s|
If you want to add a new challenge and work on your conditioning as well, perform the two exercises above as well as those elevated pushups as a triset. Perform all three exercises in a row with no breaks until the third one is done. This is also a way to make lower weight more challenging since you will likely fatigue faster.
Dumbbell Only/Home Gym Chest Triset Workout
|A1: Incline Dumbbell Flys||3||10, 10, 10||None|
|A2: Incline Dumbbell Bench Press||3||10, 10, 10||None|
|A3: Push Ups with Feet Elevated||3||10, 10, 10||60s|
Intermediate Chest Training
If you want to push yourself to a higher level of gym rat then you should add more movements to your training. Cables are a great ally in muscle building since you can train in a fixed path of travel and the exercises provide resistance from top to bottom.
Most people are familiar with cable crossovers but they actually are more for the lower pecs. To train the upper pecs, you can place your handles on the lower pulleys of a cable station and lift them up. Make sure you keep your chest up and shoulders back to keep the shoulder recruitment to a minimum.
You also should start pushing yourself to lift heavier when possible. That doesn’t mean you should do singles or sacrifice form. Every set you see that the reps decrease, you should add weight.
Intermediate Level Chest Workout
|Incline Barbell Press||4||12, 10, 8, 6||60s|
|Low Incline Dumbbell Flys||3||12, 10, 8||60s|
|Low Cable Flys||3||12, 12, 12||60s|
|Weighted Chest Dip||3||12, 12, 12||60s|
Advanced Chest Training
One sad fact of training is that we all have those parts of our bodies that don’t respond as well to training as others. If your upper chest is that area you can’t seem to make grow, throwing more weight on the bar or going up on dumbbells isn’t necessarily going to help.
Strategies like using single arm exercises or intensity boosting methods like drop sets need to come into play. Doing a drop set means that when you reach failure, you would reduce the weight so you can extend the set beyond the point you would normally stop. The advanced workout below includes both of those ideas. It also ends with an incline exercise so you can “book-end” the workout with upper chest work.
Doing this means you’re training the upper chest first when you’re fresh and focused as well as the end when you’re about to leave the gym and will finish with the area you want to improve the most.
Advanced Level Chest Workout
|Low Incline Barbell Press (in Squat Rack)||3||5, 5, 5||90s|
|Incline Single Arm Dumbbell Press||3||10, 10, 10||60s|
|Seated Chest Press Machine||3||12, 12, 12||60s|
|Incline Cable Flys||3||12, 10, 10/10*||60s|
|* Drop Set|
Another advanced hack is to include a second workout devoted to the weak area. That would mean that you could do a second workout completely devoted to the upper chest. This workout should take place at least 72 hours after your first chest session and should be a part of another workout like shoulders or arms.
Start that workout with this upper chest blast. It’s a simple superset that includes a press and a fly. The press is a machine movement like the Smith Machine or if you train at home, you can use bands anchored low so you can press up.
The other is the incline fly but this one should be performed at a different angle than the press. You can perform the press on a low angle and the fly higher or vice versa.
Second Upper Chest Superset Workout
|A1: Incline Smith Machine Chest Press||3||10, 10, 10||None|
|A2: Low Incline Dumbbell Flys||3||12, 12, 12||45s|