Strengthening your chest muscles via exercise can yield multiple benefits, including increased power for pushing and pulling, better posture, and a more toned appearance. Many chest exercises exist that can help you glean these benefits. The key is performing some type of consistent activity two or three times a week.
The Best Chest Exercises
Your pectoral muscle group is a large one, consisting of the upper, middle, and lower chest. Different exercises will work each area.
This is the basic, catch-all area that involves a little of everything. Most people get this one fairly well, since it's the spot you hit with regular bench presses and most machines by default.
- Bench Presses: Bench presses can be done with barbells, but using dumbbells can provide benefits too. You may not be able to use quite the same weight, but instead you involve a slew of balancing support muscles. While not bulky in and by themselves, growing these stronger can boost core strength as well as prevent injuries down the road.
- Push Ups: Push ups are so basic many gym trainers ignore them completely. Why go old school when there's a gleaming, scientifically perfected $10,000 machine standing right there? Nothing wrong with the machines, but incorporating push ups into your regular routine is a great way to shake things up (just because it doesn't have a scientifically perfected resistance curve), and it also serves as a nice reality check -- you can't cheat or pull a fast one; you either do X push ups, or you don't.
Often neglected and thus creating a somewhat off-balance look, upper chest focuses on the portion tying into the clavicles.
- Incline Dumbbell Chest Presses: Incline dumbbell chest presses is just like the flat-bench bench press, except you tilt the back up about 30 degrees. This also puts a fair amount of stress on the front shoulders, so make sure to purposefully pull your shoulders down and pull your scapulae together against the pad; thrusting your shoulders forward in this position is an invitation to injury.
- Isolateral Incline Machine Presses: Isolateral means that the sides work independently of one another. This is a good thing, since most people have one side slightly stronger than the other. Machines where both handles are attached to the same bar allows you to shift more work onto one side, thus aggravating the imbalance and making the problem worse. For best results, pick a machine that has the handles wider at the bottom position, but comes closer together as you push up/away from you.
This is the part you train to get the right "Arnold hang" look for the pecs.
- Dips: Dips is another old-timer exercise many choose to ignore in favor of newer machines. This is a big mistake; few exercise hits the lower portion of the pecs as well as dips do. Just remember not to overstretch the shoulder joint at the bottom, as it is very vulnerable in this position. Make a smooth but distinct turn as soon as your upper arms are parallel to the floor.
- Cable Crossover Flyes: This exercise can be made even better by bending your elbows so that your forearms are parallel to the cables. This allows you to use more weight in a more controlled arc of movement, making this exercise like a pseudo-dip only with a brand-new angle -- a sure way to rustle the muscle from its slumber.
How Much and How Often
All of the above exercises are a form of strength training. This type of activity requires recovery time so your muscles can heal and grow stronger. Train your chest muscles at least twice a week, with 48 hours between training sessions. The number of sets and repetitions you perform depends on your goals and your level of fitness. In general, opt for two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions.
With these guidelines firmly in place, you will be well on your way to a firmer, stronger chest.