The 10 Best Chest Exercises for 2021 – And Your Best Chest Workout Routine

Your chest isn’t your largest muscle group, but may just be the most important one when wanting to look strong and fit. Therefore, I will illustrate my 10 best chest exercises and workout routines for 2021.

Besides the best chest exercises, I will also leave you will a challenging chest workout routine. My chest exercise routine also includes the number of reps, rest times, and amount of weight.

Chest Workout Routine Overview

A finished physique requires a well-developed chest. It is one of the most important muscles in your body, and it helps you to perform many different movements throughout your day without any difficulty. Next to pull-ups and squat exercises, the chest ranks up there with the most important muscle groups to work.

best chest exercises - chest muscle fibers

Just like other muscle groups that need a lot of work when sculpting your physique into shape, it requires an intense chest workout routine with a continuously increasing load for it to grow properly.

Most chest exercises are based on the common push-up. Generally, all push movements engage the chest, triceps, and shoulders. But some can isolate your lower, upper, or inner chest for a greater development.

Let’s dive further into which chest exercise emphasizes what. For a simpler review, we will divide the chest exercises into two sections – Compound movements and isolation movements.

Next is my favorite chest workout exercises!

Chest Compound movements

Typically, compound movements are exercises in which you need to use more than one muscle group in order to complete one repetition. The most famous ones for a full-body workout are bench-presses, deadlifts, and squats.

All of these movements are at least bilateral (meaning you move at least two joints), unlike isolation movements (most of which are unilateral – you move only one joint.)

When talking about developing your chest, a compound movement would mean an exercise that stresses the entirety of the chest muscles and uses two joints – your shoulder and elbow.

#1 Barbell Bench Press Exercise

The bench press is a staple exercise in any strength training routine and should be included if you’re looking to build up your chest muscles. It is a compound movement that stresses your entire chest muscle group, along with your shoulder and triceps. The bench press has been proven to give excellent results in regards to chest strength and size.

Typically, advanced athletes place the bench press exercise at the beginning of the push day, or the chest training day, depending on their routine. The reason for that is, it requires immense amounts of energy, compared to the isolation movements that are usually paired with the exercise for a complete workout.

There are other variations, such as the decline chest press and the incline chest press. Moreover, you can choose whether to use dumbbells or a barbell. Both of which have their own pros and cons.

best chest exercises - man doing bench press diagram

What Is the Proper Bench Press Form?

Grab the bar shoulder-width apart and don’t lock your elbows. Keep them slightly bent to avoid injury. You can arch your back, but always keep your butt on the bench.

When pressing up, keep your shoulders back and lead the motion with your elbows and wrists.

Make sure when you lower the bar to keep it as close to your body as possible, on the same level as your areolas.

Important note: During bench press workouts, all chest targeting exercises should be performed with shoulders pulled back and flexed chest muscles. If your shoulders are pointing forward, they are engaged and that allows injury.

best chest exercises - man doing dip exercises diagram

#2 Chest Dip Exercise

Chest dips help develop the lower chest muscles, the shoulders and triceps. The angle of your body is important because it will determine which muscle group you are working on.

Moreover, the width of the bars spread is important, since the closer they are, the more stress there will be on your triceps, instead of your chest.

Generally, most people have much stronger and well-developed lower chest muscles, compared to their upper ones. Thus, most bodybuilding routines would usually start the workout with an incline bench press.

best chest exercises - man doing incline dumbbell press diagram

#3 Incline Bench Press

The incline bench press is a great exercise for developing the upper chest muscles and pectoralis major. It is a more difficult version of the bench press.

The main difference between barbell and dumbbell bench presses is that the dumbbells allow for a longer range of motion.

To do this, you need to lie on an incline bench with your feet flat on the floor beside it. The angle of inclination should be 30 degrees or 45 degrees (depending on preference). You can arch your back, but keep your butt on the bench at all times.

best chest exercises - man doing push ups diagram

#4 Push Ups

As mentioned above, the majority of the compound movements for the chest are based on the push-up movement. To achieve proper form in any of the exercises, an athlete needs to acquire perfect form in doing push-ups. This is the perfect bodyweight exercise.

Much like with the bench press, the angle greatly alters which part of the chest muscle you are stressing. This is why they should also be a part of any chest warming up routine before you put on some weights.

Push-ups can be performed with resistance bands for an added challenge. The extra work that the bands provide will not only help build muscle but also decrease the amount of time it takes to get a good chest workout done.

best chest exercises - man doing decline barbell press diagram

#5 Decline Barbell Bench Press

The decline bench press is a great exercise to strengthen the lower chest. This is one of the chest exercises where you can really load up the weight and test your maximum. Most athletes are much stronger on the decline bench and can lift more weight than with incline or regular bench press.

As with all of these exercises, it’s important that you have perfect form and know how to maintain this throughout the entirety of the movement; otherwise you may end up with an injury or persevere pain in your shoulders from improper technique.

If you are a beginner, make sure someone is spotting you during the decline press, since you can severely injure your neck if you drop the bar.

Chest Isolation movements

Isolation movements are performed by targeting one muscle group at a time. They are sometimes called concentration exercises because they concentrate specifically on that muscle alone. Because only one muscle is taking on all of the weight, if done right, isolation exercises should give you a powerful burn.

These should be done after a few compound exercises have already been performed during our chest routine. Advanced athletes would usually start their chest day with push-ups for warm-up and two or three bench-press exercises with a different angle.

Afterward, they would follow up with two or three isolation exercises in order to fully stress the muscle in all of its parts.

best chest exercises - man doing dumbbell flyes diagram

#6 Dumbbell Fly Exercise

Dumbbell flys is an isolation movement that allows you to target the inner chest muscles by using only your shoulder joints.

Some bodybuilders have reported getting more chest gains from isolation movements like dumbbell flys and crossover. But in order to develop strength, you should also do compound movements to go with them.

In the bench press position, you would usually move both your shoulders and elbows in order to get the job done. Whereas, while performing dumbbell flys you shouldn’t move your elbows at all. They should be slightly bent and your shoulders should be pressed back toward the ground.

With a perked-up chest, initiate the movement by moving your arms upward from the shoulder joint. Follow your elbows without moving the elbow joint, and squeeze. If possible, aim to perform this exercise right after all compound chest exercises.

best chest exercises-cable chest fly diagram

#7 Cable Chest Fly

The cable crossover or cable chest fly is a modification of the dumbbell fly in which you don’t use dumbbells, but instead a machine with cables and pulleys. It allows you to constantly experience an intense stretching throughout the entirety of your chest during each repetition.

Much like when performing dumbbell flys you shouldn’t move your elbows at all. They should be slightly bent and your shoulders should be pressed back. Cable crossover hits your major chest muscles as well as shoulders to some extent.

best chest exercise - man doing dumbbell pullover diagram

#8 Dumbbell Pullover

This is one of my favorite exercises, as it stresses your chest like no other movement. Lie on your back or on a bench and hold a dumbbell over your head. Press the weight as if you want to smash the weight together and lower it behind your shoulders.

Don’t move or lock the elbow joints. The pullover is usually performed at the end of the workout.

When you feel a slight stretch in your lats, pull the weight back to the starting position. The dumbbell pullover will greatly increase the strength of your back, chest, and ribs muscles. (Which almost nothing else stresses that much).

best chest exercises - plate press out, svend press diagram

#9 Plate Press Out

There are many variations of this particular exercise, but generally speaking, all you need is a plate. It is usually performed last during the workout. It can be called a plate press out, plate pinch press, or svend press.

Start with something light, as this exercise is very demanding and unnatural. Press the plate together between your palms and extend them forward in front of your chest in a straight line. Press the plate as hard as you can. See how many seconds you can do this, and then try for more the next time you workout.

This exercise can be performed either standing or while sitting with a different angle of movement for the plate to increase the difficulty and focus on the upper part of your chest. (Upward movement). This will focus on your entire chest and shoulders, traps, and triceps to a lesser degree.

best chest exercises - cable crossover diagram

#10 Low-Cable Crossover

If you’ve done a chest cable crossover, you may have wondered what would happen if you lower the level of the cables and pull upwards.

Well, this is an entirely different exercise that greatly targets your upper pecs and increases the definition between your two chest muscles. (Targets your upper and inner pecs).

A Balanced Chest Workout Routine

In order to devise the best chest exercise routine, you would need to clearly define your goals. Powerlifters aim to greatly improve their strength and strive for maximum weight. Thus, most powerlifting routines focus on low repetitions with a maximum weight load and a lot of sets.

On the other hand, bodybuilders usually train within the rep range of 6 – 15 reps, depending on the exercise.

*If your goal is just solid muscle growth and to increase your strength, you should be able to do something in between. Of course, this includes a proper diet as well.

Weight allocation

Gradually increase the weight on all exercises every three weeks. Make sure to always keep track of how heavy you are lifting. This routine requires you to meet muscle failure with each exercise.

  • Increase weight on compound exercises every three weeks by 3 percent.
  • Increase weight on isolation exercises every three weeks by 5 percent.

If you fail to meet the required rep range, return to your normal weight, but decrease your rest time by 10 percent. (maybe 10 seconds) Try again after 3 weeks.

best chest exercises - man doing dumbbell chest press

Repetitions Range

Performing between 6 – 8 repetitions max on compound movements, and 10 – 12 on isolation ones usually yields best results for intermediate athletes both in terms of muscle building and general muscle toning.

Rest Time

For the best results: Rest 90 seconds between different exercises, 90 seconds on compound movements, and 60 seconds on isolation movements. As the muscles don’t require much rest, when you use only one joint on isolation exercises, we shouldn’t rest as much.

Exercise Sets Repetitions Rest
Push-Ups (Warm up) 2 15-Max 45 seconds
Barbell Bench Press 4 (6 – 8) 90 seconds
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press 3 (8 – 10) 90 seconds
Decline bench press / Dips 4 (10 – 12) 90 seconds
Dumbbell flys / Crossover 4 (10 – 12) 60 seconds
Plate Press Out 3 (10 – 12) 60 seconds

Chest Exercises

Push-ups

After having warmed up your elbows, shoulders and wrists, stretch your muscles and perform 2 sets of 15 push-ups and 2 sets of max pushups with 45 seconds rest between all sets.

Barbell Bench Press

Nothing out of the ordinary, keep good form and ensure that you don’t cheat on any of the exercises.

Decline Bench press / Dips

Usually, all advanced routines feature either a decline bench press or dips. Featuring both would be an overkill. Some bodybuilders tend to switch them up each week. We would do the same.

If dips are too easy for you, fill a backpack with weights or use chains or resistance bands to increase the difficulty.

Dumbbell flys / Crossover

These can be alternated during each week, much like the dips and the decline bench press.

As for all of these exercises, find which works better for you and avoid movements that hurt your joints or previous injuries.

Best Chest Exercises Wrap Up

You can find hundreds of chest exercise workouts as well as variations of chest exercise movements. Here I’ve provided just a few of the most popular ones along with some personal favorites that have worked well for me.

Remember to constantly challenge yourself by both increasing weight and shortening your time between sets. This is the only way to make significant muscle gains. When putting together your chest exercise program, use the most practical number of reps that will help you meet your individual workout goals.

Always warm up, and stay away from do any exercises or movements that hurt or put undue strain on your shoulders.

If you have any questions or comments on the “best chest exercises” or on chest exercise routines, please leave a message below and I will respond.

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