What are the best chest building and defining exercises?
Dara: Because the chest muscle is a fan-shaped muscle with three areas and it crosses the ball-in-socket shoulder joint you have to work it with both a bent and straight elbow and at different angles. Presses are best for building and I think it’s important to work with both barbells and dumbbells. Chest flys are important for overall strength and range of motion which is equally important to maintain integrity of the joint which will allow you to lift more weight on a press which then equals even more lean muscle. I don’t really feel that there is a difference for men and women in terms of how to train, but depending on the goal of a woman they may choose to stop building chest muscles at a certain point whereas a man may want to build more.
Matt: I covered a lot of this recently in a Vs post and like all guys the chest seems to be a favorite muscle to train. It’s funny because I actually think an overdeveloped chest looks really bad but as long as the proportions are good then a well-developed chest is the typical alpha make calling card. Big arms and shoulders of course help but a thick-set of pecs are definitely impressive. The same goes for women. A well-developed upper chest can convey the same message. It means that you’ve put your time in under a heavy bar and that is to be respected.
Don’t get me wrong, I think a well-developed upper chest on a man is much more impressive as it’s harder to build and an over developed lower chest just brings the entire chest down to resemble breasts. This seems to be a common look with the excessive flat bench crowd. If that’s what you’re into then so be it but aesthetically I think it doesn’t work very well.
That’s why it’s my preference to focus on incline pressing with both barbells and dumbells for thickness and incline flys for width and shape as far as the best chest building exercises are concerned. Yes I know you can’t change the shape if your muscles but the squeeze at the top and the stretch at the bottom of a set of flies feels more like a sculpting exercise and less like the heaving of heavy weights off of your chest that will result in pure mass.
I prefer to do flat bench work (presses and flies) at the end of the workout. Building an impressive upper chest is very challenging as I already mentioned and I feel it’s best to spend your energy there and work the lower portion of the pecs as more of a finishing move. Even then I lower the bar to mid/upper chest in an attempt to recruit the upper pecs as much as possible.
Like with all exercises I’d rather focus on great form and tempo and not weight. Your muscles have no idea what they’re lifting, they only understand time under tension and fatigue and the only way to put the majority of that onto your pecs is to sacrifice some weight in order focus on your chest muscles during the lift. I personally feel a lot of the stress shift onto my chest and off of my shoulders, lats and triceps when I choose a weight I can control for an even tempo’d 8-15 reps.
Colin: I look forward to the time I have the problem of an overdeveloped chest! I agree that a greater focus on incline work and upper chest is a great way to develop a great chest. Besides if you have a nice full upper and middle chest gravity alone is going to give you a lower chest anyway. Based on the EMG studies I’ve seen that showed no difference in muscle activity between barbell and dumbbell pressing work I don’t think it makes a big difference which you use, but it should be varied from time to time. At the same time, however, those studies show you can move more weight with a barbell than you can with dumbbells so if you are getting the same muscle activity with more weight, using barbell more often just makes sense to me. Plus lets face it “How much ya bench?” is probably the most frequently asked question of fellow gym goers, and watching the weight go up on bench can be pretty fun.
You can’t do nothing but bench either, adding different angles of pressing work and flies are important to a well developed chest. I also think it’s a good idea with any muscle group to incorporate high rep and low rep work even if size is your main goal and not strength. If you get stronger you can move more weight with your high rep work and in turn help build more muscle. Focus on strength once a week and lighter work later in the week. As far as men and women, in terms of the actual question “What are the best chest building / defining exercises?” it makes no difference. Whether someone thinks it looks better for one or the other is one story, but how to go about doing it is the same.
Matt: I’m with you on including some strength work. A few sets in the 4-6 rep range will definitely help the overall development of strength and as you said it will add weight to the high rep sets as well. I just prefer to keep the ‘heavy’ sets as a secondary goal and focus on working the muscle.
“How much ya bench?” is the question most asked by people who I first meet and don’t work out themselves. I roll my eyes and ask “How much does it look like I can bench?” The number is just a number, but the muscle that you build goes with you wherever you go.
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Round 5: The best 3 exercises
Round 6: The ideal training program
Round 7: How much protein for fat loss
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