Effective Upper Chest Workout – Generation Iron Fitness & Bodybuilding Network

How to build a big chest

Those looking to increase their breast size often start in the wrong place. For ultimate chest strengthening, it’s wise to start at the top of the chest and work down; therefore, growing the upper pecs should be a priority.

Typically, for chest development, the chosen method is to perform heavy bench presses and chest-focused exercises. While there are many great chest-building exercises out there, many of them work the mid and lower chest fibers rather than the upper chest fibers. As a result, the upper chest may not grow at the same rate, hampering the overall progress of chest building.

The pectorals

The chest muscles are known as the pecs and there are 4 individual muscles that make up the muscle group. The 4 muscles are pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, serratus anterior and subclavius. All of these muscles work together to cause movement around the shoulder.

For those looking to increase chest size, it is the pectoralis major that will be the most interesting. As its name suggests, the pectoralis major is the largest and most visible of the 4 muscles. As a result, it is the muscle that has the most impact on building the chest.

The pec major has 3 independent points of origin – one on the collarbone (clavicle), another on the sternum (breastbone), and finally one on the rib cage. As a result, the pectoral muscle is often divided into 3 different anatomical sections – the clavicular region (upper), the sternal region (middle) and the costal region (lower). The three regions fit over the humerus bone in the upper arm and allow for a different range of shoulder movement (1).

upper chest workout

As mentioned, the upper chest is often underdeveloped and requires special attention. The following workout will demonstrate an effective plan for building upper chest strength and size.

The plan can be used either as a “chest day” workout or as the foundation for a chest-based workout. Additional chest exercises can be added to this plan to increase overall workout volume and improve muscle hypertrophy.

Exercise Sets x reps Rest
Incline Dumbbell Flyes (Low Angle) 3×12, 10, 8 45s
Smith Machine Incline Bench Press 4×12, 10, 8, 6 60s
Push-ups with elevated feet (Dropset) 3x breakdown 30s

bodybuilder chest

The 3 upper chest exercises

This section will briefly break down the movements required for each of the exercises in the program. For those new to strength training or those learning the exercises for the first time, always start with a low weight and intensity to allow time for the body to become familiar with the movements required. As movement control improves, gradually increase the demand for each exercise.

1) Incline Dumbbell Flyes (Low Angle)

A standard dumbbell fly will target the body of the pecs rather than specifically hitting the top portion of the muscle. In order to place the majority of the stress on the upper chest, place the bench on a low incline. This will maximize the engagement of the upper pecs while minimizing the involvement of the front deltoids in the shoulder

For dumbbell incline flight, lie on the bench and press the dumbbells so that they are directly above the chest – this is the starting point. In a controlled motion, gradually lower the dumbbells to the sides of the body while keeping your arms straight (avoid locking the elbow joint). Raise your chest as you lower to stretch the pecs while making sure the shoulders are held back and down.

Once the arms are down at the sides of the body, squeeze the arms together in order to bring the arms back to the starting position. Avoid hitting the dumbbells together when they meet above the chest. Once the dumbbells return to the starting point on the chest, focus on momentarily contracting the pecs before beginning the next repetition.

2) Smith Machine Incline Bench Press

When benching, one of the advantages of using the Smith machine over a barbell is that stabilization is less of a factor. With barbell, many muscles need to contract in order to stabilize the barbell as it moves, which can reduce some of the demand on the upper pecs. Because the Smith Machine runs along the rails, there is no need for stabilization, which will allow for more emphasis on the upper pecs.

For the incline bench press, start by setting the bench to about 45 degrees and lie down on it, making sure the barbell is in line with your chest. Grasp the bar with both hands slightly wider than shoulder width. Untie the barbell then gradually lower the barbell toward the chest, stopping an inch above the chest. Stopping just short of the chest will keep tension in the pecs and eliminate the chance of using momentum.

Pause briefly at the bottom of the rep before driving the bar up powerfully. As with the tilt flies, try squeezing the pecs together at this point and hold a strong contraction for about a second. Finally, make sure the elbows do not lock during this phase as this will cause the triceps to take control rather than the upper chest.

3) Push-Ups with elevated feet

In terms of bodyweight exercises, the push-up reigns supreme for chest development. In the same way that placing the bench on a slope puts more strain on the upper pecs (2), elevating the feet will also shift attention to the upper chest. Using dumbbells or push-up handles is a great option for those who struggle with wrist pain and also to increase the range of motion of the exercise.

To perform the push-ups, start by placing a bench directly behind the body. Position the hands so that they are directly below the shoulders, then place the feet on the bench about hip-width apart. Keeping the body as straight as possible, hinge the elbows and seek to keep them tight against the body as the chest drops to the floor.

From this position, imagine trying to drive your hands through the floor to propel the body back to the starting position. Once muscle failure is reached, drop down to the floor and continue pressing. This advanced training method is known as the drop-set and has proven to be an effective muscle-building method (3).

Muscle Building Essentials

While it’s important to focus on developing your upper chest to build a full, thick chest, changes in muscle size won’t happen just by following the aforementioned workout plan. Absolutely, strength training is very important for building muscle size, but it must be accompanied by proper nutrition.

The most important factor that will determine whether muscle gain is successful or not is the number of calories consumed. For effective bodybuilding, a caloric surplus must be established. This is simply where you consume more calories per day than your body needs. If a caloric surplus is not maintained, optimal muscle growth will not occur (4).

During weight training sessions in the gym, individual muscle fibers actually begin to tear at a microscopic level as a result of exposure to a training stimulus. The body needs these extra calories to recover optimally from the stresses of training and to repair every fiber. This repair process increases the strength and size of muscle fibers.

The second nutrition-based essential for muscle building is to ensure that enough protein is consumed. Protein is a crucial macronutrient that the body needs daily for growth, healing, and the regulation of bodily processes. When it comes to building muscle, getting enough protein every day will again speed up recovery time after training and promote muscle growth (5).

In summary, not consuming enough calories or protein will impede all muscle building progress, no matter how often strength training takes place.

Last word

Targeting the upper chest is often the missing component for those looking to build a full chest. Therefore, it is worth selecting a number of resistance exercises that strain the upper chest to a large extent and cause substantial adaptation. However, without proper nutrition, building significant muscle mass will be difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, make sure you are consuming enough calories and protein to trigger hypertrophy.

For more news and updates, follow Generation Iron on Facebook, Twitterand instagram.

The references:

1-Solari, Francesca; Burns, Bracken (2019), “Anatomy, Thorax, Pectoralis Major Major”, StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, PMID 30252247

2-Lauver, Jakob D.; Cayot, Trent E.; Scheuermann, Barry W. (2016). “Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscle activation during bench press exercise”. European Journal of Sports Science. 16 (3): 309–316. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2015.1022605. ISSN 1536-7290. PMID 25799093.

3-Fink, Julius; Schoenfeld, Brad J.; Kikuchi, Naoki; Nakazato, Koichi (2018-5). “Effects of drop set resistance training on indicators of acute stress and long-term muscle hypertrophy and strength”. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Fitness. 58 (5): 597–605. doi: 10.23736/S0022-4707.17.06838-4. ISSN 1827-1928. PMID 28474868.

4 SHEETS, XANDER; ANTONIO, JOSE (December 1, 2017). “The Effects of Overeating on Body Composition: The Role of Macronutrient Composition – A Narrative Review”. International Journal of Exercise Science. 10 (8): 1275–1296. ISSN 1939-795X. PMC 5786199. PMID 29399253.

5-Stark, Matthew; Lukaszuk, Judith; Prawitz, Aimee; Salacinski, Amanda (December 14, 2012). “Protein synchronization and its effects on muscle hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in bodybuilding”. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 9:54. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-54. ISSN 1550-2783. PMC 3529694. PMID 23241341.

Teresa E. Burton