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5 of the best chest exercises

A young woman doing a tricep dip outdoors on a park bench
Wondering how and why to exercise your chest muscles? We share why you should do chest exercises and 5 of the best exercises to help you sculpt and add definition.

You likely focus on your arms and legs during exercise, but did you know that working on your chest muscles is equally important? Focusing on your chest when you exercise helps to sculpt the muscles and add definition.

The best chest exercises can make you stronger and leaner, especially when combined with a high-protein diet. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s discover some of the best chest workouts that you can do at home or in the gym.

Skip to: What are chest muscles? | Why should you exercise your chest? | Bodyweight chest exercises | Chest workouts with dumbells | Recovering after a chest workout | The bottom line

What are chest muscles?


Before you start training your chest muscles, it’s important to know what the muscles in the chest area are and where they are. There are five different chest muscles, which are:1,2

  • Pectoralis Major muscle: this is the first pectoral muscle and is the largest muscle in your chest. It is located just under the breast tissue and makes up the chest wall underneath your shoulders.
  • Pectoralis Minor muscle: this is the second of the pectoral muscles and is a smaller, triangular-shaped muscle which sits below the pectoralis major.
  • Serratus Anterior muscle: this muscle runs from the top of your ribcage down to the bottom and along your scapula, which is the triangular-shaped bone in your upper back.
  • Subclavius muscle: this is a small, triangle-shaped muscle that sits across your shoulders and elevates your top rib.
  • Intercostal muscles: these muscles make up a group of different muscles that sit between your ribs and make up the chest wall.

Why should you exercise your chest?


Exercising your chest is not just about looking good. As it turns out, there are several reasons why exercising your chest is a good idea, from keeping your muscles healthy to improving your flexibility. These include:

Improving your posture

Exercising your chest muscles helps to balance out the upper body’s muscles while improving your posture.3

 

Building strength

Regular chest exercises can also add power to the muscles and arms, making it easier to do everyday tasks such as carrying shopping and lifting heavy objects. This is especially important if you’re older as our muscles naturally weaken as we age.4

 

Improving muscle tone

While some people may be worried about building an overly muscular physique, when combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise, chest exercises can improve muscle tone.3

 

Improving your mental health

Exercise is also proven to be just as beneficial for mental health as it is for the body. It can help reduce anxiety and depression while alleviating symptoms of low self-esteem.5,6

 

Lowering the risk of osteoporosis

Particularly when it comes to women (who are naturally more prone), keeping your bones and muscles, including your upper body, strong and toned may help lower the risk of developing osteoporosis in the future.7

 

Improving your flexibility

Regularly stretching out and building up the muscles in our upper body helps improve our overall flexibility and ensures that simple day-to-day tasks are easier to manage.3

 

Bodyweight chest exercises


You do not always need heavy weights and tonnes of equipment to get a good workout.

Bodyweight exercises (using the weight of your own body in strength training) can be just as effective as weight training when done correctly, and you can easily do these exercises at home.8

Try out some of these upper chest workouts that you can do from the comfort of your home.

1. Pushups


The classic pushup is one of the easiest chest workouts you can do indoors – or outdoors! And better still, they don’t require any equipment – just time, dedication, and determination.

Pushups build upper body strength by working the triceps and pectoral muscles.9  They also work the body’s core and abdominal muscles.

As you get stronger, you can challenge yourself by varying the difficulty of the exercise. Try increasing the number of reps or incorporating other movements into the exercise, like claps between each pushup or a couple of reps with one hand behind your back.

Modification: If pushups feel too difficult, try starting with your knees on the floor. This helps to spread your body weight out more and take less pressure off your arms and shoulders.10

2. Tricep dips


Tricep dips, also known as bench dips, are another great at-home exercise. They are performed using a flat surface, such as a bench, chair, or any piece of furniture that is raised from the ground.

Bench dips target your triceps along with your chest and anterior deltoid, the front section of your shoulder.11 They strengthen the muscles and form part of an effective exercise routine.

Keeping your legs straight and your bum raised from the ground, place your hands on the flat surface with your fingers facing towards your body. Dip down and back up slowly, keeping your elbows nice and supple.

Modification: If you feel any strain or discomfort when completing a tricep dip, try bending your knees into a tabletop position instead to take some of the pressure off your arms. You can lower yourself down less as well.12

3. Star plank


The star plank is harder than it looks! To get started, move into the pushup position, and spread your arms and legs as far apart as they can comfortably go. You should make a star shape with your body.

Hold the position for as long as you can, keeping your torso straight and your abs taut. For a more effective workout, repeat  a couple of times or until your body cannot hold it any longer. Not only are you exercising the chest, but the abs and shoulders get a good workout too.13

Modification: If you find the star position too difficult, try a regular plank instead, as this will still work your chest muscles too. If you’re a complete beginner, try leaving your knees on the floor, as this will help support you.

Chest workouts with dumbbells


The gym is one of the best places to get an effective chest workout using weights and machines. But did you know you can get also get a great chest workout at home with dumbbells?

Check out these effective dumbbell chest exercises:

1. Dumbbell fly


The dumbbell fly is a great inner chest workout, as it isolates the chest muscles so that they become bigger and stronger.14 It is also one of the classic bodybuilding movements as it helps to improve the overall look of the chest.

The exercise helps to open the chest muscles, reducing back pain and tightness in the upper part of the body.15

To perform the dumbbell fly, safely pick up a pair of dumbbells and lay down on a bench or flat surface. Lift your arms above your chest and, keeping your elbows bent, slowly bring the dumbbells down in a curve until they are in line with your chest. Repeat the move for several reps. 10-15 is a good place to start.

2. Dumbbell bench press


The dumbbell bench press is a good chest workout for the pectoral muscles. This move allows a greater range of movement and trains each side of the chest in isolation, meaning strength is built evenly across the body.16

A dumbbell bench press requires a set of dumbbells and a bench or flat surface.

Laying with your back flat and your palms facing forwards, extend your elbows to push the weights above you, then bring them back down slowly. Repeat this for 10-15 reps or until muscle fatigue sets in.

Signs that you’re overdoing your upper body exercises


Exercise may be an essential part of keeping your whole body healthy and in shape. However, it’s possible to overdo it.

If you’ve noticed the following things after you work out, you may want to tone down your repetitions, increase your warm-up and stretching times, or even have a break for a couple of days.17

  1. Severe muscle aches after your workout
  2. Feeling intensely tired after you exercise
  3. Having to take longer rest breaks between moves
  4. Taking much longer to fall asleep at night
  5. Getting frequent minor injuries

Before beginning any form of exercise routine, make sure it’s suitable for your needs, fitness level and age. If in doubt, consult a professional or your GP for advice on which upper body exercises are suitable for you.

How to recover from a chest workout


After any workout, you want to make sure you take the proper steps to recover. This is so important to stop your muscles from feeling achy and sore the next day.

Here are 4 things to do after your workout:

  • Stretch – make sure you do a proper cool down with some stretches once you finish your workout.18
  • Drink lots of water – hydrating after a workout is important, too, as it helps your muscles get more oxygen and helps to regulate your body temperature.19
  • Get some sleep – getting some rest after a workout helps your body to repair your muscle tissue and reduce the risk of injury.20
  • Up your protein – eating protein, or drinking a protein shake, after a workout helps your body repair any damage to your muscles.21

The bottom line


Exercise, in general, is so important for keeping your muscles, bones and joints healthy. But you may not think to exercise the muscles in your chest.

Training the muscles in the chest area can be so beneficial for your body and mind, from improving your posture to giving your mental health a boost. So, next time you’re doing a home workout, or you’re in the gym, why not give these chest exercises a go?

Just remember to give yourself 5 minutes at the end of your workout to stretch your muscles for recovery and to ease back pain or discomfort.

Sources

  1. https://teachmeanatomy.info/upper-limb/muscles/pectoral-region/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545241/
  3. https://www.northside.com/about/news-center/article-details/4-unexpected-benefits-of-chest-exercises
  4. https://www.sportsrec.com/535975-pectoralis-minor-exercises-without-weights.html
  5. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/about-physical-activity/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC147065 
  7. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoporosis/
  8. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1475-097X.2010.00949.x
  9. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/FullText/2010/04000/Bodyweight_Training__A_Return_To_Basics.5.aspx
  10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/multimedia/modified-pushup/vid-20084674
  11. https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/19/20/13211
  12. http://ndl.ethernet.edu.et/bitstream/123456789/69492/1/63.pdf.pdf
  13. https://gethealthyu.com/exercise/star-plank/
  14. https://www.muscleandstrength.com/exercises/dumbbell-flys.html
  15. https://www.asep.org/asep/asep/JEPonlineAPRIL2018_Reiser.pdf
  16. https://www.coachmag.co.uk/chest-exercises/7391/how-to-do-the-dumbbell-bench-press
  17. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sprains-and-strains/
  18. https://reboundphysicaltherapy.com/stretching-after-exercising/
  19. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Exercise-the-low-down-on-water-and-drinks
  20. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/physical-activity/should-i-nap-right-after-my-workout
  21. https://www.bhf.org.uk/how-you-can-help/events/training-zone/nutrition-for-sporting-events/protein-and-exercise
 
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