February 11th, 2017|Muscle Gain, Training|
The Best Chest Workout - Myolean Fitness

Are you looking for a great chest workout to develop big and strong pecs?

If you are, keep reading since, in this article, we will:

  • talk about the most common mistakes guys make when trying to build their chest
  • explain the anatomy and biomechanics of the pecs
  • give you examples of the best chest exercises
  • give you a sample chest workout for serious gains

Ready? Awesome! Let’s get right to it!

Common mistakes when designing a chest workout

Most guys skip leg day. Some even skip back day. But chest day? No male in the history of ever has skipped chest day!

And we can definitely appreciate why. A big, strong, defined chest just looks freaking amazing!

And although guys never skip chest day, most of them have little to show for their dedication and hard work.


Because when designing their chest workout, most people make at least some the following mistakes:

  1. Choosing the wrong exercises
  2. Constantly and needlessly changing exercises
  3. Not going heavy enough
  4. Not progressively overloading
  5. Doing too much volume per session
  6. Training with less than optimal frequency

There are probably a few other ways people screw up their chest workout, but these are some of the most common ones.

Before we go into any specifics, however, let’s first take a moments to briefly look at the anatomy of the chest musculature.

Anatomy of the pectoralis major

The superficial muscle of the chest is called the “pectoralis major”, also known as the “pecs”.

It is a large, fan-shaped muscle that has two main parts:

  • the clavicular head – this is what most people call the “upper chest”
  • the sternocostal – this is the largest part of the pecs

As you can see below, the clavicular head attaches on the clavicle, while the sternocostal head attaches on the sternum, and both insert onto the humerus.

The Best Chest Workout - Myolean Fitness - Anatomy

Adapted from: Delavier F (2005)

Despite what many people think, EMG research suggests that the chest does actually have an upper and lower part, each of which can be preferentially emphasized with different exercises.

Consequently, it makes sense that your chest workout should develop all parts of you pecs equally and not just the sternocostal head. This will ensure that your chest looks full and “square” rather than “droopy”.

Before making exercise recommendations, let’s first look at the biomechanics of the pectoralis major.

Biomechanics of the pectoralis major

While both the clavicular and the sternocostal parts of the pecs perform a number of functions, here are the main ones that you should be concerned with:

Clavicular head:

  • shoulder transverse flexion (think bench press)
  • shoulder transverse adduction (think chest fly)
  • shoulder flexion (think front dumbbell raise)

Sternocostal head:

  • shoulder transverse flexion (think bench press)
  • shoulder transverse adduction (think chest fly)

As you can see, both heads perform shoulder transverse flexion and adduction, while the clavicular head is also heavily involved in shoulder flexion. Moreover, it’s also worth noting that the sternocostal head seems to be a stronger shoulder transverse flexor than adductor, which means that wide-grip pressing movements are likely better than chest fly movements.

The Best Chest Workout - Myolean Fitness - Arnold

Source: Jordandayaia

The best exercises for your chest workout

So now that we know which muscles we want to train and what each muscle’s primary functions are, it’s time to select our exercises!

As we’ve mentioned in Part 1 of our How to Build Muscle series, when choosing exercises, it’s important you make sure that they:

  • work the intended muscle group through a full range of motion
  • give you the best bang for your buck – this means you should emphasize compound movements
  • can be performed and overloaded safely
  • give ample room for progressive overload

So, based on the information above as well as on our practical experience, here are what we consider to be the best chest exercises for a big, square chest!

Flat barbell bench press

Why we love it: the flat barbell bench press ticks almost all the boxes. It’s a compound movement that works the entire chest (mostly emphasizing the sternocostal head) via shoulder transverse flexion, while heavily loading it when the arms are out to the side where the maximum leverage for the pectoralis major is.

Moreover, the barbell bench press can be performed with heavy loads and be overloaded safely, while giving ample room for progressive overload.

How to perform the flat barbell bench press:

Incline barbell bench press

Why we love it: the incline barbell bench press is a great exercise for the clavicular head of the chest and should definitely be a part of your chest workout! It’s a compound movement that works the chest through a combination of shoulder transverse flexion and shoulder flexion, the latter being very important for upper chest development.

Moreover, similarly to the flat barbell bench press, it can be performed with heavy loads and overloaded safely, while giving plenty of room for progressive overload.

How to perform the incline barbell bench press:

Remember that, when performing an incline bench press, you should be using an incline angle of around 30-60 degrees as well as a narrow to medium grip width, since doing these will help maximally emphasize upper chest development.

The dumbbell variations

Although the flat and incline dumbbell press are also very good exercises for the chest since they allow somewhat better range of motion and a more “natural” movement, they suffer two major disadvantages:

  • they can’t always be overloaded safely, since the stronger you get, the harded it becomes to get into position for the exercise
  • they are difficult to progressively overload in the long-term, since the next heaviest dumbbells from the ones you’re currently using are, often times, too heavy

However, the dumbbell variations can be used as “accessory” lifts after the first barbell core lift to add some exercise variation and to increase total training volume.

The best chest workout - Myolean Fitness - dumbbell press

Adapted from: Everkinetik

Chest flyes/pec-dec

Chest flyes (especially the dumbbell variations) don’t tick many of the boxes, which is why we’re not big fans of them.

The cable variations and the pec-dec, however:

  • are a form of transverse shoulder adduction (one of the main functions of the pecs, especially the upper fibers),
  • do a good job of keeping the load on the pecs through a full range of motion and
  • provide peak contraction,

something the barbell and dumbbell presses don’t achieve.

Combine the above with the fact the a little exercise variation may independently provide a growth stimulus, and you have some relatively good reasoning for including a cable/ped-dec variation to finish off your chest workout.

The Best Chest Workout - Myolean Fitness - flyes

Adapted from: Everkinetik

Online Coaching Side Widget within text 2 - Myolean Fitness

A sample chest workout

So since we identified what we think are some of the best chest exercises you can perform to develop big, square pecs, let’s put these into a chest workout!

Chest day workout A

1. Flat barbell bench press – 3 sets x 5-8 reps

2. Incline dumbbell press – 3 sets x 8-10 reps

3. Pec-dec – 2 sets x 10-15 reps

Chest day workout B

1. Incline barbell press- 3 sets x 5-8 reps

2. Flat dumbbell bench press – 3 sets x 8-10 reps

3. Incline cable fly – 2 sets x 10-15 reps

So there you have it!

Combine the workouts above with a proper muscle building nutrition plan and some sound muscle building training principles and we can guarantee that you’ll build an impressive chest!

Oh, and if you enjoy learning about the science of training and the manipulation of each training variable, you will definitely enjoy this interview we did with Eric Helms.

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