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  • Jack Wilson

Muscle Group Series: Chest Workouts

The following provides great tips for making the most of some exercises that are used to increase the strength and muscle mass of pectoral, or chest, muscles.

Bench Press

The bench press is one of the best and most commonly used exercises for increasing chest muscle strength. There are a number of different ways in which to approach this exercise that will give one slightly different results. The bench can be set up to be flat, inclined, or declined. The more inclined the bench, the more the upper chest muscles are being exercised. When the bench is declined it is working the lower chest muscles harder. In each of these positions you can either choose to use dumbbells or a barbell. Again, this choice will slightly alter how your muscles are worked. The barbell represents stability, while the dumbbells represent more safety and more versatility. You can simply drop dumbbells if a press gets too heavy. If a barbell press gets too heavy, it could fall on the chest or neck. Working with dumbbells also ensures that each side is worked out equally well. If you are, for example, right hand dominant and working with a barbell, the right side of your muscles could be doing most of the work while the left side does not add much power to the press. No matter the angle or weight that is chosen, it is important to press with slow and controlled movements.


Dips are another great exercise for the pectoral muscles. To do dips you need to find two parallel bars that can support your body weight. To begin the dip, put one hand on each bar and push up until you are suspended in the air and being supported by your fully extended arms. Next, breathe in and bend your arms so that your body dips down closer to the ground. The outbreath should occur as you push yourself back to the starting position. Many gyms have a dips machine that you can set to help with the upward movement. As your chest muscles strengthen, the upward push of the machine can be reduced for a tougher workout.


The pushup is another exercise that can be altered in a dozen or so different ways to achieve a slightly differing result. A wide-grip pushup is the one that focuses most specifically on building your chest muscles. This pushup requires you to spread your hands out so that they are more than shoulder-width apart. This way, the weight that is normally put on the shoulders and triceps is transferred to the chest muscles. The wider the hands are placed, the more the chest muscles need to work. The reverse is also true. A narrow-grip pushup puts less strain on the chest muscles and focuses more on strengthening the arms. For a more intense workout you can do one-legged pushups. Lifting one foot off the ground engages your core to stabilize the body. Another way to take the pushup up a notch is to elevate both feet onto a stable surface. As your feet get higher, the chest has to work harder to push up as your body weight pushes down.


Flyes, like the bench press exercises, involve lying on an inclined, flat, or declined bench. Unlike the bench press exercises, flyes cannot be completed with a barbell – you can use dumbbells or a flyes machine. For this exercise you are not pushing up, but rather, pushing in. Take a dumbbell in each hand and then lift your arms so that elbows are out and hands are almost touching. Imagine that you are hugging a tree that you cannot quite fully reach around. Next, pull your hands apart while keeping the same arm position and then bring your hands back together again. For this exercise, the arms are always in the same shape. The movement should be coming from the shoulders and powered by the chest.