The 30 Best Chest Exercises To Add To Your Upper-Body Workouts ASAP

Your posture will thank you.

trainer michelle marques performing dumbbell floor press
Kathryn Wirsing

First and foremost, know this: Yes, you DO want to build a strong chest (a.k.a. pectoral) muscles. "Unfortunately, many women tend to neglect the muscle group, emphasizing lower-body movements and forgetting that the chest and back require the same attention," says Elise Young, CPT, CFSC, of Elise's Bodyshop.

A balanced approach to upper-body strength training will help keep your posture nice and proud and allow you to feel strong throughout daily activities, whether that's carrying groceries or rearranging your furniture for those home workouts. Something else chest exercises and workouts can do? Help you avoid back and neck injuries.

Bonus: Pushing exercises that work your chest often also work your triceps. "I always hear, 'well what can I do for triceps?' and although there are specific triceps exercises, the best way to work the triceps is going to be through compound pushing motions such as chest presses and pushups," Young notes.

The Chest Muscles—Explained

The chest is made up of the pec major, pec minor, and serratus anterior. Here, Young breaks them down.

  • Pectoralis major: The largest of the chest muscles, this fan-shaped muscle spans across your chest. It is responsible for flexion, adduction, and internal rotation of the humerus (arm at the glenohumeral joint, aka shoulder).
  • Pectoralis minor: Smaller and with a more triangular shape, this muscle serves many functions, such as moving the ribs and shoulder blades.
  • Serratus anterior: More laterally located within the chest wall, this muscle is responsible for scapular protraction (translation: pushing away from your body).

    Pro Tips For Working Your Chest

    1. Retract your scapula. Essentially, you want to think about pulling your shoulder blades down and back. "Retracting your scapula requires full recruitment of your chest muscles for the specific pushing movement," Young explains.
    2. Pair chest moves with lower-body pulling moves. “I prefer to work in full-body strength-based training so I balance my training with lower-body push (think squats, lunges) paired with upper-body pull (think rows) and lower-body pull (think deadlifts, bridges) with upper-body push,” says Young. “When we think of upper-body push we are focusing on pushing away from the body."
    3. Start with a barbell. It may sound counterintuitive but Young suggests doing chest presses with a bar (sans any added weight!), rather than dumbbells, when you’re first starting out. “It is often challenging to maintain control with dumbbells so you can focus on using a bar to create that control,” she explains.
    4. Don’t do pushups on your knees. “I highly suggest elevating your upper body on a bench, couch, or chair before dropping to your knees,” Young says. “When we drop to our knees on an exercise such as pushups, we are losing our full core function and therefore it becomes more difficult to progress the exercise. Pushups require a ton of core control, so the more we can practice the same motion, even from an elevated surface, the quicker we will get stronger.”
    5. Consider tempo training. Once you master a particular chest exercise, consider switching up your “tempo” or how long it takes you to execute the three components of the movement, says Mike Simone, CPT, founder of humanfitproject: the concentric (or “upward” phase of the movement like popping back up to plank from a push-up), the eccentric (or “lowering phase) and the isometric (when you’re holding a move in peak contraction — think: about an inch off the floor for a pushup). The great thing about the tempo strategy is that it allows you to make light weights feel “heavy,” says Simone. “The only way you really get stronger is when you progressively overload your body. When you don’t have access to progressively heavier weights, you can challenge yourself by extending the duration of any component of the move.”

      The 20 Best Chest Exercises

      The moves ahead are some of the best-of-the-best for your chest because they challenge your upper-body from every angle. After all, your triceps, shoulders, core, and back also help you perform lots of moves that really fire up your chest.

      The key to incorporating these exercises into solid chest workouts, though, is to mix things up. Select a variety, including a move or two that requires just your bodyweight, one or two that you perform lying down on the floor, one you do seated or kneeling, and a couple that use dumbbells. Choose your own adventure!

      If you can't do full pushups just yet, you'll be cranking them out before you know it once you start incorporating these chest exercises in to your fitness routine on the regular. Speaking of pushups, you’ll see lots of ‘em in this guide. “Variations help ensure you’re hitting all of the muscle fibers of a particular muscle group since you’re attacking them from different angles and approaches,” says Simone. “You’re still working the main muscle group, but slightly differently each time so you’re leaving no fiber untouched.”


      Time: 20–25 minutes

      Equipment: dumbbells, mat

      Good for: chest, arms, upper body

      Instructions: Choose 5 to 8 moves below. After a quick dynamic warm-up (see box below), perform 10 to 12 reps of each, rest for 15 seconds, then continue to the next exercise. Once you've completed each, rest for 1 minute, then repeat the entire circuit twice more for a total of three rounds. Consider alternating chest moves with lower-body pulling moves like deadlifts for a total-body workout.

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      1
      Hand Release Pushup

      Why it rocks: Hand-release pushups work all of your major muscles (triceps included, of course) and can help you boost your pushup range of motion, since they force you to practice powering up off the floor.

      How to: Start in a high plank position with shoulders over wrists. Keep core tight, bend elbows, and lower body all the way down on to the floor. At the bottom, lift hands a few inches into the air. Replace hands, then press back up to start. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Your elbows should point 45 degrees away from sides.

      2
      Bear Plank Shoulder Tap

      Why it rocks: In addition to working your chest, this move fires up your core in a major way.

      How to: Start on all fours with knees elevated a few inches off of floor. Keep back flat and shoulders and hips level while lifting left hand up off mat and bending at elbow to tap right shoulder with it. Replace left hand, then repeat on the opposite side. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Keep abs engaged by pulling your belly button toward spine to prevent shoulders and hips from moving throughout the exercise.

      3
      Isometric Chest Squeeze

      Why it rocks: Isometric work doesn't often get the love it deserves, but this simple move brings on the burn.

      How to: Hold a pair of dumbbells together at chest height, with elbows bent and palms facing in. Stand up straight with left foot slightly in front of right, hips facing forward. Squeeze the dumbbells together and press them straight up until elbows lift slightly above shoulders. Hold for up five seconds, then return to start. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Engage core and avoid letting ribs stick out.

      4
      Glute Bridge Press

      Why it rocks: Not only does this move work your chest and upper body, it also fires up your posterior chain, working your glutes, hamstrings, and core.

      How to: Start lying on back with knees bent and feet hip-distance apart and about 6 inches away from butt. Arms should be out to the sides like a field goal, with elbows forming 90-degree angles and a dumbbell in each hand. Lift hips toward ceiling, keeping core engaged. Hold this glute bridge position and press the weights to ceiling. Lower weights back down. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Be sure to press up in one fluid motion and don't forget to squeeze those glutes at the top of that bridge.

      5
      Pushup

      Why it rocks: This quintessential chest move really works your entire body, and it's oh-so satisfying to nail.

      How to: Start in a high plank position, with shoulders over wrists, core tight, and legs straight and engaged. Maintaining a straight line from head to heels, bend elbows to lower body toward floor in one piece. Press back to start. That’s one rep.

      Pro tip: Elbows should point out at 45 degrees away from ribs during pushup.

      6
      Plank Get-Up

      Why it rocks: In addition to working your core and chest, this one has some sneaky tricep action as well.

      How to: Start in a low plank with forearms on the floor and parallel, elbows under shoulders. Pick up right forearm and press through palm to extend arm straight. Then, repeat with left to come into a high plank, keeping hips as level as possible. Reverse the movement to return to start. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Focus on not rocking your hips, and have your hand refill the spot where your elbow was as you come low to high.

      7
      Incline Pushup

      Why it rocks: If full pushups aren't quite working for ya yet, this modification will help you build up that strength.

      How to: Start in a high plank position with hands elevated on a sturdy surface like a workout bench or coffee table. Shoulders should be stacked over wrists, core tight, legs straight and engaged. Maintain a straight line from head to heels and bend elbows to lower body toward surface in one piece. Press back to start. That’s one rep.

      Pro tip: Elbows should point out at 45 degrees away from ribs during pushup.

      8
      Kneeling Chest Press to Triceps Extension

      Why it rocks: This combo move directly hits both your chest and the back of your arms. Boom!

      How to: Start kneeling with knees slightly wider than hip-distance apart. Hold a dumbbell in both hands and extend arms straight out in front of chest. Bend at elbows to pull dumbbell toward your chest, then press arms back out to straight. Next, raise the dumbbell up overhead, and bend at elbows to lower weight behind head. Finally, extend elbows to press dumbbell back up overhead and reverse the movement to return to starting position. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Keep core engaged and avoid arching upper back and sticking ribs out during movement.

      9
      Single-Arm Deadbug Press

      Why it rocks: The single-arm action of the press requires control and coordination and is a great way to challenge your core while also getting that push.

      How to: Lie on back with legs lifted and knees bent so shins are parallel with floor. Extend left arm straight up toward ceiling (palm facing inward) and hold a dumbbell in right hand with elbow resting on floor about 45 degrees away from ribs. This is your start position. Extend right arm to press dumbbell straight up toward ceiling. Once right arm is fully-extended, slowly bend at elbow and lower weight back down to start. That's one rep. Do all reps on this side, then repeat on the other side.

      Pro tip: Engage your core to keep entire your back connected to floor.

      10
      Decline Pushup

      Why it rocks: Elevating the feet increases the difficulty of traditional pushups and challenges the core that much more. Because of the downward angle, this exercise will also work your shoulders a bit more than traditional pushups.

      How to: Start in a plank position with feet elevated on a chair, bench, or step. Lower body, with elbows pointing 45 degrees away from body, until upper arms are parallel with mat. Then press back up. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Be sure you can successfully complete 8-12 solid pushups from the floor before progressing. Looking for a fun decline alternative? Try a decline high plank to get ready to take that next step.

      11
      Dumbbell Floor Press

      Why it rocks: This one challenges not only your chest, but your upper back, too.

      How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, about a foot from seat. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with backs of upper arms resting on floor. From here, press dumbbells up by extending arms straight. Then, with control, bend at elbows to lower weights down until triceps touch the floor. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Elbows should form 45-degree angles with sides throughout movement.

      12
      Mountain Climber Pushup

      Why it rocks: This move gets your core in on the action and ramps up your heart rate.

      How to: Start in a high plank. Perform one pushup. Then, pull right knee toward chest, return to start, and quickly do the same with the left to perform a mountain climber. Continue alternating for a count of four total. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Keep shoulders stacked over wrists during mountain climbers.

      13
      Seated Arnold Press

      Why it rocks: While the Arnold press is typically more shoulder-dominant, this variation puts greater emphasis on the chest.

      How to: Start sitting down with torso leaned slightly back, legs extended forward, knees bent softly, back of heels on the floor, and arms at sides holding a pair of dumbbells. Bend elbows to 90 degrees and bring them in front of body in line with shoulders, palms facing you. Keep this shape while bringing arms wide out to sides and pressing weights a couple inches up toward ceiling. Reverse movement to bring elbows back in front of face.

      Pro tip: Squeeze chest muscles as you bring elbows together.

      14
      Alternating Dumbbell Floor Press

      Why it rocks: Working one side at a time helps you avoid strength imbalances. Score!

      How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, about a foot from seat. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend both arms up over shoulders, palms facing knees. This is your starting position. Keeping right arm straight, slowly bend left elbow and lower weight until left tricep touches floor. Press the dumbbell back up to start, then repeat with right arm. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Elbows should form 45-degree angles with sides throughout movement.

      15
      Lying Dumbbell Chest Fly

      Why it rocks: This fly involves a different movement pattern than other chest exercises like pushups and presses.

      How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and rest elbows on floor at sides angled away from body at 45 degrees. This is your start position. Press back into floor, engage core, exhale, and draw hands together above chest, maintaining slight bend in arms. With control, reverse the movement to return to start. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Think about hugging a giant beach ball as you squeeze your hands towards each other.

      16
      Closed-Grip Chest Press

      Why it rocks: This chest press variation switches up your grip so you can really focus on squeezing your pecs throughout every rep.

      How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing each other. Keeping dumbbells together, press weights up over chest until arms are straight. Then, with control, reverse motion to return to start. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Keep lower back pressed into floor throughout movement.

      17
      Close Grip Pushup

      Why it rocks: Compared to the standard pushup, the close-grip pushup places greater emphasis on your triceps, hitting all three heads hard.

      How to: Start in a high plank position, but with hands directly beneath chest instead of shoulders. Bend elbows straight back towards feet to lower body toward floor, keeping upper arms close to sides. Press back up to start. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Keep your upper arms as stable as possible so that your reps work the right muscles. That means you've gotta keep those elbows in-line with your shoulders so your upper arms are parallel to each other.

      18
      Chest Fly

      Why it rocks: This one has similar perks to the dumbbell fly—sans weight, making it great for beginners.

      How to: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet placed flat on the ground. Lower your arms to the sides of your body, parallel with your shoulders, until your hands are about six inches off the ground. Slowly reverse the movement and return to start. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: Maintain a slight bend in your elbows.

      19
      Eccentric Chaturanga Pushup

      Why it rocks: Practicing just the eccentric (a.k.a. lowering) phase of this movement can help your nail the full version faster.

      How to: Start in a high plank position. Engage core, glutes, and legs (push heels back), exhale, and lower down to floor to a count of five. Keeping elbows tight against sides and body in one long line. When torso reaches floor, press up onto knees, then back into high plank position. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: If needed, modify by keeping knees down throughout movement.

      20
      Single-Arm Dumbbell Floor Press

      Why it rocks: You get similar benefits that you would with the regular floor press but by working one arm at a time, you help to ID and correct any muscular imbalances.

      How to: Lie on back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Hold a dumbbell in left hand and extend arm upward over chest, palm facing away from you. This is your start position. Slowly bend arm and lower it to the side until tricep touches the ground. Reverse the movement and return to start. That's one rep. Repeat on the other side.

      Pro tip: At the bottom of the movement, your elbow should form a 45 degree angle with body.

      21
      Pushup Plus

      Why it rocks: This variation on the classic helps build the muscles that support your neck and upper back.

      How to: Start lying on stomach, with legs straight, toes tucked, arms bent, elbows pointed toward ceiling, and palms close to body in line with ribs. Engage abs, then exhale and push the floor away until arms are straight. Next, continue to push palms into the floor, spread shoulder blades wide and lift upper back toward ceiling. Reverse movement to return to start. That’s one rep. Complete four sets of 12 to 15 reps, rest for a minute, then continue to your next move.

      Pro tip: Make sure your chin is tucked when you lift the upper back.

      22
      Pushup Hold

      Why it rocks: “Holding the position six inches above the mat forces your pecs, triceps, and deltoids to work extra hard while being under tension for an extended period of time,” says Simone.

      How to: Start in plank position, shoulders over wrists and feet hip-distance apart. Maintaining a straight line from head to heels, lower body down and hold in place about 6 inches above mat. Drop to knees to press back up to plank. Complete as many reps as possible in 45 seconds. Rest for 10 seconds, and then continue to the next move.

      Pro tip: Simone says to experiment with different hand positions, moving them closer together, further apart, off-set, etc. Also, don’t flare your elbows out as you complete the movement.

      23
      1/2 Turkish Getup to Push Up

      Why it rocks: “This very complex exercise not only strengthens your whole body but also improves your coordination,” Simone says.

      How to: Lie face up with your left leg straight and right knee bent, foot flat. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand, with your arm bent. Press the weight into the air at shoulder height. Keeping your eyes on the weight, roll up through your spine until you’re supported on your left forearm. Now, lift your hips off the mat and push down through your right heel to flip your body over, landing in a high plank position. Complete a pushup, then reverse the movement. That’s one rep. Complete 10. (Switch sides for second set.)

      Pro tip: “Do not rush through this one,” Simone cautions. “Break it down to one step at a time.”

      24
      Inner Chest Press

      Why it rocks: This iteration of the chest press calls your triceps more in on the action.

      How to: Lie on your back, with your knees bent and feet placed flat on the ground. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms upward, palms facing toward each other. Keeping the weights together, bend your elbows and bring your hands to your chest. Slowly reverse the movement and return to start. That's one rep. Complete as many reps as possible in 50 seconds.

      Pro tip: “Focus on really squeezing the ends of the weights together throughout the movement to call upon the chest muscles,” Simone says.

      25
      Tabletop Chest Press

      Why it rocks: “This one is all about having your core turned on and more involved in the movement,” Simone says.

      How to:
      Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet lifted so your legs form a 90-degree angle. Hold a dumbbell in each hand and extend your arms upward, palms facing toward your feet. Slowly bend your arms and lower them to your sides, parallel with your shoulders, until your elbows nearly touch the ground. Slowly reverse the movement and return to start. That's one rep. Complete as many reps as possible in 50 seconds.

      Pro tip:
      “Make it harder by extending your legs straight out while keeping your low back firm to the floor,” Simone challenges.

      26
      Wide Pushups

      Why it rocks: Simone says that this variation targets your core stability and serratus, which can support your neck and upper back, a bit more.

      How to: Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart on the floor in a modified high-plank position; your body should form a straight line from head to heels. Keeping your core tight, bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor. Press back to start. That’s one rep. Complete as many reps as possible in 50 seconds.

      Pro tip: “If you are a beginner or lack adequate shoulder mobility, going too wide can put strain on the shoulder joint,” Simone says. “You should have impeccable form with a regular pushup before attempting the wider variation.”

      27
      Elevated Pushup

      Why it rocks: “It’s good to build strength in awkward positions, such as by elevating one of your hands,” Simone says. “Your core is going to work a little harder, too.”

      How to: Start in a high-plank position with one hand on top of a yoga block or elevated surface. (Note: You can drop to your knees for a modified version.) Engage your core, keep your legs straight, and hips level. Slowly lower yourself toward the ground bracing your core. Stop when your elbows get to 90 degrees. Push hard into the ground to lift your body back up in one long line. That’s one rep. Complete 15 on each side for a full set.

      Pro tip: Simone says to start with a modest incline before working your way up.

      28
      Pec Squeeze

      Why it rocks: This is a particularly good exercise if you've had a shoulder injury.

      How to: Start kneeling on mat with seat on heels. With slightly bent arms, hug stability ball in front of chest with hands and forearms. Squeeze ball, hold for three seconds, then release. That's one rep.

      Pro tip: “You can work in higher reps, like 12 to 15, for this one since smaller muscle groups like the rotator cuff respond best to higher repetitions.”

      29
      Bosu Ball Pushup

      Why it rocks: This one creates instability, forcing other muscle groups (like your core) to jump in to help you complete the movement with good form.

      How to: Start in a high plank with hands on flat side of Bosu ball and round part on floor. Bring shoulders in front of wrists while bending elbows until they reach 90 degrees, then press through palms and return to start. That's one rep. Complete as many reps as possible in 30 seconds.

      Pro tip: Play with your hand positioning on the ball until you find where you’re most stable.

      30
      Bosu Ball Chest Press

      Why it rocks: Similar to the Bosu Ball Pushup, this move creates instability — from the flipside.

      How to: Start resting head and shoulders on round side of Bosu ball, arms bent at 90 degrees, elbows wide, holding a pair of dumbbells, legs bent, feet flat on floor, hips lifted so body forms one straight line from shoulders to knees. Engage abs and press arms up straight over chest, then lower back to start. That's one rep. Complete 10 to 12 reps.

      Pro tip: Make sure your core is tight and you’re completely stable before trying to execute the press.

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