11 Best Barbell Chest Exercises

According to Personal Trainer & Former Competitive Bodybuilder

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTPublished: March 8, 2023

A barbell is one of the simplest pieces of fitness equipment. Whether you work out at a fancy fitness club or a bare-bones basement gym, you can get your hands on a bar.

But most lifters only know two or three basic barbell chest exercises. And you probably run out of ideas long before you’ve had a complete chest workout.

That’s why I’ve compiled this list of the 11 best barbell chest exercises. So you can get back to the basics and build a bigger chest.

Barbell Chest Exercises

What Are Barbell Chest Exercises?

Barbells come in many shapes and sizes. You have your full-size Olympic bars and smaller fixed-weight bars like you’d find in a commercial gym. Plus, you could also use an EZ bar for many barbell exercises.

Whatever bar you use, barbell chest exercises are generally pressing or fly-type movements that work your pectoralis major and pectoralis minor, also known as the pectoral muscles.

Barbell Chest Exercises FAQ

Before we get into the list of exercises, let me answer some common questions surrounding barbell chest exercises.

Is barbell bench the best chest exercise?

The barbell bench press is arguably the best exercise for developing overall pectoral size and strength. But you will need more than the standard bench press to get a complete workout.

Can you build a big chest with a barbell?

It would be best to use various forms of resistance along with the barbell, such as dumbbells, cables, and machines. However, in a pinch, you can build a big chest with only barbell exercises.

How do you build your chest with a barbell?

The key to building a big chest with a barbell is getting back to the basics. In other words, use a handful of fundamental movements with proper form and strategic techniques.

How to Build Chest Muscle

How To Build Your Chest With A Barbell

You must adhere to a few principles to build a big muscular chest with barbell exercises. So let’s break it down into simple steps.

Master the Basics

First, you should get really good at a few basic barbell exercises because sloppy form or half-ass effort won’t get you far.

For example, work on mastering perfect form on the flat bench press to isolate your pectoral muscles.

Hit Multiple Angles

Another critical point is hitting your chest from every angle. You need to target your upper, middle, and lower chest. And use exercises that work the fibers in the stretched and contracted portions of the range of motion.

For example, free-weight chest flies are great for stretching the pecs. At the same time, cross-body movements can help you hit the inner chest in the contracted range of motion.

Target 8-12 Repetitions

When your goal is muscle growth, you should also target 8 to 12 repetitions per set before reaching muscular failure. This is the ideal range for hypertrophy training.

You can get stronger with heavy weights and low reps, but you won’t break down as many fibers for growth. And going over 15 reps starts emphasizing muscle endurance.

Related: Training For Strength vs Hypertrophy

Use Compound & Isolation Exercises

Finally, most barbell exercises are compound movements. That means they use multiple joints, such as the shoulders and elbows. For example, think of how your arms move during the bench press.

However, it would be best to include chest isolation exercises to maximize growth. And this can be trickier with just a barbell.

But I have a couple of unique isolation barbell chest exercises that you can try.

How to Build Chest Muscle

Best Barbell Chest Exercises

Now it’s time to share the best barbell chest exercises. I broke this list into sections based on the equipment needed to make it easier to navigate.

First, I’ll show you all the barbell press variations with a bench. Then barbell chest exercises you can do without a bench.

And lastly, I threw in a couple of alternative chest exercises with the barbell.

Barbell Chest Exercises with Bench

Let’s begin with barbell chest exercise variations using a flat or angled bench.

1. Barbell Chest Press

Again, the barbell bench press is the poster child of compound chest exercises. It’s straightforward, effective, and almost addicting when your strength goes up.

However, the standard flat bench primarily targets your mid to lower chest. So, on its own, it won’t give you that swole Arnold Schwarzenegger chest.

2. Barbell Incline Chest Press

The barbell incline press is an essential exercise for building your upper chest. The inclined angle changes the loading on your pectoral muscles and works the upper half as well as the shoulders.

Learn more about the differences between incline bench press vs flat bench press.

Incline Bench Barbell Chest Exercises

3. Barbell Decline Chest Press

Also, you should consider including the decline barbell press if you want to add size to your lower chest. This angle reduces shoulder involvement and is somewhere between a flat bench and a dip.

In addition, the range of motion is shorter, so you may find that you can lift more weight on the decline bench press.

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4. Barbell Feet Elevated Press

Now we’ve got all the angles covered. So let’s introduce a technique to isolate your chest further.

One way to target your pecs on the bench press is by elevating your feet or placing them on the bench. Removing your feet from the floor forces you to keep your back flatter, which reduces the involvement of secondary muscle groups.

However, you must use a lighter weight for this variation to avoid injuring your shoulder joint or pectoral muscle.

Related: Learn How I Tore My Pectoral Muscle & Recovered

Feet Up Bench Barbell Chest Exercises

Barbell Chest Exercises Without Bench

Next, let me show you some barbell chest exercises you can do without a bench.

5. Barbell Floor Press

If you remove the bench and lie on the floor, you can still perform a chest press movement. But the backs of your upper arms will hit the floor before the bar touches your chest.

Basically, the floor press is like a partial range of motion bench press that focuses on the top of the movement. As such, powerlifters often use this exercise to work on the lockout for heavy benching.

Related: Benefits of Floor Press vs Bench Press

Floor Press Barbell Chest Exercises

6. Landmine Press

Another non-bench barbell chest exercise is the landmine press. For this exercise, you will need a landmine base or landmine attachment.

This pivoting base turns your barbell into a giant lever that you can use for dozens of movements, including chest exercises.

For example, the landmine chest press involves facing the landmine and holding the end of the barbell in both hands at chest level. Then extend your arms to press the barbell up and away from your body.

Often, the landmine press is used as a shoulder exercise. But you can also use it to work your upper chest by standing a little closer to the bar.

Landmine Press Barbell Chest Exercises

7. Single Arm Landmine Press

You can also perform the landmine press with one arm at a time. Making it a unilateral movement opens up more body positions for targeting different areas of your chest.

For example, you can turn into the working arm and press across your body to hit the fibers in your inner chest.

Single Arm Landmine Press Barbell Chest Exercises

8. Landmine Fly

The landmine fly is the first isolation barbell chest exercise on the list. For this exercise, you will lie on the floor at one end of the barbell and hold it with a palms-up grip.

Then, lower the end of the barbell out and away from your body while keeping your arm relatively straight. Pull your arm back across your body until the bar is back in front of your chest.

Landmine Fly Barbell Chest Exercises

Other Barbell Chest Exercises

Now I’ll share a few more barbell exercises that work your chest if different ways.

9. Barbell Push Up

You can place the barbell on a rack and use it to do a few different push-up variations. The higher you set the bar, the less resistance your body weight provides and vice versa.

So you should find the angle that provides enough resistance where you can’t get more than 15 reps. For advanced lifters, do this as a superset or at the end of your workout when you’re already fatigued.

Push Up Barbell Chest Exercises

10. Barbell Front Raise

The barbell front raise is an excellent exercise for the anterior deltoids. However, you can also use it to work your upper chest.

In the video below, I demonstrate a pronated barbell front raise. But a supinated grip might help you feel your chest more during this exercise.

11. Barbell Pullover

The pullover exercise is typically used as a back or lat exercise. However, you can also use it to target your chest and serratus muscles.

The key to using the pullover for chest is keeping your arms straighter and focusing on the range of motion where your arms are in front of your body.

In addition, you can combine the front raise and pullover into one movement, similar to an around the world exercise. The picture below shows how this exercise looks.

Pullover Barbell Chest Exercises

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Barbell Chest Workout

Now you have a good idea of the best barbell exercises for working your chest. But you might be confused about how to assemble them into a productive chest workout.

So here is an example chest workout using some of the exercises provided above.

Barbell Chest Workout:

  • Flat Bench Press
    • 3 sets, 6-10 reps
  • Landmine Press
    • 3 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Decline Bench Press
    • 3 sets, 8-12 reps
  • Landmine Fly
    • 4 sets, 10-15 reps
  • Barbell Push Up
    • Superset with flies
    • 4 sets, as many reps as possible

You’ll notice this barbell chest workout includes exercises to hit your mid, upper, and lower chest. As well as both compound and isolation movements using a variety of rep ranges.

More Exercises & Workouts

This article’s barbell chest exercises and workout will help you build pectoral size and strength. But, if possible, you should include some dumbbell, cable, and machine exercises for a complete chest workout.

So here are some additional resources for planning your training sessions.

Incline Smith Machine Press

Incline Dumbbell Press Tips

How to Do Dumbbell Flys

Average Male Chest Size by Height

Best Barbell Tricep Exercises

If you feel you’ve got a good handle on exercises, check out some of my other fitness-related content below. These articles include topics covering all things bodybuilding, nutrition, and supplements.

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