Ultimate Guide On How to Build Chest Muscle

By: Jeremy Fox, CNC, CPTUpdated: February 14, 2024

If you want to know how to build chest muscle, you’ve come to the right place. I’m a certified personal trainer, and I’m going to share the exercises and techniques that helped me bench press nearly double my body weight and build a massive chest naturally.

how to build chest muscle

For centuries, a broad and muscular chest has been considered a symbol of physical power and confidence. This idea is still prevalent in today’s portrayal of muscle-bound superheroes in movies, leading many people to hit the gym in search of the perfect chest.

In fact, the chest is one of the most commonly trained muscles, and it can be difficult to find an open bench press on a Monday afternoon. Despite all the effort, however, few people achieve the herculean chest of their dreams. But this doesn’t mean it’s impossible to build a big chest.

Unless you have particularly unlucky genetics, you too can achieve a strong and powerful chest by adjusting your training routine to maximize growth. In this article, you will learn how to build chest muscle with a killer chest workout designed for optimal growth.

Chest Muscle Anatomy

It is worth noting that an individual’s genetic makeup affects the placement of the muscles and tendons and greatly influences the overall shape of the pectoral muscles. However, anyone can increase the overall size of their chest muscles through resistance training and, to some extent, alter the shape.

The chest consists of two muscles – the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. These muscles are responsible for pulling your arms across and in front of your body, as in a pressing movement.

The pec minor is smaller and situated beneath the pec major. The pec major attaches to your upper arm bone and inserts at a clavicular head and a sternal head.

The various muscle fiber bundles of the pectoralis major can be categorized as the upper and lower chest. Moreover, a well-developed chest should have balanced proportions from top to bottom.

how to build chest muscle anatomy

Basics for Building Chest Muscle

Before I get into the list of exercises for building chest muscle, it’s essential to start with the basics. These include how often you train your chest without overtraining, how heavy to lift and for how many reps, and how to execute the exercises with proper form.

Chest Training Volume & Frequency

A prerequisite for any successful workout program is to place enough stress on the body to stimulate an adaptation response, resulting in muscle growth. One measure of the overall stress on a muscle group is how many working sets you include in your weekly workouts.

A generally accepted minimum effective volume is about ten sets per muscle group weekly. This means you must do at least ten sets of chest exercises each week to maintain muscle, while 12-20 sets may be ideal for maximum muscle growth.

However, more isn’t always better, and there is a point of diminishing returns in doing more than 20 sets per week for most people. This is the maximum recoverable volume, and going beyond it won’t result in more gains and could cause overtraining.

You could train your chest once per week, like in the 5-day bro split workout. Or spread it out over two workouts in a 6-day push, pull, legs, split.

how to build chest muscle

Ideal Weight & Rep Range on Chest Exercises

Building a bigger chest goes hand in hand with building a stronger chest. You must lift heavy weights and use progressive overload to continue getting stronger over time. However, going too heavy will result in strength gains without the desired chest size gains.

The sweet spot for muscle hypertrophy lies in the 6-12 rep range, which typically corresponds to 70-85% of your one rep max (1RM). For example, if your 1RM on bench press is 245 pounds, you should perform most of your working sets at 170 to 210 pounds.

Chest Exercise Form & Technique

​If your goal is building chest muscle size, using proper form and technique on chest exercises is necessary. First, using a full range of motion is a great way to work the muscle in both the stretched and contracted positions.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to perform each rep in a relatively slow and controlled manner. This helps you avoid moving the weight with momentum and keeps constant tension on the chest muscles.

Finally, don’t be embarrassed to start with a lighter weight until you’ve mastered the perfect form. Then, you can gradually build up to heavier weights to build strong chest muscles.

Fundamental Movements for Building Chest Muscle

Resistance training for chest development is fairly straightforward and only consists of three basic movements. These are chest presses, dips, and flies. Here are some brief descriptions of the types of exercises you can use to improve upper body strength and conditioning.

  • Chest Press – This movement can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, or chest press machines. Bench press variations involve lying on a bench and pressing a weight away from the chest until the arms are fully extended. The chest press can be performed at different angles (incline, decline, or flat) to target different parts of the chest muscle.
  • Chest Dips – This movement involves using parallel bars or a dip station to lift your body weight up and down. The exercise starts with arms fully extended and involves bending the elbows to lower the body until the upper arms are parallel with the ground and then pushing back up to the starting position.
  • Chest Flyes – This movement is an isolation chest exercise that can be performed with dumbbells, cables, or a pec deck machine. It involves pushing the weight while keeping the arms relatively straight and rotating around the shoulder joints.
how to build chest muscle - inner chest

9 Best Exercises for Building Chest Muscle

Now, I will show you some of the best chest exercises for building bigger pecs. This list is divided into upper chest exercises, lower chest exercises, and inner chest exercises to help you target specific muscle fibers.

  1. Incline Bench Press
  2. Incline Dumbbell Press
  3. Incline Smith Machine Press
  4. Flat Bench Press
  5. Decline Bench Press
  6. Chest Dips
  7. Dumbbell Flies
  8. Incline Dumbbell Flies

Building Upper Chest

Many weight lifters have a disproportionately small upper chest compared to the lower chest because they focus primarily on flat bench movements. Therefore, it’s vital to include specific exercises to target and build the upper chest muscles.

Here are the best exercises for building the upper pecs.

Incline Bench Press

Incline presses involve setting an adjustable weight bench to a 15 to 45-degree angle. The angled backrest changes the position of your arms relative to your body such that the upper chest is targeted more.

Additionally, the incline press results in a more extended range of motion than the standard bench press, which can help you get greater muscle activation. The video below demonstrates and compares the incline barbell press to the flat bench.

Read More: Incline vs Flat Bench Press Comparison

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Incline Smith Machine Press

Many gyms have a Smith machine, a barbell that travels on vertical guide rails. One advantage of the Smith machine is that it requires less coordination and has built-in safety stops.

The fixed movement pathof the incline Smith machine press lets you focus more on the pressing movement and can help activate the pectoral muscles.

Incline Dumbbell Press

You can also perform the incline press with a pair of dumbbells instead of a barbell. The incline dumbbell bench press forces each arm to work independently and requires more stabilization. This makes it more challenging to master, but it is an excellent exercise for chest gains.

Building Lower Chest

The lower chest is not usually a weak point for most intermediate to advanced weight lifters, but knowing which exercises target this part of the pectorals is still beneficial. Here are the best exercises for working the mid to lower chest.

Flat Bench Press

​Conventional bench presses are a staple in nearly every chest day workout, and for good reason. This exercise is one of the best ways to build muscle mass quickly, as it effectively works all areas of the pectorals.

However, advanced lifters know that arching your back and rib cage puts your body in the best position for pressing more weight. This body position results in a shorter range of motion and more lower chest activation.

The video below shows you how to set up the bench press for maximum stability and strength gains.

Decline Bench Press

​Using a decline bench allows you to target the lower chest further while reducing upper chest activation. This movement has an even shorter range of motion than the flat bench, enabling you to press heavy weights.

Chest Dips

​Dips are another compound lift excellent for building chest muscle and triceps. If you want to put more emphasis on the chest, it’s essential to use a wider grip and lean forward slightly as you perform the dip exercise.

The video below demonstrates how to do chest dips vs tricep dips.

Building Inner Chest

Technically, there is no such thing as the inner chest because the muscle fibers are continuous across the width of the chest. However, specific exercises work the chest more in the contracted position when you feel more of a burn near your sternum than your armpits.

Here are the best exercises for targeting your inner chest.

Dumbbell Flies

Dumbell, machine, or cable flyes are the best way to work your chest in both the stretched and contracted position. Fly machines or cables are excellent for keeping tension on the pectoral muscles throughout the entire range of motion.

By comparison, dumbbells put more tension on the chest in the stretched position, but they still work well to squeeze the inner chest.

Incline Dumbbell Flies

​Performing dumbbell flies on an incline bench is a great way to target the upper and inner chest in one movement. This is the part of your chest where your collar bones meet your sternum.

Hex Press

This dumbbell bench press variation involves holding two dumbbells together with your palms facing in. You keep the dumbbells touching as you press the weight, which helps work the inner chest.

Read More: Dumbbell Hex Press Guide

Chest Building Workout Example

This workout is comprised of some of the exercises we just covered. I’ve also specified the rep ranges and rest periods to maximize hypertrophy while decreasing the workout duration.

  1. Machine or Barbell Bench Press
    • 4 sets of 6-10 reps
    • 90-second rests
  2. Barbell or Dumbbell Incline Press
    • 4 sets of 8-12 reps
    • 60-second rests
  3. Chest Dips
    • 4 sets reps 8-12 (use assistance or resistance as needed)
    • 60-second rests
  4. Dumbbell or Cable Fly
    • 4 sets 12-15 reps
    • 30-second rests

How to Build Chest Muscle At Home

It’s important to realize that you don’t need a fancy commercial gym to build a big chest. You can build chest muscle at home with the most basic gym setup.

For example, you can use your body weight or a simple set of resistance bands to perform most of the chest exercises above.

Keep Reading: Resistance Band Chest Exercises

Or you could invest in a few pairs of dumbbells and a weight bench to expand your options. Here is an example of a simple dumbbell chest and tricep workout that I’ve used to maintain massive pecs.

Chest and Triceps Workout

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