The chest is one of the most common areas of the body that come to mind when we think about lifting weights and growing bigger muscles.
I would venture to say that, aside from maybe the biceps curl, a pushing movement such as a pushup or bench press is the first type of exercise we gravitate towards when first getting into fitness.
The chest is made up of the pectoralis major, the pectoralis minor, and the serratus anterior. These are all more commonly known and grouped together casually as “the pecs’.
The pecs are responsible for all pushing movements whether it’s lifting a barbell off of our chest in a bench press, pushing a dresser across the room, or pushing ourselves up off of the floor after we’ve fallen.
So you can see why the benefits of developing a bigger, stronger chest go beyond just vanity purposes.
Disclaimer: None of the information in this article is intended to be medical or health advice. Always consult with a qualified physician before taking part in any exercise or fitness regimen. This article contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase a product using these links, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
How Do We Build A Bigger Chest?
To grow your chest muscles, you need to focus on movements that target your pecs most effectively. Exercises like the bench press, dips, flys, and push ups are some great examples, just to name a few. Just as important, you have to execute them correctly and use a resistance that adequately challenges the muscles in a proper rep range.
It has been shown that rep ranges anywhere from 6 to 30 can build muscle, as long as we use a resistance challenging enough to where we come at least 1 to 2 reps before failure within whatever rep range we choose.
What Are Some of the Best Chest Exercises?
In this article, we are going to cover 6 of the best chest exercises to help you obtain that chest you are after, as well as some tips on how to perform them.
These exercises are:
- Barbell Bench Press
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Chest Press Machine
Let’s get into each one a little deeper to help you better decide which ones might be best for your current training situation.
Barbell Bench Press
The barbell bench press is a staple in nearly all gyms as well the fitness world in general.
“How much ya bench?” is something I’d bet every gym bro has had to answer at least 1, or 1,000 times throughout his lifting lifetime.
Do the ladies get this too? I’m curious to know if they do, or what their version of this might be.
But I digress, the barbell bench press is great for many reasons such as its availability in nearly all commercial gyms as well as the ability to easily add more and more weight over time for progressive overload.
Some of the drawbacks of the barbell bench are the inability to get a full stretch of the pecs before the bar touches your chest, and the need for a spotter as benching alone could be dangerous if you are unable to complete a rep.
- Extremely common, found in nearly all commercial gyms
- Easily add more and more weight over time for progressive overload
- Can target upper, middle, and lower pecs depending on the setup
- Fairly high degree of stability
- Can be dangerous to perform alone without a spotter
- Pecs don’t get fully stretched at the bottom of each rep
- You may not have access to one in your home gym due to price or available room
There are some points to consider as well when it comes to your form while bench pressing:
- Lie on the bench and grab the barbell. Start with a grip just outside shoulder width
- Keep your arms at roughly a 45-degree angle away from your body. Avoid pressing with your elbows flared out too wide
- With this angle, the bar should move in a slight arc, starting over your head and lowering it to the bottom of your chest, and back up
- Keep your upper back and butt planted on the bench, with a slight arch in your lower back
- Allow your shoulder blades to move freely throughout the movement
- Keep your feet planted firmly on the floor for stability and drive
Form is going to vary from person to person in certain ways as we are all built differently in some way.
Keeping these guidelines in mind while figuring out what is most comfortable for you will have you well on your way to benching comfortably and effectively.
Dumbbell Bench Press
The dumbbell bench press is another great chest builder and a close cousin to the barbell bench press.
While closely related, the dumbbell bench press comes with its own set of benefits and drawbacks to consider when adding it to your program.
One of the main benefits of the DB bench is the added stretch at the bottom of each rep. The dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion (ROM) due to the fact there is no barbell getting in the way.
On the flip side, one of the main drawbacks of the DB bench press is the setup. Once the weights get heavier for you, getting them into position can be quite challenging and can take up a lot of energy before even starting the set.
If you have a training partner, you can have them assist you in getting them into position.
- Very common in nearly all commercial gyms, and easily added to a home gym setup
- Fairly easy to continue to add weight for progressive overload. This will depend on just how high the DBs go in your gym (Or which DBs you have chosen for your home gym)
- Deeper stretch on the pecs at the bottom of the movement compared to the barbell bench press
- Can target the upper, middle, and lower chest depending on bench setup
- Can be tough to get into a starting position when working with heavier dumbbells in regard to your strength level
- A bit less stable than a barbell bench due to not being “locked” into a barbell
Performing a dumbbell bench press is similar to the barbell bench press we discussed above, with a couple of extra points to consider.
- Keep your arms at roughly the same 45-degree angle away from your body. Do not let your elbows flare out too wide.
- The path of the DBs should move in a similar arc as mentioned above in the barbell bench press. However, we are going to allow that added range of motion to lower the dumbbells to just outside of our chest before pressing back up.
- Try to keep forearms aligned with wrists
- Keep your butt and upper back planted firmly on the bench
- Allow your shoulder blades to move freely throughout the movement
- Keep your feet planted to the floor for stability
And if you’re in the market for an adjustable weight bench for your home or gym, check out this review I did on the Flybird Adjustable Weight Bench
Flys are great for adding some variety and challenging the pecs with a different pattern than pushing.
You have some options to choose from whether it be a machine, cables, or dumbbells, and each come with their own perks and benefits.
Let’s break each one down a bit.
Dumbbell Flys –
- Easy to add more and more resistance for progressive overload
- Can easily be done at home since most home gym setups will have dumbbells and a bench
- Allows a great stretch on the pecs
- Able to target upper, middle or lower chest depending on how you set up your bench
- DBs are not as stable as a machine, such as a pec deck
- The movement gets easier as you bring your arms together, meaning less resistance on the pecs at the top
Cable Flys –
- Easy to add more and more resistance for progressive overload
- Great stretch on the pecs
- Able to target upper, middle, and lower chest depending on the height you set the pulleys and line of pull
- Constant tension on the muscles throughout the movement, unlike DBs
- Less stable than a machine such as a pec deck
Machine Flys (Pec Deck) –
- Easily add more and more resistance for progressive overload
- Commonly found in most gyms
- Most stable of all options
- Great stretch on the pecs
- Unable to target upper or lower chest
It is the fixed position and angle of the seat that makes the pec deck unable to hit the upper or lower chest. It does not let us to create an angle which would allow us a pulling path in line with the muscle fibers of the upper or lower chest.
When doing your flys, here are some form details to keep in mind.
- As you begin to lower the weight, keep a slight bend in the elbows
- Keep your elbows aligned with your wrists as you approach full stretch, and on the way up
- As you approach the top, straighten your arms and think about bringing your elbows together, rather than touching the dumbbells
Dips are great because they offer a different dynamic to training in that you are moving your body through space rather than an external load. (Although you can load these as well)
Dips will typically bring in more triceps than the other movements on this list, but will still work the chest well, particularly the lower portion.
- A dip station is pretty common in most gyms, and usually has an assistance mechanism as well
- Teaches body control through the movement
- May be a bit unstable, especially for beginners to the movement
- Can not add resistance without a dip belt, weighted vest, a training partner to place a DB between your feet before starting your set, or gaining body weight
Form is important when performing any exercise, and it is no different with body weight exercises such as dips. Here are some key points to keep in mind when doing dips.
- Start with a grip just outside of shoulder width, and adjust from there to your comfort if your bars allow. Find a grip that allows for proper range of motion and no discomfort
- Range of motion can be different for everyone. Go deep enough to where you feel a good stretch on the triceps, but not to the point where you lose tension, control, and force production
- Start with your head facing forward, and looking straight ahead. Adjust to what feels comfortable for you as you perform the movement.
- Bend your knees and lift your feet, placing one ankle over the other
- Lean forward slightly to bias the chest
- Control your reps. Avoid swinging and using momentum to drive your reps.
Push ups are another classic movement that nearly anyone can do or work up to. With push ups, like dips, you are moving your body through space, learning how to control your body and letting it provide the resistance.
Push ups can be done pretty much anywhere and at any time, and can be regressed for those who are unable to complete a traditional push up at the moment.
- Can be done anywhere, no equipment needed
- Difficult to add resistance without a weighted vest, having a partner place a plate on your back or gaining body weight
A push up is one of those movements that look like there’s nothing to it, but in fact require attention to detail.
There is more to it than simply throwing yourself on the ground and pumping your arms as quickly as you can.
Here are some form details to adhere to.
- Start with your arms just outside shoulder width. Do not let your elbows flare out.
- Keep your arms at roughly a 45-60 degree angle away from your body.
- Keep your hands neutral, not rotated too far out or in in either direction
- Resist shoulder shrugging
- Let your shoulder blades move freely throughout the movement
- Sink down until your chest is a couple inches from the floor before pushing back up
- Keep your body in a straight line, do not let your hips sag or pop up too high
Machine Chest Press
Last, but not least, on the list is the machine chest press. I love this one for many reasons, one of them being the stability it offers in comparison to any of the other exercises listed. Stability is a major key when it comes to a muscle building movement and the machine chest press delivers.
It’s also easy to set up. No plates to load and unload and no dumbbells to work to get into position. All you have to do is adjust the seat and handles to your liking, select your resistance and get pressing.
A common knock on machine pressing is that stabilizer muscles won’t get any work. But if you are also doing at least some of the movements listed above as well as machine pressing, your stabilizers should get adequate stimulus.
- Very common in nearly all commercial gyms
- Easy to set up and get to doing the work
- Great stability. The most stable choice on the list
- Easily add more weight for progressive overload
- Small stabilizer muscles won’t get hit effectively
- Not all machines are created equal so you may not find one that you love
Before we hop into the seat and start hammering out reps, let’s make sure the machine is adjusted for us, as well as some form cues.
- Adjust the seat to a height that allows you to keep your arms at 45-60 degrees and has you pushing straight away, not up and down
- Adjust the handles to allow a good stretch on the pecs at the bottom of each rep
- Keep your chest up but allow shoulder blades to move freely
- Grip width should be just outside shoulder width, but whatever feels most comfortable while adhering to the tips above
Like with many exercises, whatever is comfortable for you specifically is going to vary within these guidelines. Just pay attention to how you are moving, how you are feeling and if you are checking off these boxes.
How Long Does It Take To Build A Big Chest?
So you have your plan and you’re ready to start working, but now you want to know, “How long does it take?”.
Well I think it’s worth noting that “big” can mean different things to different people. What is “big” to you may not be “big” to another person, so your journey to whatever your version of that is may take longer or shorter than somebody else.
The length of time that it takes to grow your pecs, or any muscle, depends on a few different factors.
Those factors are your training age, your biological age, consistency and effort, and staying healthy and injury free, just to name a few.
Your training age is just what it sounds like, how many years you’ve been training consistently and with focus on improvement.
If you are brand new to training, you will likely see rapid gains in strength and in muscle size. A beginner can possibly see 2 to 4 pounds per month of muscle gain if they are training and eating properly. This phase can last anywhere from around 6 to 12 months and it is a glorious time.
Once your noob gains come to an end, things slow down and building muscle and strength become more difficult and take more time. On average, an intermediate can see about 2 pounds of muscle growth per month maximum, and that is under near perfect conditions.
And after many many years of successful training, you will become an advanced lifter where muscle growth can slow to a crawl and you’ll only be seeing trace amounts ever year.
Your biological age comes into play as well. A lifter with youth on their side will put on more muscle and strength than someone who is much older.
Rates of muscle growth happen pretty steadily until around age 30 to 35, and decline slowly after that.
Muscle loss can even occur in the untrained and those to stop training at around these ages as well.
Now I’m not saying that muscle can’t be built from 35 and beyond, it most certainly can. It will just come at slower rates than someone in say, their 20’s.
Lastly, let’s talk about consistency, effort and staying injury free.
Being consistent and putting in challenging, quality work time and time again is one of the most important variables when it comes to building muscle.
We also need to take care of our bodies and be mindful to train wisely, safely and not get hurt. Aside from the fact that being injured is simply put, not a good time, we also can not train if we are injured. Time spent recovering from injury due is time that is spent not training, so make it a priority to stay healthy.
Wrapping It Up
Building a big, strong chest is a goal of many gym-goers that takes time, consistency and hard work. Consider this a list of tools to choose from to best get the job done based on your own preferences, training style, that you can improve upon for the long haul.
Before you go, check out TigerFitness for all of your protein and supplement needs. I highly recommend MTS Whey (Chocolate Chip Cookie is a must), and pretty much any flavor of The Outright Bar.