How to Make Chest Muscle Exercises Effective

I received a question from Mike, a reader of the site regarding a way to make chest muscle exercises effective. Mike’s problem was that he wasn’t feeling his chest work enough. His triceps was taking over and he was concerned if his form was off.

Before going further, here’s what you will miss if you don’t read the article. You won’t find out how to activate your pecs, the chest muscle, when doing trying to build it up with chest muscle exercises. What’s worse, you might hurt your shoulders from doing one of the most famous chest builders incorrectly.

If you read on, you will discover how to build square muscular pecs like the ones of a gladiator. Your chest muscles will be muscular but not bulky as if you had man boobs. The lower and outer part of the pecs will be clearly outlined, standing out in bold relief.

What Are the Best Chest Muscle Exercises

Before we discuss the best chest muscle exercise choices, we need to examine the different muscles that make up your chest. The chest is made up of two muscles – the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor.

The pectoralis major is a large fan shaped muscle that is attached to your chest bone (down the middle of your chest) and to your collar bone. Take a look at the diagram below and you will see its muscle fibers. The important thing to understand here is that in order to work a muscle, we need to make it contract along the length of its muscle fibers.

chest muscle exercise

So because the pec major is attached to both the sternum (bone down the middle of the chest) and the collar bone (clavicle), we need two types of chest muscle exercise in order to fully develop it. I will list the best exercises for both functions of the chest later in the post.

The thing to remember is that you need an exercise that makes the muscle contract towards the center of the chest and another one that makes it contract upwards toward the collar bone.

Many people are under the false impression that the upper portion of the chest is a different muscle (the pectoralis minor). In fact, this is completely untrue. As you can see from the diagram above however, the pec minor is a thin muscle situated beneath the big pectoralis major. Its main function is to bring your shoulder and upper arm down.

chest muscles exercises function

Why should you bother building the pec minor? It very quickly pushes the outside of the chest out, giving you a nice angular outline.

The Best Lower Chest Muscle Exercises

  • Dips. By far the best chest build for the lower fibers because it allows the greatest amount of weight to be used. Check this post for tips on adding weight to make dips harder.
  • Dumbbell bench press. Build up your strength with the barbell bench press before giving these a try.
  • Barbell bench press. Don’t flare out your elbows to the sides. Instead point them at a 45 degree angle towards your feet. Your shoulders will thanks you. Read this post on pushup form which also applies to the bench press.
  • Cable cross over. Those are only for advanced trainees because initially you can’t really flex the pecs.
  • Dumbbell Fly Same as cable cross overs – do flies after getting strong with bench presses and dips.

The Best Upper Chest Muscle Exercises

  • Incline Barbell Bench Press. Just like a regular bench press, except done at an incline. Don’t lower the bar to your chest. Lower until upper arms are paralle to the ground. Don’t do less than 5-6 reps.
  • Incline Dumbbell Bench Press Do these once you get stronger at incline barbell bench presses.
  • Incline Dumbbell Flies Do these only after you get strong at incline dumbbell bench presses.

Action Plan

For pec minor, the best exercise is dips. It just so happens that dips also are one of the best choices for the lower fibers of the pec major. For the upper fibers your best bet is either a barbell or dumbbell incline bench press.

The Best Workout for Gladiator Pecs

The best workout I’ve found for building balanced chest muscles is Visual Impact. This is not a workout for somebody looking to get as big as a bouncer. Instead it teaches you how to get lean and muscular – like a Hollywood actor (Taylor Lautner, Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman, etc), a surfer dude or a male model.

One thing that is often missed when it comes to recommending exercises is that everybody has a different bone and muscle/ligament structure. So the best exercise for me might not be best for you. The cool thing about this workout though is that it lets you pick out your own chest muscle exercises based on what your body responds best to.