We’ve split up chest exercises into tiers based on priority and overall effectiveness. While you should leverage everything (especially to emphasize weak points), tiers 1 & 2 should always form the foundation of your routine.
- Tier 1: The Essentials — Dumbbell Chest Press, Barbell Bench Press, Swiss Ball Chest Press, Dips, Push Ups. Is stuffed with all-around compound moves that slap on mass and size across the entire chest. They’re your hard-hitting anchor exercises.
- Tier 2: Targeted Power Moves — Incl. Dumbbell Press, Incl. Bench Press, 1-Arm Incl. Press, Decl. Bench Press, Closed Grip Bench Press. Consists of targeted compound moves that leverage a variety of angles and arm positions to hammer the upper and lower chest.
- Tier 3: Shaping Accessories — Dumbbell Flies, Cable Crossovers, Pullovers. Is made up of accessorizing isolation moves that mainly contribute aesthetics and bring up specific areas of focus (lower chest, mid-line, outer line).
As a general blueprint (think of it as a LEGO project), use the following format to construct an effective chest workout on the fly:
- Tier 1 (1-3): Pick 2 — 1 press and 1 bodyweight exercise. Press for 4 sets x 12 reps; do 3 sets of either dips or push ups to finish the workout.
- Tier 2 (4-8): Pick 2 — 1 incline move and 1 additional move. Do 3 sets x 12 reps of both.
- Tier 3 (9-11): Pick 1. Do 3 sets x 12 reps.
Dumbbell Chest Press
Tier: 1 Chest (All), Triceps
The dumbbell chest press is the most important move for comprehensive chest development, especially if you’re new to the lifting game. Some people swear by the traditional bench press, but the dumbbell version requires massive single-arm stabilization, which helps actively shape the pecs.
It’s also considerably more difficult, especially as the weight starts to skyrocket. Because of that, you won’t be able to handle as much weight as you would with a barbell.
- Lie on a flat bench with two dumbbells straight above your chest. Draw your shoulder blades back and place a slight arch in your back.
- Slowly lower until the dumbbells are parallel with your chest. Your arms should be at a 45° angle with your torso — not 90º.
- Powerfully contract your chest and press the dumbbells straight up. Squeeze your inner chest at the top.
Barbell Bench Press
Tier: 1 Chest (All), Triceps
Like the dumbbell chest press, the barbell bench press blasts the entirety of the pecs. It’s a great way to overload the chest, slap on muscle mass, and build major strength. The barbell variant allows the body to handle a much heavier load—and a higher upper limit—than it can with dumbbells.
- Lie on a flat bench with a loaded barbell. Position your hands slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Draw your shoulder blades back and place a slight arch in your back.
- Slowly lower until the barbell is right above your chest (the bar can touch, but don’t bounce it). Your arms should stay at a 45° angle with your torso — not 90º.
- Powerfully contract your chest and press the barbell straight up.