In their struggle to develop huge, full and maximally striated chests, many bodybuilders are willing to try anything and soon end up lost and confused in the wonderland of fancy, over-the-top complex chest movements that claim to offer superior benefits when compared to the classic exercises used by the legends of the Golden Age of bodybuilding.
While there are plenty of effective exercises that build the chest, there are a few essential chest exercises that should never be forgotten and neglected because they have helped build some of the most impressive physiques of all time in this game. So if your pecs are lagging, going back to the basics can help you tap further into their growth potential.
Here are 6 must-do exercises that carry the reputation of the ultimate builders of full, round and thick chest!
6 Exercises to Build a Bigger Chest
#1. The bench press
No matter how often the opponents of the bench press demand from lifters to give up their faith in this classic move, some of the greatest chests of all time have had this movement at the centerpiece of their chest training toolbox, so it can’t be that bad.
Needless to say, you can’t build an attention-grabbing chest by bench pressing alone, but nonetheless, the high level of effectiveness of this exercise has been proven countless times and therefore it should have an eternal mandate in your chest training regimen.
#2. Reverse-grip bench press
As great as they are, regular bench presses also have a reputation of causing joint pain. To overcome this problem, alternate between regular bench presses and reverse-grip bench presses or use the reverse-grip variant for the warm-up sets.
This modification can help your joints heal and improve your pressing strength, but the slightly awkward position demands a certain amount of practice before you become able to use the exercise in its full potential.
A great tip in regard to optimal hand positioning is to keep your hands should be slightly angled instead of fully rotated to the point where they’re in line with the bar – think of it as similar to grabbing the bottom half of a steering wheel with both hands.
#3. Cross-bench dumbbell pullover
The bodybuilding gem was a staple in the Arnold-era for a good reason – this exercise is pretty much irreplaceable when it comes to chest building. It hits everything from the bottom of your pecs to your abs, lats and triceps, working all of them in the most effective way.
Over the past decades, many bodybuilding legends such as Dorian Yates, Ronnie Coleman and Frank Zane have repeatedly stressed the greatness of this exercise but unfortunately, new-age chest training routines tend to neglect it, perhaps because it has the reputation of a shoulder killer.
Nevertheless, if you perform them correctly and focus on getting a proper stretch, cross-bench pullovers are absolutely safe and are guaranteed to provide plenty of noticeable improvements in chest size and strength.
For best results, keep them light in the 12-20 rep range and perform the entire movement in a slow, controlled manner, within a full range of motion.
#4. Weighted dip
According to many coaches and seasoned bodybuilders, dips, also named as ‘the upper body squats’, are one of the most effective chest exercises and upper-body developers.
In fact, they’re considered as superior to push-ups in terms of building mass and improving upper body strength, mostly because they’re extremely challenging and allow the use of unlimited weight, which enables you to continually add pounds to your dip strength and continually overload your muscles for better growth.
To maximize chest overload, perform them with a slight forward lean and keep your elbows flared out.
#5. Dumbbell fly
Although it doesn’t look as a winner at first glance, the dumbbell fly is a pretty powerful exercise with multiple benefits. The function of your pecs is to draw your arms across the chest, and this is the exact same movement that makes up dumbbell flies, which is why this move is noted for helping build real, functional chest strength. In addition, it also engages the rhomboids and biceps as stabilizing muscles.
Furthermore, while the bench press is incredibly effective for developing immense chest thickness, the dumbbell fly is one of the best moves out there when it comes to building chest width, and a fully developed chest is defined by high levels of both thickness and width.
To get the most out of the exercise, perform it on a flat bench to increase the activation of the pecs and fronts and tops of the shoulders. Also, keep the elbow angle fixed and avoid extending or pressing the dumbbells.
#6. Isometric contraction
Isometric training involves tensing your muscles without changing their length. One of the crucial benefits of isometric tension is that it helps the body activate almost all available motor units, which is otherwise almost impossible to do.
Multiple studies have so far confirmed that because of the reduced blood flow that accompanies prolonged muscle tension, all the major growth factors remain in the muscle tissue for longer, the end result being more growth. Also, if you’re experiencing a sticking point at a particular joint angle during a certain lift, targeted isometrics are a great way to solve that problem in a quick and efficient way. What’s even better, the strength gained at one joint angle will most probably carry over to all others.
In terms of chest training, isometric contraction allows you to achieve a better control of the pecs and improve their definition. That being said, it’s generally considered that doing a higher number of contractions increases strength, while holding them for longer helps increase muscle mass. Whichever you choose to do, make sure to squeeze the pecs as hard as you can from all possible angles.
I have found in the past that doing regular flyes with palms up like trying to hug a tree causes shoulder pain from the over stretching of the pec and turning the anterior deltoid. I fixed with the less pretty version of completing the flyes like holding the dumbbell like a long bar = less strain on the shoulder and not over stretching the chest