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Best Chest Exercises for the Beginner

Updated on July 6, 2019
Lorra Garrick profile image

Former ACE-certified personal trainer Lorra Garrick has trained men & women for fat loss, muscle building, more strength and more fitness.

Here is an overview explaining what the best chest exercises for the beginner are. First of all, it’s important to understand what the best chest exercises for the beginner aren’t. The best chest exercises for those new to strength training are the safest to perform.

They are not anything fancy or any moves that involve unstable surfaces such as pushups off of medicine balls. Often these days, a personal trainer will have their novice clients struggling to do pushups off of medicine balls, or pushups while their feet are quivering on a fitness ball.

These are trainees who can’t even do one single solid pushup, yet already, their personal trainer has them trying to perform this chest exercise with one hand on a stability ball, or one foot off the floor, or both shins on a quivering Swiss ball.

Other beginners who are new to muscle building or strength training will observe this and think, “Hey, that looks cool; it must be a good way to do pushups because I keep seeing personal trainers making their clients do it that way, so I’M going to do it, too!”

Funky stunts like this are totally unnecessary for building, strengthening or toning chest and arm muscles. Though this isn't easy, it serves little more than being a show move.
Funky stunts like this are totally unnecessary for building, strengthening or toning chest and arm muscles. Though this isn't easy, it serves little more than being a show move.

What You Need to Avoid

Beginners should avoid funky looking, unstable chest exercises, even if they’ve seen personal trainers making their clients doing them.

The goal of a good, sound chest exercise against resistance is to build up the chest muscles and strengthen them; people who want to work their chest do so to build lean mass and gain strength, to have a better looking physique, and as part of an overall fat loss program for those wanting to lose weight.

When one gets all sorts of balancing tricks involved, this subtracts from the muscle toning or building component of the pushup. The movement now becomes more of a balancing act, rather than a means to stronger, lean muscle fibers.

Secondly, when beginners attempt these unstable routines, it puts them at risk for suffering a rotator cuff injury. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons that are key to shoulder motion and stability.

If a novice person is wobbling all over the place as they attempt to do pushups off of balls and whatnot, they can slip and strain one of the rotator cuff tendons.

Third, when a weak person attempts pushups with some funky move, or by trying to roll a medicine ball back and forth, etc., they will flounder and experience extreme difficulty. This can de-motivate them.

Why mess with a good thing?

The good thing is the basic, standard, good-old-fashioned pushup. There is no need to dress it up and make it look fancy or embellish it. Stick to the basics.

Those who are new to strength training will not be able to do a standard pushup with good form, if at all, even. You will need to modify it.

  • Palms on the floor but also both knees on the floor.
  • Palms on the floor but lower shins on a fitness ball.
  • Palms on the floor but hips/upper legs on a fitness ball.
  • Feet on the floor but hands on a bar or elevated platform.

Placing the hands on a weightlifting bench is also an option, but a beginner won’t be strong enough to go this low if their feet are on the floor.

In the modified position, one simply works at pushing themselves up, keeping their body as straight as a board (or straight from the knees up if they’re on their knees). This is the fastest way to muscle growth and strength gains via the pushup: a no-nonsense, straightforward pushup. No gimmicks.

The pushup is a great exercise for the novice for developing the chest and arms, as long as form is spot-on. Even a weak person can still execute solid form, as long as they perform the exercise in a modified version – and then progress from there.

Other Best Chest Exercises for the Beginner

Bench Press

No matter how weak a person is, they can bench press. Barbells at gyms come as light as 20 pounds. All one need do is lie on a bench and start pushing the bar away from the chest.

The bar should come all the way down to the chest each time, but not resting there; just barely touching it for a very brief moment. The bench press not only targets the pectoralis muscles of the chest, but it also involves the secondary movers of the triceps and shoulders.

Horizontal Seated Press

The horizontal press can be done with any one of a variety of apparatus. Some utilize weight stacks, each block weighing 10-15 pounds. You insert a metal rod into a hole in the block to set the amount of weight.

Another type of horizontal pressing equipment requires loading it with weight plates. These machines offer varying hand-placement widths as well as angles.

A third way to perform a horizontal pressing motion is to anchor tension tubing behind oneself at waist to chest level while standing, then grab the handles of the tubing and push them forward ahead of oneself. One can also do this while kneeling, butt off the heels.

Horizontal pressing works the same muscles as the bench press. The only caveat is that one cannot use a barbell or dumbbells, but at the same time, horizontal pressing offers stability due to the fixed tracking of the movement.

Incline Dumbbell Press

A chest program should include dumbbell work. Using dumbbells on an incline bench targets the chest, shoulders and triceps, though the trainee will feel more recruitment in the shoulders due to the raised angle of the torso.

Hand position can vary. Some people keep their palms facing each other throughout. Others keep the palms facing away the entire time. A third option is to start the lift with the palms facing away, then as one raises the dumbbells, they turn the palms towards each other. The angle of incline should be around 30 degrees or so.

Final Notes

Are you new to strength training? Strength training should include chest work. Four excellent exercises for beginners are:

  • Modified pushup
  • Bench press
  • Horizontal (seated) chest press
  • Incline dumbbell press


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