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How to Build Bigger Chest Muscles

Updated on August 22, 2018
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David is an army-trained biomedical scientific officer, writer, and lifelong health and fitness enthusiast.

Serge Nubret had excellent chest development.
Serge Nubret had excellent chest development. | Source

Build a Bigger Chest

A lot of guys ask about how to build big pecs. In fact there’s probably no other muscle group that trainees are more interested in developing than their chest. And you can understand why, as a good well developed chest looks extremely impressive and makes you look much bigger both in clothes and out of them. So in this article I’ll tell you exactly how to build a bigger chest.

The structure of the chest musculature is very simple. It comprises of the large fan shaped pectoralis major and underneath this is the much smaller pectoralis minor. The pectoralis major has two heads – the upper (clavicular) head and the lower (sternocostal) head which is by far the larger of the two.

All chest exercises work both heads of the pectoralis major, so you can’t “isolate” either one of them. But you can put more emphasis on one than the other. So to properly develop the chest you need two main exercises, and ideally an additional isolation exercise too. The exercises are as follows:

Flat or Decline Bench Press

Presses (flat, decline or incline) are compound movements that work the pecs with assistance from the shoulders and triceps. Flat or decline presses put most of the emphasis on the lower head of the pectoral muscle, and as this is by far the largest part, one of these should be chosen as your primary chest exercise.

Flat or decline presses can be done with either a barbell or dumbbells. Barbell bench presses are best for developing power, but dumbbells allow for a more natural range of motion (i.e. both upwards and inwards) and therefore work the pecs more directly. So choose whichever one you prefer.

Either way do 3 – 4 sets of 5 – 8 reps (after warm-ups) and try to increase the weight you are using on a regular basis.

Incline Bench Press

The incline press puts much more emphasis on the upper head of the pectoral, so it is an ideal secondary chest exercise, and when used together with a flat or decline press will help to ensure complete all-round development of the pectorals.

Again, these can be done with either a barbell or dumbbells. You can use whichever you prefer, but my suggestion is that if you use a barbell for your flat or decline press, use dumbbells for your incline press.

Do 3 sets of 8 – 10 reps. If you are doing these after a flat or decline press you may not need to do any warm-up sets first.

Dumbbell or Cable Flye

After you’ve done your two pressing movements you can finish off with either dumbbell or cable flyes as your isolation exercise. These work the pecs from a different angle and help to stimulate extra growth by providing additional volume and pump to the muscles.

Either dumbbells or cables will work well, but cables have the advantage of keeping the muscles under constant tension throughout the range of motion, whereas with dumbbells the tension is reduced (and then disappears entirely) towards the top of the movement.

If you are doing standing cable flyes I recommend using a high to low angle, as this places more emphasis on the lower pectorals, which is what you need for maximum growth. As the upper head of the pectoral is much smaller it does not require any additional direct stimulation if you have already done an incline press.

Do 3 sets of 10 – 12 reps of these.

Sean Nalewanyj gives four tips on how to get the most out of your pressing movements.

Other Exercises

Although that’s all you need to build a really great chest, there are a couple of other exercises that are worth mentioning as they are also excellent chest developers.

The first one is parallel bar dips. These don’t develop the chest quite as well as presses but they are still very effective and I like them because they are also one of the best exercises there is for the triceps.

And the final one is push-ups. Granted, there’s no point doing basic push-ups for high reps as that won’t do anything for you. But you can do them weighted, and there are also numerous variations of the push-up that are extremely good, notably the suspended push-up with the straps set about 4 – 5 feet apart, so that you pull your arms inwards as you push up to the top position.

As always you should do each exercise with proper technique and through an appropriately full range of motion. I say “appropriately” because the ideal range of motion will vary a little from person to person. For example, in the bench press you should generally lower the bar to touch your chest at about nipple level or just below (with your elbows tucked at about 45 degrees to your side). But if you have particularly long arms and/or are very thin you might be better stopping an inch or two before your chest rather than going all the way down, as overextending could result in shoulder problems further down the line.

And when using dumbbells, lower them right down until you feel a stretch at the bottom. Don’t adopt the common practice of stopping when your upper arms are parallel to the floor, as it’s the bottom part of the movement that is most important to fully activate the pecs.

For best results train your chest hard twice per week, but once every 5 days or so will also work great. You also need to ensure you eat the right diet, consisting of a moderate calorie surplus and plenty of protein (about 0.8 - 1.0g per pound of bodyweight per day). And make sure you get enough rest and sleep too.

So now you know exactly how to build a bigger chest. Follow the advice given here and you should soon have a chest that anyone could be proud of.

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