You want to look and feel your best – and a well-defined chest is one key way to get there. In addition to defining and sculpting your chest, your mental and emotional health also get a boost from your daily workout.
There are a lot of workouts out there to build your chest, but researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, used science to isolate the most effective exercises to strengthen and tone the chest. To help you reach your fitness goals, we’re sharing the study’s top three exercises, plus two more that will help you reach and maintain your goals for fitness, definition and mass.
The Barbell Bench Press
According to University of Wisconsin research, the most effective exercise for toning the chest was the barbell bench press, which activates 100 percent of the pectoral muscles. Here’s how to perform a perfect barbell bench press:
- Situate yourself on the bench with your back flat and feet firmly on the ground. Make sure the bar is positioned directly over your eyes, and your shoulders, head, and glutes should be against the bench.
- With palms forward and thumbs wrapped around the bar, grab onto the barbell. Use a spotter, if needed, to move the bar into starting position. Keep your wrists and elbows straight as you position the bar over your chin or upper chest.
- Draw in a deep breath and slowly lower the bar until it grazes your chest below your armpits. Slightly flare out your elbows as you lower in order to build strength in your pecs.
- Exhale as you press the bar back up, all the while keeping your back flat and your wrists straight.
The Pec Deck Machine
The study found that the pec deck activates 98 percent of the pectoral muscles, making it the second most effective exercise to build your chest muscles. Don’t overdo it on the pec deck by adding too much weight. Follow these guidelines to incorporate this exercise into your routine safely:
- Start with your feet shoulder width apart and flat on the floor.
- Place your back firmly against the pad and lift your elbows to shoulder level. You’re going for an angle between 75 and 90 degrees. Then, center your elbows on the pads located on the wings of the machine.
- Use slow, smooth movement to push the wings together. Stop before the wings touch.
- Reverse your movement to the starting position. Use control to make the move as slow and steady as possible. Repeat.
The Bent-Forward Cable Crossover
Research showed that this exercise comes in at 93 percent pectoral muscle activation, making it the third best chest exercise for men. Here’s the best way to reap the benefits of this awesome pec workout for mass.
- Use a high pulley machine.
- Start either with your feet placed like you are walking, with one in the front of the other or with your feet planted hip-width apart. Make sure your hands are below your shoulders and that you slightly crook your elbows.
- Keep your movements controlled and slow (avoid jerking) and bring your hands together while extending your arms.
- If you want more resistance, you can create a wider arc by moving your arms down first and then bringing them in toward each other to cross one hand over the other. Be careful not to overextend.
- Finally, use control to slowly bring your arms back to the starting position.
The Inclined Dumbbell Fly
It may not be one of the top three chest exercises, but the dumbbell fly is one of the best ways to shape and develop your inner chest. You can increase the effectiveness of this basic exercise by doing an incline dumbbell fly. Another tip is to vary the reps and the weight of each dumbbell to build more mass.
Follow these steps to feel the burn:
- Start by inclining your bench at an angle between 45 and 60 degrees.
- Lie on the bench with your feet firmly on the floor and take a dumbbell in each hand.
- Press your head, shoulders, back and glutes on the bench and position the dumbbells near your chest and armpits with your palms facing up.
- Exhale, make sure your wrists are straight, activate your core and slowly press the dumbbells directly above your chest. Keep your arms shoulder-width apart and make sure your elbows are straight but not locked.
- Inhale and slowly lower the dumbbells in a wide, controlled arc until they are level with your chest. The dumbbells should remain parallel.
- Finally, fly the dumbbells toward the ceiling using the same gentle arc.
Good, Old Fashioned Pushups
It’s good to know that some things never change. This fitness standby which is still a favorite of the military, is one of the best ways to gain chest definition, firmness and build strength. And the best part is you don’t need any fancy equipment or even a gym membership.
Here’s the best way to drop and give them 20:
- Start in a high plank position. Pay close attention to your form. Pull in your abs, keep your back flat and make sure your elbows remain close to your sides.
- Place your hands directly beneath your shoulders and ground your toes to stabilize the lower half of your body.
- Engage your hamstrings and glutes, tighten your abs and use control to slowly lower yourself down. To keep your neck neutral, make sure your eyes are focused about three feet in front of you. Don’t let your buttocks stick out or dip as you lower your body—keep your body in a straight line from head to toe.
- Be sure to keep your elbows tucked close to your body, and draw your shoulder blades back and down, then push back up. Your core should remain engaged as you push back into the starting position.
Once you’ve mastered these basic chest-building moves you can add variations, experiment with weights and be well on your way to wowing everyone at the beach, pool or simply hanging in the backyard.