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What Are The Best Chest Exercises?

When I am asked what I think the best exercises are, I don’t distinguish between goals of size and strength. My personal focus is always to get stronger, because I believe that getting stronger is the most reliable way to build muscle. So when I talk about my own opinions on the best chest exercises, I am talking about strength training…those movement that, for me, have resulted in the most strength, which has then led to size.

I’m a big guy, but I don’t have a giant bodybuilder’s chest, so feel free to try out my opinions, but don’t take them as gospel. Physiology can get pretty messy and we’re all different.


Bench press

This is a no brainer. It’s one of the things the bodybuilding magazines get right: if you want to put a lot of muscle on your chest, I do not think there is anything better than the traditional bench press, with some dumbbell presses as a variation.

When I can, I lift heavy and I try to do high volume. I’m a little different though, I test all of my movement according to the Gym Movement protocol, so I let that determine the load each time I lift.

But this doesn’t change the exercises that I think are best for the chest, only that I don’t believe that these movements are always the best thing to be doing, mainly because I don’t believe in by-the-numbers programs.


The more pushups I can do, the higher my bench press is. I don’t have an impressive bench, but I can hit 300 easily, just to give you a reference point. I don’t have any sort of guess at the correlation between my pushups and bench, but I do notice that if I can do slow, strict, pushups, I have more control over my bench and my muscle density seems better to me.

Overhead press

I’m currently working on being able to press my bodyweight overhead (I weigh 250). When I am doing a lot of overhead pressing, whether with kettlebells or barbells, my upper chest benefits a lot. I personally think a developed upper chest looks better than massive pecs in the bottom 2/3 of the chest, and that is why I like the standing overhead press.

It also feels better to me than the incline press, which is often used to target the upper chest. I also like the added workload of cleaning the weights before pressing.

When I experiment with muscle gain, I try not to add too many variables at once. Over the course of many experiments, I believe the exercises I’ve mentioned, if performed consistently, safely, and with high volume, will help you develop a stronger, and therefore bigger, chest, if that’s what you’re after.

I always come back to these basic movements. They always work for me. The only difference between what I’ve said and most traditional muscle-building info you can buy is that I test my movements before lifting. I never know exactly when it’s going to be chest day.


PS: If you’re interested in biofeedback testing, I recommend Adam Glass’s Grip and Rip 2.1 DVD. It is currently the clearest example of the Gym Movement protocol.

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