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.
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.
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.