This article covers everything you need to know to start a basic chest building routine. Building your chest is something that is important for everyone. Having a strong chest helps posture, shoulder health and more.
Chest Muscle Anatomy
The major muscles of the chest are the pec major and pec minor, serratus anterior (the winged muscles of the outer ribs), anterior deltoid (front of the shoulder), and the subclavius (a small muscle between the clavicle and the first rib).
How To Build Chest Muscle
The number one movement to build the chest muscles is the bench press and its variations. However, Push-ups and dip variations are also very impactful for building the chest as well.
Here are some bench press variations for you to try. The barbell bench press is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck because you can load the barbell heavy, which will overload the pec muscles. You want to make sure that when you set up for a bench press that you are engaging your lats to stabilize yourself on the bench. To do so, lay down, grab the barbell, and think about retracting and depressing your scapula.
You can perform dips on rings or a bar. Ring dips way more difficult because they are more unstable, so your shoulder stability has to be up to par. If you have the strength to do ring dips, you definitely want to add these to your routine. If you can’t quite get a full rep yet, train eccentrics to build your strength. For a bar dip movement, make sure you slightly lean forward to put more emphasis on the pecs. When you’re too upright, the low back arches too much and less emphasis is placed on the pecs. Other dip variations to include in your routine are bench dips and weighted dips.
Just basic push ups will do, but if you can’t do them you should be training them anyway. And, just so everyone is on the same page about what a push-up actually is – your chest is getting to the floor each rep, your elbows aren’t flared, and you’re maintaining a posterior pelvic tilt vs excessively arching the low back. If you can’t do a full push up, train eccentrics. For example, set up in a tall plank position, tuck the pelvis under, and slowly lower yourself to the floor. You can also do incline push ups to modify and use them to build up your volume. You’re basically doing a full rep push up here, just at an incline so there is less of a load.
If you’ve been working with knee push-ups, the movement completely changes the lever of the push-up and takes away a lot of the elements you want to train in order to get a full push-up. They are not useless, they work the same muscle groups, but they aren’t teaching you to master the full movement, which won’t translate to a full push-up. A full push-up on the toes engages the core, stabilizes the pelvis, and moves with a longer lever. It’s better to do hand elevated push-ups and instead, and work your way down along with eccentric/negative push-ups to train to get the full movement.
Ring push-ups are a great variation to try as well. The instability factor makes them harder. You can level the rings up to make them easier and continue dropping them towards the floor to make them harder.
With a pallof press, you grab either a band or a cable set at about chest height. Square your hips and shoulders forward and have the rackoff to your side. Grab the handle of the band or cable and start with it touching your chest and then extend your arms forward in front of you. You’ll be doing both sides, so after x amount of reps switch and do the other side. Whatever side of your body is closest to the rack where the band is set up is the pec you’re also working.
How To Structure A Chest Workout
For compound movements like bench presses, dips, push ups – you can and should work the whole gamut of rep ranges over time. This looks like starting in the 1-5 rep range and working yourself all the way up to the 15-20 rep ranges. For accessory lifts, stick with a 8-20 rep range and phase in and out of that range.
Chest Workout Plan
Day 1: Barbell bench press – 3-4 sets. Next, a ring push up or TRX push up. Then, stretch the pecs with an incline DB flye.
Day 2: Weighted Dips, Deficit Push Up, Low Cable Crossover
Day 3: Incline Barbell Bench Press, Pallof Press, Svend Press
** We aren’t giving exact rep ranges because you should phase in and out of all of them. You can keep this program with these exercises and do them for 3-4 weeks in a specific rep range and then phase into the next one with the same exercises, and so on.
Final Thoughts On How To Build Chest Muscle
The pecs are a major muscle group that contribute to overall health and wellbeing. Strong pecs mean a strong upper body, good posture, supported ribs, movement of lymph, and stable/healthy shoulders. If you are going to focus on training the pecs, be sure to take volume from working another part of your body so you’re not overtraining. And remember, recovery, eating, and rest are crucial for building muscle. No overtraining!
You can checkout our Youtube channel for tutorials on all the movements we mentioned in this blog and check out our library of over 750 videos of movement tutorials, Q&A’s, fitness programing and so much more.
Want to learn more about how to build your pecs? Listen to Episode 106 of The Stronger Than Your Boyfriend Podcast: How to series: Pecs