Chest 101: The Basics!

The first installment is the pectoral muscle, otherwise known as the chest. This is the most popular muscle group to train in any gym around the world, followed at a close second to the biceps.

I get a lot of questions on how to train different muscle groups, so this I hope is the first of many articles on a full and comprehensive way to train a muscle group. The first installment is the pectoral muscle, otherwise known as the chest. This is the most popular muscle group to train in any gym around the world, followed at a close second to the biceps.

All of my workouts posted below I have done and enjoyed, please use these at your own free will and let me know how they went for you, also tweak them to satisfy your own personal needs as everyone is different.

The Different Exercises To Develop The Pecs

Bench Press

 The bench press is the most recognized exercise ever. To properly perform Bench Press, start by making a firm base on the ground with your feet, lean back so your back is slightly arched off the bench comfortably and grasp the bar at a desired width.

Grip the bar, and raise the barbell off the rack and perform the first rep. Lower the bar with control to either your nipple line or just below your neck, stop just before the bar touches your body and push back up for the positive part of the rep. You have now completed one rep.

When performing this exercise it is a good idea to have someone spotting you as once its stuck on you as you are too fatigued to lift it, it is a messy situation trying to get it off you safely.

Variations - The Bench Press can be done either on a flat bench to work the entire pec region evenly, on an incline bench to focus on the upper pecs, or on a decline bench to focus on the lower pecs. All are greater exercises to use 1st or 2nd in a workout, as they are compound movements are better performed if done early in a workout. By putting your hands in different positions on the bar you will be working different areas of the chest accordingly.

Close Grip Bench Press

This is done the same way as the bench press although focus's on the inner chest. Arms should be placed approximately 2 thumb lengths apart and when bringing arms down on the negative part of the rep make sure your elbows go out about 90 degrees, not straight down by your side as then it incorporates the triceps too much. When lowering the bar lower it to the middle of the chest region slowly and contract up with a powerful movement.

Variation - By bringing the bar down lower and making elbows parallel with the body and then pushing back up to continue the rep, you can make this exercise a very valuable triceps exercise for mass building.

Smith Machine Bench Press

 This exercise is done identical to the bench press but is done using a smith machine. Position the bench directly in the middle of the machine and find a comfortable position on the bench. Position your feet in a steady position on the floor and grab the bar. Perform reps as you would a normal bench press. This isolates the chest more than the free weight bench press and allows people with injured shoulders an opportunity to still use heavy weight with a feeling of support.

Variations - Also an incline or decline bench can be used for this exercise. Incline smith machine bench press is one of my personal favorites as it allows you to focus on the chest and squeeze the chest as you do each rep.

Dumbbell Bench Press

I feel that the feeling of using a super heavy dumbbell is a better feeling than using a super heavy barbell for chest. To perform this exercise grab 2 dumbbells and go and sit on a flat bench resting the dumbbells on your knees/thighs. Slowly roll back and as you roll onto your back push the dumbbells up so they are eye level and just touching. Lower the dumbbells evenly under control until they wont get any lower to the sides of your body, be careful not to bounce the weights back up to start the positive phase of the rep.

Variations - Again can be done on the incline or decline bench, it provides a great range of motion when doing this exercise on the decline bench it provides a great stretch for your lower pecs and can be a great mass builder.


Usually done in the middle or towards the end of a workout due to this exercise being an isolation movement. Flyes develop the outer pecs and the middle of the chest if an emphasis on the squeeze at the top of the movement has occurred. To perform this exercise grab 2 dumbbells and go and sit on a flat bench resting the dumbbells on your knees/thighs. Slowly roll back and as you roll onto your back push the dumbbells up so they are eye level and just touching.

Lower the dumbbells with an extended arm with a slight bend to keep the arm ridged and feel a stretch, when weights are lowered do not bounce and slowly bring the dumbbells back up to the starting point. When starting this exercise do not try and use to much weight at first wait until your form is perfect.

Variations - Incline Flyes and decline Flyes are a hot exercise in gyms depending on what you have done in your routine so far. I recommend at least 1 flye movement per workout for total chest development.

Another variation is to just focus on the bottom half of the rep. This will focus on the outer chest and allow a heavier weight to be used.

Peck Deck

The peck deck is like the smith machine of the bench press. This is a personal favorite of mine as you can control what you want to do with the exercise. It is a good exercise to use heavy weight with, light weight focusing on the squeeze or even half reps.

Sit on the machine and position the handles a bit behind your shoulders so you have to stretchy to reach for them, perform each rep as you would a normal free weight Flye but at the top of each rep contract when hands are together for greater definition. Be sure to keep your head and shoulders back during the set and get a full range of motion.

I recommend this exercise either last or 2nd last one performed.

Variations - As I mentioned above you many focus on a certain area of the chest and only rep out in that range of motion or you could use it as a pumping/definition exercise by using a lightweight and squeeze your chest throughout the movement.

Chest Press

 The chest press is an awesome exercise for developing all of the chest and you want to really focus on your form and the way you push and squeeze through the reps. Not having to worry about dropping the weight on yourself, you are able to go as heavy or light and rep out just focusing on the blood going into the chest through the stretch at the bottom of the rep and contraction at the top of the rep.

I like having the seat raised up a little so all the tension is on the chest on the shoulders, even if you push from the bottom of the rep below the chest, it will still work your chest but keep the stress of the shoulders.

Variations - Try doing partials for either portion of the rep as the tension can be left on the pecs for the entire set. Also vary the position of the seat for overall development.

Cable Crossover

This is a great if not the best exercise for definition and striations in the chest. To perform this exercise grab the two cables and stand in the middle of the two pulley machines. Take 1 or 2 steps forward and lean over a little bit but continue to look straight ahead, don't look down.

With arms slightly bent squeeze arms together then overlap them and squeeze at the point of contraction, for each rep make sure that a different hand goes in front. Perform this exercise at a controlled speed focusing solely on the squeeze, contraction and stretch parts of the movement, it provides a great pump.

Variations - A basic variation is just bringing arms together in the middle not overlapping arms. The other variation is making this movement into a lower chest movement. I do this when give my chest routine a major shake up for a week or two and trust me this exercise works. Lower the pulleys all the way to the ground and grab the handles, one in both hands, stand in the middle and take 1 to 2 steps forward and squeeze arms together in front of the body at chest/shoulder level. This exercise is a little harder to get use to, start with a lighter weight but soon enough you will get stronger and stronger, and more ripped.

Push Ups

Ok, I know what you're saying; yeah that's not a gym exercise. Your wrong used properly push-ups can be an awesome tool used for chest development.

I would recommend the use of push-ups when super setting or tri setting or as a final burnout set at the end of training. They are useful for those things because doing push ups does not require using a machine and you can drop and do them thus the appeal of them in super sets and tri sets. Position your hands in close together if you want to work your inner chest or wider for the out part of your chest.

Variations - Put your legs up on a bench or your hands of the bench and perform a push up. By putting your hands on a bench it will work your upper pecs, and by putting your feet on a bench and hands on the ground it will work your lower pecks.


Jump on the apparatus at your gym where you perform dips. You do not want to work the triceps so lean forward and stick your chest out. Slowly lower your self down until you cant stretch comfortably and then press your way back up to the starting position focusing on squeezing the chest on the way up on the positive motion of the movement. This exercise is indispensable, excellent for developing the lower chest with nice shape and lines.

Variations - You can adjust the width at where your hands are apart on the equipment or adjust your range of motion to partials, although I believe that full range of motion is best for dips. When you get to strong at dips for your bodyweight, strap weight to your self so you have added resistance.

Overhead Lying Dumbbell Pullover

This exercise is primarily for expanding the rib cage and developing the upper chest. Grab a flat bench and a relatively light dumbbell to start with and put it on the end of the bench. Sit on the bench in the middle facing sideways and slowly crawl down so your shoulders and upper back is on the bench comfortably. Arch your back slightly and lean over and grab the dumbbell.

Put your head over the other side of the bench looking upwards or backwards and bring the weight directly up above your head, keeping arms slightly bent lower the weight until it is slightly behind your head, then smoothly lift back up to your eye line. Focus on contracting the chest when the weight is parallel to your eyes and stretching the rib cage when the weight is slightly behind you. It provides a good feeling for the entire chest; use this exercise about once a month anywhere after the first exercise. Make sure form is of a high standard before going heavy as injury can occur due to the awkwardness of the movement.

Overload Techniques

Pre - Exhaustion

This is where you perform an isolation movement first to fatigue the muscle being worked before performing a compound movement. This is done to prevent other muscles also involved in a compound movement fatiguing before the actual muscle that is being worked has fatigued.

This is also a good method if you are training at home or at a hotel/ resort type gym as usually not enough weight has been provided and you must improvise. I do not recommend always using this technique although used sparingly it is a very useful, productive and beneficial technique to use, a killer pump is generated also.

Click Here For More On Pre-Exhaust Training

Example of a workout.

Flyes - 3 x 10
Bench Press - 3 x 15, 12, 8
Decline Dumbbell Press - 3 x 10
Cable Cross Over - 3 x 15

Drop Sets

I like to use drop sets as the main point for my workouts at least once a month. At least once a month I will perform a Workout based on drop sets. I will incorporate a continuous drop set for my first exercise, then incorporate reverse pyramiding, an exercise to failure then a drop set of pyramiding the weight up then halving the weight after the last set and then going to failure.

This type of workout provides an unbelievable pump and can offer great aerobic benefits as well. Learn more about drop sets from my previous article training styles.

Example of a workout

Bench Press - 3 sets then continuous drop set to bar weight only.
Incline Dumbbell Press - Start with a heavy weight for about 6 reps then lighten the weight by about 10-15 pounds per dumbbell for the next set and do that for 2 more sets.
Overhead Dumbbell Pullover - Use a constant weight for about 8 to 10 reps.
Dips - 3 sets to failure, can add weight and slowly reduce it until the final set you are just using your bodyweight.
Peck Deck or Cable Cross Over - 3 sets of increasing weight then after final set half the weight and rep out until failure.

Super Setting

Super sets are useful if you are short on time, or really want to overload the muscle or give it a shock. The super sets I am talking about in this article are done using exercises of the same muscle group. This floods the muscle with blood and provides a terrific pumped feeling. When using the super set method I want you to do the first exercise heavy, about 6-8 reps and then directly after that move to the 2nd exercise and use a rep range about 12 to 15 reps. By doing this is it working all muscle fibers possible for optimum growth and allows you to focus on strength, size and definition all at once.

Example of a workout

Incline Bench Press - 4 sets of 15 - 6 reps
Flat Bench Press - 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Flyes - 3 sets of 12 - 15 reps
Decline Dumbbell Press - 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Dips - 3 sets to failure.

This workout attacks all areas of the chest at a high intensity.

Tri Setting

Exactly the same as the above super set principle only you group 3 exercises together, this is more useful for a shock routine as it is done without much rest. I like to use a principle of low reps, medium reps and high reps in that order for the workout.

Example of a Workout

Bench Press - 4 sets of 15-6 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press - 3 sets of 6 reps
Flyes - 3 sets of 10 reps
Dips - 3 sets of 15 reps
Cable Crossover - 3 sets of 15 to 8 reps

Giant Setting

This tactic is to use when you only have about 20minutes to train chest. I suggest you warm up sufficiently as it is pretty hectic once you get going. A training partner is a bonus here but not a necessity. Ok you want to set up on an incline bench and get a dumbbell that will allow you to get about 6 reps and then another dumbbell that will allow you to incline fly about 8 reps, after you perform your 6 reps of incline press, you do incline flyes.

When you have reached failure with incline flyes start doing incline press again with that weight you just used for incline press. After that exercise is finished you go and perform dips until failure and then push-ups until failure. In-between each set take about a 4 or 5-minute break. 3 sets of this giant set and you can go home or work.

Here is an example of the workout!

Inline Dumbbell Press - 3 sets of 6 reps
Incline Flyes - 3 sets of approx. 8 reps
Incline Dumbbell press - 3 sets to failure.
Dips - 3 sets to failure
Push Ups - 3 sets to Failure

(You might have to lower the weight after each set of this giant set)

Examples of Basic Chest Routines

  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Dumbbell Pullover
  • Incline Dumbbell Press
  • Cable Crossover
  • Incline Smith Machine Press
  • Flat Dumbbell Press
  • Dips
  • Flyes
  • Push Ups
  • Dumbbell Bench press
  • Decline Bench Press
  • Peck Deck
  • Decline Dumbbell Press
  • Incline Barbell Press

For these workouts I like to use this sort of a rep and set scheme

1st Exercise - 3 or 4 sets pyramiding weight up and possibly a drop set
2nd Exercise - a steadying set, usually using reverse pyramiding as I am warmed up properly and can get the most out of my lifts.
3rd Exercise - this is usually an exercise to failure, like bodyweight failure.
Last Exercise - I like to add a drop set onto the last exercise all the time to fatigue the muscle fully.

If there are 5 exercises in your workout for the extra exercise use straight sets meaning use the same weight trying to get the same amount of weight for each set, Do about 3 sets, it cats as a stabilizer.

My Conclusion

If you are at the stage where you are bulking up or dieting down to get lean for the ladies or a contest I suggest this. If you are keeping your reps high say about the 10 to 15 rep area for trying to get lean and hard make sure for one exercise usually your first or second exercise go really heavy for about 3 sets, around the 4-6 rep range as this will train the muscle fibers not affected by the higher rep training, it will preserve already gained muscle mass also.

If you are bulking up use the reverse principle, but on your last exercise use 2 sets of about 15 reps to keep as much separation and to pump some blood into the muscle before the end of the workout. This works well.

Until Next Time,