Are you looking for a bodybuilding chest workout to take your pec development to the next level?
This workout will guide you through the best exercises to build a muscular chest to help you look fantastic, with or without a shirt.
Introducing StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout
The chest muscles are some of the most prominent and aesthetic, whether you’re competing in bodybuilding or want to look athletic in general.
A well-developed chest balances the upper body for a harmonious look when combined with equally developed shoulders, back, and arms. A wide and thick chest gives the illusion of a V-taper, making the waist look smaller: a hallmark of a classic bodybuilding physique.
Your pecs aren’t just for show, though. The chest muscles are involved in a wide range of motions, including pushing, pressing, and many upper-body movements.
- A powerful chest is a central muscle group for your upper body training. Progress in chest strength often translates to progress in other lifts and exercises.
- Outside the gym, strong chest muscles provide power for functional and athletic movements and enhance performance in most sports.
The following workout combines the best chest exercises for strength and muscle growth with advanced training methods to build your pecs like never before. It is one of many premium workouts in the StrengthLog workout log app, which you can download for free using the button for your device:
Basic Chest Anatomy and Function
The chest muscles, also known as the pectoral muscles or “pecs,” play a significant role in the movement and stability of the arms and shoulders. In addition, they contribute to the overall shape and contour of the upper body.
When you think of the chest muscles, you are likely talking about the pectoralis major and minor, although they also include the serratus anterior and subclavius.
The pectoralis major is the larger and more superficial of the two pectoralis muscles. It’s the muscle most people think of as the “chest muscle” and the one you see when a bodybuilder flexes.
The pectoralis major is one of the most sizable muscles in the entire upper body.
It covers the upper part of the ribcage, spanning from the collarbone (clavicle) to the upper abdomen and from the breastbone (sternum) to the upper arm bone (humerus).
The pectoralis major muscle has multiple origins, including one on the clavicle, one on the sternum, and one on the cartilage of the ribs. Despite these various origins, the fibers of the pectoralis major all converge and insert onto the humerus.
The primary function of the pectoralis major is to move the arm across the body (adduction), to bring the arm forward and up (flexion), and to rotate the arm medially at the shoulder joint. It also plays a role in pulling the arm down from an elevated position (extension).
The different parts of the pectoralis major, such as the clavicular and sternocostal head heads, have specific actions. For example, the clavicular head flexes the humerus, while the sternocostal head extends it when the arm is raised.
Located beneath the pectoralis major is the pectoralis minor. This is a smaller, triangular muscle which originates from the third to fifth ribs and inserts onto the coracoid process of the scapula, which is a bony projection on your shoulder blades.
Located beneath the pectoralis major is the pectoralis minor. It is a smaller, triangular muscle that originates from the third to fifth ribs and inserts onto a bony projection on your shoulder blade called the coracoid process.
The pectoralis minor doesn’t involve arm movement as the pectoralis major does. Instead, its primary function is to stabilize the scapula by drawing it downward and toward the chest wall. This action is crucial when you raise your arms above your head as it keeps your shoulder blades in an optimal position.
The pectoral muscles are central in bodybuilding due to their prominence and aesthetic appeal. However, their functional importance extends beyond appearance. Any movement that involves pushing, such as opening a door or doing a push-up, involves the pectoral muscles. In addition, their role in shoulder stability is paramount in virtually every arm movement you make, whether lifting a bag or throwing a ball.
Benefits of Strong Chest Muscles
Having strong and well-developed chest muscles offers several benefits, both functional and aesthetic. Here are some key advantages:
Improved Physical Performance
- Upper body strength: Your chest muscles play a significant role in pushing, throwing, and pressing movements. They enhance performance in sports like football, baseball, and swimming, not to mention strength-based sports like powerlifting.
- Joint stabilization: Well-developed chest muscles help stabilize the shoulder joint, reducing the risk of injuries when performing vigorous physical activity.
Enhanced Posture and Respiratory Function
- Posture Support: Strong chest muscles contribute to better posture by supporting the front of your rib cage, boosting your appearance, and helping prevent postural issues like rounded shoulders.
- Respiratory Benefits: Chest training contributes to something you likely don’t even think about: your breathing. The chest cavity houses your lungs, and exercises that strengthen and stretch the chest muscles also promote lung expansion and better oxygen intake.
- Confidence and Body Image: A well-developed chest adds to your aesthetic appeal, leading to increased confidence and a more positive body image. Research shows that both men and women consider the chest one of the most attractive muscle groups.
- Clothing Fit: A big chest also changes how clothing fits, often leading to a more desired appearance in certain outfits or styles.
StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout: Overview
This bodybuilding chest workout features the best combo of compound exercises and isolation movements to target all muscle fibers of your pecs for complete development.
- You start with a pressing movement for overall chest mass, then move to incline presses for your upper chest.
- After blasting your upper pecs, you switch to targeting your lower chest with dips.
- One of the best flye movements for isolating your chest muscles is next.
- Finally, you finish in style with a favorite of old-school bodybuilders: the dumbbell pullover.
Here is the order of your exercises:
- Dumbbell Bench Press
- Smith Machine Incline Bench Press
- Bar Dip
- Standing Cable Chest Fly
- Dumbbell Pullover
In total, there are 16 high-intensity sets for a full chest workout. According to up-to-date research, you need 12–20 weekly sets per muscle group for optimal muscle growth.1 That places this chest workout right at the top of the curve when it comes to optimal training volume for maximum gains.
You’re right if you think it looks like a typical bodybuilding-style chest workout. This is the traditional way of building muscle for a bigger chest: basic exercises, mostly free weights, hard work, and consistency.
It’s a winning concept for chest hypertrophy, and you don’t change a winning concept.
Who Is StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout For?
This is the best chest workout for intermediate to advanced bodybuilders who want to add size and build muscle.
If you’re new to strength training, it is likely too much for your current fitness level.
Warming Up for StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout
Warming up before a bodybuilding chest workout is essential for preventing injuries and priming your muscles for the work ahead. It improves blood flow, loosens the muscles, and mentally prepares you for the exercise.
Here’s the best way to help you get ready for your chest workout:
While optional, starting with 5-10 minutes of general, full-body cardiovascular activity is a great way to elevate your heart rate and core temperature.
Consider the following options:
- Treadmill walking or jogging
- Stationary bike
- Jump rope
- Elliptical machine
- Rowing machine
The last three options are the best as they simultaneously warm up your upper body muscles.
Once your heart rate is up, move on to dynamic stretches. These movements help enhance flexibility and prepare your muscles for the work to come. Here are some good stretches for a chest workout:
- Arm Circles:
- Start small and gradually increase the diameter of the circles.
- Perform both backward and forward for 15-20 seconds each.
- Cross-Body Arm Swings:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Swing your arms horizontally across your body.
- Repeat for 15-20 seconds.
- Twisting Windmills:
- Extend your arms horizontally. Bend at the waist and touch your left hand to your right foot, then come back up and touch your right hand to your left foot.
Before you get into your working sets, perform a few sets with lighter weights of the first exercise (the dumbbell chest press in this case). Doing so introduces the specific movement pattern to your muscles and primes your central nervous system.
- Set 1: 50% of your working weight for 10-12 reps
- Set 2: 60% of your working weight for 8-10 reps
- Set 3: 70% of your working weight for 5-7 reps
- Listen to your body: If something feels off, take extra time to warm up for your first set or consider adjusting your workout.
- Keep the warm-up dynamic: The aim is to prepare your body for activity, not exhaust it before the main workout.
StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout: The Exercises
It’s time for chest day! Let’s go through the exercises of the bodybuilding chest workout with thorough step-by-step instructions on how to perform each of them with proper form.
You can see the recommended number of sets and rep ranges in StrengthLog.
Rest Between Sets
Standard recommendations for most lifters are 2–3 minutes for compound movements and 1–2 minutes for isolation exercises.
You don’t have to time your rest intervals to the second. Listen to your body and perform your next set when you feel ready to go.
Even if you want to keep things going, go for at least 60 seconds of rest between sets to perform your best.
Dumbbell Bench Press
You kick things off with the ultimate mass-builder for the entire chest area: the flat bench press with dumbbells. It is a great compound exercise that primarily targets the pectoral muscles but also involves the deltoids (shoulders) and triceps.
Why dumbbells instead of the traditional bench press?
- Dumbbells allow for a greater range of motion compared to the barbell. That means you can get a deeper stretch at the bottom of the movement, which can induce slightly more significant muscle growth.2
- The dumbbell bench press activates the pectoralis muscle better than the barbell bench press.3 A powerlifter’s primary goal is to move a heavy weight. As a bodybuilder, you want maximum muscle activation to stimulate muscle growth.
How to Perform the Dumbbell Chest Press
- Starting Position: Sit on a flat bench with a pair of dumbbells resting on your thighs, close to your hips. Your feet should be flat on the ground. While holding the dumbbells, slowly lie back on the bench. Once you’re lying flat, position the dumbbells at shoulder width apart with your arms extended above your chest. This is your starting position.
- Grip: Hold the dumbbells with your palms facing forward towards your feet. Your wrists should be straight, not bent.
- Movement: Take a deep breath and lower the dumbbells by bending your elbow joint. Your elbows should move out to the side and slightly back, creating a natural arc. Continue lowering the dumbbells until they are level with your chest or until your upper arms are roughly parallel with the floor.
- Pushing Phase: Exhale and push the dumbbells back to the starting position by extending your arms and contracting your chest muscles. The dumbbells don’t need to touch at the top of the movement.
- Repetitions: Perform the desired number of repetitions while maintaining good form.
If you love the traditional barbell bench press, feel free do it instead of the dumbbell variant. Both are cornerstones of chest training, and you can’t go wrong with either.
Smith Machine Incline Bench Press
Hitting your chest from different angles is crucial for complete chest development. With the second exercise of the session, you zero in on your upper pecs.
The Smith machine incline bench press is a fantastic exercise for building your chest and anterior deltoid muscles. The incline angle of the bench allows you to target your upper pec muscle fibers, an area often underdeveloped in bodybuilders.
The fixed path of the exercise makes it very stable and easy to focus on the muscle you want to train without as much stabilization required from surrounding muscles. While it’s important to involve your stabilization muscles for complete development, including one or two exercises where the only thing you need to focus on is the muscle working is a good idea in a bodybuilding chest workout.
When adjusting the incline of the bench, go for an angle of around 30 degrees. You often see bodybuilders using a 45-degree incline, which reduces the chest muscle activation to target your front delts instead.4 5
How to Perform Smith Machine Incline Bench Presses
- Setup: Position an adjustable bench inside a Smith machine. Set the bench at an incline angle of around 30 degrees.
- Starting Position: Sit down on the incline bench with your feet flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart, to add further stability throughout the exercise. Lie back on the bench with your upper back, shoulders, and head resting comfortably.
- Hand Positioning: Grip the barbell with a wider-than-shoulder-width grip. Disengage the bar from the safety hooks by rotating the barbell. Ensure you have a firm grip and control of the bar before proceeding.
- Movement: Inhale and slowly lower the barbell down until it touches your upper chest. Push the barbell back up to the starting position using your chest muscles while exhaling.
- Repetitions: Perform your desired number of repetitions. Once you’re done, secure the barbell back onto the safety hooks of the Smith machine.
Machine presses not hardcore for you? No worries – feel free to do the traditional incline barbell press instead.
Dips are a classic bodyweight exercise for the upper body. Sometimes called “the squat for the upper body,” the bar dip is a phenomenal compound movement that targets several primary muscles at once, offering a lot of “bang for your buck” in terms of strength and muscle development.
The bar dip is a versatile movement: it can be a primary chest or triceps exercise, depending on how you perform it. Here are three pointers to emphasize your pecs:
- Lean Forward: A slight forward lean will emphasize the pectorals more than a straight posture, which hits the triceps harder.
- Elbow Position: Allowing the elbows to flare out (as opposed to keeping them tucked close to the body) places more emphasis on the chest. However, extreme flaring can put undue stress on your shoulder joints, so finding a balance is essential.
- Depth: A deeper dip will stretch and activate the chest more, but only go as deep as your shoulder health and mobility allow.
Because you are pressing at a downward angle, dips focus extra on the lower portions of your pecs.
If you need assistance to do bar dips, don’t worry.
Many gyms have assisted dip machines that can help if you aren’t strong enough to dip your body weight. If such a machine isn’t available where you train, you can use an elastic resistance band:
You can also add weight using a dip belt to increase resistance if your body weight doesn’t provide enough.
How to Perform Parallel Bar Dips
- Setup: Approach parallel bars, grabbing each bar with your hands and lifting your body to an initial position where your arms are straight and you’re supported above the bars. Lean your torso forward slightly.
- Execution: Bend your elbows and lower your body downward, allowing your elbows to flare slightly out to the sides. Ensure your chest is leaning forward throughout the motion to emphasize your pecs. Go down until your upper arms are parallel to the ground or until you feel a good stretch in your chest.
- Ascending: Push yourself back up by extending your elbows and returning to the starting position, keeping your torso leaning forward throughout. Keep constant tension on your chest muscles by not locking out your arms completely.
- Repetitions: Perform the desired number of repetitions while maintaining good form.
Standing Cable Chest Flyes
Using the cable machine, the standing cable chest fly replicates the motion of dumbbell flyes but with consistent tension throughout. It is an excellent addition to your bodybuilding chest workout following the heavy compound work.
Many bodybuilders fail to perform cable flyes in a way that maximizes pec development. These four tips ensure you don’t fall into the same trap:
- Focus on squeezing your chest muscles at the peak of the contraction.
- Do not use momentum; keep the movement controlled throughout.
- Keep your shoulders down and back to prevent them from taking over the exercise.
- It’s more important to focus on the quality of the movement and muscle contraction rather than the amount of weight used.
How to Peform Standing Cable Chest Flyes
- Setup: Adjust the pulleys on both sides of a cable crossover machine to a high setting. Choose a relatively light weight, ensuring your form is down before progressing to heavier weights.
- Grip: Stand in the middle of the machine and grab the handles. Take a step forward to create tension on the cables.
- Stance: Keep a slight bend in your knees and lean forward from the waist somewhat. This provides you with stability during the exercise.
- Movement: With a slight bend in your elbows, bring the handles forward and down in front of you, squeezing your chest muscles as you do. Your hands should come together or slightly cross in front of your chest. Exhale as you bring the handles together.
- Return: Slowly reverse the motion, allowing your arms to move back to the starting position while controlling the weight and inhaling. Get a good stretch in your pecs, but don’t allow your shoulders to be pulled back.
Instead of using cables, you can do machine chest flyes. If you don’t have access to either, do traditional dumbbell flyes instead. However, this is one occasion where free weights are sub-par to cables or machines, as dumbbells don’t allow for constant tension throughout the entire movement.
The dumbbell pullover is an old-school classic that targets both the chest and the lats to varying degrees. Performed the traditional way, the pullover is a great pec-builder.
Many prominent bodybuilders from the past, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, believed pullovers could expand the rib cage and enhance the upper body’s overall thickness. While this specific benefit is debatable, the dumbbell pullover still deserves its place as a fantastic bodybuilding chest workout finisher.
Unlike most other chest exercises, like presses and flyes that primarily involve moving the shoulders horizontally, the dumbbell pullover’s main action is shoulder extension, hitting your pecs from a unique angle.
When executing the movement, get a solid stretch when bringing down the weight, but be cautious not to overextend. Going too deep could harm your shoulder and the rotator cuff without any extra advantage for your chest muscle development.
How to Perform Dumbbell Pullovers
- Starting Position: Lie down on a flat bench with your feet on the floor. Hold a dumbbell with both hands above your chest.
- Grip: To grip the dumbbell, place your hands flat against the underside of one of the dumbbell plates, holding it like a diamond (with your hands forming a triangle shape). Extend your arms, keeping the dumbbell directly above your chest with a slight elbow bend. This is your starting position.
- Movement: While keeping your arms slightly bent, lower the dumbbell in an arc-like motion behind your head until your biceps align with your ears or as far as comfortable.
- Ensure you’re moving from the shoulders and not the elbows. The elbows should remain locked in a slightly bent position throughout.
- Keep your hips and glutes down on the bench to maintain form and prevent lower back strain. Focus on your chest to pull the dumbbell back up in the same arc-like motion to the starting position.
- Repetitions: Repeat the pullover motion for the desired number of reps.
How Do You Fit the Bodybuilding Chest Workout into Your Training Split?
You can incorporate this bodybuilding chest workout into the bodybuilding split of your choice. Combine it with a shoulder, back, or arm workout in a 3-,4-, or 5-day split. Or train it as a standalone workout on a dedicated chest day if you prioritize bringing your pecs up.
Here are three examples of how you can fit this chest workout into your training routine.
- Day one: StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout and shoulders
- Day two: back
- Day three: quads and hamstrings
- Day four: biceps and triceps
- Day one: StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout and triceps
- Day two: back and biceps
- Day three: quads and hamstrings
- Day four: shoulders
- Day one: StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout
- Day two: back
- Day three: quads and hamstrings
- Day four: shoulders
- Day five: biceps and triceps.
3-Day PPL Split
The workout also fits right into a classic push/pull/legs split:
- Day one: StrengthLog’s Bodybuilding Chest Workout, shoulders, and triceps
- Day two: back and biceps
- Day three: lower body
And these are just a handful of examples. Feel free to include this versatile shoulder workout in any training split you enjoy.
Track the Bodybuilding Chest Workout in the StrengthLog App
Give this workout a go, and you’ll be on your way to gaining strength and putting lean muscle mass on your chest.
It’s available exclusively in our workout tracker.
A workout log is the best way to keep track of your progress.
Remember that progressive overload is the key to consistent gains over time. To continue making progress, you must gradually increase the demands on your muscles.
A training log helps you stay consistent, set and achieve specific goals, track your progress over time, identify patterns in your training, and hold yourself accountable to your fitness goals.
While this workout requires a premium subscription, StrengthLog is 100% free to download and use as a workout tracker and general strength training app. All the basic functionality is free – forever. It’s like a personal trainer in your pocket.
Download StrengthLog for free, keep track of your weights and reps, and try to beat your previous numbers each workout.
Want to give premium a shot? We offer all new users a free 14-day trial of premium, which you can activate in the app.
For more stand-alone bodybuilding workouts like this, check out these great resources:
- J Hum Kinet. 2022 Feb 10;81:199-210. A Systematic Review of The Effects of Different Resistance Training Volumes on Muscle Hypertrophy.
- International Journal of Strength and Conditioning, Vol 3 No 1 (2023). Partial Vs Full Range of Motion Resistance Training: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31(7):p 1879-1887, July 2017. Maximal Strength Performance and Muscle Activation for the Bench Press and Triceps Extension Exercises Adopting Dumbbell, Barbell, and Machine Modalities Over Multiple Sets.
- Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Oct; 17(19): 7339. Effect of Five Bench Inclinations on the Electromyographic Activity of the Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, and Triceps Brachii during the Bench Press Exercise.
- Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(3):309-16. Influence of bench angle on upper extremity muscular activation during bench press exercise.