A powerful-looking upper body starts with a chiseled chest. And there are no better power tools for sculpting your pecs than the 15 exercises that follow. Choose two or three to work into your routine, and for best results, rotate in new movements every 3 or 4 weeks.
DUMBBELL SQUEEZE PRESS
Squeezing the weights together during a chest press shifts all the stress onto your pectorals. This simple tweak engages them throughout the entire range of motion, which is a key factor in maximizing muscle growth.
Do it: Lie on a bench holding a pair of dumbbells with your arms straight above your chest, palms facing together. Let the weights touch and squeeze them together as hard as possible. Maintain this squeeze the entire time, making sure the dumbbells stay in contact with each other. Lower the weights to the sides of your chest, and then push them back up to the starting position.
INCLINE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS
Pressing from an incline works the clavicular head of your chest, says Brad Schoenfeld, C.S.C.S., Ph.D. Working that muscle—which resides high on your chest—gives your pecs extra pop.
Do it: Lie on a bench with the backrest set at a 45-degree incline. Hold a pair of dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight and your palms turned toward your feet.Lower the dumbbells to chest level, and then press them back up to the starting position.
Adding weight to the classic exercise forces your muscles to work harder and keeps your rep range low enough that you’ll pack on serious muscle, Jason Hartman, C.S.C.S., a trainer for the U.S. Special Forces. Add load in the form of a plate, weight vest, or sandbag thrown over your back.
Do it: Assume a pushup position wearing a weight vest or with a sandbag draped over your upper back or a weight plate balanced on your upper back. Your arms should be straight and hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Bend at your elbows and lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause, and push your body back up.
CLOSE-GRIP BENCH PRESS
You can lift more weight with a barbell than with dumbbells because they’re more stable. That’s why barbell presses generally build more raw strength in your chest. To protect your shoulders, strength coach Bret Contreras, C.S.C.S., recommends using a close grip—that is, placing your hands just outside of shoulder width. “This is the most joint-friendly barbell variation of the bench press, allowing people with shoulder issues to still reap the benefits of pressing,” Contreras says.
Do it: Using an overhand grip that’s a bit narrower than shoulder width, hold a barbell above your sternum with your arms straight. Lower the bar to your chest. Hold for 1 second. Press the bar up.
CHEST SQUEEZE PUSHUP
This exercise tasks you with squeezing a pair of dumbbells together while doing a pushup. “The squeezing action creates a stimulus that really fires up the muscle fibres in your chest,” says BJ Gaddour, Men’s Health Fitness Advisor.
Do it: Place two dumbbells next to each other so that they’re touching with the handles are parallel to each other. Assume a standard pushup position, grabbing a dumbbell handle with each hand. Your arms should be straight and your body should form a straight line from your ankles to your head. Forcefully press the weights together, and lower your body until your chest nearly touches the dumbbells. Push your body back up and repeat, but don’t stop “squeezing” the dumbbells together.
When it comes to working their pecs, most guys just press. Adding the fly to your routine gives your pecs and front deltoids a new stimulus. “I like using cables for this because they provide constant tension throughout the entire movement,” says Schoenfeld.
Do it: Attach two stirrup handles to the high-pulley cables of a cable-crossover station. Grab a handle with each hand, and stand in a staggered stance in the middle of the station. Your arms should be outstretched but slightly bent. Lean forward slightly at your hips; don’t round your back. Without changing the bend in your arms, bring your hands together. Slowly reverse the movement.
DECLINE DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS
The exercise zeroes in on your lower chest, building serious size, says Tyler English, C.S.C.S., author of Natural Bodybuilder’s Bible.
Do it: Lie on a decline bench with your shins hooked beneath the leg support. Hold a pair of dumbbells above your chest with your arms straight. Your palms should face your feet and the weights should be just outside your shoulders. Lower the dumbbells to your chest, pause, and then press them back up to the starting position.
This exercise is a stepping-stone to the coveted one-arm pushup, explains Gaddour. “It develops your chest, triceps, abs, and shoulders like crazy, and teaches you to stabilise your core,” he says.
Do it: Assume a pushup position with your left hand directly under your shoulder. Fully extend your right arm straight out to your side and place your hand on a medicine ball or low step. Bend your left elbow to slowly lower your chest down to the floor, making sure to keep the brunt of your bodyweight on your left hand. Once your chest is just above the floor, push yourself back up. Do all your reps on one side, and then switch sides.
BAND OR CHAIN BARBELL BENCH PRESS
Adding chains or bands to the ends of a barbell makes it unstable. The instability forces your core and stabiliser muscles to kick in to a higher degree, according to research conducted at the University of New England. That gives your chest a new stimulus, promoting strength.
Do it: Hang a chain over each end of the barbell, or anchor resistance bands to the bench and place them over each end of the bar. Start without weight, in order to get used to the unstable bar. Grab the barbell and lie on a bench. Using an overhand grip that’s just beyond shoulder width, hold the bar above your sternum, keeping your arms straight. Lower the bar to your chest, and then push it back to the starting position.
This explosive pushup nails the fast-twitch muscles in your chest, priming them for growth, says English.
Do it: Get into a pushup position, your hands just outside your chest, your feet shoulder-width apart, and your body forming a straight line from head to heels. Brace your core. Lower your chest to the floor and then press up explosively so your hands come off the floor.
SINGLE-ARM DUMBBELL BENCH PRESS
This exercise hits your chest like any awesome bench variation. But what makes it particularly special is that your other side has to lock down so the dumbbell doesn’t pull you off the bench, says Dan John, strength coach and author of Intervention. The end result: It sculpts your chest and abs to a greater degree.
Do it: Lie with your back flat on a bench holding a dumbbell in your right hand. Press the dumbbell directly over your chest until your arm is straight. Slowly lower the dumbbell to the right side of your chest.
Pause, then press it back up. Do all your reps on your right side, and then repeat on your left.
NECK BENCH PRESS
This variation of the bench requires that you use a spotter for safety. The exercise nails your upper chest and the front of your shoulders helping you fill out your T-shirt like a barrel-chest champion, says English.
Do it: With a spotter behind you, lie on a bench, holding a barbell above your neck. Keeping your shoulder blades together, lower the bar in a slow and controlled manner to your upper chest just above your collarbone and lower neck. Pause, and then press it overhead.
DUMBBELL AROUND THE WORLD
This exercise works your chest in 360-degrees of motion, stimulating growth, says English.
Do it: Start by lying on a bench and holding a pair of dumbbells with your palms facing up just outside your hips. In a circular pattern, lift the dumbbells simultaneously from your hips along the side of your chest to just over the top of your shoulders. Follow the reverse pattern back to your starting position outside your hips.
Performing pushups with your hands in an unstable suspension trainer works your core, chest, and stabiliser muscles harder than doing pushups on the floor, says English.
Do it: Grab the handles of a TRX strap and extend your arms in front of your chest. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart and your body anywhere from 45 degrees to parallel from the floor. Your body should form a straight line from head to heels. Lower your chest toward the floor until your hands are just outside your shoulders. Keep your elbows in and your head in a neutral position as you lower. Brace your core throughout the movement.
STANDING ONE-ARM LANDMINE PRESS
Most chest presses stress your shoulders. This exercise nails your chest while improving your shoulder mobility. Your shoulder blade moves with you as you press, putting less strain on the joint, says Eric Cressey, co-owner of Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. And because your core has to lock down to prevent your torso from bending back or twisting, it also rocks your abs.
Do it: Perform this unique exercise by placing one end of a barbell securely into the corner, grabbing the opposite end with one arm. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, bending slightly at the knees while pushing your butt back. Start with your elbow by your side with your wrist up near your shoulder. Brace your core and press your arm straight up and out toward the ceiling.
Article originally published on menshealth.com
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