So you want that Superhero Chest, eh? The type where your chest pops like Captain America. And the ladiescan’t help but want to touch dem pecs.
I think this is a question of who wouldn’t want a great looking chest.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of my chest. I naturally have a Tom Cruise gap in the middle.
But, this is just part of life and it’s really not a big deal at the end of the day. You’re not going to be any less of a person because your chest isn’t godlike.
So don’t stress about it. It’s an irrational thought to think you won’t get a pretty lady to like you because of a non-godly chest.
And besides… you wouldn’t want to be with someone who would dismiss you because of something like that.
Anyway, building a big upper chest takes time. If you’re following crummy workouts from magazines and such, it will take even longer.
Because us Lean Warriors are focused on natural weightlifting, you want to lift heavy for a few sets.
High-rep workouts have their place in chest development. But, if you’re not lifting heavy for the core of your chest workout, you’ll struggle to build it up.
My heavy chest exercise of choice is the Incline Barbell Press. You can substitute this for incline dumbbells if you want. I do dumbbells as a back up if all the barbells are currently in use.
The most important part to a big chest is eating the right foods.
You must put yourself in a calorie surplus to build muscle. A large surplus isn’t required. Dirty bulking will only make you fatter.
Whether you eat “clean” or not is up to you. I always recommend a clean diet because it’s better for your digestive system overall. It decreases inflammation. A healthy gut leads to clear, healthy skin, better brain function, high energy levels, and so on.
Progressive overload is the key to building bigger chest muscles.
This is why you’ll have difficult building a big upper chest at home with push ups. It’s a lot harder to push your body to it’s limits without heavy weight.
I don’t believe you need very heavy weight to build a big chest. But, you definitely want to push yourself. You want to progress week after week.
Progress can come in the form of adding more weight, increasing the number of reps, decreasing the rest time between sets, or increasing your time under tension.
As long as you’re making progress every workout, and eating enough calories to support growth, you’ll build a bigger chest.
No foolish before/after pictures from me, though.
The most popular article on the internet for upper chest workouts is using a classic scam with his before and after pictures.
The “after” picture is simply him at a low body fat percentage. As a result, he looks “huge” even though he has the same amount of muscle on his “before” picture.
This is important to understand because when you burn off your body fat and get lean, you will look “bigger” without a shirt on. You’ll be cut and shredded. Your upper chest muscles will pop.
Therefore, focus much of your time on getting lean before you start a bulk. And, make sure you keep your bulk very minimal in order to keep the fat gain as small as possible.
Is The Upper Chest Actually A Muscle Group?
Here’s the truth about the upper chest:
It’s actually not possible to isolate your upper chest in your workouts. No matter what type of exercise you perform, your entire chest will be activated in the lift.
So, all the talk you hear about targeting the upper chest is due to people being misinformed on the issue.
I used to believe this nonsense as well. I thought it was best to stick to incline presses so I could get the upper chest muscles to grow.
Oh how silly I was.
If you were thinking the same thing as I was, then don’t feel bad. I still think it’s a good idea to use exercises that are incline-focused.
This article will help you develop a workout that hits your entire chest with an emphasis on the clavicular pectoralis (the upper part of the chest muscle). It’s the most aesthetic part of the chest.
Let’s dive in!
Ideal Chest Development Requires Incline Presses
There’s a lot of bro-science you’ll find on the internet about the upper chest. So, I’ll do my best to stick to the science behind building a great chest.
You won’t need to worry about any muscle confusion workouts since that is bro-science as well.
As I stated above, you cannot isolate the upper chest muscle. However, when you perform incline bench presses or dumbbell presses, you emphasize the upper portion of the chest.
This is exactly what you want. There is no isolation here.
Since your entire chest is being worked with incline presses, there really isn’t a use for flat benching whatsoever.
Now before you beat my ass and chain me to the wall for such a blasphemous statement, I simply recommend this routine because it’s safer for your shoulders.
Flat benching is notorious for ruining shoulders. If the incline is safer and it emphasizes the upper chest muscles, then it sounds like a win-win to me.
The key to muscle development will always be how strong you are in your lifts and if you’re eating enough calories to support muscle growth.
Progressive overload is key to not only upper chest development, but all muscular development. And, you don’t need to have super human strength to build a great physique.
You can progress in your lifts through various ways. Don’t feel like you need to constantly add weight to the bar in order to progress. It’s simply not true.
Rep timing, more reps, change in tempo, shorter rest times, etc. are ways to make lifts more difficult with the same weight.
Train Your Chest For Strength AND Size
Most people are making a couple of common mistakes when they hit the gym to train their chest. Let’s go over these really quickly before diving into the workout routine I’ve created for you.
1) Spending too much time on and energy on small, isolation exercises.
When I see people doing 5 sets on the chest machine or the pec dec, I shake my head and pray for their soul.
It’s not that these machines are pointless to train with. It’s just that your time and energy is better spent with barbells or dumbbells.
Plus, 5 sets is a bit overkill for small isolation exercises. Keep the 80/20 Rule in mind when it comes to weight training.
Spend 80% of your time in the gym with the lifts that matter the most. If you’re spending 30 minutes bench pressing and another 30 minutes with isolation exercises, you’re doing it wrong. Trust me on this.
If you only have an hour to train your chest, spend at least 45 minutes doing incline presses. The remaining 15 minutes can be spent with isolation work.
Your first few sets should be strength focused. Lift heavy for 5-7 reps. Take as much time as you need to rest between these heavy sets. They are the most important part of your training, especially if you’re a natural lifter.
Once you’re done with the heavy sets, take off some weight and bump the reps to the 10-12 range.
This type of training will help you develop both strength AND size for your chest. It will give you a fuller look week after week.
2) Spending too much time on isolation exercises and “pump” training.
High-rep training definitely has it’s place. As I pointed out above, you can spend the last 15 minutes of your workout with high rep isolation training.
The problem most people have is that they spend most of their time with isolation exercises. Then they wonder why their chest is lacking in development.
If you want your chest to grow, your first 6-8 sets should be focused on heavy lifting in the 5-7 rep range.
You could do 3 sets on heavy incline barbell pressing and another 3 sets of flat dumbbell pressing. All heavy weights.
Once you’ve completed these 6 sets of heavy lifting, feel free to finish up your workout with some higher rep training. You can do flyes, dips, dumbbell pullovers or some body weight training with push ups.
“Chasing the pump” doesn’t develop strength. It might give you a fuller look for a day or two, but you won’t make long-lasting strength gains that will stick with you for a long period of time.
Plus, as a natural lifter who’s goal is to maintain a lean physique, you want to lift heavy and develop strength.
Ignore all those celebrity fitness models you find on Instagram. Yes, they’re fun to watch and all that. But don’t fall victim to thinking you can achieve their physique in a matter of weeks. It’s not possible.
These people spent years building their bodies. They can get away with a bunch of isolation exercises at this point in their careers.
But you cannot. You must spend months and months developing your overall strength heavy incline presses. This is the best way to build a big upper chest.
Until you’re as big and strong as all these fitness celebrities you like, stick to this simple chest workout I’m going to teach you today.
Best Chest Routine For Strength and Mass
Most strength-focused routines will have you hitting the flat bench press 2-3 times a week for 5 reps. This is the Stronglifts routine and I’m not going to take anything away from it.
However, since flat bench pressing heavy weight is know to cause shoulder injuries, I highly recommend you stick to the incline bench press when pushing heavy weight with a barbell. It’s safer on your chest, shoulders and rotator cuffs.
With that said, I still believe flat bench pressing has it’s place. I just don’t recommend it for heavy weight. I’d much rather have you hit the flat bench for 10-12 reps than 4-5. Lighter weight is much easier on your shoulders.
As a Lean Warrior, you do not need a complex workout routine. Therefore, I like to keep my routines as simple as possible, especially for the chest.
All you need are these 3 exercises for your main lifts on chest day:
- Incline Barbell Bench Press
- Incline Dumbbell Bench Press
- Flat Bench Press (or dumbbell press alternative)
80% of your chest workout will be spent with these 3 exercises. The other 20% of your workout can be spent with isolation exercises of your choice.
For me, I will usually do exercises that hit my arms or back. I like to hit my arms at least twice per week. If I haven’t hit my arms for a few days, then I will throw in some arm work at the end.
Like I said, it really depends what you want to do. Those 3 chest exercises are more than enough to build a great chest if you do it twice per week.
It’s really up to you. I don’t want you obsessing too much over your workout schedule because your diet is going to be just as important. As long as you’re making gains with this routine, your chest will grow.
The other day I did this chest workout and finished with weighted dips and preacher curls. That’s an example of how you can finish the workout.
If you want to keep hitting the chest, you could finish with dumbbell flyes, cable flyes, dumbbell pullovers, machine press or more. Whatever you feel like doing.
But, I want you to understand that, you only need these 3 exercises to build a great chest. You don’t need anything else.
A great looking chest will come from progress over several months. You’ll see as we dive into the routine.
Let’s quickly go through each of these three exercises one by one so you can get a feel for the routine.
1. The Incline Barbell Bench Press
This exercise is your bread and butter for strength development. Your goal is to add a little bit of weight every single time you come into the gym to lift.
There will be days when you’re not able to progress, but that’s okay. Just keep hitting that heavy weight until you’re able to move forward.
Quick note: you are using a barbell. This is much different than the smith machine. In fact, I highly recommend you avoid the smith machine for any chest work. It’s not needed.
Another important note: good gyms have multiple lifting racks and adjustable benches. You only need to adjust your bench to the first incline level. No need to go any higher than that.
This first level is usually around 15-20 degrees. That’s all you need. A lot of people make a big mistake by setting the incline at too much of an angle.
The problem with this is that you end up using too much of your shoulders and not enough chest. Obviously, we don’t want that. So, just stick with the first angle on the bench.
Hopefully your gym has a rack with safety collars. If it doesn’t, then you need a spotter and (ideally) a new gym. Any legit gym will have racks that have safety collars.
As for form, refer to this video to see how to perform the lift. It’s much easier to watch how the lift is performed instead of reading how to do it:
Also I think the Hodgetwins are hilarious so enjoy the video!
As for your grip, I usually place my pinky on the lines on the barbell. This grip is a few inches wider than a shoulder-width grip.
Here’s the incline bench press routine followed by an explanation:
- Warm-up 1: bar only for 25 reps
- Warm-up 2: 55% of weight for 6 reps
- Warm-up 3: 70% of weight for 4 reps
- Warm-up 4: 85% of weight for 2 reps
- Set 1: 6 reps of weight
- Set 2: 5 reps of weight
- Set 3: 3-4 reps of weight
It seems like a lot of warming up, and it is. But, it’s the only warm-up you’ll be doing for your entire chest workout.
Perform all 3 sets for the same weight, and rest for 2-3 minutes between sets. This isn’t pyramid training. These are straight sets.
How does the warm-up work? I’m glad you asked.
If I’m going to be lifting 200 pounds in my heavy sets, then my warm-ups will be a percentage of that 200 pounds.
This means warm-up #2 is 110 pounds for 6 reps. #3 is 70% of 200 which is 140 pounds. And so on to warm-up number 3.
After the 3rd warm-up, rest for 3 full minutes before diving into your first real set.
You will keep pressing the same weight until you are able to hit 6 reps for the first set, 5 reps for the second set, and at least 3 reps for the 3rd set.
If you’re new to all this, then start light. I started at 95 pounds and worked my way up to 180 pounds for 6 reps in one year.
This is how quick you can progress when you keep it simple and focus on progression.
Most people change up their routines way too often and stall their progress. Don’t make this mistake. Keep it simple and keep adding weight to the bar. You’ll get stronger almost every single workout.
Don’t over think the lift. Explode the bar up and lower it back to your chest. The tempo isn’t nearly as important as getting the weight pressed up.
Get that weight up as quick as you can. It should be struggle because this is heavy weight you’re pressing. Lower it in a second or two and then press again.
2. Heavy Incline Dumbbell Presses
We’re keeping the weight heavy moving into the dumbbell presses. By the end of your workout, you will have completed 6 sets of heavy weight. That’s an amazing feat!
Dumbbell pressing is different than a barbell. You won’t be able to lift nearly as much weight so try to think of these two exercises as completely independent from each other.
Your progress with dumbbells will be much different from the barbell. As you increase weight in dumbbells, your progress will slow down. This is normal. Just make sure your form is as good as possible! That’s the key with dumbbells.
Also, keep the bench at that low incline that you used with the barbell press. No need to adjust it.
Here’s a video to further explain the dumbbell incline press:
((video of dumbbell incline press))
The routine is very similar to the incline press minus the warm-up sets:
- Set 1: 6 reps
- Set 2: 5 reps
- Set 3: 3-4 reps
Again, keep the weight the same. These are straight sets. No pyramiding with this chest routine because we’re focused on building your strength and overall size.
I really do enjoy reverse pyramid sets, but for this chest workout we are sticking with straight sets. They have been working amazing for me lately and progress is straight-forward.
That brings us to the final 3rd exercise for this chest routine, and we’re not going heavy here.
3. The Flat Bench Press
While heavy lifting with the flat bench press can create problems with your shoulders, lighter sets are perfectly safe.
I recommend adding this 3rd exercise into your routine simply to see how you progress over several months.
The idea is to start light and use the same weight for all three sets. You’ve already completed your heavy lifting with the first two exercises.
Now let’s focus on more mass building with this one. The flat bench with 3 sets of 10 is great for building the chest.
You may also flat dumbbell press if you are unable to get on a bench for this. It’s a good alternative regardless.
Here’s the routine:
- Set 1: 10 reps
- Set 2: 10 reps
- Set 3: 10 reps
Keep the weight the same for all three sets, and rest for 90 seconds between each set. No more than that.
This is straight-forward and simple. The idea behind this training is to progress slowly over-time. Slow and consistent strength gains.
For example, I would start this at 135 pounds for me. That’s easy and light for 3 sets of 10.
The next time I come into the gym for chest day, I’ll add 5 pounds and do three sets of 140.
I’ll be making slow and steady gains week after week. This type of slow, consistent progress with the heavy lifting gives you a complete shoulder workout.
Now that you’ve completed these three main exercises, feel free to finish off your workout with whatever you like.
Whether it’s arm work, legs, back, or some chest isolation work, I leave this choice to you.
Give Yourself Time To Progress
And that’s really the key with this upper chest workout: Progression.
If you aren’t giving yourself the time to progress in your lifts week after week, then you’re stalling your progress.
This happens when you change your routine too often, you try different exercises, you focus too much on isolation work, etc. These are all very common problems that beginner and intermediate lifters make all the time.
I think we can both agree that if you build yourself up to a 225 incline barbell press, you’re going to have a good looking chest. There’s no other way of saying it. That’s a lot of weight to push and it will require strength and muscle to press that.
The only way you’ll reach that level of strength is by sticking to this routine until you finally hit 225. This could take more than a year. Do you have the willpower to keep things consistent?
Most people don’t which is why they struggle with their muscle building goals.
As long as you follow this upper chest workout routine and eat the right amount of food, you’ll build a bigger chest. This I can guarantee.
Have any questions or comments about this upper chest workout routine? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts.