Take a look at the typical chest day workout, and it likely looks like this:
- Bench Press: 5x5
- Incline Dumbbell Press: 4x8-10
- Dips: 3x AMRAP
- Dumbbell Fly (or pec dec): 3x12-15
This routine has become “standard” for a reason -- it works.
It contains time-tested exercises that have been used to build some of the most impressive upper bodies of all time.
Performing the same old workout routine can be tedious, and it can also lead to plateaus in performance, size, and strength.
Besides, there are so many great exercises for the chest that limiting yourself to only three or four exercises for the rest of your lifting life is just silly. And, by shaking things up in your training from time to time, not only will your results improve, but you'll also help reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries that happen on account of performing the same movements in the same way time after time.
Here are some of our favorite variations of classic chest exercises to challenge your chest routine, spark new growth, and inject some fun into your training regimen.
5 Best Chest Exercises You’re Not Doing
Reverse Grip Press
The barbell bench press is often viewed as the “gold standard” for building muscle and assessing an individual’s upper body strength.
As great as an exercise as the barbell bench press can be for some lifters, for others, it is an exercise that causes considerable pain and irritation, particularly in the wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
The reverse grip bench press is a bench press alternative that is easier on the joints, particularly the shoulders, due to the external rotation involved in performing the exercise.
Additionally, many lifters struggle to develop the upper pecs (clavicular head). Research indicates that using the reverse grip press may lead to increased muscle fiber recruitment in the clavicular portion of the pectoralis major (upper chest).
Now, does this mean you need to ditch the traditional flat barbell bench press?
No, not by any stretch of the imagination.
It’s just that if you have been struggling to build a broad, powerful chest with the flat barbell bench (for example, you feel the movement more in your shoulders and triceps), then you may want to try the reverse grip press.
For added emphasis on the upper pecs, perform the reverse-grip press on a slight incline.
Now, it bears mentioning that you won't press as much with the reverse grip press as you currently can with the flat bench press.
This is a new bench press variation, which means it will take some time to become acclimated to the movement (as with all new exercises).
Take your time, ingrain good technique, and you will see new gains in size and strength.
More individuals are training at home these days than ever before. Some individuals are fortunate enough to have fully decked-out home gyms complete with all sorts of weights, dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, and machines.
Others are relegated to using minimal equipment and/or bodyweight workouts.
But, just because you don't have access to all the fancy equipment at the gym doesn't mean you can't build muscle, challenge your strength, and get results using home workouts involving nothing but your bodyweight.
Behold, the slider pushes up.
You likely have performed several hundred (if not thousands) of push-ups over the years, typically as part of your warm-up or burnout.
But it's unlikely that you've ever performed slider push-ups.
This advanced push-up variation will challenge your strength, coordination, and stability, all while delivering massive gains to your pecs.
The exercise is a combination of a push-up and fly all in one.
To perform slider push-ups on a carpeted surface, you'll need some exercise slider, or at the very least an old magazine, piece of cardboard, or the lid from a Tupperware container. If you are performing the movement on hardwood or tile floors, a hand towel will also work.
The beauty (and challenge) of this exercise is that you are sliding out into a fly position on one side while the other arm remains stationary in a regular push-ups position. You also challenge your core strength, as the flying out motion forces you to resist rotation of the torso.
To perform the exercise:
- Begin in a traditional high plank, push up position with one hand on a slider of your choice
- Lower your torso to the ground while sliding one hand out into a flye at the same time.
- Pause at the bottom and feel the stretch on your chest before pressing back up with one arm and sliding in with the other.
- You want the slide in motion to be smooth. If you cannot do this, you may have gone too wide for your current level of strength and/or need a slider with less friction.
Single Arm Dumbbell Press
Unilateral exercises belong in every training program for every muscle group as they are essential to identifying and correcting imbalances between the two sides of the body.
As a bonus, since you're only loading one side of your body at a time, you'll also challenge your core to resist rotation!
The single-arm dumbbell press can be performed on a flat bench, incline bench, or floor (depending on equipment availability).
To perform the exercise:
- Grab a heavy dumbbell and lie on your back.
- Press the dumbbells directly above your sternum with a straight arm and your palms in towards the center of your torso (neutral grip).
- Lower the dumbbell to the side of your chest. Pause, then press the dumbbell back to the top.
Besides the upper chest, another region of the pecs that many lifters struggle to develop is the inner chest. This exercise is excellent for focusing on the pecs and limiting the contribution of supporting muscle involved in other pressing movements, such as the deltoids and triceps.
The execution is pretty simple.
Pick up a plate (10, 25, 35, 45, etc., depending on strength level) and press it between your hands.
Imagine pushing your hands together as hard as possible, trying to crush the plate between your palms. This will create an intense contraction in the chest...but we’re not done yet.
While you’re trying to compress the plate, extend your arms in front of you, pushing the plate away from your torso. This further intensifies the contraction in your pecs, making for sensation unparalleled by few other chest exercises.
The key to this exercise is to perform it in a slow, controlled manner. This increases time under tension and muscle fiber recruitment, maximizing the amount of work the pecs do. Additionally, the plate press can be performed standing or lying on a bench (or the floor), using a wide variety of angles to stimulate the chest from all areas.
Focus on the squeeze and generating as much tension in the pecs as possible from pressing the plates between your hands.
This exercise is also great for lifters of all levels looking to get a great muscle pump with minimal equipment.
Incline Bench Cable Fly
After knocking out the “heavy hitters” in a workout (compound movement), it’s a good idea to perform one or two isolation movements for a muscle group to pump it full of blood and burn out the muscle.
Typically, this means performing a dumbbell fly or pec dec.
And, those are perfectly good options, but those aren't the only options at your disposal.
Enter the incline bench cable fly.
You’ve likely performed cable crossovers before, but those are usually performed in a standing, staggered stance position. Performing the cable fly on a slight incline removes the stability demands on the body and allows you to focus 100% on annihilating the fibers of the upper pecs.
Another benefit to using the cable fly as opposed to the traditional dumbbell fly is that cables allow for continuous tension on the pecs throughout the exercise's full range of motion.
The classic muscle-building exercises are classics for a reason -- they've stood the test of time and continue to be foundational movements in the training programs of many lifters.
That being said, it is possible to inject some variety into your training programs and not only maintain your results but improve them.
Try one, two, or all of the chest exercises above if your training and progress have stagnated and you're looking to spice things up!
- Lehman GJ. The influence of grip width and forearm pronation/supination on upper-body myoelectric activity during the flat bench press. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Aug;19(3):587-91. DOI: 10.1519/R-15024.1. PMID: 16095407.