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Upper Chest Workouts Guide

Exercise
upper chest workout
Last modified: December 11th, 2018 07:59 am

For many guys, they hate their chest. The chest has been a source of discontent in the gym for ages. Now it can change with a good upper chest workouts guide.

Most guys you see in the gym look imbalanced because they focus on one specific area at a time instead of working them into larger workout plans. When that happens, you are on your way to becoming burned out, bottom heavy, and complacent. Never become complacent in the gym, and don’t assume everything you read is true. If you do, you will never be pleased with your chest and your chest workouts.

For the best upper chest workout, you actually need to understand the upper chest, get rid of what you think you know about how to work it, and stop obsessing about the weight. This upper chest workouts guide is designed to help you see real results.

In this guide, we focus on anatomy of the upper chest, designing a plan, avoiding injury, recovery, and progression through a workout for optimal gain.

About the Upper Chest

If you are going to work the upper chest, you need to understand the upper chest. Does the upper chest include the pecs? Yes, but the upper chest is also part of a larger muscle and skeletal structure.

illustration of a male body arms shoulders chest and abs. bodybuilding

Anatomy of the Upper Chest

You might be surprised to learn that the male chest is usually smaller than the female chest. Of course, it doesn’t take a scientist to learn why. The female chest is larger because it has mammary glands for producing milk and nursing babies. Breasts, it has breasts.

However, even though the male chest is smaller, it is more muscular [1]. Muscles the chest are:

  • Pectoralis major and minor
  • Serratus anterior
  • Latissimus dorsi (lats)
  • Triceps brachii
  • Deltoid
  • Biceps
  • Transversus thoracis

Those are the muscles guys and gals focus on when working the chest, but the upper chest is only a single muscle, which makes it harder to target. In many chest exercises, the upper chest is overlooked because weightlifters assume “chest workouts” will do the job.

Areas of Focus

Really, the only muscles in the upper chest are the “upper pecs.” By that, I mean the pectoralis major. But there is a catch, you need to focus on the neck, shoulders, and upper back as well. This creates a balanced upper chest workout. If you work only one area, you are asking training imbalances (we have all seen those guys). Muscle imbalances lead to three things that cause major problems later on:

  • Chronic poor form
  • Dysfunctional proprioception
  • Injury

Optimal muscle balance leads to a healthy body overall, but it also allows you to maximize your performance to achieve your goals. The best point about that is that you don’t have to work as hard to achieve results and remain injury free.

Avoiding Injury

When working the upper chest, injuries can occur in the muscle itself, or in the bones and musculature that surround and support the upper chest. To avoid injuries while working the upper chest, you need to remember not to take on too much weight too soon, and you need to remember to work the opposing muscles.

The most common and painful injury in the chest is a pectoral strain or tear [2]. This caused by either long-term use or trauma. The difference between the two is one is sudden and the other is the result of overuse overtime. An example of trauma to the upper chest is dropping the bar on your chest. An overuse injury occurs when poor form and poor training cause an injury to the muscle. Guess what the exercise that usually causes injuries in the upper chest. The bench press.

Later, as you continue to read on, you will see why that is concerning.

Symptoms of a pectoralis sprain:

  • Sharp pain in the front of the shoulder where the tendon attaches to the humerus
  • Lump, bump, or gap in the muscle
  • Sudden swelling at the site of injury
  • Inability to rotate or pain when rotating the arm

Creating an Upper Chest Workout

When you are creating an upper chest workout, focus on three main areas: weights, reps, and progression, and don’t work the upper chest everyday. You need to be strategic when doing chest day.

Weights

When you want mass, you need weight. When you do your chest workout, you have to remember that the chest is not just the chest that should be treated as one area of focus on chest day. Train your chest by focusing on all three areas of the chest: upper, middle, lower.

When working on the upper chest, heavier weights help you build more mass and stability. In most upper chest exercise plans, free weights are your friend. Free weights, instead of machines, allow you to use your own strength and your own body weight for best results.

However, there is one exercises I will list later that is done with the hammer machine, but the other exercises are done with barbells and dumbbells.

Reps

To see true gain in strength and muscle size, don’t stop when you feel tired. Many weightlifters and bodybuilders push fail to push themselves beyond the 10-12 reps they are comfortable with. Try cycling in true reps – ones that force you to push past your limits – with low-intensity workouts. Don’t try to push your muscles past failure every time; that leads to injury and pain. But do push a couple of your exercises beyond muscle failure. Don’t do it in the beginning of your workout. Save it for the end or when you are doing your heaviest set.  

If you feel like you don’t have it in you to do more reps, there are 4 methods to push you even harder when you want to give up: forced reps with a partner; negative reps with a partner, drop-sets, and rest-pause.

To boost your upper chest workout even more, save your pecs workout for the day after rest day.

Progression

Progression is important for a couple reasons: to prevent injury and to make you stronger. When you begin weightlifting or a new chest workout, start with a weight that you can safely control with proper form. Don’t choose weights that are too light, but don’t go for the heaviest weights either. You are asking for trouble. Start with a comfortable weight one week, and as it becomes easier, slowly choose heavier weights. You must be able to maintain form. If you can’t, you progressed too soon. Give a new workout about 4 to 6 weeks, progressing weights each week, and then change it up. Try on a new series of exercises on chest day. Don’t stick to the same exercise month after month.

Find 3-4 good upper chest exercises, rotate them into your chest workout, and after 6 weeks, choose another 3-4 good ones. Rotate these exercises to keep your muscles working and to ward off plateaus.

Best Workouts for Upper Chest

 

Weight lifter at the bench press lifting a barbell on an incline bench.

Get off the fixed bench and change it up a little. One small change to your workout can result in huge gains. I can’t talk enough about how perfect the bench press is for your chest, especially your upper chest, but you can make it even better.

The bench press is a powerful exercise that works the pecs, triceps, lats, and shoulders. It should be on every lifting and workout routine. Just don’t forget that the bench press is only effective and safe when you do it the right way [3].

Here’s how.

How to do a perfect bench press

Once you master the bench press, you can move onto advanced workouts for the upper chest. To do the perfect bench press, remember it is about keeping your body in-line, keeping your arms strong, and taking your time. FORM, FORM, FORM, ladies and gentlemen. Here’s how to to do the perfect bench press:

  • Lie down on the bench.
  • Position your body so that the bar is directly above your eyes.
  • Focus on your shoulder blades. You will keep them pinched throughout out the press. To do that, raise your chest to the bar and envision yourself pinching the shoulder blades together. They should be tucked behind your back. If you feel your upper back working hard, you are doing it properly.
  • Lift your hands to the bar and grab it. Your hands should be a little more than shoulder-width apart.
  • Watch your wrists. They should not flip back, putting extra stress on not only your wrists but your forearms too. Hold the bar low in your hand and keep your forearms straight.
  • Arch your back slightly and plant your feet firmly on the ground. Your should be under your knees, not out in front or behind them.
  • When you unrack the bar, straighten your arms and make sure you keep it right above your shoulders. Do not give into the urge to move your feet or arch your back. Your shoulders should stay pinned, your feet planted, and you must maintain the natural arch of the back.
  • When you press, keep your arms square as you gently lower the bar to your chest. During the descent, keep your elbows tucked at your sides. Maintain an elbow-to-torso angle of 50 to 60 degrees.
  • Lower the bar to the upper bard of your chest. When the bar touches the upper part of your sternum, begin to ascend.
  • To complete the bench press, explode up. This is where the strength and power come from. Go slow on the down and be powerful on the up. Go up as quickly as you can.

Now that you have mastered the bench press, it is time to move on to bigger and better upper chest exercises.

GET OFF the flat bench. Your upper chest workout will respond better.

Incline-bench pullovers

This chest exercise is great because it works the muscles at various angles. It is one of the few chest exercises that requires you to go behind your head. This exercise will put your arm in a position of weakness when done at first. For that reason, you MUST start with a lighter weight at first. You need to build up your strength and resistance. When you do the exercise, your head will hang off the end of the bench. Hold the dumbbell so it is vertical, not horizontal. Keep the elbows slightly bent. This is your starting position. Lower the dumbbell behind your head until your arm is inline with your body. You should be able to draw a straight line from your hips to your elbow. To perform the pullover, breathe out slowly as you bring the barbell back to the starting position.

Do 3 sets of 6-8 reps.

Incline chest press on hammer machine

To do the incline chest press on the hammer machine, put your weights and adjust your seat so that the handles on the machine are level with your armpit. When you grip the machine, your hands will be inline with your nipples. Press your head into the back of the seat and plant your feet in the ground. Breathe out as your push the handles up and away from your body. Keep your elbows tucked. Don’t flare them out.

Do 3 sets of 8-12 reps.

Incline dumbbell press

This press is similar to the barbell press, but you will use dumbbells instead. Lie on the incline bench and place the barbells in your hands. Lift the barbells above your head. They should be shoulder-width apart. Breath out as you slowly lower the barbells to your chest. Keep the barbells in a straight line with each other, just like the bar would be. When you reach your chest, explode up and lock your arms. Hold the position for a second or two before lowering back down to your chest.

Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.

Reverse grip bench press

The reverse grip bench press works your body differently and it reduces the risk for joint pain and shoulder discomfort. The reverse grip bench press is safer and it improves strength more effectively than the traditional bench press does. To do the reverse grip bench press (RGBP), flip your wrist so your palms face you instead of away from you. Position your grip on the bar a little more than shoulder-width apart. Don’t bend the wrist; keep them straight by holding the bar in the top of your palms. Unrack the bar by pulling your shoulders up to your ears as you remove the bar. Breathe in as you lower the barGolias Stack to your chest. For this press, the bar should go down just past your nipples. Keep your elbows tucked at your side and breathe out as your lift the bar to the starting position.  

Incline dumbbell flyes

On the incline bench, hold a barbell in each hand. Extend your arms above your head and keep your elbows bent slightly. The palms of your hands should face each other. Take a deep breath in and lower your arms out to your sides until your elbows make a 90-degree angle and your palms face the ceiling. Breathe out as your bring your hands back to the starting position. Tip for doing this exercise: do not bend your elbows. The movement is in the shoulders.

Do 3 sets of 10-12 reps.

Push-ups

What is a good chest exercises without push-ups? Push-ups are ideal because they work the chest and all the muscles that support the chest. Push-ups target the chest muscles, shoulders, core, lats, serratus anterior, and triceps. So, all the muscles I listed above will feel the burn of the push-up.

To get a bigger chest with push-ups, the old push-up will do, but a push-up variations will be best. The four push-up methods I recommend are: grappler, corkscrew, triangle, and the mountain climber.

Improving Upper Chest Workout

To improve your performance and muscle health, there are things you can do outside of the gym to get a better upper chest workout. Think about adding more protein to your diet, taking supplement stacks to improve muscle strength, and of course, cycle therapy to support your health. Protein shakes for performance are specially formulated to give your body what it needs to get stronger, but without unnecessary carbs and sugars. When choosing supplements for your weight lifting plan, do your research and find the supplements that meet not only your fitness needs but complement your dietary needs as well. Finally, remember cycle support. Cycle support helps rebalance organs, recover hormone levels, improve your blood panel, increase energy after a cycle, decrease recovery time, and recharge your body safely and effectively.

An important part of your upper chest workout, that I didn’t touch on here, is rest. Your body will only build muscle when you give it a chance to rest. Without proper rest, you will end up with strains, tears, and exhaustion, which are much harder to recover from than just taking it easy every couple days. When I say “rest,” of course I don’t mean vegging out on the couch. Take it light one day, do low-impact and low-intensity workouts, and get some sleep. You should also be doing a little R-and-R with a whole lot of SMR for the upper chest.

Let’s hear about your upper chest workout.

References

  1. Female Breast Size Attractiveness for Men as a Function of Sociosexual Orientation (Restricted vs. Unrestricted)
    Agnieszka M. Zelazniewiczcorresponding author1,2 and Boguslaw Pawlowski1 Arch Sex Behav. 2011 Dec; 40(6): 1129–1135. Published online 2011 Oct 6. doi: [10.1007/s10508-011-9850-1]
  2. Pectoralis Major Muscle Injuries: Evaluation and Management.
    Petilon J1, Carr DR, Sekiya JK, Unger DV. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2005 Jan-Feb;13(1):59-68.
  3. The Effects of Bench Press Variations in Competitive Athletes on Muscle Activity and Performance
    Atle Hole Saeterbakken,*,1 Dag-André Mo,1 Suzanne Scott,2 and Vidar Andersen1 J Hum Kinet. 2017 Jun; 57: 61–71. Published online 2017 Jun 22. doi: [10.1515/hukin-2017-0047]

SR Content Strategist & Fitness Expert

Matt Weik, the owner of Weik Fitness, LLC, is a well-respected fitness expert/author/podcaster with a global following. His work has been featured in nearly 100 fitness magazines (Flex Magazine, Men’s Muscle & Health Magazine, Oxygen Magazine), 2,000+ websites, as well as having numerous books and audiobooks that are published.  Matt Weik graduated from Penn State University with a degree in Kinesiology. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, personal trainer, and sports nutritionist. Matt is a member of the supplement expert panel at the Bodybuilding.com Awards 2018.

You can contact Matt via www.weikfitness.com or on social media links below.

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