arnold chest musclesJust about everybody knows that one of the most popular chest exercises in weight lifting is the bench press. Who doesn’t want to fill out their t-shirt with impressive pecs guaranteed to make the ladies’ jaws drop? And during summer, why wouldn’t you want to strut across the beach wearing nothing but swimming trunks and an impressively chiseled chest?

This is why most bodybuilders are eager to include this exercise in their workouts but unfortunately, many of them don’t realize they are trying to perform it using too much weight. Contrary to popular belief, too much weight doesn’t mean good results. In fact, too much weight equals bad form. And if you’ve got bad form, then you’re going to get lousy results.

You can bet that the massive guys at the gym aren’t making that mistake about lifting too much weight. Otherwise, their muscle mass wouldn’t be so massive. So they must be doing something right. You can tell just by looking at their results that they know what they’re doing. And when you finish reading this, you’ll know too. So keep reading to find out the secrets to an impressive chest!

A lot of injuries can be contributed to the question, “How much do you bench?” But don’t get sucked in by all the hype. Like a lot of things, it’s not how much weight you’re physically able to press but how you press it that’s important. So remember to lift smart!

The pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor are two unique muscles that make up the chest. The pectoralis major muscle is the main one that’s being worked during your chest routine. Its main use is to swing your arms away from the front of your torso.

You should perform your chest exercises as close as possible to the beginning of your workout because they are a big muscle group. This is something you have to consider when you’re exercising more than one muscle group during the same training session.

The Major Chest Muscles To Focus On In Your Workouts

chest muscles diagram

  • Pectoralis Major (Pecs) – This muscle is the bigger of the two separate chest muscles and is the main muscle used during nearly all pushing motions. Basically, any gym workout that includes pushing a weight in front of the body will use the pectoralis major muscles. This muscle tucks into the humerus (upper arm bone) which means it’s the main muscle that’s used during all chest routines and pushing motions. Exercises that are good for the pecs: Push-up, dumbbell bench press, dumbbell five, cable five, barbell bench press, and dips.
  • Pectoralis Minor (Pecs) – This muscle is a small muscle in the chest that lies underneath the pectoralis major muscle. Besides the size difference of the two, there’s another difference as well – the pectoralis minor’s insertion location is the shoulder blade, while the pectoralis major’s insertion location is the upper arm bone. This means these two muscles are meant to be used in different movements. Since the pectoralis minor is located in the shoulder blade, it’s designed to move and rotate the shoulder blade down. But this muscle is also used in exercises that give the pectoralis major a workout, which is why most bodybuilders don’t focus on it especially. Exercises that are good for the pectoralis minor are: Push-ups and dips.

Weight Lifting Exercises For Your Chest (Pecs):

Below is a list of the best weight lifting exercises you can use to work your chest muscles. Of course there are more pectoral exercises than this but I’m just listing the best ones that are going to give you the best results. Just click one of the links below and you’ll be taken to an explanation and a video of how the exercise is performed along with a few extra tips.

Barbell Bench Press

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Chest

Secondary Movers: Shoulders, Triceps, Back

Lie down flat on the bench and make sure your feet are firm on the ground. Grip the bar with your palms facing outwards. Your grip should be at shoulder width or just beyond. Take the bar off the supports and slowly lower the bar to the center of your chest. When you feel a good stretch at the bottom of the movement, breathe out and raise up the bar as you squeeze your pecs.


It’s important to get someone to spot you when you’re lifting heavy weights. Your triceps will be used more if you have a narrow grip on the bar. If you have a wider grip, your pecs will be used more.

Don’t jerk or bounce the weight up off your chest using your momentum. And it’s important that your butt stays on the bench throughout each rep. Don’t arch your back very much. To prevent injury, make sure your elbows aren’t locked at the peak of each rep.

Barbell Incline Bench Press

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Chest

Secondary Movers: Soulders, Triceps, Back

This is the same kind of exercises as the flat bench press, but the bench is on a slight incline. Lie down on the bench and grasp the bar with your palms facing outwards, your hands a little more than shoulder width. Pull down the weight to your upper torso, just underneath your collarbone. The angle should be less than 30 degrees to avoid engaging the shoulders too much. Then raise the weight back to the starting point.


Make sure you have a spotter for heavy weights. It’s important your elbows aren’t locked at the peak of the rep. You don’t want to bounce off the weight off your chest. Use careful, controlled movements instead.

Your shoulder muscles are worked more with this exercise which means you’ll be weaker than you were on the flat bench press.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Chest

Secondary Movers: Shoulders, Triceps

Pick up the dumbbells (using your leg muscles to prevent injury) and put them on your lower thighs as you sit on the bench. Move the dumbbells back by using your knees and slowly rock your body backwards onto the bench so you’re lying flat on your back. Make sure the dumbbells are even with your chest when you begin each rep. Place your feet firmly on the ground and ensure that your lower back is pressed strongly to the bench as you push your arms up towards the sky. Then slowly lower the dumbbells back to the starting point. When you can’t do any more reps, move your knees towards your chest and with the momentum from the dumbbells, sit upright. If you can’t manage that, carefully drop the weights on the floor.


It’s important to use a full range of motion and make sure your elbows aren’t locked at the peak of the movement.

Dumbbell Pullover

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Chest, Lats

Secondary Movers: Triceps, Shoulders

Place your shoulder blades on the bench sideways and place your feet firmly on the floor. Grasp the dumbbell with two hands and place your palms on the flat part of the dumbbell. Now you’re going to lift up your arms from your chest. This is where you start the exercise. Breathe in carefully lower the dumbbell behind your head and make sure your arms are straight. To keep your balance, you‘ll have to drop your hips downwards. When you can feel a full stretch, carefully bring the weight back to the starting point.


Using weight lifting gloves may help you keep your grip on the dumbbell as you begin to lift heavier weights.

Dumbbell Flyes

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Chest

Secondary Movers: Shoulders

This can be done on a flat bench or on an incline bench. For this explanation I’ll assuming you’re using an incline bench. Get on the incline bench and fix it to an angle of 30 degrees or less. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and lay back on the bench. Stretch your arms out to the sides with your elbows bent a little. Now bring the weights up slowly at the same time so that they almost meet above your body. You should be able to feel your pecs contract. Lower the weights carefully and stick out your chest at the same time to get the maximum stretch. Repeat.


It’s important to keep your head on the bench at all times.

Don’t straighten your elbows when you bring the weights up.

You don’t need someone to spot you when you perform this exercise because you can just drop the dumbbells once you’ve finished your reps.

Don’t place extra stress on your shoulders by lowering the weights too much. They should only be lowered enough so that your upper arms are parallel to the floor.

Bar Dips

Mechanics Type: Compound Lift

Primary Mover: Chest

Secondary Movers: Shoulders, Triceps

Grasp the bars with your hands just a little wider than your shoulders. Bring your body forward a little and then slowly lower yourself down until you can feel a good stretch. Now carefully raise yourself up to the starting position.


Don’t do this exercise if you’re suffering from a shoulder injury or your shoulder’s been dislocated.

Keep your lower body as still as you can so you don’t swing back and fourth.

Don’t forget to lean forward a little when you perform this exercise. And don’t bend your arms too much as you’ll put too much stress on the shoulder area. If you can do more than 8 reps you can add extra resistance by holding a dumbbell in between your legs, or using a dip belt and adding weight to the chains.

Dan Merrell, CPT

I'm a certified personal trainer from Scottsdale, Arizona. My area of focus is helping skinny guys gain weight and build muscle fast. I've worked with hundreds of skinny guys and helped them transform their bodies. Read all of my articles on and you can follow in their footsteps.

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