There are literally dozens of chest exercises you can choose from when creating your own chest workout. So, which ones are effective and which are a waste of time? Good question!
That’s exactly what this article is about! We’re going to rank the 7 most common chest exercises from WORST to BEST and as always, explain why that is!
Exercise #7 – The Plate Press (Sven Press)
This exercise definitely has its uses, but building muscle mass is not one of them.
A lot of trainers would have you believe that Sven Presses are good for inner chest growth. In truth, all that happens is that you are able to feel those fibers of your chest activate more, which improves your mind-muscle connection to those fibers.
Is that a good thing? Yes. Absolutely. Will it help you build more inner chest muscle mass? Not directly. However, in the long term, it can help you correctly activate your entire chest and force more growth. But if we’re talking about pure muscle growth, I’d leave this exercise out of your chest routine.
Exercise #6 – Dumbbell Flys
The “fly” motion is indeed one of the functions of your chest. However, performing the movement with dumbbells has its problems. For example, there is no tension at the top of the movement, because gravity is no longer working against you.
Moreover, you are really limited as to how much weight you can move with this exercise, because you’re only allowed to keep a slight bend in your elbows. If you were to bend your elbows more, then the movement turns into more of a PRESS and less of a FLY, which defeats the entire purpose of why you’re doing the exercise.
Again, this is one of the exercises that I would avoid. However, since you can simply execute the exercise on a bench, you can simply superset Flies with Presses and now THIS…is great.
All you have to do is reach failure with your standard Dumbbell Presses and then immediately grab a pair of lighter dumbbells and perform a set of Dumbbell Flies with no rest in between.
Exercise #5 – Cable Flys
The reason why this variation of flys ranks higher than the dumbbell one, is TENSION.
With cables, you can maintain constant tension on your chest throughout the entire movement, including at the very top.
Also, regardless of the variation you’re doing (high-to-low, low-to-high or middle), the tension remains constant and you can target different areas of your chest from a different angle.
Now, if you find that you’re struggling to maintain your balance because there is no back support, you can bring a bench over to the cable station and if you position it properly, you will be able to move a lot heavier weights and still maintain the tension throughout the movement.
And…if you are able to superset these Cable Flies with Dumbbell Presses, there’s literally no better feeling. Warning! Requires a gym that’s not packed!
Exercise #4 – Machine Presses
Most gyms have an incline, regular and decline machine press variation. Should you be using them? Maybe.
POSITIVE: It’s truly hard to mess up the form with this exercise. The machine forces you on a fixed ranged of motion which means the margin for error is really low.
NEGATIVE: Because the range of motion is fixed, your stabilizing muscles are no longer needed which means you’re actually engaging LESS muscle fibers compared to a barbell or dumbbell bench press.
So, if you’re a beginner, machine presses can be great to teach your body the proper movements. But as more of an advanced lifter, I feel like you’re really limiting yourself in terms of muscle engagement if you’re solely depending on machine presses to build your chest.
Exercise #3 – Chest Dips
First of all, Chest Dips are NOT Triceps Dips. The difference in form is substantial and if you don’t understand it, you should watch my video on this topic.
POSITIVE: The exercise is really flexible. You can use Bands or Weight Belts to make the exercise easier or harder and introduce progressions to your training.
NEGATIVE: A major issue with the exercise, is that it requires a lot of shoulder mobility. If your shoulders are not that mobile, you may need to work on your joint mobility before attempting to max out on Chest Dips.
I recommend you loosen up your shoulders with a few band exercises BEFORE walking to the dip station. There is no hurry anyway, as I rarely see people doing dips these days!
Exercise #2 – Barbell Press
If you want to build muscle, you need to lift heavy. And there’s no better exercise to do so than the Barbell Press, whether it’s flat, incline or decline.
No matter which variation you choose, as long as you maintain proper form, you will be able to build some solid strength and muscle mass with this movement.
However, in my personal opinion, while this exercise is great, we still fall a bit short of the number 1 exercise on our list. And this is due to the fixed range of motion that the barbell forces on you throughout the movement.
Since the bar cannot be bent, your hands remain fixed at all times. This means that you’re still missing out on some chest engagement that you could get with Dumbbell Chest Presses.
Exercise #1 – Dumbbell Press
I hope it’s no surprise that the Dumbbell Press is number one on this list!
But it’s there for a few reasons.
The main reason is that it simply involves more arm adduction which engages even more muscle fibers than the barbell variation.
Secondly, more secondary and stabilizing muscles are involved with the movement, which is much healthier for your joints and less likely to lead to an injury or accident.
Also, since there is no barbell hitting your chest, you can go a bit deeper with dumbbells. More range of motion, means more muscle engagement which means…more muscle growth.
The only “problem” with dumbbell variation is “how heavy do the dumbbells go in your gym”. Especially if you’re working out at a commercial gym, at some point in the future, you’ll max out and there won’t be a way to lift heavier weight…unless you move over to the Barbell Variation.
In which case, I would advise you to START with Barbell Press and as you get tired, perform the Dumbbell Press as your SECOND exercise.
Remember! Muscle mass is built with HEAVY WEIGHT and VOLUME. A balanced combination of both is the smart way to go about your training. If you’ve learned anything from this article, it should be to “stick to the basics”. Both the Barbell and the Dumbbell Press are excellent options but they’re also BASIC. Stick to your guns and keep pushing day after day, week after week!