12 Best Upper Chest Workouts To Round Out Your Pecs

Chest day is a favorite day for many exercisers. You can tell by the fact that gyms are often overcrowded on Mondays since Monday is usually chest day.[1]

However, if you do the bench press, the dips, and one more exercise once a week, it probably won't be enough to round out your pectoral muscles.

Progress will be noticeable, but many gym-goers complain that they can’t develop the upper chest as much as they would like.

The reason is very simple. They do upper chest exercises without enough variations, and the key is to engage upper chest muscle fibers at different angles.

Keep reading, and I promise you'll be at least one step closer to a muscle-packed chest when you finish the article.

I always recommend the following best upper chest exercises to my clients as part of an upper chest workout.

They should ensure well-rounded upper chest muscles that look attractive when you put on a shirt.

1. Bench Press

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids, serratus anterior

You may be surprised to see the traditional bench press at the beginning because it is not considered an exercise that primarily targets the upper chest.

Still, the bench press is an indispensable part of every workout and the movement that best engages the complete chest.

You won't find a single bodybuilder who skips the bench press, which speaks volumes.

There are two primary reasons why I decided to start with the traditional bench press, including the wide-grip bench press and dumbbell bench press. 

The first reason is that this exercise is one of the prime exercises for improving the strength of your chest, front deltoids, triceps, and wrists.

This will later help you do exercises that target the upper chest specifically more successfully.

Another reason is the activation of the clavicular head (upper pec fibers), which is not significantly behind the incline bench press.[2]

Some exercisers can improve upper chest development when doing an underhand (reverse) grip bench press, but be careful to try it with 50% of the usual weight.

See Related - 7 Different Bench Press Grips

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Lie down on your back and grab the bar using an overhand grip a bit wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. 2
    Pull your shoulder blades together.
  3. 3
    Inhale and unrack the bar.
  4. 4
    Lower the bar to mid-chest in a controlled manner until the bar reaches your chest.
  5. 5
    Push the bar up to the starting position.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: The guillotine press is an amazing exercise for building the upper chest. I recommend advanced exercisers include it in their routine after the bench press. Keep in mind that the guillotine press is very dangerous without a spotter.
Man Doing a Bench Press with a Spotter

2. Incline Bench Press

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids

When you think of upper pectoral muscles, the incline barbell bench press is probably the first thing that comes to mind.

Higher tension on the upper chest during incline bench pressing compared to a flat bench press and the incline body position that makes upper muscle fibers directly involved in the whole movement make this one so useful.

The best angle is 30 degrees from flat or even lower, while you should avoid 45 degrees on the adjustable bench.

The possibility of shoulder injury is greater when benching at 45 degrees, and the muscle activation is not better in that position, so there is no point in risking.

I prefer dumbbells and Swiss-bar over an incline barbell press. The incline dumbbell press is good for increasing the range of motion, while Swiss-bar can take away some of the strain placed on the wrists.

If you don't have a bench at home, jump over to our guide on the best incline bench press alternative exercises.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Get into starting position on the incline bench.
  2. 2
    Grab the barbell, Swiss bar, or take dumbbells and place them on the chest.
  3. 3
    Retract your shoulder blades.
  4. 4
    Start lowering the weight towards your chest.
  5. 5
    When you touch your chest (with dumbbells you can go deeper), press the weight up.
Incline Bench Press

3. Incline Hex Press

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, biceps brachii, anterior deltoids

For some reason, the hex press is an underrated exercise, even though it is one of the best for inner chest activation.

When you do it on the incline press, you activate your inner pecs and upper pecs, getting perfectly rounded muscles.

And you will feel your triceps burning as well.

Choose lighter dumbbells than for the incline bench press, especially if you are not familiar with the motion.

If you recently had a shoulder injury, the hex press can be a substitute for the bench press because the entire movement is free of external rotation.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Take dumbbells (hex dumbbells are better for this exercise compared to round ones) and lie on an incline bench.
  2. 2
    Hold them with a neutral grip and press them together until you feel the tension from pressing.
  3. 3
    Push them up while maintaining tension.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: The plate pinch press is a relatively similar exercise you can do together with the hex press in a superset to maximize middle chest growth.
Incline Hex Press

4. Machine Incline Chest Press

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids

Machines are great for beginners because they are safe. It is almost impossible to execute the exercise improperly on the machine, and you can always stop in the middle of the repetition.

Also, if you have recently experienced a chest or shoulder injury, the machine is the right way to get back into shape slowly.

Suggested Equipment - Best Chest Press Machines

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Start by adjusting the weight and seat.
  2. 2
    Sit and grab handles. If you are not comfortable, readjust the seat.
  3. 3
    Press the handles forward until your arms are fully extended.
Machine Incline Chest Press

5. Incline Dumbbell Front Raise

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, anterior deltoids, biceps brachii

The incline dumbbell front raise can be quite taxing on your shoulders, especially if you use an overhand grip, so forget about ego lifting.

You can injure yourself, and you will certainly not perform the exercise properly, but you will rather jerk weights which is useless. You must control shoulder flexion.

Start with dumbbells lighter than 15 lbs. Overhand grip is better if you want to emphasize the upper chest and anterior deltoids, while an underhand grip is more for the lower chest.

Doing this exercise on an incline makes it an excellent substitute for regular dumbbell front raises. Both variations should be part of your workout routine. 

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Lie on an incline bench.
  2. 2
    Take dumbbells with an overhand grip, put your arms next to your body and keep your elbows bent.
  3. 3
    Raise the dumbbells forward and upward to above the height of your shoulders, but not too high.
  4. 4
    Slowly lower the weight.
Incline Dumbbell Front Raise

6. Landmine Press

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids, trapezius

There are many different variations of the landmine press, and some of them are even suitable for plyometric training.

A half-kneeling one-arm landmine press is great for shoulders, and the upper pec is a secondary muscle in that movement, but since we want to emphasize the chest and not the shoulders, a kneeling landmine press with both arms is a preferred choice.

A neutral grip will once again reduce the stress on the shoulders.

You can go with heavier weights since you are very stable in that position, but pectoral strain and shoulder sprain are possible if you put too much weight on the landmine bar.

This exercise requires a barbell and a tight corner at minimum. If you don't have access to these, check out our article on the best landmine press alternatives.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Set a landmine bar, kneel, and grab it with both using a neutral grip.
  2. 2
    Place the bar in the middle of the chest, and keep the elbows in front.
  3. 3
    Engage the core to help you keep the spine straight.
  4. 4
    Press forward and upward until your arms are fully extended.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: You can do this exercise even if you don't have a landmine bar. A classic barbell will serve the purpose; you just have to put it in the corner.
Man in Blue Tank Top Doing Kneeling Landmine Press

7. Incline Dumbbell Fly

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, biceps brachii, core

This fly is an isolation exercise, which you can do on a flat and incline bench, and as you already know, you choose the incline when you want to target the upper pecs.

Incline dumbbell fly will set every muscle fiber in your pecs on fire if you perform the exercise correctly.

This is one more movement not suitable for heavy weights because your shoulders and sternocostal joints can get hurt.

These are the joints between the sternum and ribs. I had an injury of the 3rd sternocostal joint and felt lingering symptoms for almost a year.

This injury will limit you to the bench, but it is also very irritating for everyday life. So start with 10-15 lbs dumbbells and then gradually increase.

Those who struggle with a range of motion should start doing flys promptly.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Set up the bench and lie on it.
  2. 2
    Hold dumbbells with a neutral grip, place them over your chest, with a slight bend in the elbows.
  3. 3
    Lower the dumbbells until you reach shoulder level.
  4. 4
    Bring the weights to the starting position and squeeze the pecs.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: Turn your wrists inwards at the top of the movement to generate an additional muscle contraction.
Incline Dumbbell Fly

8. Dumbbell Around the World

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, deltoids, core, lattisimus dorsi

No other chest exercise takes you through a complete range of motion like this one. Once again, I advise you to give priority to technique over weight.

Try to do around the world, first on the flat and then on the incline bench.

This will help you understand which position suits you better and where the activation of both sternocostal and clavicular is greater.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Take a dumbbell in each arm and lie on a flat or incline bench.
  2. 2
    Place the dumbbells on your thighs, just under your hips, and hold them with an underhand grip.
  3. 3
    Keep elbows slightly bent as you make a circular motion to touch the dumbbells above your head, keeping them all the time in the same plane as at the beginning (parallel to the floor).
  4. 4
    Return them to the starting position by doing the same movement in reverse.
Dumbbell Around The World

9. Low To High Cable Flys

Target: Pectoralis major, biceps brachii, anterior deltoids, lattisimus dorsi

A cable machine is the most practical option for low to high cable flys. However, dumbbells and resistance bands are almost equally good.

Because of the angle, but even more, to maintain the tension throughout the entire movement, my recommendation is to stick with the cable machine every time you have a chance.

Low to high cable flys are an isolation exercise for the pecs, especially the upper muscle fibers and front delts.

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Set the cable cross to the lowest position, take the handles, and step forward.
  2. 2
    Lean slightly forward and bend your arms.
  3. 3
     Engage your core.
  4. 4
    Push the handles forward until you touch them at chest height.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: To utilize different angles, alternate low to high cable flys with a chest fly machine and cable crossover.
Low To High Cable Flys

10. Dumbbell Pullover

Target: Pectoralis major, triceps brachii, lattisimus dorsi, teres major, obliques

You've probably seen the photo of Schwarzenegger doing a pullover using a gigantic dumbbell.

He has always emphasized that it is one of his favorite chest exercises, even though it is often overlooked.

It was one of the staple exercises during the golden era of bodybuilding, so there's no reason to leave it out of your workout plan.

Despite the fact that a pullover machine is present in many gyms, I always advise my clients to use a dumbbell instead of a machine unless I'm working with a beginner or a convalescent.

In those two cases, the machine could offer the necessary stability and thus, safety.

Do not perform this exercise the day after a strenuous back workout because the latissimus dorsi is significantly involved in the movement, albeit not as much as the pectoralis.[3]

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Position the middle of your back on a flat bench leaving your head hanging.
  2. 2
     Lower your hips and stand hip-width apart.
  3. 3
    Connect your thumbs and index fingers to create a diamond shape and grab a dumbbell.
  4. 4
    Bent your elbows, place a dumbbell over your chest, and start lowering the dumbbell over your head in a controlled manner.
  5. 5
    Contract your pecs to initiate the return of the dumbbell to the starting position.
Dumbbell Pullover

11. Resistance Band Pushup

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids, core, lattisimus dorsi

There are many ways to train your upper chest at home, and the resistance band push-up is probably the best.

Numerous push-up variations allow you to build an enviable chest and other muscles using only your body weight.

Resistance bands are the single piece of equipment you need. Bands will make push-ups more challenging, and therefore you will build muscles faster.

After all, the specific adaptation to imposed demands principle explains everything.[4]

Read More - Best Chest Exercises With Resistance Bands

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Wrap the band around your back and anchor it with your hands.
  2. 2
    Keep hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart if you are performing basic push-ups.
  3. 3
    Lower your chest until you are a few inches away from the floor. The body should be in a straight line all the time, and you will do that by engaging the core.
  4. 4
    Push your hands into the floor and contract your chest to return to the starting position.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: Decline push-ups are especially useful for the growth of upper pecs, so once you are strong enough, start placing your feet higher to perform this advanced variation of the basic push-up.
Resistance Band Push Up

12. Weighted Dip

Target: Pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, triceps brachii, anterior deltoids, forearms, core

Dips are an exercise equally popular among gym-goers, bodybuilders, and calisthenics athletes.

There is no doubt that it is one of the supreme exercises for pecs and triceps, but it is not for beginners.

Logically, weighted dips are even harder. Therefore, you must be fully warmed up and ready to avoid injuries but also to execute this exercise properly.

Since chest muscles are our focus today, you should lean forward. That way, you'll put more stress on your pecs compared to a position for triceps dips.

Read Also - Chest Dips Vs Tricep Dips: What's The Difference?

How to do it:

  1. 1
    Fasten a chain or weight belt.
  2. 2
    Grab a dip station and get into the starting position.
  3. 3
    Engage your core and depress your scapula.
  4. 4
    Lower yourself until your shoulders are below your elbows.
  5. 5
    Press yourself back up.
Garage Gym Pro Tip: Never go deeper than you are comfortable, even if it means that the shoulders will remain above the elbows.
Weighted Dip

Where Exactly Is The Upper Chest?

Some of my colleagues believe that discussing anatomy with clients is unnecessary. I do not share their opinion.

When you have a basic knowledge of anatomy, it will be much easier for you to perform the exercise correctly.

That's why I always explain to my clients at the beginning where the points of origin and insertion are, what the type of muscle is, and so on.

Of course, we don't need to go into details important to surgeons, but ignorance does not help in reaching fitness goals.

Chest Anatomy

When you look in the mirror, but also because of how we talk about the chest, it is easy to mistakenly conclude that the chest consists of only one muscle.

On the other hand, when you find exercises for the lower chest, mid, and upper, it's logical to think that they are three separate muscles, like the deltoids.

On top of everything, when targeting the upper chest, you can't leave out anterior deltoids, so all that can cause utter confusion regarding chest anatomy.

But don’t worry, now I’m going to analyze each muscle located in the upper chest region.

What Muscles Are In The Upper Chest?

There are three muscles in the upper portion of the chest.

Since we cannot count the front deltoid and upper arm as chest muscle groups, those three are pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and serratus anterior.

The pec major is a thick, superficial, fan-shaped muscle. It's the muscle we call "pecs," that we try so desperately to build. It makes up the majority of upper chest fibers.

It has two heads - clavicular and sternocostal. The clavicular head is located near the collarbone, as the name suggests, and that is why this head is more important for a rounded upper chest.

The clavicular head is smaller than the sternal head, so don't forget to work on the sternocostal head as well to avoid imbalances.

The pectoralis major has numerous insertion points, including ones on the collarbone, ribs, humerus, and sternum.

Those multiple insertion points enable us to target different parts of the same muscle and thus achieve something called regional hypertrophy.[5]

The pectoralis minor is also a very important muscle in the upper chest region and is located below the pectoralis major.

More precisely, it extends from the 3rd, 4th, and 5th ribs to the hook-shaped bone called the coracoid process of the scapula.

There are no isolation exercises for the pectoralis minor, but you will certainly engage it in most chest exercises I've mentioned.

The serratus anterior is a muscle stretching from the 1st to the 8th rib. It goes around the rib cage and attaches to the shoulder blades.

Since it is so long, it has many essential functions for the upper body, such as overhead movements, reaching with arm forward, and moving the shoulder blade forward.

Upper Chest Anatomy

Benefits Of Training Your Upper Chest Muscles

Any kind of regular physical activity is beneficial for our body and mind. These are just a few benefits of training your upper chest once or twice a week.

Aesthetics

Many will say that joint health and performance are more important than aesthetics. I can't deny that.

But let's be honest. More than 50% of people go to the gym to look nice. And that's just fine.

A good-looking body is almost always a healthy body because you cannot be fit without a proper diet and regular workouts.

If you fail to build the upper chest, that region will look empty in a shirt. On the contrary, big and strong upper pecs contribute to an attractive look both in clothes and on the beach.

This does not only apply to men. The upper chest is equally important for women. Training this part will make your breasts look firmer.

You can also fix saggy breasts, which is a common problem for all women as they age, especially those with larger breasts.

Joint Health & Longevity

Well-trained upper pecs will certainly reduce the likelihood of pectoralis injuries. However, that's not all. It has been proven that strong upper pecs "protect" the shoulders.

Shoulder injuries are one of the most common in most sports, including football, basketball, and tennis. You must have heard at least once that an athlete suffered a rotator cuff tear.[6]

Healthy shoulder joint and longevity should be a priority.

Power & Performance

Strong upper pecs will translate to improved performance not just in sports like weightlifting but in almost all sports activities.

Primarily, the powerful upper part of the pectoralis major will enable you to lift heavier weights and train with higher intensity, so your progress will be comprehensive.

It will also only improve results in sports where you need to throw or swing.

Man Doing Cable Chest Flys

Tips For Building Bigger Upper Chest Muscles

For the first few months, you will feel fatigue in your chest after training, and you will notice progress practically every week.

But then the moment will come when the workout will become almost undemanding, and you will have the impression that the muscles are no longer growing. It means you hit a plateau.[7]

Then you need to start doing a few new things.

We usually stop exercising when we reach failure, but to get past the plateau, you need to incorporate drop sets and negatives into your routine.

During a drop set, when you can't do a single rep more, lower the weight and continue. Repeat this several times during one drop set.

Negatives and forced reps are also very useful.

Keep in mind that these advanced techniques are very taxing for your muscles and central nervous system, so give yourself more rest between two such workouts than usual.


How To Stretch Out Your Upper Chest

You should start the workout with a warm-up and active stretching, such as a dynamic chest opener, and finish it with passive stretching.

The combination of active and static stretching will increase the range of motion and prevent injuries.

Chest Smash

Chest smash will help you kill two birds with one stone. Chest smash is great for stretching pecs, but also as one of the prehab shoulder exercises.

You need a foam roller, tennis ball, or something similar, which can create tension.

  • Lie facedown on the floor and place a foam roller under one of your pecs.
  • Rest your whole weight on a foam roller, but you should not feel pain or discomfort.
  • Now raise your arm, and it should be the arm where the foam roller is.
  • Start simultaneously moving the raised hand away from the head toward the hip while rotating the palm.
  • Reverse the motion.
  • Repeat with the other arm.

Banded Shoulder Circles

Banded shoulder circles might look easy but don't be surprised if you can't pull it off on the first try.

It is important to go behind your head as far as possible, but only while maintaining arms straight and without pain.

Do not ask for assistance during circles because this is not a passive stretch; if you push too hard, an injury can cut your training short.

  • Take an elastic band with both hands (if you don’t have an elastic band, a towel is a good alternative for upper chest workout at home.)
  • Hold the bend wider than the shoulder width.
  • Engage your core.
  • Raise the band over and behind your head.
  • Reverse the motion.
Woman in White and Black Sports Bra Doing Banded Shoulder Circles

Common Upper Chest Workout Questions

What are some bodyweight upper-chest exercise alternatives?

Dips and push-up variations are good for a bodyweight workout. You can also try burpees, which is a cardio exercise, not one for strength and muscle growth.

How many times should I work out my upper chest per week?

The optimal number of upper chest workouts weekly is two, but once per week is also fine for most exercisers.

Does the upper chest make your entire chest look bigger?

Yes, upper pecs are most visible, especially when you are not naked but in a shirt or sweater.

How much time does it take to build chest muscles?

That is highly individual since nutrition, number, and intensity of workouts, as well as genetics, have a big influence. Still, in general, you need to give the muscles about 3 months to notice significant results.

What is better – Arnold or AthleanX upper chest program?

Arnold Schwarzenegger is a bodybuilder, while Jeff Cavaliere (AthleanX) is a physical therapist and strength coach, so their approaches and thus programs are different, but both are fantastic. You can learn many exercises for upper pecs from them.


Summary Of Upper Chest Workouts

Every man who goes to the gym wants a great-looking chest, arms, and upper body muscles in general.

If you are a beginner, follow the directions you've found in this article, eat enough macros, and give your body time. Progress is imminent.

Increased blood flow and muscle pump are a natural consequence of the adaptation of your cardiovascular system to effort. We can even call it a side effect if you want.

That's why you shouldn't chase pumps during chest or any other day and confuse it with muscle growth.

If you are a seasoned gym-goer who does not have a well-developed, rounded chest, then it is time to change something.

You certainly won't get any different results if you keep doing the same upper chest training.

I hope I explained to you how to hit upper chest and thus help you maximize your results.

References: 

1. https://www.menshealth.com/fitness/a19543761/why-every-monday-is-chest-day/
2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32922646/
3.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51695295_Effects_of_the_Pullover_Exercise_on_the_Pectoralis_Major_and_Latissimus_Dorsi_Muscles_as_Evaluated_by_EMG
4. https://blog.nasm.org/general-adaptation-syndrome-explained
5. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640414.2021.1929736?journalCode=rjsp20
6. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/rotator-cuff-injury
7. https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/7-ways-to-bust-any-plateau.html

Filip Maric

Last Updated on December 18, 2022