For those of you that are bodybuilding fans, think about the greatest champions that were known for their chest development. Guys like Schwarzenegger, Coleman, Haney, and Franco come to mind.
Yes, they were all big bench press lifters but their chests were so well-developed because they committed to training the chest in sections.
A large focus was spent on their upper chest development. This is what made their pecs look like plates of armor. They were full and had a shelf-like appearance which made their entire upper body appear better.
It isn’t just bodybuilders who focus on upper pec training either. Powerlifters will do a lot of accessory work on this area because they know it can help them get stronger on the bench press.
If you feel this is a weakness that you should improve, read on to learn what you can do to see the results that will help you look better and get stronger.
1. Start Your Chest Training With Incline Work
As with any other bodypart you want to improve, you should start with the area you think is the weakest so you can commit the most focus and energy on that area. Since we’re talking about the upper chest, that means you should begin your session with the emphasis on the upper pecs and work your way down.
Incline angles will be what matters most for upper pec training. So your first two to three movements of your workout should be on some form of an incline. How much incline? That leads us to the next tip.
2. Use Multiple Angles
You know those adjustable benches that you see in almost every free weight room? They are adjustable for a reason. Those different angles can help you train the muscles in different ways.
When it comes to chest training, angles as low as 15 degrees to as high as 45 will help you focus on the top of the chest. Any higher than 45 and the front delts will start to dominate the action which is what you don’t want here.
3. Feel Elevated Pushups
The push up is the most basic exercise for chest but there is a way to make it more advanced. You can put your feet up on a bench or other solid object and the focus shifts to the upper pecs since your body is at an angle.
You can do this as a warmup exercise on your chest day to establish the mind and muscle connection. You can also do it on other days for two or three sets simply to hit the pecs again and get a pump. This appears to be little work but it can help.
4. Keep Shoulder Blades Down and Tucked In
This is a mistake I see a lot of lifters make. Let’s discuss it so you can avoid it. You want the chest to do the majority of the work so the chest is what should be sticking out the most.
To help you do this, you should make it a priority to tuck the shoulder blades down and in as much as possible. The way I described it to clients I trained was to pretend you want the bottom of the shoulder blades to touch. As you do this, you should notice that the chest comes forward and the shoulders come back. This is what you should feel every time you do any incline movement.
5. Use Both Barbells and Dumbbells
So the next question that normally comes up is which would be better for developing the pecs – barbells or dumbbells? My answer is going to be both. Barbells help you place greater load on the muscles since one object is being pushed by both sides. Dumbbells help you focus on each side individually so there is no help from one or the other.
Normal incline barbell press stations have the benches at around 45 degrees. You can start here and follow it up by doing dumbbell presses with a lower incline so you get the best of both. Conversely, you can also start with dumbbells at either angle, then move on to doing barbell presses. You can also work with the bar and an adjustable bench in a rack if you prefer the lower angle. In short, there are several options, use as many of them as you like.
6. Work with Incline Cable Flys
Incline cable flys are a great exercise because of the constant tension that the cables provide. You can feel the resistance at the bottom of the exercise but not feel much strain on your shoulder as you might with a dumbbell.
You can start with this to help you feel the pecs working and to serve as a pre-exhausting exercise before going into the pressing movements. Or if you want to finish with a great pump, use this movement as a finisher with the emphasis on doing higher reps. 20-25 reps per set would get the job done sufficiently.
Here’s a great finisher that will torch the chest. Set up the adjustable bench at 45 degrees in a cable station. Perform 10-12 reps in this fashion. Instead of lowering the weight, drop the angle of the bench one level. Once you do, get back to performing more reps. Each time you reach failure, lower the angle more until your bench is flat.
Do this as the last set. The burn will be strong but the pump will be worth it.
7. Flex the Pecs between Sets
No, I’m not saying strip down and perform all the mandatory poses in front of a mirror like you’re onstage. All you would have to do is bring your arm up and in so you can feel the upper pecs contract. Do this with your left arm while using your right hand to feel the pec as it contracts. Follow that by flexing the right side next.
You don’t have to do this between every set but do it once with every exercise you do so you remind yourself what the focus is on right now.
8. No Singles or Maxing Out
Going heavy is motivating and I’m not saying you shouldn’t push yourself but there are no major incline pressing competitions so maxing out and trying to complete a heavy single isn’t going to do anything for you when it comes to developing this area.
The lowest rep range you should be doing is around 5-6 reps. You don’t have to do that exclusively though. Going up to around 12 reps will work well for hypertrophy. Going even higher will help you with muscular endurance as well as making sure you get those Type 1 muscle fibers that may be neglected when you lift heavier.
Sample Upper Chest Focused Workout
|Feet Elevated Pushups||3-4||10-12|
|30 Degree Incline Barbell Bench Press||5||6|
|45 Degree Incline Dumbbell Press||4||8-12|
|Seated Machine Press||3||10-12|
|Incline Cable Fly||4||20|
*The last set should be a drop set as described above.