10 Bodypart Training Series: How To Pack On Slabs Of Muscle To Your Chest!

Brad Borland
Written By: Brad Borland
December 8th, 2010
Updated: June 13th, 2020
72.4K Reads
A 10 part muscle building super series. Part 8 focuses on building the chest, and includes chest anatomy, exercises and workouts for every need.

Editor's note: Find all 10 articles in this series on the 10 Body Part Training Series Main Page.

The chest. It is, in many ways, what defines a man. A big barrel-like chest complete with muscularity, mass and balance exudes power, control and mastery over oneself. Most of us growing up as little boys looked up to our dads - they were bigger, stronger and taller than us. We were always impressed with their abilities to lift, pull, carry and push. Did we not look up to them with awe and inspiration? Did we not want to one day be like them?

The pectoral muscles are visually the hallmark of strength on the human body. They signify power and dominance in one’s own personal space and beyond. Most men have at one point or another pursued a stronger and more massive chest in his lifetime whether they were the recreational lifter or competitive bodybuilder.

Although many trainers spend countless hours on the bench press and pec deck machine, fewer and fewer actually build impressive muscularity in that area - instead they build monumental egos. They spend entire training sessions, sometimes lasting hours, and performing set after set of every movement known to man with little or nothing to show for it. Sure, they may become a little stronger and may gain a little muscle tissue along the way, but wouldn’t it be nice to work with a program that is both efficient and effective and produces respectable gains?

Hopefully this article will shed a little light on the infamously elusive greater pectoral development. This is not necessarily a strength program (although you will reap strength gains), but is a pectoral development program designed to increase muscle mass, development and balance from top to bottom, inside and out. To have a strong, well-rounded chest can put the finishing touches on a physique whether it is for the beach or the stage.

Quick Anatomy Lesson

The musculature of the chest is comprised of three two muscle groups. Let’s take a look at each and there functions.

Pectoralis Major

Located on the front of the ribcage, this fanlike muscle originates on the breastbone on the center of the chest and attaches to the humerus near the shoulder joint. The Pectoralis Major’s main function is to bring the humerus across the chest.

Pectoralis Minor

Located underneath the Pectoralis Major, this muscle originates on the middle ribs and attaches to the caracoid process of the scapula. The Pectoralis Minor’s main function is to shrug the shoulder area forward.

Although the chest area is comprised of these two muscle groups, many exercises will influence different areas of the Pectoralis Major. Incline, flat and decline presses and fly movements will all affect this area in certain ways that can dictate development in one area over another. Additionally, the Pectoralis Minor, sometimes activated through stabilization purposes, can also be targeted for specific development.

Chest Slab Action!

Chest trainingNow that you know a little about anatomy and function, let’s delve into what makes an outstanding chest. The movements and routines presented are designed to get the most out of each trip to the gym. Remember to always use good form and not to use too much weight to compromise your safety.

Flat bench press, incline and decline bench barbell, dumbbell and Smith machine presses: These groups of movements normally make up the majority of trainers’ programs. The flat bench movements emphasize the middle and lower portions of the pectoralis major, the incline working mainly the upper and to a lesser extent the middle portion and the decline angle developing the lower “pec” area. These can all be performed with a barbell, dumbbell or Smith machine – each having their own advantages.

Barbells are normally utilized for maximum loads and overall mass and development. They are good to use at the beginning of a routine so that the trainer can lift heavy amounts of weight early on in their program. Dumbbells have the advantage of being used in a unilateral manner to which the trainer can not only even out imbalances from one side to the other, but also allows the pecs to work interdependently so that a trainer can bring the dumbbells together at the top of the movement for a strong contraction. A Smith machine is best utilized near the middle or end of a routine when the joints have been fatigued and proper balance and form become an issue.

For barbell work, simply grasp the bar a few inches outside of your shoulder width (the best placement is a grip that positions the forearms perpendicular to the floor when the bar is lowered to the chest). Lower the bar to the upper chest for the incline version, mid to lower pec for the flat version and the lower pec line for the decline position. Without bouncing the bar, press the weight straight back up without locking the elbows.

For dumbbell work, execute the movement the same way but lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest and then simultaneously press them back up and slightly toward the center without clanging the weights together. Be sure not to lock the elbows to keep constant tension on the muscles.

Quick hit: An often forgotten and seldom used pec-builder is the reverse grip bench press. Mainly utilized on the flat bench, the reverse grip press can also be performed on a Smith machine (recommended). Grasp the bar with a reverse grip either at shoulder width or a little wider and have your training partner assist you with un-racking the weight. Lower the bar to your lower pec area and press back up in a controlled manner. Note: The reverse grip bench press is a great upper pec builder.

Flat bench flyes, incline and decline dumbbell and cable flyes: These movements will carve detail and fill out key areas of the pectoralis major – such as the inside (with cables) and outside (with dumbbells) of the muscle. Simply lie on a flat (for middle pecs), incline (for upper) or decline (for lower) with the dumbbells or cable “D” handles in your hands and your palms facing each other.

For the cable version you will be using the universal cable machine and the pulleys in the lowest position. Expand out your hands as if you were about to give someone a giant hug. Your elbows should be slightly bent to relieve tension from your joints. Lower the dumbbells or “D” rings to about chest level (or a comfortable position) and then reverse the movement in the same hugging motion.

Quick hit: This is where the two pieces of equipment differ. While using dumbbells, do not touch the weight together at the top. Bring them together until they are about six to eight inches apart – this will keep tension on the pecs. For the cable flyes, bring the handles together for an intense contraction and squeeze.

Hammer Strength bench press and machine presses (flat, incline and decline): Most gyms have some version of the machine press. Just be sure to adhere to the guidelines as with presses described above – no lockout, slow on the way down and squeeze on the way up.

Machine pec deck: Another favorite of gym goers is the pec deck machine. These are usually found with the pads for the forearms or with the long straight-arm handles (Icarian version for example). The most important point to remember when performing these movements (which is similar to the flye motions discussed above) is to keep your shoulders back and expand the chest out at all times. This will ensure the pecs take more of the stress while protecting the shoulders. Be sure to squeeze for a second or two to increase muscle involvement and contraction.

Cable crossovers (high, mid and low): To get that deep inner chest development and an overall complete look to the chest, nothing beats cable crossovers. These can be performed in a variety of ways dependent upon what the goal is. For the traditional high pulley cable crossover grasp two “D” handles from cables that are set above your head and stand between the two cable towers. You will start with a slight bend at the elbow to relieve pressure from the joint.

Step forward a foot or two and begin with your arms wide open. Bring your arms forward and down in a huge arc as if hugging someone with your hands coming together at about beltline level. Slowly return to the starting position by raising your arms in the same arc motion. This particular motion works mainly the lower and inner pec area.

Cable crossovers performed with the cables set at or around shoulder level will develop mainly the middle and inner pec area. Execute the motion the same way as described above; however, you will bring the handles directly in front of your chest instead. Squeeze and then stretch straight back.

With the pulleys set to the lowest position (closest to the floor), the low pulley cable crossover will help develop the upper and inner pec region. Again, start wide and this time low with the handles and arc them up until they are in line with your upper pecs or even your chin for an intense upper pec contraction.

Incline, floor and decline push-ups: Not just for boot camp anymore, this old favorite has made a comeback lately, especially amongst functional and group trainers. The push-up for most trainers seeking a better pec landscape can normally be reserved for the end of a chest routine to push just a little more blood into that area. Variation include: incline for lower pecs (hands on a raise bench and feet on the floor), decline for upper pecs (hands on the ground and feet on a raised bench) and floor push-ups for overall pec torture!

Quick hit: For even greater chest annihilation try performing a set or two of 3-way push-ups as your last exercise. Start with decline, then move to flat and finally incline with no rest between sets – that is one set!

Parallel dips for chest: Also used for triceps mass, the dip can easily be turned into a major chest builder. Step inside a dip apparatus and grasp the parallel bars about shoulder width apart. As you lower your body, lean forward and let your elbows flare out. You should feel a stretch in your pecs on the decent. While staying leaned forward, press back up focusing on the chest contracting. Weight can be added in the form of a dumbbell placed between your ankles by a training partner or by a weight belt with a chain to hold plates. Note: before adding weight, master the form first with just your bodyweight.

Dumbbell and barbell pullovers: Another great chest expander focusing on the pectoralis minor and overall depth is the pullover. Although many trainers utilize this movement for isolating the back, it is also extremely effective for “finishing off” the entire pec region.

For dumbbell pullovers lay perpendicularly across a flat bench grasping the inside face of a dumbbell of moderate weight. Start with the weight directly overhead and keep a slight bend in the elbows. Lower the weight back over your head in an arc toward the floor in a very controlled manner. As you lower the weight, take in a deep breath and stretch the chest. Stretch only where you are comfortable and then reverse the motion while blowing out. Remember: deep breaths will help contract the pecs.

For the barbell version lie back length-wise on a flat bench and grasp a barbell slightly wider than shoulder width with a reverse grip. With the barbell on your chest (much like the bottom portion of a reverse-grip bench press) keep a 90 degree angle at the elbows. Rotate the weight up and over your head in an arc toward the floor. Feel a deep stretch and then reverse the motion to rotate the barbell back toward your torso. Remember to keep the correct angle at the elbows and breath in deeply on the decent.

Chest Slab Schedules

Note: Perform 2 sets of 10-15 on the first movement for a warm-up with light to moderate weight.

Overall Pec Builder

Upper Chest Emphasis

Lower Chest Emphasis

Big Wide Pecs – Width Emphasis

Chest Pre-exhaustion

Superset Blitz!

You are now well-done!

Posted on: Sun, 11/16/2014 - 10:37

I am curious about reasoning behind your recommend workout order. I incorporate those exercises just in a different order. I start offwith dips, then go to incline/flat bench to dumbell and then finish with pushups

Posted on: Tue, 11/12/2013 - 13:23

awesome article! I'm having trouble with my upper chest growing it won't blow up! I'm only 18 as well any tips??

Posted on: Fri, 06/14/2013 - 23:41

Been doing chest routine as follows and getting unreal strength and size:

Incline Dumbell Bench 3 x 6-10
Flat Barbell Bench 3 x 6-10
Parallel Dips 3 x 6-10
Incline Dumbell Flies 2-3 x 6-10

Posted on: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 17:49

also how much rest should be taken in between each set?

Posted on: Sat, 04/20/2013 - 17:44

im a little confused. is this supposed to be done in one day? also should i keep weight increase consistent throughout the set?

Jason B
Posted on: Tue, 03/12/2013 - 12:21


I hit a plateau about 2 months ago and have not been able to up my bench. I tried taking a week off to let myself recover because I experienced gains in the past with this method, however it did not work this time. Any idea what the issue could be?
I also have an excess of fat stored around my chest and under my arms ever since I was young. I am in the process of cutting weight, but I also want to build the muscle to target this particular area. I am going to start the overall pec builder and probably try to do a lower emphasis for my second chest workout each week. Do you think that is best?

Thanks for the great info!

Posted on: Wed, 03/06/2013 - 00:59

Hi Brad,
i am new to body building and have been seeing decent muscle growth in all parts. However i cannot feel any muscle contraction while working on my chest. I think there is something wrong with my form. If only you could advise on the correct manner of doing the chest exercises


M&S Team Badge
Posted on: Fri, 03/08/2013 - 17:38

Feel free to check out the videos of chest exercises that are available on the site: https://www.muscleandstrength.com/exercises/chest

There are tips as well for each movement. Also, if you're able, record your workout routine. You can go over the tape afterward and closely examine your form.

Bradley w
Posted on: Tue, 12/04/2012 - 12:00

Hi brad this chest workout is going good , big respect :) can u let me know a full day to day routine ? Many thanks if so

Posted on: Tue, 07/24/2012 - 17:56

Hi Brad,

I was reading through the article as I feel like I'm one of those guys who's not a novice in the gym but at the same time I'm not getting the gains that I'd like no matter how hard I hit it.

You commented on some trainers devoting entire training sessions to chest development with exorbitant sets of every movement known to man, however I'm not sure if your article actually gave an sufficient response to this issue. It seems to only reiterate "every movement known to man". So I have some questions if you've got the time:

1) What were those trainers actually doing wrong? (Is your article implying that they lacked variety in their routine?)
2) How many times a week should one work the chest?
3) How do you know if a weight isn't heavy enough?
4) How long should a rest period be between different exercises? (should I be fatigued at the start of new exercise?)
5) What do you think about drop sets?
6) hammer press versus bench press? Which one is better? (Id really like to know this one)
7) Hammer press: should the seat be adjusted so the feet touch the floor or should it be adjusted for the sake of the position of the hand grips? I never know if the handgrips are in the maximal position.


Posted on: Sun, 03/04/2012 - 10:03

Hey Brad, I have a few questions. My chest is the biggest thing I'm having a problem with getting into shape. The biggest part is the under or lower part of chest muscle, for some reason I can't get that to form up. What do you suggest to help with that? My second question is when I bench press doing a wide grip or normal grip which is best on which bench? My last is I have looked for your overall pec builder workout and can't find it, is it the workout above or is it somewhere else on M&S? Thanks.

Posted on: Thu, 03/08/2012 - 10:14

Hi Wayne,
First, there is a lower pec builder program in the article:

Lower Chest Emphasis
•Decline bench barbell press 3 x 6-10
•Hammer Strength or machine bench press 3 x 8-12
•High-level cable crossover 3 x 10-15
•Parallel dip 3 x 10-15 or muscular failure

Second, I like the normal to slightly narrow grip for most benching. I used to do a wider grip, but my shoulders took the brunt of the stress.

Third, the overall pec builder is below:

Overall Pec Builder
•Incline bench barbell press 3 x 6-10
•Flat bench dumbbell press 3 x 8-12
•Decline bench dumbbell flye 3 x 8-12
•Mid-level cable crossover 3 x 10-15


Posted on: Sun, 03/04/2012 - 00:33

HI Brad
I'm training each muscle group twice per week now I'll follow your prog since I'm not getting much help at the gym any way my question is how i should follow your prog what shall i start with overall pec ,upper or lower chest or all of them the say day lol and for weights I'm doing
I'm not sure if it's good but after spending 7 month at the gym i'm still not so strong to left more i dunno why i've been following food plan start taking the protein shakes but yet nothing so if you could help me please

Posted on: Thu, 03/08/2012 - 10:16

Hi Mo,
I would start with hte overall program first for around 4-6 weeks. Then assess your weakness(es) and add in one more program every other workout. I would rotate 2 to 3 routines into your training.


Posted on: Sun, 03/11/2012 - 00:46

Hi Brad,
with add you mean i should keep doing the overall but add upper or lower ?

Joshua R
Posted on: Sat, 03/03/2012 - 21:17

whats good sets and reps for this to get good workout and, whats another good muscle group to focus on for this days workout, should i do this like 3 days a week?

Posted on: Thu, 03/08/2012 - 10:20

Hi Joshua,
I like to pair chest with either back or shoulders and triceps twice per week.


Posted on: Sat, 03/03/2012 - 16:42

this is well and good. but something that is never covered, is the amount of rest between sets. what is advised here ? 2mins between sets or ???

Posted on: Thu, 03/08/2012 - 10:23

Hi Mike,
Yes, rest times can vary. The standard is 2 minutes, but experiment with shorter rests as well such as 1 minute and even 30 seconds.


Posted on: Sat, 11/26/2011 - 13:28

Hi, I would like to know why I have got back pain. I don't do Dead Lifts. The back pain occurs when I do seated dumbbell press, or any other shoulder related exercise. Could you please help me out and tell me what I need to do to eliminate that pain.

Posted on: Wed, 12/07/2011 - 15:22

Hi Shubham,

It could be from compressing your spine and/or from arching your back too much on those lifts. If the pain persists be sure to consult your physician.


Posted on: Wed, 06/01/2011 - 14:44

Hi Brad!
In your upper chest program here, i was wondering if it´s okay to replace the flat bench with a decline execise? I know flat bench is one of the best massbuilders, but I´ve got a big midchest, so would like to focus more on the upper an a bit on the lower section.

I see you recommending hitting every muscle twice per week, but nearly everyone else on this site says ones per week... Would really like to here your thoughts on this subject! I understand you´re about to write an article on it...? I´m still very confused when it comes down to this!!!!
I´m a natural all the way my self, been working out for years- the first couple of years i trained every muscle twice per week (chest/shoulders/tri and back/biceps/legs), thereafter i switched to once per week (shoulders/tri, back/leg and chest/bi). I know biceps, triceps and shoulders in this manner is hit secondary on chest and back days to...
Both worked for me, just not shore what was the best way (for me), cause about the same time i switched over, i made a lot of changes when it comes to eating and protein intake.

Thanks for your help and some great articles.

Posted on: Wed, 06/01/2011 - 15:57


Sure, decline is a great substitute for flat. Just be sure it is not too declined as this can place too much stress on the triceps and takes away from the targeted chest area.

I am a big advocate of more frequent training (more opportunity for growth). Also, stimulating protein synthesis in a specific area more frequently can lead to more metabolism stimulus thus, burning more fat.

As long as your nutrition is spot on and you are carefully regulating CNS stress and work volume, more frequent training will get you where you want to be faster.


Posted on: Sat, 04/09/2011 - 04:25

Hi Brad,
thanks a lot for the answer. and let me thank you for your articles. i really apreciate it, thumbs up !!
just got one more question: what do you think is the ideal number of sets to go to failure for a natural athlete ?
normally i´m doing 4-6 total failure sets for bigger muscle groups and 3-4 for smaller ones. and i´m training each muscle group once per week. do you thnik this is a good aproach ?

thank you again in advance and sorry for so much asking

Posted on: Mon, 04/11/2011 - 12:24


No problem at all, I am here to help!

That is a good approach as long as it is working for you. I am a natural, drug-free for life athlete also, so I know how you could have some specific questions. I usually take the last two sets of a movement to failure.

I must also point out that I am a big advocate of training more frequently. Bodypart training twice per week or 3 times every two weeks. I will be writing an in depth article soon on my stance on frequency training.


Posted on: Tue, 04/12/2011 - 10:34

Thank you Marc!

Posted on: Tue, 04/12/2011 - 05:58

thank you very much. i really appreciate your helpfuness and your great articles.

take care

Posted on: Thu, 04/07/2011 - 09:59

Hi Brad,
i´ve been following your overall pac mass buiding programm for the last 4 weeks and it really works !!! my chest really improved since i started out with inclines.
but now i got a question. how many sets should i do to failure. i´ve been doing always the last or the last two set of each exercise to failure and increased the weight the sets before.
so for example: icline press:
2x warm up
-135x10 (not to failure)
-155x10 (to failure)
-175x6 (to failure)

is this a good aproach or should i do every set to failure. until now i only did the last or the last two to failure. what do you think ?
thanks in advance :)

Posted on: Fri, 04/08/2011 - 13:22

Hi Marc,

That is an excellent question. I would go with what has been working. Performing the last two sets to failure is something that I also do, especially if I am about to lift some serious weight!

Wise move.


Posted on: Fri, 03/04/2011 - 05:04

Im really wanting to improve the size of my chest.
Am i to do this chest slab workout in 1 session in the gym?
There are a number of exercises so i wasn't too sure?

Posted on: Fri, 03/25/2011 - 11:41

Hi Scott,

Simply pick one of the workout programs that fits your needs and perform them twice per week.


Ed Marriott
Posted on: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 09:44


Do you think listing routines with names such as 'upper pec emphasis' is useful for a typical reader who likely weights 150lbs and needs to put on mass all over his body?

Also, the specific body part exercises- again not optimal for a novice lifter- are useless in the context of a general routine.....

Ed Marriott.

Posted on: Fri, 03/04/2011 - 11:15

Hi Ed,

Try the "Overall Pec Builder" for pec mass and let me know how you do.


Posted on: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 01:52

Have just added pullovers to my chest day. Fantastic exercise. Thanks for that.

Posted on: Wed, 03/02/2011 - 10:32


Great! Let me know how they benefit you in the long run.


Posted on: Mon, 01/17/2011 - 11:03

Let me know your feedback, thanks!