You do the same routine to pump up your chest at the gym, but do you pay attention to your upper chest?
This is made up of a muscle known as the clavicular pectoralis that forms part of the bigger chest muscle, or pectoralis major.
You might think you’re working it out, but it has muscle fibers that are at different angles so it requires exercises that target it correctly.
What’s important about doing upper chest exercises?
You want your entire chest to look good, but your upper chest muscles are also important for your overall strength.
The clavicular pectoralis’s job is to help you to flex your arm at the shoulder.
One of the most common problems you might face in the gym is how to target your upper chest so that you get a balanced and pec-worthy upper body.
But don’t worry.
Here are 11 of the most important upper chest exercises you should add to your workout, based on your fitness level.
This push-up variation should be one of your go-to upper chest exercises because it makes the push-up much more intense.
This is simply because your feet are placed higher than your hands. The decline push-up targets your upper chest, but also your arms, back, and shoulders.
It also has a nice extra benefit: the body position it makes use of requires stability through your core.
To do this exercise, you’ll need a platform for your feet, which could be a bench or low wall.
Try not to start out with something too high as that can ruin your form during the exercise.
Here’s how to do it:
- Get on your hands and knees in front of your platform, whether it’s a bench, wall, or step. Your hands should be on the ground shoulder-width apart. Place your feet on the platform.
- Keep your body in a straight line. Avoid sagging or curving your back.
- Slowly bend your elbows and lower your chest to the ground.
- As you near the ground, lift your head without arching your back.
- Push yourself until your elbows are straight but without locking them, then move back into the starting position.
Pro tip: Tilting your pelvis backward will help you to prevent arching your back, which could put you at risk of injury. You should also engage your glutes and core to keep your spine stabilized and activate other muscle groups.
Incline Bench Press
This chest press exercise is done on an incline while holding dumbbells so you can target the clavicular head of your chest.
Why you need to make this one of your regular upper chest exercises is because it makes your pecs even more pumped. It also works out your triceps and deltoids.
How to do it:
- Set your backrest to a 30-45-degree incline and lie down on the bench.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand, holding them above your chest.
- Keep your arms straight and the palms of your hands turned towards your feet.
- Now, lower the dumbbells so they’re at the level of your chest, then press them back to the starting position.
Pro tip: When you reach the top of the movement, lock your arms and pause for a second or two until you no longer feel the tension in your upper chest. Then, slowly lower the dumbbells back down. You should take twice as long to lower the weights than raising them, as this will put greater tension on your muscles. Time under tension (TUT) is what increases muscle growth, so make the most of it.
Leverage Incline Chest Press
This is an upper chest exercise that shakes things up because you’ll do the exercise with one arm at a time.
Here’s how it works:
- Load the weight you can lift onto a leverage machine and make sure the seat is the right height for you.
- The machine’s handles need to be near the top of your pecs before you start this exercise.
- Your head and chest need to be upright and you should retract your shoulder blades.
- Now, press the handle of the machine forward by moving through your elbow.
- When you reach the top of the movement, stop for a second and then return the weight back to just above the starting position.
- You want to keep your muscles strong by not putting the weight back on the stops until you have completed your reps.
Pro tip: Aim for between 8 and 12 reps of this exercise because the machine is easy to use, but make sure you’ve got the right weight and you’re using the correct form to gain the best benefits from it.
While they might be ignored or neglected, chest dips are one of the best exercises for the upper chest.
One of the biggest benefits of chest dips is that they activate a lot of different muscle groups.
This is because your upper body isn’t supported by a bench. In addition, your feet have to be off the floor.
This means that you’ll activate more muscles in order to keep your body stabilized.
Here’s how to do it:
- Hold onto the parallel bars while keeping your body at arm’s length above them.
- Inhale and lower yourself down, keeping your elbows extended a little bit. You want to feel a stretch in your chest.
- Tighten your chest muscles as you pause at the top of the movement for a second.
- Use your chest muscles to pull you back up into the starting position. Remember to breathe out as you do this.
Pro tip: This is by no means only a beginner’s exercise. For more advanced training, you can add weight to the exercise with the use of a weight belt.
The Chest Fly
You press to add mass to your pecs, but what about using the cable fly?
It’s a great way to freshen up your workout for upper chest exercises and really challenge the clavicular head.
The bonus of a cable fly is that it creates muscle tension throughout the entire exercise.
Here’s how to do it:
- You want to attach two stirrup handles to the cables of a cable-crossover station, and then hold one in each hand.
- Stand with one foot slightly in front of the other.
- Keep your arms extended, with your elbows bent.
- Lean forward without bending your back.
- Now, bring your hands together as you pull the cables, then slowly move back to the starting position.
Pro tip: Cross one hand over the other when bringing the cables closer to you to further increase tension and work on your inner pecs, too.
Your push-up routine can probably do with a bit of a change of pace.
That’s where the plyometric push up comes in. Why it works so well for the muscles in your upper chest is because it targets the fast-twitch muscles in that area, which helps them to grow.
But this exercise also targets muscle fibers in the triceps and anterior shoulder.
The bonus of this is that the more muscle fibers that are used during an exercise, the more power and strength you’ll gain from doing it.
Here’s how to do it:
- Move into position on the floor as though you were doing a regular push-up, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- You want your body to create a straight line and tighten your core.
- Slowly lower your chest to the floor and then push up like in a regular push-up, with the twist that your hands should lose contact with the floor at the peak of the movement.
- If you can manage it, go one step further and clap your hands.
- Then, return to your starting position.
Pro tip: It’s important to time it right when moving your hands off the floor. Your arms should have reached full extension just as you do it. If you pull your hands off the floor too soon or too late, you’ll lose momentum as well as the height required to enable you to clap.
One-Arm Landmine Press
This exercise targets both the upper and middle pecs.
The reason why dumbbell presses are so important for chest workouts is because they enable you to lift heavy weights.
That said, let’s be real: even if you’re at an intermediate or advanced level of training, it’s not always easy to move a heavy set of dumbbells into place overhead.
This exercise offers a better alternative. It’s the same as a dumbbell press, however it doesn’t have the same safety concerns because it’s a landmine exercise.
As you might already know, landmine exercises make use of squatting, lifting, or pressing one end of an angled barbell.
Here’s how to do it:
- You want to load one side of the barbell.
- Lie down on your back with your legs extended. The left side of your head should be aligned with the barbell’s sleeve.
- Keep your knees bent and keep your feet firmly planted on the floor.
- Hold the end of the barbell with your left hand.
- Press the bar, moving upwards so that your arm gets fully extended.
- Carefully bring the bar down. You want to stop just before your elbow touches down.
- Repeat with the other arm.
Reverse Grip Bench Press
This is one of the best upper chest exercises you can do.
It involves changing the grip of the bench press to take your shoulders out of the exercise while bringing the focus to your upper chest as well as triceps.
Bottom line: you get muscle variation just by changing your technique instead of having to do a different exercise.
Here’s how to do it:
- Lie on a flat bench and hold the bar with a reverse (or supinated) grip.
- Keep your hands shoulder-width apart and your thumbs secured around the bar.
- Now, press the bar into the starting position without letting your elbows move out too much. You want to maintain a slight bend in your elbows as you bring the weight to the top, instead of extending your arms too much.
- Tuck your elbows in and lower the bar down to your lower pecs.
- Then, press the bar back up, getting back into the starting position.
Pro tip: When you bring the bar down, you want to place it below your chest to be in line with your lower pecs (where your upper abs are located). This makes it more comfortable to hold the bar while also doing the movement to its maximum potential.
Incline Dumbbell Flye
Some people totally neglect their upper chest on chest day at the gym, but the Incline Dumbbell Flye puts a stop to that.
It focuses on your pecs by forcing them to handle the load when you bring your arms to the front of your body during this exercise.
While targeting your upper pecs, this move also brings in your delts and triceps. It’s a fantastic chest exercise that can be used to boost pectoral hypertrophy.
Here’s how to do it:
- Set the bench to a 30- to 45-degree angle and lie on it with your feet flat on the ground on either side of you.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand. You want a neutral grip, which is when your palms are facing each other.
- Stretch your arms above your chest, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
- Lower the dumbbells in a wide arc, all the way down to your sides.
- When your elbows reach your shoulders, you should stop and then reverse the motion.
Pro tip: You should always keep your elbows a bit bent but in a fixed position to further target your pecs.
Low-Incline Barbell Bench Press
When working out your chest, you might use a bench that has a steep angle.
This makes the front deltoid muscles in your shoulders work harder than your chest. If you want bigger upper pecs, then you need to flip the script.
Use a low-incline bench instead to target the upper pecs.
Here’s how to do it:
- First, make sure you’ve loaded your barbell with the right weight.
- Get into position on the bench with your feet on the ground. Arch your back and retract your shoulder blades.
- Hold the bar with a medium grip. This means that your hands should be shoulder-width apart.
- Get into the starting position by removing the bar from its rack and holding the weight above your chest. Keep your arms extended.
- Carefully lower the bar so that it’s in line with your sternum. You should flex your elbows while maintaining control of the bar and preventing it from bouncing off your chest.
- Keep your lats tight as you work through this exercise.
- Touch your torso with the bar, then extend your elbows so you can move the bar back into the starting position.
Pro tip: To build even more mass in your upper chest, progress to doing this exercise with a narrower grip on the bar.
The dumbbell pullover is another misunderstood and often underrated chest exercise.
While it used to be tried by people who thought it could build bigger rib cages (let’s bust that myth right now), it actually can be used to successfully build the upper chest.
Here’s how to do it, with the catch that you have to be precise with your technique so that you focus on your upper chest instead of your lats.
- Lie down so that you’re perpendicular to a flat blench. Keep your legs bent and your hips low.
- Hold a dumbbell in your palms by one of its ends so that it is held vertically instead of horizontally. Keep your arms extended but slightly bent.
- Move the dumbbell so that it’s above your chest – this is the starting position.
- Now, move the dumbbell all the way over your head so that it travels behind your head. Move it all the way behind your head until it brushes the floor.
- You should feel your chest stretch.
- Contract your upper pecs and move the dumbbell back into the starting position.
- With the weight above your chest, contract your upper chest again before doing another rep of the exercise.
Pro tip: You want the dumbbell to move back and down behind your head instead of back and too far away from your head – the latter will give your lats more of a workout than your chest.
Mistakes To Avoid When Doing Upper Chest Exercises
You now know what exercises to do to strengthen and power your upper chest, but making common chest exercise mistakes can derail all your hard work.
Here are some mistakes to avoid.
You Overtrain Your Chest Muscles
While you might want to give your pecs decent attention, you really shouldn’t be going OTT with your chest workouts.
That said, if you’ve been neglecting your upper chest and it’s a weak spot you want to strengthen, then you should give it better priority.
However, if that’s not the case, you don’t want to work out your chest too much.
If you’re interested in general fitness or you’re an athlete, working out your chest two to three times a week will be enough.
However, if you’re a bodybuilder, you should aim to have three or four chest workouts a week.
You Single Out Your Chest Muscles
While your inclination might be to start targeting your upper chest muscles because you want to get those chiseled pecs you’ve always dreamed of, make sure you work your chest from different angles because you can’t actually isolate the different areas of your chest completely.
That said, you should also train your legs and back while you’re working on upper chest exercises.
The reason why is because heavy leg training will promote greater growth hormone and testosterone release in the body, as Muscle & Fitness reports – these all help you to grow bigger on your chest.
In addition, throwing in a back workout when exercising your upper chest will keep your posture in a good place.
You Always Start With The Bench Press
You know the bench press is one of the best upper chest exercises, but you might be putting it in the wrong place in your gym workout.
If you’re always starting with flat benching, followed by inclines, your upper pecs will get tired and slow down, unable to complete the rest of the workout.
Mix up your routine a little to get the most benefit for your upper chest, such as by doing inclines first when you’re fresh enough to take on large weights.
You Stick To The Same Angles
Remember that if you want to build muscle, you need to avoid getting stuck in routines as this can seriously hamper your ability to bulk up.
This not only refers to doing the same exercises, but it means changing the angle when you’re doing incline work.
For example, try a press from 20 degrees, then a variation of a press done at 45 degrees. When done together, these exercises will break down the muscle for greater muscle gains.
Having the right upper chest exercises is crucial to building the smaller pec muscles that are often neglected during your workouts.
The above workouts will help you to strengthen and build your upper chest.
However, it’s important to avoid common mistakes that can be preventing you from getting bigger and more symmetrical chest muscles, such as overtraining.
Why is my upper chest not growing?
It could be that you’re not doing enough exercises that target the upper chest.
You should use bench angles between 30 and 45 degree to activate the upper chest, and make use of both low and high rep training, as pecs respond to these.
How long will it take me to have an amazing upper chest?
Be patient and be prepared for hard work – you should have bigger, better pecs after about two or three years of weightlifting because the upper pecs are small muscles.
This is the same reason why it’s hard to work your biceps and shoulders.