In this article we will go over what we believe to be the 3 best upper chest exercises, including a couple of movements you’ve probably never tried before.
Well-rounded pecs must come with a developed upper chest — there are no two ways about it.
Everyone knows how to hammer their lower chest hard, but end up with solid breast-like masses instead of a complete overall look.
With the old favorites such as dips, pushups, and bench presses, the impressive upper chest is often lacking.
But, no need to fear, here are 3 exercises you can incorporate into your routine.
The 3 Best Upper Chest Exercises
1. Incline Bench Press
It just had to be this classic movement. What else can be said.
While most conventional gym incline bench press set ups are angled at 45 degrees, a lower angle is more advisable.
If you suffer from shoulder issues, we recommend that you use dumbbells. Likewise, you might have to use dumbbells in order to reap the benefits of using a bench at a lower angle.
2. Reverse-Grip Bench Press
The reverse-grip bench press is a great underused exercise to train your upper chest.
It is gentler on the shoulders and elbows than the conventional flat bench press and minimizes the likelihood of injury.
The reverse-grip bench press can also stimulate the upper chest more than the incline, while the incline only stimulates the upper chest a little more than the flat bench.
According to Muscle & Fitness:
- Australian researchers reported in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that when weight-trained subjects performed incline bench presses, the muscle activity of their upper pecs was only about 5% more than the muscle activity of their upper pecs during the flat bench press.
- Canadian scientists found that when trained lifters did the reverse-grip bench press, the muscle activity of their upper pecs was 30% greater than when they did the bench press with a standard overhand grip.
3. Herc Press
This is one of our signature movements to hit upper chest — check out how I invented this neat little finisher and how to do it:
THE BRIEF BACKSTORY
I came up with the movement as I was suffering from a niggle in my elbow and was forced to switch from incline bench press to reverse-grip bench press.
This was something that interested me in my switch to bodybuilding as the inner chest is not a forte for a lot of people.
(Losing fat and overall pec develop will help contribute towards a better inner chest.)
Then I thought about how it could be manipulated to transfer activation over to the upper pecs.
Since I had been doing a lot of reverse-grip bench presses instead of incline bench, I considered whether it was feasible to do a reverse-grip squeeze press to get the best of both worlds.
And since I couldn’t do these exercises at home I thought to trial them when I finally had access to gym-standard dumbbells.
Lo and behold! It was a stellar success.
Why You Should Try It
In the upcoming months, we will be coming out with an eBook and program on how to become more “handsome” and one of the key points was making the upper pec cleavage pop.
Traditionally, apart from general upper chest mass building exercises, the best way to develop this stubborn area — apart from favorable genetics — is the low-to-high cable crossover, focusing on squeezing at peak contraction.
However, it’s often relegated to the end of a workout and abandoned as a mere afterthought at times.
My friend and I can comfortably rep out 3 plates on the bench, but we struggled to hit 30lb DBs on this for ten reps.
This exercise DOES NOT require an awful lot of weight.
Using a combined dumbbell total of around 25% of your bench press one rep max is a good place to start before adding more weight.
And apart from tearing up the upper pecs, it will give your anterior deltoids and triceps some stimulation — like, practically all pressing exercises.
If you watch Julian, you’ll see that his upper inner pecs are significantly activated throughout most of the movement. And, unlike the traditional DB press, the Herculean Press starts significantly lower down, closer to the belly — which is something that might take some getting used to.Another Herculean Strength friend executes the press with immaculate form
How To Do It
Closely watch the video above.
Turn your thumbs outwards, using a supinated grip, instead of inwards and slightly pronated grip. In other words, your grip is adopting a full 180 degree turn to a traditional dumbbell press.
Then push your arms inwards and imagine that you are trying to hold an imagined object between the dumbbells. You can practice by trying to hold a sheet of paper between the dumbbells.
Bring the dumbbells down to just below your ribcage (a few inches lower than were you’d normally go with a conventional dumbbell bench press) and press up over your sternum, focusing on contracting your inner upper pecs.
You should strive to hit 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps at the end of your session with this exercise to help you develop the stubborn part of your upper chest.
The first set is going to feel weird and uncomfortable — as it certainly with me!
I recommend picking a low weight and working up. In fact, the very first time you try it, there’s no need to go all the way to a full working set. It is such a novel movement to your body that practicing will be enough of a working set in itself.
Once you’re comfortable with the movement, you can program it into your workout accordingly.
Another buddy struggled (filmed above) to hit sets of 12 with 22lb dumbbells at the end of his chest session.
While the puny weights may seem laughable, I guarantee that they’re more than enough to stimulate the area effectively.
We supersetted the Herculean Press with low-to-high cable crossovers to fully burn out that inner-upper pec portion at the end of the session.
You can thank me later.
When To Do These Upper Chest Exercises
Generally speaking, you should place the exercises that require the most energy at the start of your workout.
The incline bench press or reverse-grip bench press should be either the first or second exercise in your program for chest day.
If your upper chest is a particular weakness, we recommend training it first before moving onto other exercises.
Legendary bodybuilder Steve Reeves would, on occasion, go several months of training blocs only performing the incline bench press for his chest.
The lower chest, in the grand scheme of things, will receive abundant stimulation through your chest workouts, like your anterior deltoids.
We recommend that you stimulate your rear deltoids following a training session full of heavy presses.