How developed are your chest muscles? The downside to having weak pectorals – for both women and men – is that the chest area of the human body is particularly prone to the ravages of gravity, and without strong chest muscles the area can start to look droopy. Below is an 11-exercise resistance-training workout to help firm, lift, and build the pectoral muscles of your chest.
It’s helpful to remember that muscles exist for a reason.
Symmetrically developed muscles not only give you a nice shape – they also make you a healthier person:
- Having some muscle tone in your torso helps keep your metabolism robust. This means you’ll be burning more calories even when you’re not exercising.
- Chest muscles help you move better and improve your posture and body position.
- Weak chest muscles tend to leave a torso looking saggy. If you happen to have a higher percentage of body fat, it’s still helpful to have muscles underneath the skin and fat – to help improve the overall texture and keep the area from falling south completely.
Resistance training is any movement that inspires muscles to contract against the force being applied. That force can be in the form of a dumbbell, kettlebell, barbell, resistance band, or even your own body weight.
The following 11 resistance-training movements will help develop your pectoral muscles and are good for both women and men.
Where applicable, I’ve included modifications for beginners. Additionally, you can always increase or decrease the resistance to make the exercise harder or easier.
The result of these movements – when done consistently – is an increase in strength, and improvement in shape, tone, and endurance.
Your chest is comprised of two muscles, the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor (see image above). It’s helpful to think of them as the pushing muscles of your torso:
- Pectoralis Major: the larger muscle that runs from the upper arm bone (humerus) to the upper-center of your front torso (sternum). Fit people with low body fat can actually see the two heads of the pectoralis major when they get a good pump. The top one is the clavicular head and the bottom one is the sternocostal head.
- Pectoralis Minor: the smaller muscle that runs underneath the pectoralis major, connecting the bottom ribs with the scapula.
The most popular exercise for chest – indeed, the most popular bodybuilding exercise ever – is the barbell bench press.
However, it gets a tad boring doing the barbell bench press twice a week for the rest of your life.
Also, since the human body adapts to movement patterns quickly, you can sometimes get better results with variation and trying different chest exercises besides just the barbell bench press.
Best of all, when you try a variety of chest exercises it can have the end result of strengthening your stabilizers and making you more mobile for your barbell chest press – allowing you to increase resistance load for that fundamental exercise.
A Pectoral Workout You Can Do Anywhere for a Stronger, Better-Looking Chest
These 11 exercises will get you started on developing, shaping and defining your chest muscles:
- Each circuit is done three times.
- Do each exercise within the circuit consecutively without rest, then take a 2-minute rest before repeating the circuit again.
- After you complete your third time through a particular circuit, you move on to the next circuit in the series.
To get the clearest understanding of these chest resistance-movements, see the short video provided with this article.
First Circuit (chest warm-up):
- Elbow-Supported Plank
- Plank with Shoulder Touches
- Assume a perfectly aligned plank position.
- Pay very close attention to the positioning of your pelvis. Activate your glutes a bit, then scoop your pelvis forward and under just a tad. You accomplish this by pulling your lower abdominal plate – that upside-down triangle of ab muscle located below your navel – toward the sky, with intensity.
- Continue to breathe smoothly even as you hold the position and it becomes challenging.
- Beginners hold 30 seconds. Advanced athletes hold 45 seconds.
- The plank is among the best exercises for firming your core. Take pride in doing it as perfectly as you can.
- Beginners hold 30 seconds. Advanced athletes hold 45 seconds.
Plank with Shoulder Touches
- Same as a plank, but you alternate touching each shoulder.
- 20 times (10 times each side).
- Maintain a slow yet consistent speed.
Run to the End of the Block – or Jog in Place, or Treadmill
- If you’ve been sitting all day, or if you’re over the age of 50 like me, you might need a little extra warm-up. I do a light 1-minute jog at the end of the first circuit to make absolutely certain that I’ve raised my body temperature, lubricated my joints a bit, and circulated some blood and oxygen into my major muscle groups.
- Double-Ball PushUp
- Single-Arm Roll-Ball PushUp
- Plyometric PushUp with Clap
- 10 pushups with a weighted ball under each hand.
- Weak or tender wrists? Do regular pushups instead.
- Uncomfortable elbows? Keep the hands further apart and come down only half way.
- Abs getting tired? Separate your feet further apart.
- Use torque. Press your palms fully and evenly into the floor – pretend you’re trying to push down and twist out, but without actually moving your hands.
Over 50? My free weekly updates often include exercise ideas, goal-specific workouts, and diet plans.
In all likelihood, your missing ingredient up until now has been consistent inspiration. You’re going to need weekly motivation in order to take your wellness, health and happiness up to the next level, permanently.
Single-Arm Roll Ball Push Up
- 8 pushups with one arm on a weighted ball.
- After each repetition, roll the ball across and use the other hand for the next rep.
- Be mindful of your wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
- If you need to, limit your range of motion.
- For beginners, see photo below:
- Athletes will often hold their breath when things get hard. Do the opposite: keep your breath flowing freely.
- The funny thing about pushups is that, sometimes, your abdominal muscles will start to fatigue before your arms do. If that happens, resist the temptation to let your waist sag. Keep your navel pulled up tightly. Be fiercely protective of your lower back.
Plyometric PushUp with Clap
- Push so hard during your pushup that you become airborne and can sneak in a quick clap.
- 8 reps.
- If you’re feeling exhausted, shaky, or your palms are sweating, do not do the plyometric jump. Be certain to do these on a sticky pad. You don’t want to slip.
- Modifications for beginners (see photo below):
- Single-Arm Kettlebell Press on Stability Ball
- Dumbbell Fly on Stability Ball
- Close-Grip Ball PushUp
Single-Arm Kettlebell Press on Stability Ball
- 10 reps each side.
- Grab a kettlebell or dumbbell and press it up over your chest, using a stability ball as your “bench.”
- Remember to keep your pelvis stable and centered (without arching your lower back).
Dumbbell Fly on Stability Ball
- 14 reps.
- Open up your arms wide, but with a slight bend in the elbows.
- Use the strength of your chest to bring the dumbbells together over your upper chest, almost straightening your arms.
Close-Grip Ball PushUp
- Close grip push-ups on the weighted ball.
- 8 reps.
- Maintain perfect plank positioning.
- Modification for beginners is close-grip pushups on the ground with hands in a triangle position (see photo below). If your arms are fatiguing and you’re unable to make it to 8 repetitions, then lower your knees to the mat and continue.
- Decline PushUp on Fists
- Kettlebell Pullover on Stability Ball
Decline PushUp on Fists
- If your hands will allow for it, do pushups on your fists instead of your palms.
- Raise your feet up on a bench or platform.
- Keep your elbows closer to your torso as you lower down.
Kettlebell Pullover on Stability Ball
- Raise your arms back over your head while using a stability ball as your support.
- Slight bend in the elbows, then straighten your arms a bit more as you bring the kettlebell or dumbbell up over your chest.
- Initiate the movement from your chest muscles (more than your shoulders or arms).
- It’s okay to drop your hips a bit – if your lower back will allow it – but keep your abs tight and your glutes active.
Executed properly with good form, the above chest exercises can help to give you beautifully sculpted pectorals and improve your overall physical conditioning.
The entire workout can be done in under 45-minutes.
As always, ask your medical doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
What if the best year of your life hasn’t happened yet?
I’m Dane Findley and my message is simple: it’s only in your thriving that you have anything to offer anyone – therefore, the best investment you can ever make is in your own health.
When you get my free updates you also get instant access to my bonus guide on how to better manage your time, energy, and nutrition.
- the newsletter is for free-thinking, creative types who’ve decided they want to be even healthier than they are now
- the evidence-based, actionable strategies for a better life – that I share freely – are for those intrigued by personal development
- if you are kind and curious, you will likely find this information motivating and helpful
- there’s nothing wrong with someone being rigid in their beliefs, but if that’s you, you’ll likely not enjoy my newsletter (no hard feelings – I wish you well on your journey)
- if you go more than 4 months without opening one of my email messages, you will automatically be unsubscribed
- don’t sign up for my newsletter if you are someone who’s not fascinated by human optimization and stellar health
However, if you are someone for whom improved health is becoming a top priority, then I invite you to sign up for my free updates:
Special thanks to Ákos Farkas for his help with this article.