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upper chest exercises

11 Best Upper Chest Exercises

If you’re looking for upper chest exercises that can get you pumped and ready to hit your fitness goals, you’ve come to the right place. Right here we have 11 exercises to get your chest in shape! 

We know there are plenty of resistance machines in the gym, but do you ever get bored of the same old? It’s for that reason we have come up with a varied list of upper chest exercises to do without weights, with weights, in the gym or at home. 

Before we begin, if you’re passionate about fitness, why not kick start a career in the industry? With our help you can do just that by getting your level 3 certifcate in personal training or completing our Personal Training Diploma. Alternatively, you can sift through all of the fitness courses we have on offer here in our course prospectus.

Don’t forget you can download your own 16-week home strength training programme below, for FREE!

Best Upper Chest Exercises

#1 Feet Up Bench Press

First up we have one of the most effective upper chest exercises for those who like to push their limits in the gym. If you have a home gym set up and fancy trying out this exercise at home, ensure you have a spotter as it is quite challenging!

Set Up 

For this exercise you will need a bench and a barbell. You should find a chest press bench and get a spotter to stand behind you, especially if you’re using heavy weights. We recommend to start off light and work your way up to heavier weights.

Starting Position 

  • Begin by laying back on the bench. 
  • Hold the bar on the rack if you need to for stability while you raise the legs. 
  • Next, bring your knees up to a 90º angle and cross your feet - again, this will help with stability. 

Execution

  • From the starting position, grasp the barbell with a wide pronated grip. 
  • Your arms should be fully extended but not locked out.
  • With a slight arch in the lower back, begin to press the barbell. 
  • Engage your core and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • The bar should come right down to your chest, so that your elbows are bent at a 90º angle while your shoulders retract.
  • Push back up so your arms are extended until you have returned to the starting position. 

Muscles Worked: Pectoralis, triceps. 

Sets & Reps: If you're looking to increase muscle volume and mass, perform 8-10 reps for 3 sets.

Common Mistakes

Having weights too heavy: Weight exercises for the upper chest, this one included, have many variations. This exercise is a variation of the chest press whereby typically, you would have your feet on the floor which is helpful for stabilisation. 

With this exercise however, your feet are off of the ground, meaning that you need to use your core to stay strong and stable. It can come as a shock when you try to lift the same weight as you would a regular chest press, so start small to avoid risk of injury.

#2 Cable Seated High Row

The first of the upper chest cable exercises to feature on our list, this is a great one to try next time you’re in the gym. Cable variations are sometimes overlooked, however with such a versatile piece of equipment, the possibilities are endless.

Set Up 

Set up this exercise by heading for a high cable. You are best trying to find a lat pulldown machine. You can easily swap out the attachment with a wide mag grip as this is how you get the most out of this exercise.

Starting Position 

  • Begin this exercise by sitting on a lat pulldown machine.
  • Lock your legs in between the foam pads. 
  • Reach and grab the attachment by either side in a neutral grip.

Execution

  • While sitting in the seat, keep your back straight and lean back at a 45º angle.
  • Pull the attachment to your chest.
  • Extend the arms back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the recommended sets and reps.

Muscles Worked: Teres minor, teres major, infraspinatus, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, brachioradialis, brachialis, posterior deltoids and the pectorals. 

Sets & Reps: 8-10 reps, 3 sets. 

Common Mistakes 

Lifting too heavy: Lifting too heavy during exercises to work the upper chest can increase the risk of injury, particularly in this movement as your legs are fixed in the foam pads. Being in this position means that you could risk jerking your upper body if you can’t control the weight on the way back to the starting position, and so starting off with a reasonable weight is really important. 

We have a full how-to guide on how to do a seated cable row here in our article if you want more in-depth guidance. 

#3 Bench Press With Chains

This is one of the best upper chest exercises that you can perform in a gym - as long as your gym has chains to use. You may be wondering what the relevance of chains is when weightlifting with a barbell, so allow us to explain.

Chains have multiple purposes depending on the lift itself, the main reason they are used is that they match the resistance curve of an exercise with the strength curve of a muscle. 

With this exercise, when the barbell comes closer to the ground, the weight can feel lighter and when the power move is introduced, there is more resistance. This makes the exercise more intense. Now you know the purpose of using chains with this exercise, here's how to get set up.

Set Up 

Set up this exercise by finding a chest press bench, again, it's a good idea to have a spotter for this kind of exercise. This is a pretty straightforward exercise, though it is strenuous.

Starting Position 

  • Start by laying back onto the bench and firmly planting your feet on the ground. 
  • Your toes should be pointing outwards and a comfortable distance away from each other. 

Execution

  • Once you’re comfortable on the bench, grip the barbell with an overhand wide pronated grip and your arms extended. 
  • Arch the lower back with your hips flat to the bench. 
  • Engage your core and squeeze your shoulder blades together before lowering the bar to your chest.
  • Then, use power to push back up to the starting position before repeating for the recommended sets and reps.

Muscles Worked: Chest and triceps.

Reps & Sets: 8-10 reps, 3 sets. 

Common Mistakes

Lifting too heavy, too fast: If you aren’t accustomed to the use of chains when lifting, we recommend to start light and work your way up to a heavier weight. The chain can change the momentum from what you typically are used to so be aware of this before getting stuck in.

#4 Reverse grip bench press

If you’re looking for demanding exercises to build upper chest muscle, you might have found your match. This exercise is a great idea for advancing from a regular chest press whilst keeping your routine exciting and most importantly, maintaining motivation.

Set Up 

Set up this movement with the same approach as previously mentioned, all you will need to do is find a free chest press bench and get to work. Since this variation of the chest press may be new to gym goers, getting a spotter is always a safe option.

Starting Position 

  • Begin with your bench flat.
  • Lay back on your back with your feet firmly planted on the floor.  

Execution

  • Lie on your back with your feet flat to the floor.
  • Grab the barbell above with a supinated grip.
  • Ensure to engage the core and lower the barbell down to your chest.
  • Your elbows should be at 90º angle before pushing back up to the starting position.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals, anterior deltoids, triceps and the biceps.

Reps & Sets: 8-10 reps, 3 sets.

Don't forget to head over to our article on the best weight benches here so you can get your hands on the best on the market to get to work pumping that chest! 

#5 Decline push up

This is one of the upper chest exercises that you can do at home or in the gym. It requires only your body weight and something you can elevate your lower body with, this can be a bench, a chair, or even your bed.

Set Up 

Set up this exercise by finding a mat to rest your hands on to minimise the pressure on your hands and wrists. If you’re doing this at home, carpet would be a good way to comfort the pressure too. 

You will also need something to elevate your legs off of the ground, a bench is a sufficient height if you’re in a gym, or if you’re at home, try to find something of a similar height that is stable.

Starting Position 

  • Start by getting on your hands and knees in front of the bench.
  • Step one foot at a time on the bench behind you.
  • Your toes should be on the bench and your body should be in line when your arms are extended in the plank position.

Execution

  • From the starting position, ensure that your hands are shoulder width apart.
  • Bend the elbows and lower your chest to just above the floor.
  • Press back up to the starting position and repeat for the recommended duration.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals, triceps, anterior deltoids, biceps, obliques, quadriceps, abdominals and the erector spinae. 

Duration: 30 seconds.

Common Mistakes

Hands too far back: If you have a tendency to fatigue quickly, you may find that allowing your body to come up into a V position relieves some tension. However, doing so is preventing you from getting the benefits that upper chest bodyweight exercises provide. So you should take a break if you feel your technique is suffering and restart when you have refueled.

Head over to our articles below for some great weightlifting resources below:

#6 Incline push up

Many upper chest exercises are variations of one another, and though some may look similar, they feel completely different. This exercise, for example, is similar to that of the previous one in our list but reversed! This is an incline press up which pairs great with incline or decline push ups as part of a workout.

Set Up 

Set up this exercise with a bench if you’re in a gym, or similarly to the previous exercise, a chair, bed or anything that is of a similar height to that of a bench. 

Starting Position 

  • Place both hands flat on the bench with your elbows at a 90º angle, your face should also be directly above the middle of the bench. 
  • Next, ensure that your back is straight and in line with the rest of your body.
  • Finally, check that your legs are straight, and your toes are on the ground. 

Execution

  • From the starting position, press up and extend the arms fully.
  • Your body should still stay in line, keeping your feet together.
  • Once you have extended your arms, lower the chest back to the bench until you return to the starting position, then repeat.

Muscles Worked: Pectorals, triceps, anterior deltoids, biceps, obliques, quadriceps, abdominals and the erector spinae. 

Duration: 30 seconds.

Common Mistakes

Feet too close to the bench: When your feet are too close to the bench, you may find your body forming a V shape when you extend your arms. You should try to keep your body aligned and legs straight so you are in a consistent plank positioning, otherwise, you are not using the muscles necessary to actually make a difference in your fitness. 

#7 Pallof Press

This is one of the staple upper chest cable exercises that you can do in the gym. Not only does this target the chest, but with this movement you’re pretty much targeting your whole upper body! So, let's see how to get set up. 

Set Up 

This is among the best exercises for the upper chest if you’re looking for something that is easily set up. All you need to do is find yourself a cable, adjust the pulley to shoulder height and ensure you have a suitable attachment for a secure grip.

Starting Position

  • Stand side on from the cable machine with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Twist your trunk to grasp the attachment and pull it until it is directly in front of you. 

Execution

  • To start, your arms should be extended and hands clasped together on the attachment in a neutral grip.
  • Next, press out from the chest and extend the arms fully.
  • Hold this position whilst working to resist the pull of the cable.
  • Pull the cable back into the chest into the starting position.
  • Repeat.

Muscles Worked: External obliques, rectus abdominis, pectorals, anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids.

Sets & Reps: 8-10 reps, 3 sets.

Common Mistakes

Setting the weight too heavy: This exercise can feel a little unusual for a chest movement, however, it is really effective when performed correctly. Setting the weight too heavy could put more pressure than you can handle on the upper body, which can force your trunk to twist. This is not the goal of the exercise and could potentially result in an injury. To avoid this, you should stay strong in your stance and choose a manageable weight. 

If you love to work on the cables, head over to our in depth guide on the cable chest press here for more variations of this exercise.

#8 Sandbag Overhead Press

Good upper chest exercises usually have some sort of weight involved, and a sandbag is a great addition to a versatile workout. With this movement, you can hit the key muscles in the upper body to get pumped in no time.

Set Up 

If you have minimal space and equipment for your workout, this is one of the best exercises for the upper chest to do with limited room.

This movement does require strength, so ensure you start small and work your way up to heavier sandbags. The movement dynamics of a sandbag may feel different if you’re used to a barbell, so act accordingly and don’t overdo it with a weight that's too heavy.

Starting Position 

  • Start with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Stand tall with your core tight. 
  • Grab the sandbag and lift it off of the ground ready for the execution.

Execution

  • Bring the sandbag up to chest height and hold with a neutral grip by the handles on either side.
  • Once you have a comfortable grip and your core is engaged, press the weight directly over your head, extending the arms fully.
  • Return the sandbag to the chest by bending your elbows before repeating the movement. 

Muscles Worked: Deltoids, pectoralis major, triceps and the serratus anterior.

Reps & Sets: 8-10 reps, 3 sets.

Common Mistakes

Lifting too heavy: As with many exercises, lifting too heavy can instantly increase the risk of injury. This exercise in particular requires a sandbag which can turn an easy movement into a demanding exercise. Lifting too heavy can hyperextend your back. You should be keeping your core engaged and strong during this exercise, which may require you to grab a lower weight if necessary.

#9 Front Incline Dumbbell Raise

Upper chest dumbbell exercises are super effective, and they are also very convenient. All you need is a pair of dumbbells and a bench to perform this exercise, so find some space and get to work without wasting too much time setting up!

Set Up 

Set up this exercise by inclining your gym bench to 45º. Grab two dumbbells that you are able to lift comfortably for around 8-10 reps. 

Due to the positioning of this exercise, resistance may work against you more than usual so if you need to size down on your weights, do so.

Starting Position

  • Lay down on your front.
  • Your chest should be sitting at the top of the bench while your legs are bent at the knee, stabilised by your toes on the ground.
  • Ensure your dumbbells are in reaching distance from this starting position, placing them either side of you where your arms can reach is a good idea. 
  • If you have a workout partner, getting them to hand you the weights after you’re in position is helpful. 

Execution

  • Once you have perfected the starting position, grab your dumbbells with a neutral grip.
  • Engage your core and raise the weights upwards in front of you, you should keep a slight bend in the elbows.
  • Stop lifting once your arms are parallel to the floor with your palms facing down.
  • To increase intensity and manage control, hold the position at the top for a second before slowly lowering the arms back to the starting position.

Muscles Worked: Anterior deltoids, lateral deltoids, pectoralis major and the serratus anterior.

Duration: 8-10 reps, 3 sets.

Common Mistakes

Raising the weights too high: You should avoid hyperextending when performing this exercise - if you watch our how-to video, you’ll see exactly where your arms should stop. As we mentioned above, your arms should stop once they are parallel with the ground. Doing this properly will reduce your risk of strains and muscle pulls, so that you can get the most out of your exercise.

If you’re focusing on upper chest dumbbell exercises, ensure you have the top equipment and pick from our list of the best adjustable dumbbells for all fitness levels.

#10 Chest Loaded Kettlebell Swing

This is one of the best exercises for the upper chest to add into a circuit as you need minimal space and equipment for a hugely rewarding exercise. Simply find yourself some studio space, or just enough room to move around in if you are at home. 

Set Up 

Grab a kettlebell. Since you’re using both your arms and your chest to lift this weight, you may find that you can lift more than your typical kettlebell weight. 

So, test out which weight feels right for you before getting into the reps and sets.

Starting Position 

  • Begin with your feet shoulder width apart, firmly planted on the ground. 
  • You should also have a slight bend in your knees.
  • Next, hold the kettlebell by the horns and rest it just above your lower sternum. 

Execution

  • With the base of the kettlebell secured in the correct position, engage your core, and hinge the hips as you bend forward.
  • Keep your back straight and stop when your face is looking directly at the ground. 
  • Then, drive the body back up to the starting position.

Muscles Worked: Deltoids, latissimus dorsi, abdominals, hamstrings, glutes, hips and pectorals.

Duration: 8-10 reps, 3 sets.

Common Mistakes

Lifting too heavy: The momentum of this kettlebell swing makes this particular movement different to other upper chest exercises. This exercise requires you to keep your core strong and engaged to help you to control the movement. Using a weight that is too heavy restricts your movement so you aren’t getting the full benefits that you could be otherwise.

#11 Incline Cable Chest Press

To finish our list of upper chest exercises list we have the incline cable chest press. This is one of the best exercises to do when the gym is busy and there is only a cable machine available. 

Set Up 

Set up this exercise with a bench raised to a 45º angle. The bench should be positioned in the middle of two low pulleys. The pulleys should be on the bottom pin of the cable machine on both sides.

You will need two attachments that have a handle which requires a supine grip, and preferably a stirrup attachment.

Starting Position 

  • Start by laying back on the bench, grabbing each of the handles with a supine grip. 
  • Your feet should be planted firmly on the floor - just slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
  • To then prepare for the lift, grab the stirrup attachments and position them at either side of your chest. Your arms should be tucked in with your arms at a 90º angle.

Execution

  • From the starting position, push up by extending your elbows in a chest press motion until your hands meet in the middle.
  • Then, with control, lower your arms back to the starting position.
  • Repeat for the recommended sets and reps.

Muscles Worked: Clavicular, pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, triceps brachii. 

Duration: 8-10 reps, 3 sets.

Common Mistakes

Position of the bench: The bench should be in the centre of the two cable machines, you should avoid having it too far back or in front of the pulleys as this can move the resistance away from the chest, which is ultimately the goal of this exercise!

Before You Go…

By now you have all the tools to go and smash your upper workout day, whether that is in the gym or at home. These exercises are vastly compound, and so you will be hitting different corners of your upper body when performing each and every contender on our upper chest exercises list.

Just one more thing, if you are passionate about fitness and can see yourself being in the industry, why not kick start your career now by taking our level 3 diploma in personal training. Or, if you’re simply doing your research, download our free course prospectus now to find all of our fitness courses inside.

Written by Kimberley Mitchell

Editor

Having gained a B.A Hons degree in Media, Culture and Communications, Kimberley has gained experience in areas of web journalism, website production and marketing.

Alongside this, Kim expanded her knowledge and passion for fitness, by becoming a fully qualified fitness instructuor and personal trainer. Kim has also gained specialist qualifications in yoga, nutriton, spin and many more.

After working in the industry as a PT, Kimberley went on to study an MA in Digital Marketing and continues to expand her knowledge in the industry. Her main focus is to keep up with current trends and communications with a focus around health & fitness, writing and being creative.

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