11 of the Best Chest Exercises You Can Do at Home
For most guys, a massive, chiseled chest ranks at the top of their must-haves, right up there next to shredded abs. But don’t think you need a gym membership to build definition or even pack on slabs of muscle. All it takes is a little know-how — plus the right moves — to create a stronger, more defined chest right in your own home.
How to Make Your Chest Bigger
If your goal is to increase chest size, focus on working to fatigue during your chest workouts, says Pete McCall, C.S.C.S., ACE-certified personal trainer and host of the “All About Fitness” podcast. “Working to fatigue will ensure the overload necessary to stimulate muscle growth,” he says.
To be clear, that doesn’t mean pushing yourself to “absolute failure,” which is the point at which you can’t perform another rep without a spotter. “No matter what muscle group you’re targeting or what exercise you’re performing, always stop your set when you reach technical failure, which is the point at which you can’t perform another rep without sacrificing good form,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Openfit’s senior manager of fitness and nutrition content.
And as is the case with every other muscle group, you’ll want to hit your chest at least twice a week with a variety of strength training exercises that work your pecs from different angles to optimize their growth.
Form and Function of the Chest Muscles
The muscle doing most of the work in chest exercises is the pectoralis major. You have two of them (one on each side of your body), and each of these fan-shaped muscles has two heads — the sternal, which originates at your sternum, and the clavicular, which originates at your clavicle. Both heads fuse together, attaching to your upper arm.
The primary functions of the pecs are to flex (raise), adduct (bring back), and medially rotate (turn inward) your upper arm. That’s why exercises that involve pressing/pushing (e.g. bench press and push-up) and squeezing (e.g., dumbbell fly) target it best.
“When you press weights away from your body or push your body away from the floor, you raise your upper arms away from your sides, placing the focus on flexion,” says Thieme. “When you perform movement like the dumbbell fly, you bring your arms back toward the midline of your body, placing the focus on adduction.”
You’ll also want to incorporate a variety of exercises into your chest workouts that target both heads of your pectoralis major. “The classic dumbbell bench press targets the larger sternal head while the incline fly targets the smaller clavicle head,” says Thieme. “That’s also why people can typically move more weight in the former exercise — it emphasizes the larger head.
Now that you know a little more about ’em, it’s time to take your pecs out for a spin.
11 of the Best Chest Exercises for Your Home Workout
The following moves challenge your muscles from every angle, and squeeze maximum benefits out of every rep. One way to accomplish this is through the selection of exercises that switch up your hand and arm positions.
“Changing hand and arm positions changes the way that force impacts the body,” says McCall. “As that happens, different bundles of muscle fibers are engaged and used.” You’ll also reduce the risk of overuse injuries that can develop if you keep doing the same exercises over and over again.
As a bonus, all of these moves can be performed at home, proving that all you really need for great chest workouts is a pair of dumbbells and, sometimes, just your bodyweight.
Weighted Chest Exercises
Benefits: You’ll hit both heads of the pecs twice with this move: once with the weighted press and again with the push-up.
- Lie down with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, holding a pair of dumbbells with your elbows close to your sides, forearms vertical to the floor, and your palms facing in. This is the starting position.
- Press the weights above your chest, then slowly lower them.
- Perform a sit-up, but don’t return to the starting position. At the top of the move, bring your right foot underneath your left leg, plant the weights on the floor to your right, and then flip over into a high plank.
- Keeping your core engaged and your body straight, perform a push-up by lowering your chest until it’s a few inches from the floor. Pause, then push back up until your arms are fully extended.
- Reverse the flip and return to the starting position. That’s one rep. Repeat the entire sequence, this time rotating to the left to get into a high plank. Continue alternating sides with each rep.
ONE-ARM PRESS BRIDGE
Benefits: This move not only engages both heads of the chest muscles, but by pressing from a bridge position, you’ll also work the stabilizer muscles in your core, glutes, and hamstrings.
- Sit on the floor with your back against a bench, grab a dumbbell with your right hand, and curl it up to chest level.
- Keeping your core braced and shoulders on the bench, raise your hips until your body is straight from head to knees. This is the starting (bridge) position. (You can also perform the move on a stability ball — begin by sitting on the ball with a dumbbell in your right hand at chest level, and then roll forward into a bridge position.)
- Rotate your right palm so that it’s facing forward, and then slowly press the dumbbell directly above your chest while lifting your left leg to create 90-degree angles at your knee and hip.
- Reverse the move to return to the starting position. Perform equal reps on both sides.
BRIDGE CHEST FLY
Benefits: The bridge puts you in a decline position, which targets the sternal head of your pectoralis major. You’ll also work your glutes and hamstrings.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor, holding a pair of dumbbells directly over your chest with your palms facing each other.
- Engage your core, squeeze your glutes, and press through the balls of your feet to lift your hips until your body is straight from shoulders to knees. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your elbows slightly bent and glutes engaged, slowly lower the weights out to your sides (like you’re opening up for a bear hug) as you lower your hips to the floor.
- Reverse the move to return to starting position, and repeat.
PUSH ROW PISTON
Benefits: In addition to working your chest and your back, this move forces the muscles of your core to fire the entire time to keep you stable in plank position while you drive your knees to opposite elbows.
- Assume a high plank position with a dumbbell in each hand directly below your shoulders. Your feet should be slightly wider than hip width. This is the starting position.
- Keeping your core engaged and your body straight from head to heels, lower your chest until it’s a few inches from the floor. Pause, then press yourself back up to the starting position.
- Keeping your elbow tucked, row the weight in your right hand to your ribs, and then lower it. Repeat on your left side.
- Now lift your right foot and bring your right knee to your left elbow.
- Return to the starting position and repeat, this time lifting your left foot and bringing your left knee to your right elbow.
- That entire sequence is one rep.
SINGLE-LEG CHEST PRESS TWIST
Benefit: This exercise nails both heads of the pectoralis major, as well as the front of the shoulders. Keeping your legs elevated for the duration of each set will also hammer your core.
- Lie on your back holding a pair of dumbbells at chest level with your upper arms on the floor, your forearms vertical, and your palms facing forward. Keeping your legs straight and together, raise them about six inches off the floor. This is the starting position.
- Simultaneously raise your right leg and press the dumbbells above your chest, rotating them at the top so that the your palms face backward and the inside ends of the dumbbells touch.
- Return to the starting position and repeat, this time lifting your left leg. Continue alternating legs with each rep.
CHEST FLY WITH LEG RAISE
Benefits: While the fly homes in on the chest muscles, the leg raise works the core.
- Lie down on the floor holding a pair of dumbbells directly above your chest, palms facing in, arms slightly bent. Your legs should be extended straight toward the ceiling.
- Keeping your lower back pressed against the floor, simultaneously lower your arms out to your sides and your legs toward the floor (but don’t let your heels touch it).
- Reverse the move to return to the starting position, and repeat.
Bodyweight Chest Exerises
Benefits: This exercise will work your chest, but because your hands are closer together than they are during a standard push-up, it increases the load on your triceps.
- Assume a high plank position with your feet together, your body straight from head to heels, your arms straight, and your hands in line with (but slightly narrower than) your shoulders.
- Keeping your core engaged, your elbows tucked, and your head in line with your spine (i.e., don’t look up), lower your chest to within a few inches of the floor.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position, and repeat.
HIGH LOW PUSH-UP SHOULDER TAP
Benefit: In addition to targeting your chest and tris, you’ll increase the engagement of stabilizing muscles throughout your core as you fight rotational movement during each rep.
- Assume a high plank position with your arms straight and your hands under your shoulders.
- Keeping your core tight and body rigid (resist any rotational movement), place your right forearm on the floor. Repeat with your left forearm.
- Return to starting position, and then tap each shoulder with your opposite hand.
- That’s one rep. Repeat, this time placing your left forearm onto the ground first. Continue alternating your starting arm with each rep.
Benefits: This push-up variation works the muscles of the chest while increasing engagement in the hamstrings and core.
- Stand tall with your hands by your sides and your feet hip-width apart.
- Soften your knees and hinge forward, placing your hands on the floor and walking them forward until you’re in a high plank position.
- Keeping your core engaged and elbows tucked, perform a push-up, lowering your chest to within a few inches of the floor.
- Walk your hands back toward your feet, and then stand back up to complete one rep.
CHILD’S POSE KNEE DIAMOND
Benefits: By creating a diamond shape with your hands, this push-up will emphasize your triceps — but you’ll still feel it in your chest.
- Start in child’s pose: Get on your hands and knees with your toes pointed behind you, and push back onto your heels with your arms straight and your torso on your thighs. The tips of your thumbs and index fingers should touch, forming a diamond shape. This is the starting position.
- Pull yourself forward and perform a push-up on your knees, lowering your chest to within a few inches of the floor.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position, and repeat.
Benefit: This exercise is easier than the standard pushup, but engages the same muscles, making it a smart choice for those who have trouble performing the classic move with proper form.
- Place your hands shoulder-width apart on a bench (or other stable knee-height surface) and assume a high plank position with your body straight from head to heels.
- Engage your core and lower your chest to within a few inches of the bench.
- Pause, push yourself back up to starting position, and repeat.
Nutrition to Maximize Your Chest Workouts
Building strong, defined chest muscles requires more than just consistent strength training; you also need to dial in your diet, and fuel your muscles regularly with adequate protein.
Openfit recommends 0.5 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of desired lean bodyweight per day, depending on the intensity of your workouts. (The harder you work out, the more protein you need to optimize recovery and growth.) Ideally, these doses would be evenly distributed every 3-4 hours.
And while it’s possible to get your daily recommended share of protein from high-quality food sources like chicken, eggs, and tilapia, augmenting your intake with a supplement after your chest workouts is a practical way to ensure you’re getting enough of this essential, muscle-building macronutrient.
You can also sneak in 20 additional grams of protein during the largely overlooked sleep window for muscle growth with an overnight supplement to minimize exercise-induced soreness and maximize recovery.
Other forms of supplementation can also be of benefit in your pursuit of a wider chest. Creatine has shown to help increase power and performance, and delay fatigue, allowing you to do more work during your chest workouts; that translates into greater muscular development in less time. The supplement’s most effective — and affordable — form is creatine monohydrate.