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The 7 Best Upper Chest Exercises for Superhuman Pecs

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Getting your upper chest in check is going to make a world of a difference in helping you achieve that full, shirt-popping chest you've always dreamt of!


Strong and fit looking man showing off his muscular body and large upper chest muscles

The upper chest is a sadly often overlooked head of the chest that people just don't seem to care about that much, or aren't even aware of at all.


Most people think that simply performing flat barbell bench presses and downward cable flyes is going to be sufficient for building a well-rounded chest.


However this simply is not the case if you're wanting to look truly impressive.


Flat and downward pressing movements will work all parts of the chest, but only tax the upper chest to a small degree. Much less so than that of the mid or lower chest fibers.


If you really want to fill out you t-shirts and don't want to look like you've got bad posture when you stand or walk, then you're going to want to look to implement a few of these 7 best upper chest exercises into your routine!


The Best Upper Chest Exercises


  • Incline dumbbell bench press

  • Low to high cable flyes

  • Decline push ups

  • Incline smith machine bench press

  • Incline hammer press

  • Close grip incline bench press

  • Flat barbell bench press


Incline Dumbbell Bench Press


If you're looking for one overall exercise to build up your upper chest muscles, this is likely going to be it.


The incline dumbbell bench press has always been one of my absolute favorites when it comes to chest workouts.


The incline dumbbell bench press allows you to lift relatively heavy loads, whilst also allowing you to get both a great stretch and contraction on your upper chest fibers.


It's been widely accepted that using dumbbells over barbells elicits higher muscle activation and is also friendlier on the joints, making it a win-win situation if you're looking to increase the muscle mass in the upper portion of your pecs.


To get the most out of this exercise, you're going to want to lift in the moderately heavy rep ranges of 6-12, and ensure that you're maximizing the time under tension for the best results.


And also, keep the angle of incline between 15 and 30 degrees. Most people actually overdo it and set the incline WAY too high, resulting in too much shoulder activation.



One of my personal favorite upper chest exercises, here's how to perform the incline dumbbell bench press:


  1. Grab a pair of relatively heavy dumbbells.

  2. Set the bench to your desired angle of incline.

  3. Sit on the bench and kick the dumbbells up into your pressing position.

  4. Arch your back slightly.

  5. Driving your elbows forwards and out in front of you.

  6. Keeping your wrists stacked on top of your elbows, lower the weight down with control until you feel a stretch in your pecs.

  7. Press the weight back up with as much force as possible, still keeping control.

  8. Squeeze the muscles of the upper chest hard at the top of the movement.

  9. Repeat.


Check out the video below by Scott Herman to see what this looks like!



Low to High Cable Flyes


This is by far my favorite chest isolation exercise.


I like to do this towards the end of my 'push' day workouts, to really finish off the chest and accumulate some extra workout volume when I'm already tired and feeling pretty taxed.


This exercise allows you to get the best stretch and contraction on the upper chest out of any exercise on this list, and is definitely a worthwhile movement to master if you're serious about building muscle mass in your pecs!


Oh, and doing this with a cable is preferred over doing it with dumbbells as they provide a more consistent resistance profile and don't cause your muscles to lose tension throughout the range of motion like dumbbells do.


If you've never done these before and are planning on trying them out in your next couple of sessions, prepare for a chest burn like you've never felt before!


To perform low to high cable flyes:


  1. Set the cable machine to the lowest you can.

  2. Grab both handles and walk out until you feel a stretch in your upper chest.

  3. Brace yourself and make sure you're feeling stable before you initiate the movement.

  4. Bend your arms slightly, and drive them upwards (without flaring them out to the side) with force.

  5. You should finish with your hand being close together.

  6. Squeeze the muscles of the upper chest hard at the top of the movement.

  7. Lower the weight back down with control until you feel the stretch again.

  8. Repeat.


Once again, see Scott Herman's video below for a demonstration!



Decline Push Ups


This is a great exercise for the upper chest that you can do literally anywhere.


As long as you've got a surface to elevate your feet on, you can do the decline push up.


By putting yourself in that decline position, you change the angle of your upper arms relative to your torso, and shift the emphasis onto the upper portion of your chest.


It's essentially an incline bench press, except you're using your own bodyweight instead of a pair of dumbbells or a barbell.


Push ups are a great way to build strength and muscle mass in your chest from the comfort of your own home (or anywhere else for that matter).


You'll likely also find that you feel a burn in the upper chest like you've never felt before if you've never done decline push ups before.


Again, you should try to take your time on the way down and really allow your upper chest muscles to resist the weight of your body.


Related:



To do the decline push up:


  1. Assume a push up position, with your feet elevated by 30-45cm to start.

  2. Keep your core tight and make sure that your body forms a straight line.

  3. Place your hands just outside of shoulder width to start.

  4. Tucking your elbows in, slowly lower yourself down until your chin reaches the ground.

  5. Press yourself back up by driving your hands into the ground forcefully.

  6. Squeeze the upper chest muscles hard.

  7. Repeat.


See Kevin Harvey's video below for a demonstration!



Incline Smith Machine Bench Press


Now the smith machine does get a pretty bad rap from people.


Heck, we've even got a blog post about it (you can check that out here).


And while we do discourage squatting or deadlifting on a smith machine, bench pressing actually isn't all that bad.


In fact, I do enjoy doing my incline bench pressing on a smith machine as well!


I quite like the feeling of not having to stabilize the weight and being able to focus solely on pressing the weight up with as much force as possible.


Doing your incline bench pressing on a smith machine allows you to isolate the upper chest a little more and place more tension on them, which is going to result in more targeted muscle hypertrophy.


The incline smith machine bench press is actually one of my favorite upper chest exercises as well.


Learn more:



Here's how to do it:


  1. Load the smith machine bar up relatively heavily.

  2. Set the bench angle to an incline between 15 and 30 degrees.

  3. Ensure the bench is in the right position (the bar should touch your lower chest area at the bottom of the range of motion).

  4. Place your hands at shoulder width and tuck your elbows in.

  5. Arch your back slightly.

  6. Lower the bar down with control until it briefly touches your lower chest.

  7. Press the weight back up with force by driving your hands up into the bar.

  8. Lock out the elbows at the top and squeeze the muscles of the upper chest hard.

  9. Repeat.


Check out Nutritioneering's video below for a demonstration!



Incline Hammer Press


This is a great exercise choice for the upper chest if your gym has an incline hammer press, or something similar.


It's essentially a machine chest press, but set at an incline so that it targets the muscles of your upper chest.


It's going to be great for isolating the muscles of your upper chest a little more, whilst being friendly on the joints.



Again, take your time on the way down and make sure that you're tucking your elbows in to really emphasize the upper chest and shift the tension away from the shoulders.


To do this exercise:


  1. Load the machine up relatively heavily.

  2. Sit on the seat and make sure you're comfortable.

  3. Press the weight up and ensure your arms are angled correctly.

  4. Lower the weight back down with control.

  5. Press back up forcefully and squeeze the muscles of the upper chest hard at the top of the movement.

  6. Repeat.


Check out the video below by Beastmode Jones to see what this looks like!


Close Grip Incline Bench Press


I recommend doing this with a barbell, as it's going to allow you to lift a little bit more weight and still get the benefits of the closer grip.


Taking a closer grip emphasizes shoulder flexion, which is one of the functions of the clavicular head (upper portion) of the chest.


You can even try this for yourself.


Simply straighten your arms and raise them upwards in front of you like you would do in a front raise (that's performing shoulder flexion).


You'll find that your upper pecs are heavily active in this movement.


So take a close grip (approximately a shoulder width grip will be good), and let's get to work!


Here's how to perform the incline close grip bench press:


  1. Set the bench angle to desired incline.

  2. Have a spotter with you if possible.

  3. Grip the bar with a shoulder width grip and lift it off the rack.

  4. Arch your back slightly.

  5. Lower the bar down with control until it touches your chest.

  6. Press the bar back up forcefully by driving your hands upwards, whilst keeping your elbows tucked into your side.

  7. Squeeze hard at the top of the exercise.

  8. Repeat.


Watch the video below by Functional Bodybuilding to see what this looks like!



Flat Barbell Bench Press


I know I said that the flat barbell bench press alone isn't going to be all too optimal for upper chest development, but it's still an important exercise for you to be doing for the upper chest.


Why?


Because it's going to have important strength carryover into the other pressing movements that you do specifically for the upper chest.


For example, if you consistently lifted heavy on the flat barbell bench press and were able to increase your one rep max by 10kg or 20lb, then those strength gains would roll over to your incline dumbbell pressing, incline smith machine pressing, and so forth.


Eventually, you'd find yourself moving more weight on all of your chest exercises, because of the heavy strength work that you did on your flat barbell bench press.


Progressive overload is one of the most important aspects of strength training and general fitness that you need to understand, and doing heavy flat barbell bench presses is a great way to apply it.


Here's how you can do the flat barbell bench press:


  1. Lay flat on the bench, and firmly plant your feet on the ground.

  2. Try to have a spotter with you if possible.

  3. Grip the barbell in a way that's both comfortable and feels strong (1.5x shoulder width is a good place to start).

  4. Lift the bar off the rack and arch your back.

  5. Lower the bar down to your chest with control.

  6. Briefly touch your chest with the bar and then press it back up with as much force as possible.

  7. Lock the arms out at the top.

  8. Repeat.


Check out the video below by Rogue Fitness for a demonstration of this!



Related:



Conclusion


Getting your upper chest in check is a vital part of developing a well rounded physique and truly looking impressive in the mirror.


Just your regular flat pressing alone isn't going to be enough for most people.



However if you just pick a couple of the exercises from this list, and you follow the training tips we've given you in this post, you're already halfway there!


The rest of the way is just doing the hard work and ensuring you stay focused :)


Which upper chest exercise was YOUR favorite?


Let us know in the comments below!

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