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Top 12 Upper Chest Exercises For Muscle Mass

In my 15 years in the fitness industry, I’ve come across all sorts of exercises targeting every nook and cranny of our muscles. 

The chest, a powerhouse of our upper body, often gets a lot of attention. But here’s the kicker – most people focus mainly on the lower or middle part, leaving the upper chest lagging behind. 

Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret: A well-defined upper chest can really set your physique apart from the rest. It gives you that full, chiselled look which is absolutely smashing! 

So, if you’re on a mission to sculpt your upper pecs, stick around. I’m about to unveil the top 12 upper chest exercises that have been my trusted allies throughout my fitness journey. 

Let’s dive in, shall we?

Read our Medical Disclaimer before starting any exercises.

Anatomy Of The Chest

Upper chest muscles illustration.

Pectoralis Major

This is the large, fan-shaped muscle that spans across your chest. It’s what most people refer to when they talk about their “pecs”.

The pectoralis major is responsible for a range of motions including flexing, rotating, and adducting the humerus (the long bone in your upper arm). 

Over the years, I’ve noticed that many focus their training on this muscle for that broad-chested look.

But remember, it has different sections – with the upper part (or ‘clavicular head’) being crucial for the rounded, full chest appearance.

Pectoralis Minor

Situated right beneath the pectoralis major, the pectoralis minor is a smaller triangular muscle. Its main job is to stabilise the scapula, which is essential for many upper body movements. 

When I first started training, I’ll admit, I overlooked this muscle.

However, it’s key for postural support and shoulder mobility.

Ensuring it’s strong and flexible can make a world of difference in your overall chest development and shoulder health.

Serratus Anterior

This muscle runs along your ribs under the armpit. You know those finger-like muscles visible on the side of a ripped torso? That’s the serratus anterior showing off!

It plays a critical role in scapular movement and stabilisation. 

Back in the day, I’d see boxers and swimmers flaunting these muscles and it got me all fired up to work on them.

Trust me, a well-defined serratus anterior not only boosts your chest and shoulder mechanics but also gives a fantastic athletic look.

Subclavius

It’s a tiny muscle, but oh boy, is it essential! Positioned just below the clavicle, the subclavius aids in lifting the first rib during breathing. 

It’s not a muscle that you’d typically target for aesthetics, but from my experience, understanding its function can help with improving your breathing patterns during intense workouts.

It’s a marvellous piece of engineering, our chest.

By understanding its intricate anatomy, you can target your workouts more effectively, ensuring every part gets the attention it deserves. 

And trust me, the results can be nothing short of spectacular!

Best Upper Chest Exercises

1. Incline Barbell Bench Press

Throughout my years in fitness, the incline barbell bench press has been the cornerstone of upper chest development.

It isolates the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, providing a strong foundation for that coveted upper chest look. 

Whether you’re a novice or have been pumping iron for ages, this exercise remains unmatched.

I’ve had countless sessions where the weighty feel and the muscle engagement on this exercise have made me feel invincible!

Barbell incline chest press illustation.

How to do it:

  • Set the bench at a 45-degree incline.
  • Lie back, ensuring your feet are flat on the ground.
  • Grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Lower the bar to your upper chest.
  • Press back up, fully extending your arms.

2. Incline Dumbbell Press

The range of motion offered by dumbbells is unparalleled.

This exercise, in my experience, ensures a profound stretch, proving invaluable for muscle hypertrophy. It’s fantastic for all, but if you’re particularly keen on refining chest definition and achieving that balanced look, this is your go-to. 

Those sessions where I’ve felt an imbalance, this exercise has helped correct it, letting each pec get its due.

Incline dumbbell press illustration.

How to do it:

  • Start with the bench at a 45-degree angle.
  • Holding a dumbbell in each hand, lie back on the bench.
  • Begin with the weights at chest level, palms facing away.
  • Push the weights up and very slightly inwards, but not together.
  • Lower them back down slowly.

3. Incline Dumbbell Flyes

The deep stretch and contraction with flyes are truly addictive.

It’s a sensation that tells you your chest muscles are working their socks off.

Over the years, this exercise has been my secret weapon for enhancing chest width and achieving that splayed, muscular look.

Incline dumbbell flyes illustration.

How to do it:

  • Set your bench to a 45-degree angle.
  • With a dumbbell in each hand, lie on the bench.
  • Start with arms extended above you, a slight bend in the elbows.
  • Lower the weights out to the side in an arc.
  • Squeeze the chest and bring them back to the starting position.

4. Low-to-High Cable Flyes

For a consistent, tension-filled workout, cables are the business! They keep your muscles engaged throughout the motion, making them ace for hypertrophy. 

The low-to-high variation has been my go-to whenever I’ve aimed for that isolated burn in the upper chest. It’s a challenge, but oh so worth it.

Low to high cable flyes illustration.

How to do it:

  • Stand between a cable machine with pulleys set at the bottom.
  • Grab a handle in each hand.
  • With a slight bend in your elbows, pull the cables in an upward arc until your hands meet in front of your chest.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

5. Incline Push-Ups

Ah, the trusty push-up, but elevated – literally!

Focusing on the upper chest, this bodyweight exercise has saved me on numerous occasions when I’ve been without gym access. 

It’s a quick fix with substantial results, reminding me that sometimes, simplicity truly is the ultimate sophistication.

Incline push-ups.

How to do it:

  • Place your hands on an elevated surface, like a bench or step.
  • Extend your feet behind you.
  • Lower your body until your chest nearly touches the bench.
  • Push yourself back up to the starting position.

6. Smith Machine Incline Press

Stability, safety, and muscle engagement – the Smith machine offers all three.

While some purists might scoff, I’ve found this machine a boon, especially when looking to push my limits. 

The controlled motion allows me to focus entirely on the muscle contraction, ensuring every rep counts. When I’ve aimed to switch things up or felt stuck in a rut, this has often been my wildcard choice.

How to do it:

  • Adjust the bench to a 45-degree incline under the Smith machine.
  • Lie down and grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  • Unrack the bar and lower it to your chest.
  • Press the bar back up.

7. Chest Dips (with forward lean)

I’ve always considered chest dips as one of those ‘old school’ moves that have stood the test of time. By adding a forward lean, you’re placing more emphasis on the upper chest. It’s challenging but incredibly rewarding. 

During my training years, I’d often incorporate these when I wanted to test my bodyweight strength.

The satisfaction after a good set of dips? Priceless!

Chest dips illustration.

How to do it:

  • Start by gripping parallel bars.
  • Begin in the extended position with your arms straight.
  • Lean slightly forward and lower your body down.
  • Drive back up, ensuring you focus on using your chest.

8. Hammer Strength Incline Press

The Hammer Strength machines combine the best of free weights and machines. It provides the feel of dumbbells while offering the stability of a machine.

I’ve turned to the incline version on many a ‘lazy’ day when I wanted to focus on my chest without stabilising too much. 

The controlled motion means my upper chest gets a proper pounding.

Hammer Strength Incline Press illustration.

How to do it:

  • Adjust the seat to ensure the handles are chest height.
  • Grip the handles and press forward and up.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

9. Incline Dumbbell Pullover

A somewhat underrated exercise, the pullover, especially on an incline, beautifully targets the upper chest.

There’s this unique stretch you get in the pecs which feels simply sublime. I’ve often used it as a finishing move in my workouts to get that final burn.

How to do it:

  • Set a bench to a slight incline.
  • Holding a dumbbell with both hands, lie back on the bench.
  • Extend the dumbbell back, keeping a slight bend in the elbows.
  • Pull the weight back up, squeezing the chest.

10. Svend Press

It sounds fancy, but the Svend Press is a simple and effective exercise that primarily targets the upper chest.

Using two weight plates, it’s fantastic for squeezing the pectoral muscles. I remember being skeptical about this one initially. But once I incorporated it and felt that burn, I was sold!

How to do it:

  • Stand holding two weight plates pressed together in front of your chest.
  • Press the plates out in front of you while ensuring they remain squeezed together.
  • Pull them back in towards your chest.

11. Resistance Band Incline Press

Resistance bands offer dynamic tension, making them a terrific tool for muscle activation.

This variation gives you the perks of the incline press without needing weights. I’ve packed bands in my suitcase on travels, ensuring my upper chest doesn’t miss out, even on the go.

Resistance band incline press illustration.

How to do it:

  • Anchor a resistance band behind you at waist height.
  • Hold the band handles and step forward to create tension.
  • Start with your hands at chest level and press forward and up.
  • Slowly return to the starting position.

12. Landmine Press

The landmine setup brings a unique angle, engaging the upper chest efficiently. I’ve noticed it also provides a good core workout, given the stabilisation required.

Whenever I’ve fancied something off the beaten path, the landmine press has been my choice.

How to do it:

  • Place one end of a barbell in a landmine attachment or secure corner.
  • Stand facing the barbell and grip the free end with both hands.
  • Press the barbell up and slightly forward.
  • Lower it back down to the starting position.

Building Your Upper Chest FAQ

Male muscular chest

Why is my upper chest lagging compared to the rest of my chest?

A common concern in fitness forums and gyms revolves around underdeveloped upper chest muscles.

The upper region, scientifically termed the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, can be trickier to target than the sternal head

This discrepancy arises due to many traditional chest exercises, like the popular flat bench press, primarily focusing on the mid and lower pectoral regions. 

However, with dedicated upper chest workouts and specific exercise variations, it’s entirely possible to enhance this area, even if genetics might influence its development pace.

How often should I train my upper chest for optimal muscle growth?

For those aiming for noticeable upper chest development, incorporating upper chest exercises into your routine twice a week can be beneficial.

This frequency strikes a balance between providing adequate muscle stimulus and allowing recovery time, ensuring muscle growth. It’s pivotal to remember that muscle recovery is when the growth magic happens.

Always ensure you’re giving your body the rest it needs to rebuild and come back stronger.

Can I isolate the upper chest without engaging the lower chest?

Achieving complete isolation of the upper chest, while a popular query, is a tad challenging. Most chest workouts, whether you’re targeting the upper or lower regions, will engage both sections to varying degrees. 

However, by choosing exercises like the incline bench press or incline dumbbell flyes and perfecting their form, you can significantly emphasise the upper chest muscles, ensuring they receive a targeted workout.

Do I need to lift heavy to achieve upper chest muscle gains?

A common misconception in the fitness world is that heavy weights are the only route to muscle growth. In reality, while lifting heavy can indeed stimulate the upper chest muscles, progressive overload remains key

This principle focuses on gradually increasing resistance, whether through adding weight, increasing repetitions, adjusting tempo, or utilising resistance bands.

Many fitness enthusiasts, myself included, have experienced substantial upper chest development using varied resistance levels, as long as the principle of progressive overload is adhered to.

Summary: Developing Your Upper Chest

Alright, we’ve covered a lot, haven’t we? From the old-school faves to some fresh finds, we’ve got a top-notch list of upper chest moves to get that chest popping. 

No need to get lost in the details; it’s all about mixing things up and staying consistent. 

Fancy giving it a whirl? 

Have another scan of the list above and chuck 3-4 exercises into your next session. You’ve got this! And hey, drop by anytime you need another dose of fitness inspiration.

Medical Disclaimer

Medical Disclaimer: The content on this fitness website is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as, nor should it be considered a substitute for, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before starting or changing any exercise, diet, or wellness program, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, have any pre-existing medical conditions, or are taking medications.

Illustrations © Lio Putra | Dreamstime.com

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