How to Work out the Pecs

Three Methods:Learning Chest ExercisesVarying Your Workout for the Best ResultsLeaning Proper Muscle Building Techniques

Your chest is essential in any workout routine. The pectorals are the two big chest muscles, and great pecs don't only look good, they are incredibly powerful. Focusing on this major muscle group 1-2 times a week is a big part of your workout routine, and it is easy to develop.

Method 1
Learning Chest Exercises

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    Practice pectoral fly exercises. The standard fly move is perhaps one of the best chest builders. Perform it in a high number of repetitions without equipment or in smaller sets with dumbbells or resistance bands. To do them:
    • Lay on your back with a dumbbell in each hand.
    • Extend your arms out to your side, as if your were forming a cross. Your palms should be pointing up.
    • Slowly, with your arms still extended, curl your hands together until the dumbbells meet above the center of your chest.
    • Slowly return your arms back to your sides.[1]
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    Try the bench press. The bench press is arguably the most popular chest workout move. It can be done in a home gym or with a large variety of weight options at a gym. When benching, always have a spotter behind you to hold the weight if it falls.
    • Lay on your back with the bar of weight above you, roughly in line with your nipples.
    • Grip the bar firmly with both hands roughly aligned with your shoulders.
    • Push the bar up off the holsters, then slowly bring it down until it is a few inches above your chest.
    • With a smooth, fluid motion, push the bar up until your arms are almost fully extended. That is one rep.[2]
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    Learn incline dumbbell presses. Once you are familiar with traditional bench presses, handheld dumbbells can be used on an inclined bench to work your chest muscles in a different way. The motion is the same as a bench press, but you can lay on an incline or decline to work different parts of your pectoral for fuller muscle growth. You can also wrap a resistance band around your back and use that instead of dumbbells.[3]
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    Do pull-ups. Pull-ups strengthen the chest as well as the arms, shoulders, back, and abs. Depending on your grip you will get a different muscle focus.
    • Pull-ups with a wide grip and your palms facing forward will work your back, as well as some chest.
    • Chin-ups, with a narrow grip and your palms facing back towards you, will work more of your chest and bicep.
    • Keep your lower body from moving when doing pull-ups. You want your stomach and legs solid while you arms and back do all the work.[4]
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    Work on dumbbell rows. Dumbbell rows help strengthen the shoulders, arms, and back and can be performed at home or at a gym.
    • Stand with dumbbells or resistance bands in both hands.
    • With your palms pointing down, pull the weight up to shoulder height.
      • Imagine you are a puppet, with strings in the center of the back of your hand. You're being pulled straight up.
    • Slowly return your arms back down by your sides.[5]
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    Perform bicep curls. Although traditionally considered an exercise for the arms, bicep curls can help work the pectoral muscles and add to definition in the chest. They can be done with or without weights.
    • Hold a dumbbell in one hand, sitting.
    • Rest the elbow of your weighted arm on your thigh, with the weight between your legs.
    • Curl your arm up from the elbow bring the weight to your shoulder. Only your forearm should move.
    • Slowly return the weight to the center of your legs.

Method 2
Varying Your Workout for the Best Results

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    Adjust the exercises you do, and how you do them, to build well-rounded pecs. The best way to get a well-rounded pectoral workout is to use a variety of techniques. Changing the types and tools of your pec workout on a regular basis can also prevent you from plateauing in your strength training or becoming bored with your workout.
    • You can generally only do 2-4 exercises in the same muscle group each day. Try a different set each time you work out your pecs to get a full workout.[6]
    • Your pectorals are not one muscle, they are a set of interrelated muscles. Certain exercises will focus more on one section than another, so a variety helps you build the whole muscle group.[7]
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    Use free weights for tailored, easily adjusted workout. Free weights allow you to tailor your workout to a variety of locations and physical needs. The range of motion and the added stress to your stabilizer muscles (compared to weight machines) will be essential to build strong pecs.
    • Free weights are those not attached to a cable or machine -- so dumbbells and barbells.
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    Use weight machines for bigger weights and specific muscle groups. Weight machines offer a variety of convenient chest workouts that can be quickly altered to add or reduce resistance. Physical trainers can give advice on additional pec workouts that involve overhead pulls, hanging dips, and alterations of other common chest exercises. Because you're locked into one range of motion (the one the machine track moves on) weight machines are good for focused, intense workouts.
    • Try not to only use weight machines. Free-weights are important for letting your muscles move naturally, preventing injury.[8]
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    Use resistance bands when you can't go to the gym. Resistance bands offer convenient, affordable alternatives to free weights or weight machines. They are portable and can be used for virtually any chest routine desired. They are sold in a variety of resistance levels for a beneficial chest workout at any skill level.[9]
    • Frequently, resistance bands are "too easy" for some people. To get around this, focus on doing low-weight, high-rep sets, trying to hit 25-30 reps with each exercise, and do 3 sets.[10]
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    Use body resistance. Body weight can be used to help build and tone chest muscles with push-ups and pull-ups. Using your body weight eliminates some of the joint and muscle stress brought on by added weights and is a great way to get big anywhere:
    • Push-ups: With your toes and both palms on the floor, shoulder length apart, straighten your spine. Lower yourself to the floor, then slowly push yourself back up until your arms are extended. The wider your hands are spread the more the exercise works your pecs.
    • 'Dips: Sit in the air off a ledge with your feet on the floor, both hands behind you, and your butt off the ground. Your body will form a little chair, with your arms extended behind you. Keeping your elbows parallel with your legs, lower your butt towards the ground, dipping down, then push back up until your arms are extended.
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    Know that weightlifting is not the only way to build a strong chest. Strong pectoral muscles require a variety of different challenges and the ability to function well in a variety of situations. To give your pecs the best workout, perform a variety of other exercises that will force your pectoral muscles to grow along with the arm, shoulders, and back muscles. Play sports that require upper-body strength and coordination. Opt for activities that involve considerable upper body motions like throwing, pushing, or pulling.
    • Rowing
    • Rugby
    • Football
    • Baseball/Softball
    • Swimming
    • Rock Climbing
    • Volleyball.[11]

Method 3
Leaning Proper Muscle Building Techniques

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    Stretch before and after you work out. Stretching your muscles is essential to prevent injury and help your muscles get the most benefit out of your efforts. It also limbers your shoulders and back to help them engage effectively in your workout.
    • Slowly swing your arms in circles, making the circles slowly bigger.
    • Reach your elbow up and pull your hand back to your shoulder. Gently push your elbow back behind you until you feel a stretch.
    • Put your arms to the side with your hands up, forming a small, square "U." Have a friend grab your elbows and slowly pull them back behind your back. Resist slowly by pulling your chest muscles together.
      • You can also do this against a wall by yourself. Put your hand on the wall and walk past it to stretch out your pec.[12]
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    Push and relax slowly throughout the entire range of the exercise. Concentrating on slow, deliberate movements helps strengthen all the muscles associated with the motions you are using in your workout. This enables your stabilizer muscles to grow and will help you perform real activities with better control.
    • You want every motion to be in control. Think of being fluid, not jerky, with each lift or push.[13]
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    Focus on keeping muscles tight. Concentrating on keeping your chest muscles contracted and tensed as you perform the repetitions can help challenge and tone your muscles more with the same number of repetitions. You can feel your chest muscles working, so focus in on them. Otherwise, your form will start to suffer.
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    Perform the right number of repetitions for your body. If you are working on toning and firming, aim for about 20 repetitions of each exercise, with the repetitions growing difficult by the end. If your goal is a large chest, aim for 8 to 12 difficult repetitions; once you can perform 12 without much trouble, increase the weight or resistance for that exercise so that 8 becomes the maximum again.
    • You should be struggling, but still able to complete the exercise, at the 8th, 9th, and 10th rep of each set.[14]
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    Workout your back, shoulders, and arms as well. Back, shoulder, and arm exercises not only help strengthen the pecs, they also balance muscle strength and growth. This prevents poor posture and an unsightly physique that can be caused by working only one muscle group to excess.
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    Rest your muscles 1-2 before returning to the chest exercises. Unless you are at an advanced level of strength training, you should allow your pecs to rest 1 to 3 days in between targeted workouts. You may feel like you'll gain muscle faster by crushing it every day, but your muscles need the time to actually rest and grow new muscle fibers. Hitting your pecs every day is not only painful, it prevents them from actually growing. More importunately, it is the fast way to end up with an injury.[15]


  • Adding protein to your diet, eating a balanced diet, and losing body fat will help your pectoral muscles appear more toned and will provide the nutrition you need to build muscle.
  • It is always important to balance your workouts so your body is in a natural shape and not overstressed in any areas - this can lead to poor posture.


  • Always consult a health professional and physical trainer prior to beginning a strenuous exercise routine. Individuals with heart conditions and certain former injuries should not perform certain pectoral workouts.

Article Info

Categories: Upper Body Strengthening and Toning