Upper Chest Exercises for Size and Strength

upper chest viewThe chest (pectoral major) is made up of three muscle bundles.

Clavicular Bundle – Upper chest
Sternal Bundle – Middle chest
Abdominal Bundle – Lower chest

The biggest problem for most guys when trying to build impressive pecs is an underdeveloped upper chest. Everyone wants that popping square upper chest muscle. You know..? The kind of chest that turns heads in a low cut, v-neck top.

The problem is, most chest training routines don’t properly activate the clavicular bundle. It’s very easy to recruit the lower/middle parts of the chest, but some people struggle to target the upper portion. Too much focus placed on flat bench pressing will fail to stimulate muscle fibers in the upper chest properly.

To achieve an overall well developed chest you will need to implement some targeted exercises. I have listed below some of my top exercises to target and develop the upper chest region.

30 Degree Inclined Dumbbell Press

This is by far one of the most effective upper chest exercise you can perform at the gym, and is my favorite exercise of all time. So why use dumbbells instead of a bar? Here are a few reasons:

  • No Cheating – Each arm moves on its own. One arm can’t become dominant or “cheat”.
  • Natural Motion – Dumbbell press is a classic compound movement and allow your arms to move in a natural arch. This puts more emphasis on your upper chest muscles rather than your shoulders.
  • Less Joint Strain – Your joints won’t have to take the brunt of the force during the motion.

A 30 degree incline is about as good as it gets for upper chest muscles. If you go any higher than this you will shift the stress away from your chest and onto your shoulders.

To maximize hypertrophy you will want to perform about 2-4 sets at 6-8 reps each.

30 Degree Incline Barbell Press

While dumbbells do have their advantages, a barbell will also work your muscles from another angle that will put more activation on the upper chest muscle fibers. Barbells definitely have their place in any chest building routine. You can choose either dumbbells or barbells to be part of your routine; however, incorporating both will help to maximize gains by including a wider range of motion.

I like to mix things up so that one week I’ll hit upper chest with dumbbells and the other with barbell.

When performing this exercise it’s important to maintain proper form at all times. Always keep your elbows tucked in and avoid pushing outwards. While achieving overload is important, picking a weight you can actually manage with proper form is also important to avoid injury and ensure proper stimulation of the target muscle.
Just like the dumbbell press you should keep the bench at a maximum of 30 degrees when focusing on the upper chest.

30 Degree Dumbbell Flyes

You can throw in a mix of 30 degree dumbbell flyes after your press routine. This is a great way to to get a good stretch of the Clavicular Bundle. Just remember to perform them after your press exercise and not before. Doing flyes first will leave your upper chest muscles weaker for your heavy press exercises. Presses are more important than flyes, therefore they should be performed first in your routine.

You will want to do with a slightly lower weight for flyes than you would for your dumbbell presses. You should still focus on performing 2-4 sets, although the reps should be closer to 8-10 per set. Using too much weight with dumbbell flyes can put excessive stress and strain on your shoulders. To avoid injury you should stick with a weight you can control completely and with a focus on squeezing at the top of the movement.

Why Proper Form is So Important

Proper form is crucial for maximizing gains and preventing injury at the gym. Unless your form is on point you can easily end up targeting muscles other than the ones you are trying to work on. It’s ok to let your form slip a little now and then when you’re pushing yourself to failure on the last few reps, but keep good control throughout most of your exercises.

Keep the following in mind when focusing on the upper chest:

  • Always keep your shoulders back and avoid lifting them.
  • Arch your lower back slightly.
  • Don’t let your elbows fair out to wide.
  • Don’t ever train. 10 sets of 3 exercises in more than enough.
  • Press through your elbows and not your hands.
  • Mind muscle connection, feel the upper chest muscle working.

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