3 WORST (And Best) Chest Exercises To Do In Your Workout For Mass

by Jeremy Ethier - July 31, 2021

Could your current chest workout be slowing your gains - instead of speeding it up? Find out here. In this article, I cover the worst (and best) chest exercises to do for maximum mass.

In this article, I'm going to cover the 3 common - but WORST - chest exercises that are slowing your gains. Don't worry if they indeed make an appearance in your workout routine. I'm also going to show you what you should be doing instead. More specifically, I'm going to give you the best chest exercises (suitable for both men and women) you can swap right into your workout at the gym for maximum mass. You'll find these to be much more effective options than the:

  • Common incline bench press
  • Dumbbell fly
  • Pinch press

... To grow your chest. Start using the best chest exercises I cover in this article, and you'll be able to grow your chest faster than you ever have before.

Before that: if you're looking for a training program that'll help you pick the only the BEST exercises for optimal muscle growth (not just for the chest, but for ALL muscle groups!), I've got just the thing for you. Every BWS program is designed to be an all-in-one, science-based process that’ll get you to your dream physique FAST. And best of all? It's all rooted in science. For more information:

Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:

Exercise Swap 1: Incline Dumbbell Press Instead Of Incline Bench Press

For a well-developed chest, you need to focus on growing the upper chest. It's what fills out your chest and gives it a proportionate look. You might think that the incline bench press may be best for this. While it is indeed one of the most popular upper chest exercises, the incline bench press is certainly not the best. It may even be leaving gains on the table because of 2 angles; that of:

  1. The bench
  2. Your elbows

In a 2020 study, researchers measured how active different parts of the chest and shoulder were when participants performed the incline bench press at varying degrees:

  • 15 degrees
  • 30 degrees
  • 45 degrees
  • 60 degrees

The findings? They found that the activation of the upper chest was maximized at a bench angle of 30 degrees. At angles higher than this, the front delts began to take over. Which is also then associated with a decrease in upper chest activation.

In addition to this, although reducing the bench angle from 30 to 15 degrees resulted in a very small decrease in the activation of the upper chest, it did provide a major boost in the activation of the:

  • Middle parts AND
  • Lower parts

... Of the chest.

So, what is the takeaway here? These results suggest that, contrary to common practice, you actually don't need a very high bench angle to target the upper chest. In reality, 15 degrees gets you the most upper chest activation while minimizing front delt use. Plus, it also allows you to keep the rest of your chest working as well. A win-win.

Why Is The Low Incline Dumbbell Press One Of The Best Chest Exercises?

Now think about it. Where does this finding leave the incline bench press in your chest workout routine? Unfortunately, most incline benches are pre-set. And often at too high of an angle - at about 30 degrees, with some even as high as 45 degrees.

That's why a good alternative (and one of the best chest exercises) to use is one of my personal favorites. It's an exercise that I include in all my Built With Science programs: a low incline dumbbell press set to roughly 15 degrees. This is generally the first or second notch up on the bench.

Swap the incline bench press for incline dumbbell press

And why are we using dumbbells instead of barbells here? Well, that's because numerous muscle activation papers have found that keeping the elbows tucked to 45 degrees as you press helps significantly increase upper chest activity - since it better lines up the arms with the fibers of the upper chest.

With dumbbells, you can adjust your wrist position to whatever feels best, rather than being locked into the barbell. That means you're able to achieve this optimal elbow angle without placing unnecessary stress on your joints.

Exercise Swap 2: Cable Fly Instead Of Dumbbell Fly

As a fan of Arnold, I used to love the dumbbell fly. But is it truly one of the best chest exercises around? Well, it wasn't until I learned more about the science behind the chest involvement during the dumbbell fly did I realize there was a better option to include in your workout for chest day.

Admittedly, the dumbbell fly isolates the chest. That's why it seems like a great option to build your chest.

But there's a downside with this movement. The dumbbell fly only really works the chest at the bottom part of the movement, when your:

  1. Chest is fully stretched AND
  2. Arms are fully extended to your sides

As soon as you pass this point, your chest becomes less and less involved. And this makes the exercise less effective for overall chest growth. In fact, you've probably noticed that at the top position, when your arms are straight above you, there's no tension on your chest at all.

You could easily hang out in that position all day.

That said, we still want to do some kind of fly movement for our chest. We're going to do that by making 1 big change to your flyes that will keep constant tension on your chest. And work it through its full range of motion. We're going to do the cable fly:

  • Keep the bench but move it upright.
  • Place it between 2 cables that are set at about the height of your chest.
  • Grab the handles, sit between them, and perform your fly there.
One of the best chest exercises to do is the cable fly as it places constant tension on your chest

Don't have cables handy? You can mimic a similar setup by wrapping a band around your hands and performing the dumbbell fly like so. This will help keep a little bit of tension on the chest throughout the whole movement.

How to do the cable fly with a resistance band

It's The Details That Make All The Difference

By the way, guys, hopefully by now, you're seeing the importance of not only choosing the right exercises - but actually doing them properly as well. I know that's what makes all the difference. And that's exactly why, within my Built With Science programs, I've taken the time to:

  • Carefully pick out each exercise included in your routine AND
  • Made in-depth instructional videos for how to perform each of those exercises for the most benefit

It's the little details we cover in the program that makes all the difference. And it's how thousands of our members have been able to go from stuck, not seeing results, to completely transforming their bodies in a matter of months. Interested? All you need to do is input your gender, age, body type, and fitness goals into the quiz below - and it'll guide you to which of my programs is best suited for you:

It's the little details we cover in the program that makes all the difference. And it's how thousands of our members have been able to go from stuck, not seeing results, to completely transforming their bodies in a matter of months. Interested? All you need to do is input your gender, age, body type, and fitness goals into the quiz below - and it'll guide you to which of my programs is best suited for you:

Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:

If you're still thinking it through ... these may convince you:

  • It's a one-time payment for LIFETIME access
  • Both gym and home workout options are available
  • There's a 30-day money-back guarantee

Swap 3: Landmine Chest Press Instead Of Pinch Press

An 'Instagram-famous' chest exercise is this squeezy-pushy-thingy that I'll just call the pinch press. It's often done by squeezing a weight plate or two dumbbells together while you bring your arms out and in.

Pinch press

The general idea is to do this to target more of the inner chest.

Now, don't get me wrong. When you do this exercise, you will feel your chest activating quite well. But the problem here is that all the chest is doing is keeping the weights squeezed together. This type of contraction on the chest is what's called an isometric contraction. Which, unfortunately, just isn't very effective for building muscle.

The front delts and triceps are what are actually moving the weight out - then in. They're benefitting, and seeing more growth, from this exercise than the chest is.

So, what can you do instead?

A good swap for this exercise (also one of the best chest exercises around) is the cross-body press. You can do this exercise with either a machine or a cable.

To perform this exercise, you will get set up at a 90-degree angle. This allows you to push ACROSS your body, one arm at a time, instead of pushing your arms in front of your body.

How to do the cross body push one of the best chest exercises around

Don't have a machine handy? You can do the same thing with a cable by putting a handle attachment on, then pushing across your body.

You can also do the cross body push with the cable machine

This can be done with a band as well.

Cross body push with resistance band

This exercise will still allow you to get the same strong activation and squeeze on the chest as you'd get with the pinch press. But by using your chest to push the weight away from you (rather than just holding a weight in place), you'll now be providing your chest with the right type of contraction to grow.

Need Some More Help? You Got It

Alright. So you've got some new chest exercises. But maybe you need help with improving your bench press form? Well, I've written something on how you can fix your bench press form, too. Or, you need some help growing your shoulders? You're in luck. I cover why your delts aren't growing - and what you can do about it - here.

And if you're interested in checking out my training programs:

Click the button below to take my analysis quiz to discover the best program for you:

By the way, here’s the article summed up into a YouTube video:

The 3 WORST (And Best) Chest Exercises For Growth

3 WORST (And Best) Chest Exercises To Do In Your Workout For Mass

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