This blog post outlines the exercises most important to the development of your ‘upper chest’ and the common downfalls experienced when trying to develop size.

chest muscle structure

Upper Chest Exercises

Barbell Incline

Possibly the most important exercise for developing your ‘upper chest’ is the incline barbell bench press. You will benefit from the bench being set as shallow as a 10 degree incline right up until the bench is about vertical. I generally look to set the bench at approximately 30-40 degrees, however if incline is your core chest exercise you may want to use a shallower angle to avoid being too reliant on your front deltoids. Chose your grip wisely on incline barbell and do not be afraid of stopping around an inch before touching your chest if its uncomfortable. Also be aware that going too wide on your grip can put an extraordinary amount of stress on your deltoids.

Whilst usually I would suggest against flaring your elbows out so they are horizontally aligned, I do enjoyed the added stress to the top of my chest. The difference I felt in stimulation from incline dumbbell to incline barbell was phenomenal and if you rarely perform barbell incline then I suggest focusing on it. 

incline barbell bench

incline barbell bench pressing the right way (no flare)

Reverse grip barbell bench press

This is a relatively uncommon exercise across any weight lifting disciple and if you’re able you execute the exercise properly, it will probably become your new favorite chest exercise. Experiment with around 30-50% of your 1 rep max, using a variety of grip widths and get a feel for how you tuck your elbows in your or flare them out to stimulate your chest. I would also advise lowering the bar to align with your nipples, although find what works for you. If you are uncomfortable with using a barbell or you just “aren’t feeling it”, I strongly suggest repeating the same steps using a smith machine.

reserve grip bench press

reserve grip bench press

Cable flyes/cross overs

Having training a power lifting gym and home gym for a number of years, my access to a decent set of weighted cable machines was rather rare. I’ve found cables are fantastic for stressing different parts of the chest and have forced the development of the upper region of my chest. Be careful on this exercise stretching out too far or using straightened arms can put a phenomenal amount of stress on your joints. Flyes are a large cause of shoulder injuries.

incline cable flyes

incline cable flyes

Incline Dumbbell press

Almost anyone you watch incline dumbbell press will be using a different form, and whilst some of this is down to their bio-mechanical structure, many people just end up doing what seems natural. There is a vast variety of different forms that can be used when doing db press, but I suggest holding the dumbbells at an angle so they are not horizontally inline with each other throughout the press. Keeping them horizontal puts far too much pressure on the deltoids and reduces chest activation.

incline dumbbell bench press

incline dumbbell bench pressing the wrong way. (Putting stress on your shoulders)

Making gains

If like me, your ‘upper chest’ is non-existent, I suggest ditching flat barbell bench press unless you are a powerlifter. In fact  even if you have the best ‘upper chest’ in the world, I suggest ditching flat barbel unless you are a powerlifter or lust egotistical number. I also suggest training chest twice a week with a certain focus on movements to stimulate your ‘upper chest’. Some people claim you can’t train your upper chest but the reality is some exercises stimulate muscle fibers located at the top of your chest much more than those located further down. If you’ve ever brought up a lagging muscle group before you will often notice a rapid growth.

– Look to train chest twice a week.
– Ditch flat barbell bench press.
– Focus on reverse grip and incline barbell bench.
– Watch your chest grow!