5 Best Exercises To Build Upper Chest Muscles

Looking to craft a chiseled upper chest?

The five best exercises are the Incline Bench Press, Incline Dumbbell Press, Incline Hex Press, Reverse Grip Dumbbell Press, and Low to High Cable Flys.

Stick around for the nitty-gritty on each exercise and how to maximize your gains.

Mastering the Incline Bench Press

The Incline Bench Press is a powerhouse move for upper chest development, turning a good workout into a great one.

It's all about the angle and the technique to hit those upper pectorals effectively.

Step-by-Step Guide on Setting Up the Incline Bench

  1. Choosing the Right Angle: Set the bench to an incline of about 30 to 45 degrees. It's the sweet spot for targeting the upper chest without putting too much load on the shoulders.
  2. Barbell and Weight Selection: Start with a barbell and load it with a weight you can press for 8-12 reps with proper form. Safety first—if you're new, begin with just the bar to get your form down.
  3. Bench Positioning: Sit on the bench with your feet flat on the floor. Your back should be flat against the pad, with a slight natural arch in your lower back.
  4. Rack Height: Set the rack height so you can reach the barbell with slightly bent arms. You shouldn't have to stretch or lose your position to unrack it.

Detailed Form Walkthrough

  • Grip: Your grip should be just wider than shoulder-width. Wrap your thumbs around the bar to secure it.
  • Lift-Off: Plant your feet firmly and unrack the bar with a controlled movement. Keep your wrists straight.
  • Descent: Lower the bar to the upper part of your chest, not the middle. Your elbows should be at a 45-degree angle to your torso.
  • Breathing: Inhale as you lower the bar, and exhale forcefully as you press it up. Breathing correctly helps maintain stability and power.
  • Press: Drive the bar up and slightly back towards the rack, following the natural arc of your arms. The bar should move in a straight line if viewed from the side.
  • Lockout: Fully extend your arms at the top without locking out your elbows. Squeeze your chest at the top for a second before starting the next rep.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Flaring Elbows: Don't let your elbows flare out to the sides. This can shift the focus away from the upper chest and put undue stress on the shoulders.
  2. Incorrect Angle: Setting the bench too steeply can turn the exercise into a shoulder press, while too low won't adequately target the upper chest.
  3. Bouncing the Bar: Resist the temptation to bounce the bar off your chest. It's dangerous and takes tension off the muscles you're trying to work.
  4. Lifting Your Hips: Keep your hips on the bench throughout the movement to maintain proper spine alignment and muscle engagement.
  5. Going Too Heavy, Too Soon: Progressing in weight is important, but not at the expense of form. Bad form equals less effective muscle targeting and increased injury risk.

Diving into the Incline Dumbbell Press

The Incline Dumbbell Press takes chest development to new heights by introducing an increased range of motion and individual muscle focus.

Grab a pair of dumbbells and let's get into the details of why this exercise is a must-have in your upper chest arsenal.

Benefits of Using Dumbbells for Chest Development

Dumbbells offer a unique advantage over barbells by allowing each side of your body to work independently. This not only helps in correcting muscle imbalances but also engages stabilizing muscles for better overall development. The freedom of movement means you can adjust the path of the press for better pectoral engagement, and the independent arm action ensures that your dominant side isn't doing all the work, promoting symmetrical strength and muscle growth.

Instructions for Proper Weight Selection and Adjusting Bench Angles

  • Selecting Weights: Start with lighter weights to perfect your form before moving on to heavier ones. Choose a weight that allows you to complete 8-12 reps with good form but is challenging enough that the last couple of reps are difficult to complete.
  • Bench Angle: Set the bench to an incline of about 30 to 45 degrees. This range helps to target the upper pectoral muscles effectively while minimizing shoulder strain.
  • Positioning the Dumbbells: Sit on the bench with a dumbbell in each hand, resting them on your thighs. Kick one leg up at a time to hoist the dumbbells to shoulder height as you lean back.

Tips for Maintaining Form and Balance During the Exercise

  1. Starting Position: With the dumbbells at shoulder height, rotate your wrists so that your palms face forward. Press your feet firmly into the ground to stabilize your lower body.
  2. Movement Path: Press the dumbbells up and slightly towards each other in a smooth, controlled motion, but don't let them touch at the top. This keeps constant tension on the upper chest.
  3. Mind-Muscle Connection: Focus on the upper chest doing the work as you press the weights up. Visualizing the muscles working can actually enhance muscle activation.
  4. Elbow Position: Keep your elbows slightly bent and under the dumbbells throughout the press to protect the joints and maintain tension on the upper chest.
  5. Controlled Descent: Lower the dumbbells slowly and with control. Avoid letting gravity do the work for you.
  6. Breathing: Inhale on the way down and exhale on the press up. Proper breathing not only helps with focus but also with maintaining intra-abdominal pressure, which is crucial for stability.
  7. Balance: If you find one side dipping or lagging, reduce the weight. It's essential to maintain an equal balance to ensure even development.
  8. Range of Motion: Go as low as you can while maintaining tension and without causing discomfort to the shoulders. Depth is important, but never at the cost of joint health.

Exploring the Incline Hex Press

The Incline Hex Press bridges the gap between pressing and fly movements, targeting the inner part of the upper chest with a unique squeeze.

Delve into the specifics of this less conventional but incredibly effective exercise to bring out the fullness of your chest.

How to Effectively Squeeze the Dumbbells to Maximize Muscle Tension

  1. The Setup: Choose moderate weights as this exercise requires intense muscle contraction more than heavy lifting. Sit on an incline bench set at 30 to 45 degrees, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  2. The Squeeze: Hold the dumbbells together tightly at chest level, over the upper chest, with your palms facing each other. Imagine crushing the dumbbells together; this creates a constant tension throughout the exercise.
  3. The Press: As you press the dumbbells up, maintain the pressure between them. The path of the press is shorter than a regular press because the dumbbells should stay in contact with each other.
  4. Focus on Contraction: At the top of the movement, focus on squeezing your chest muscles as hard as you can, particularly targeting the area close to the sternum.
  5. The Descent: Lower the weights slowly back to the starting position while maintaining the squeeze. The constant tension on the way down is just as important as on the way up.

Variations in Hand Positioning and Their Effects on Muscle Engagement

  • Neutral Grip: Keeping the palms facing each other throughout the press focuses tension on the inner upper chest and reduces strain on the shoulder joints.
  • Slightly Angled Grip: Rotating the dumbbells so your palms face your chin can shift the tension slightly more towards the outer upper chest while still engaging the inner part.
  • Flat Dumbbell Sides Together: If using hexagonal dumbbells, you can press the flat sides together. This variation can enhance stability and allow for a greater squeeze in the middle of the chest.
  • Rotating Grip: Starting with your palms facing each other at the bottom and slightly rotating them outward as you press up can engage different fiber alignments as the chest contracts.
  • One-Arm Hex Press: For an advanced variation, try pressing one dumbbell at a time while squeezing the other one stationary at the center of your chest. This unilateral press can help target imbalances and further isolate the upper chest.

The Reverse Grip Dumbbell Press

Flip your grip, transform your lift. The Reverse Grip Dumbbell Press turns the traditional press on its head, literally, to emphasize the upper chest and engage your muscles in a whole new way.

Techniques for Safely Executing the Underhand Grip

  • Grip Mechanics: Hold a dumbbell in each hand with palms facing toward your face, also known as a supinated grip. This positioning can feel awkward at first, so start with lighter weights to get accustomed to the movement.
  • Wrist Alignment: Ensure your wrists are straight and strong. Avoid bending the wrists back, as this can lead to strain or injury.
  • Elbow Placement: Unlike the traditional press, your elbows should be closer to your torso during the reverse grip press. This helps maintain focus on the upper chest and minimizes shoulder strain.
  • Unracking the Weights: When lifting the weights from the rack or your knees, be cautious. Use your thighs to help kick the weights into position if you're starting from a seated posture.
  • Safety First: Have a spotter or be near a rack when you first attempt this exercise. The reverse grip can be unstable, and safety should always be your top priority.

Adjusting the Incline for Optimal Muscle Activation

  1. Finding the Right Angle: Begin with a bench angle around 30 degrees. This position targets the clavicular head of the pectoral muscle effectively without transferring too much load to the deltoids.
  2. Individual Adjustments: Depending on your body type and how you feel the muscle activation, you might need to adjust the bench slightly. Experiment with angles between 15 to 45 degrees to find your sweet spot.
  3. Consistent Pressure: As you press, imagine pushing the weight towards your lower body, not just upwards. This visualization helps maintain constant tension on the upper chest.
  4. The Arc of Motion: Your hands should move in a slight arc, coming closer together as they rise but without clanging the dumbbells at the top. This helps maintain tension on the chest muscles throughout the exercise.
  5. Progression: As you get comfortable with the form, gradually increase the weight while maintaining the technique. Remember, the effectiveness of the reverse grip press comes from muscle activation, not the amount of weight lifted.

Executing Low to High Cable Flys

Elevate your chest routine with the Low to High Cable Flys, a precision exercise that targets the fibers of your upper chest with laser focus.

Let's dissect how to set up and perform this exercise to etch in those upper chest details.

Setup and Execution of the Cable Machine for Flys

  1. Cable Positioning: Set the pulleys to the lowest level on the cable machine. Attach a single handle to each side.
  2. Starting Stance: Stand in the center of the cable machine with one foot slightly in front of the other for stability. Lean forward slightly, maintaining a strong, braced core.
  3. Grip and Posture: Grasp each handle with your palms facing forward and arms slightly bent at the elbow, locked in a fixed position throughout the movement.
  4. Weight Selection: Choose a weight that allows you to perform 10-15 reps with good form. It should be challenging but not so heavy that your form breaks down.
  5. The Movement: With arms extended but not locked, bring the handles up and together in an arc motion, crossing slightly in front of your face.
  6. Hand Path: Your hands should follow a path that mimics the line from your lower ribs to your shoulders, fully engaging the upper chest fibers.

Visualizing and Following the Muscle Fibers' Direction for the Full Range of Motion

  • Muscle Engagement: Before initiating the fly, engage your chest muscles. Visualize them contracting to bring your arms together.
  • Mind-Muscle Connection: As you move through the fly, imagine tracing the line of your upper chest fibers. This mental practice can enhance muscle engagement.
  • Contraction at the Top: Once your hands meet at the top of the movement, focus on squeezing your chest muscles as if you're trying to hold a pencil between them.
  • Controlled Descent: Slowly return your arms back to the starting position, maintaining tension on the chest and controlling the weight through the entire range.
  • Breathwork: Inhale as you open your arms, expanding your chest. Exhale forcefully as you bring the cables together, accentuating the peak contraction.
  • Repetition Tempo: Maintain a steady, controlled tempo throughout your sets. Avoid jerky movements or using momentum to swing the weights.

Advancing Your Upper Chest Training

Pushing past the basics, advancing your upper chest training means incorporating techniques that extend beyond the final rep, challenging your muscles to new levels of growth and strength.

When you've mastered the form and are ready to up the ante, these advanced methods can be the key to unlocking the full potential of your upper chest workouts.

Strategies for Incorporating Advanced Techniques Like Forced Reps and Negatives

Forced reps and negatives are two techniques that break down muscle fibers more intensely, leading to greater endurance and size.

To implement forced reps, you'll need a training partner.

Once you've reached muscle failure and can't complete another full rep on your own, your partner assists you by lightly touching the bar or dumbbells, helping you squeeze out one or two more reps.

The idea isn't to take the weight off your hands but to provide just enough assistance to keep the weight moving.

Negatives focus on the eccentric phase of the lift, the part where you're lowering the weight back down.

After reaching failure, use a weight you can only move during the lowering phase and take 3-5 seconds to lower it, fighting against gravity with controlled resistance.

Negatives can be incorporated without a partner by using one arm at a time, like with dumbbell exercises, and assisting with the opposite hand.

Understanding and Implementing Drop Sets for Muscle Failure

Drop sets are another technique to extend a set past failure, which can be particularly beneficial for stimulating upper chest growth.

After completing a set to failure, quickly reduce the weight by 10-20% and continue doing reps until you hit failure again.

Repeat this process two to three times, and you have a drop set.

This method exhausts all possible muscle fibers and can lead to significant gains in muscle endurance and size.

It's an intense technique that should be used sparingly, as it can be very taxing on your muscles and your central nervous system.

When using drop sets, it's crucial to maintain form even as fatigue sets in, to prevent injury and ensure that the target muscles are being worked.

Workout Variations and Progress Tracking

As you journey through the quest for a formidable upper chest, variety and tracking become your map and compass, guiding you through plateaus to new peaks of development.

Introducing new angles, equipment, and methods not only keeps your workouts fresh and challenging but also ensures that your muscles continue to adapt and grow.

How to Vary Your Workouts with Different Equipment

Diversity in your chest routine is essential.

The human body is incredibly adaptive, and by changing up the equipment you use, you can prevent your muscles from becoming too accustomed to a specific movement.

Switching from a barbell to dumbbells, for example, can change the stimulus on the upper chest, even if the exercise remains the same.

Cable machines offer constant tension throughout the movement, a different challenge from the variable resistance of free weights.

Resistance bands can also be a useful addition, offering unique resistance curves and allowing for new movements such as standing chest presses or fly variations that aren't possible with traditional weights.

Kettlebells can be used for exercises like the floor press or the kettlebell fly, offering a change in grip and weight distribution.

The key is to periodically introduce these variations to stimulate the muscles from various angles and with different resistance profiles.

Keeping a Workout Log to Track Progress and Stimulate Continuous Growth

A workout log serves as a critical tool in your fitness arsenal.

By diligently recording each session, you can monitor your progress, plan future workouts, and set concrete goals.

Documenting the weights lifted, the number of reps and sets performed, and even the rest intervals can provide insights into your strength gains and areas that require more focus.

It's not just about tracking numbers; note how the exercises feel, which can help identify when a weight becomes too easy or a particular grip starts to feel less challenging.

Over time, you'll have a comprehensive record that shows how far you've come, which is incredibly satisfying and motivating.

Moreover, this log allows you to apply progressive overload strategically by incrementally increasing the weights, adjusting the reps, or varying the rest periods to ensure that your muscles are continually challenged.

This progressive approach is vital for long-term growth and improvement.

A workout log can also be an invaluable resource when you face inevitable setbacks like injuries or plateaus.

By reviewing your past workouts, you can often pinpoint what changes led to improvements and what may have contributed to any issues.


In the pursuit of a stronger, more defined upper chest, the right exercises paired with strategic variations and meticulous progress tracking make all the difference.

Dedication to this approach will not only enhance your physique but also ensure that each workout brings you one step closer to your fitness goals.

Keep pressing forward, and the results will follow.