Chest Training and Anatomy for Dummies


  • Chest training is thought of in three parts: upper, middle, and lower
  • When you perform chest exercises, all three parts are being exercised
  • Adjust the angle of your exercise (flat, incline, decline) to adjust which part of the chest is most affected by the exercsie
  • Use dumbbell exercises to focus on developing your muscles
  • Use barbell exercises to boost the amount of weight you can press
  • Ideally, you want to use both dumbbell and barbells to get an ideal chest training results

Chest Anatomy

The chest is made up of two parts; the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.

Pectoralis Major

  • Begins on your collar bone (clavicle) and your sternum
  • Connects into your upper arm (humerus)

Pectoralis Minor

  • Begins on ribs 1-5
  • Connects into your scapula

Chest Function

Pec Major

  • Flexes your arm at the shoulder
  • Rotates your arm at your shoulder
  • Moves your arm in towards your body the shoulder

Pec Minor

  • Pulls your scapula forwards and downwards

Chest Training Tips

When exercising and training your chest, almost all exercises that use the common pressing motion will activate your upper chest and lower chest. However, you will be able to place more focus on the upper or lower parts of the chest based on whether you have an increased incline or decline.

Should I Use Barbells or Dumbbells?

Like all things, it depends. If you are interested in building your lifting weight, you will benefit from using barbells. If you are interested in overall growth in appearance, it will benefit you to use dumbbells. Because dumbbells are more free moving when you press them, you will have a larger range of motion and also activate stabilizer muscles more. Specifically, dumbbells will allow you to keep your arms wider as you get towards the bottom, making the stretch you get a little deeper than barbells. Also, you may notice that barbell exercises activate your triceps a little bit more, reducing your chest training effectiveness.

If you are training with dumbbells, you can further increase effectiveness by pronating your arms as you go down. The pec major is attached to your humerus, and in responsible for rotation of your arm. If you pronate your arms slightly, this will activate that function and help you achieve the maximum contraction of your chest. As you go down, your hands will supinate. As you go up, your hands will pronate. This will give you the maximum contraction and stretch by allowing you the full range of motion.

If you are training with barbells, focus on adding on more weight. Because the barbell chest training involves your triceps and deltoids in addition to your chest, you will have more strength to use while lifting.

Ideally, when training, you will want to have a combination of three to four barbell and dumbbell exercises ranging from flat to incline to decline.

Training Your Upper Chest

It is pretty easy to skip and under develop your upper chest. If upper chest training is what you want, you should start incorporating exercises that have an incline. Ideally, you should aim for an incline that activates your upper chest but does not overly activate your deltoids. This is typically around 40 degrees. You will have to experiment to find your ideally level of incline, but as soon as your deltoids start to tire out before your chest, you will know to drop the degrees of incline.

  • Incline Bench Press with Dumbbells
  • Inline Bench Press with Barbell
  • Incline Flys with Dumbbells/Cables

Incline bench with dumbbells gives you a comprehensive range of motion. Not only does it allow you to go down far to stretch your muscles, but you will also be able to contract your chest fully as you reach the top. When you reach the top, keep roughly an inch between the dumbbells and focus on keeping control of the dumbbells throughout the whole exercise.

For incline bench press, you will want to focus on getting the barbell close to the chest, but still leaving about an inch or two from touching. If you go lower, you will stress and add weight onto your rotator cuff, which can cause shoulder injury.

Flys are also a popular exercise. Like incline bench with dumbbells, focus on going down fully and contracting as your bring the dumbbells or cable together. Don’t touch the cables or dumbbells together when you reach the top and focus on contracting your chest during the movement up and stretching your chest on the downward movement.

Training Your Middle Chest

Focus on presses at no incline or decline to hit the middle of your chest. As you do each exercise, keep in mind the squeezing and stretching of the chest as you move.

  • Flat Bench Press with Dumbbells
  • Flat Bench Press with Barbell
  • Flat Flys with Dumbbell/Cable
  • Push Ups
  • Chest Dips

Both dumbbell and barbell bench press are popular and effective exercises for growing and developing your chest. With barbell bench press, you will want the barbell to make contact with your chest when you go down. If your form is good, this will not cause too much stress to the shoulders. However, you should be careful about using a wide grip and positioning your elbows outward. Even though this form is good for building your chest, you definitely will be adding additional stress to your shoulders as well. Ultimately this can lead to shoulder injury when you are lifting heavier weights. Keep your elbows tucked in towards your body while bench pressing to avoid injury.

For bench press with dumbbells, try to keep the same things in mind as you did with incline press with dumbbells. Get the barbell close to the chest, but leave about an inch or two away from touching. If you go lower, you will stress and add weight onto your rotator cuff, which can cause shoulder injury.

For beginners and advanced gym-goers alike, push-ups can greatly enhance your workout. If you are advanced user, try incorporating them as a way to cap off your chest day or throw them into a superset with flys. For a beginner, you can use pushups to help develop your chest for bench press without having to use weights.

Training Your Lower Chest

In addition to upper-chest, your lower chest can also be easily not trained. Here are a few great exercises to address the lower chest.

  • Decline Bench Press with Dumbbells
  • Decline Bench Press with Barbell
  • Decline Flys with Dumbbells/Cables

Decline bench has been shown to create more chest activation than flat and incline. In addition, it is more isolated from your shoulders, reducing the chances of shoulder injury. Although some find decline a little uncomfortable feeling, you should try adding it into your routine to train your lower chest. Try to follow the same advice with decline presses as with the other presses. With dumbbells, try to stop an inch or two above the chest. With barbell, it is okay to touch the chest with the barbell at the bottom of the movement.

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