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9 Essential Chest Exercises for Women for Gym and Home Workouts

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Why are chest exercises important for women?

The chest is one of the most important muscle groups for women and also one of the most neglected. The chest muscles are extremely important for everyday movements, such as heavy lifting, posture, and the ability to move your arms and shoulders around efficiently. 

There are also cosmetic benefits like helping to hold up the breasts, which make them look firmer and rounder because they’ll be held up by stronger chest muscles.

Physiology of Your Chest

There are two main muscle groups to focus on in your chest. The first is pectoral major which is the superior fan-like muscles around your chest and the other is pectoral minor which lays below pectoral major. Pectoral major is the muscle responsible for doing most of the work when weightlifting. The pectoral minor is mainly used during pressing exercises.

Exercising Your Chest

When exercising your chest muscles, it’s important to incorporate a wide array of exercises into your routines. The body gets acclimated to an exercise over time, so by changing up how you work the same muscles it helps the body become strong and work more efficiently.

You can do this by rotating between using machines, body-weighted and free weight exercises. For example, one-week free weights, the second week machine, then in the third week switch to body weight exercises. This can be rearranged and alternated daily or weekly, to optimize strength training for any muscle group. You can track your workouts and muscle group usage with Hevy!

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own chest workouts with Hevy, and track your progress.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own chest workouts with Hevy, and track your progress – for free.

Another important thing is to mix compound exercises (exercises that work more than one muscle group) and isolated exercises (exercises that only work one muscle group). By doing this you’ll create a well-rounded workout routine and help prevent boredom.

Chest Exercises, Form and Equipment

The research suggests that the 3 best exercises for working the chest muscles are bench press, pec deck machine and the bent-over cable crossovers.

Free-weight Exercises

Bench press

This exercise was chosen because research suggests that this would be the number one exercise to work the chest muscles. This exercise will create a high degree of activation in the pectoral major muscles. 

Bench Press – Works chest, shoulders, and triceps.
  • Start with a light weight and slowly build your way up depending on how the first couple reps feel. If it is too light, add on weight slowly till you find the right amount of weight for your ability. 
  • Lay down on the bench on your back. Have your eyes directly under the bar. Place your feet flat on the ground and engage your core. 
  • Arch your lower back slightly and have your shoulder blades firmly planted onto the bench.
  • Put your hands around the bar with your pinky finger in the smooth parts of the bar. Grip the bar firmly with your hold palm. 
  • Slowly lift the bar off the rack and press your arms into a straight position until the bar is directly over your breastbone. 
  • As you breathe in, slowly lower the bar till it is just above your chest. As you breathe out, push the bar away from you to bring it back to the starting position. 

The bench press exercise is a staple for popular workout programs like the 3 Day Split, Upper Body Split or the Push Pull Legs (PPL).

Dumbbell Flies Laying Down

This is an isolated exercise that works the major pectoral muscles. It creates less activation than a bench press exercise but is still an excellent exercise to work on your chest strength. 

  • Make sure to start with a low weight if you have not done this before because it can easily cause injury. Recommend to start with 5 pounds (2.26 kilograms) and work your way up. 
  • Have the weights resting on your thighs as you find your way to your back. Lay flat on your back on the bench and have your feet firmly planted on the ground. Do not arch your back. 
  • Bring the weights up directly above your chest with palms facing inwards. 
  • As you exhale bring your arms down to the sides, keeping them straight. Bring them down to be parallel with the ground at about shoulder height. 
  • As you exhale, slowly bring them back up to the starting position. 

Machine

Pec Deck

This exercise is a machine version of the previous free weight exercise “Dumbbell flies laying down.” It will be a good choice when changing up from free weights to machine workouts. It is the second most effective exercise for chest activation, according to research and is an isolated exercise. 

  • Adjust the weight accordingly and plant your feet firmly on the ground. 
  • Put your arms on the pads on a 90° angle, about shoulder height. 
  • Exhale while bringing the pads towards the midline, in front of your body. Inhale as you slowly bring it back to the starting position. 

Cable Crossovers

It is a good choice for a machine workout because it is a compound exercise that works the chest muscles as well as the arms. The combination of these two machine exercises will give you one isolated exercise and one compound exercise, which will create a well-rounded chest workout. 

  • Adjust the weight, to your preferred setting.
  • Hold the handles in each hand and move forward a step or two, while holding the handles.
  • Have feet at shoulder width apart or a bit more and stagger your stance (have one foot slightly in front of the other)
  • Bring arms straight out in front of the body, at hip level. With palms together and facing each other.
  • Inhale while slowly bringing the arms simultaneously upwards and out to the side, keeping them straight.
  • Exhale while bringing the arms back to the start position.

Bodyweight

Push up

Push-ups are a great body weight exercise to activate the chest muscles. There are also multiple different variations of the push up to choose from, such as declined/ inclined push up or a stability ball push up. The following instructions are how to do a standard push up on your feet or kneeling. It is not uncommon for women to have difficulty performing a push up on your feet without losing form. If this is an issue, then start with a kneeling push up.

push up plant woman yoga
  • Lay on your stomach and firmly plant hands directly under the shoulders.
  • Keep the core, thighs, and glutes engaged. Exhale, then press arms into a straight position and keep the body in a straight line from head to feet. If on knees, keep body straight from head to knees.
  • Inhale and lower down so that the arms are at 90 degrees.
  • Repeat this as many times as possible while keeping proper form.

If building up strength is something you’re interested in, we’ve written several guides on popular workout programs like the 4 day split, or 5 day split.

Plank

The plank is a great compound exercise which helps strengthen the entire body, including the chest muscles. There are also many variations to prevent boredom. Modification can be used to suit any fitness level, for example using knees instead of feet. On top of strengthening, the plank will help with flexibility and posture by strengthening the core and stretching the hamstrings and the back body. 

white background plank woman
  • Lay on your stomach, plant your hands and forearms on the ground, so your elbows are directly underneath your shoulders. 
  • Curl your toes under.     
  • Push your body upwards. Keep your core, glutes and thighs engaged to keep your body in a straight line.
  • Hold for as long as you can

Chest Stretches and Mobility

It’s important to perform chest stretches regularly to keep mobility in these muscles, to help maintain a good posture and keep the shoulders from rolling forward.

Laying Down Parallel Arm Stretch

This stretch is excellent to do before and after doing any weight training on the chest muscles. It will help prevent injury by stretching and warming up the pectoral minor/major muscles and will help with reducing soreness the day after. 

  • Lay down on your stomach and extend one arm straight out to the side, so it’s in line with the shoulder.
  • Use the opposite arm to push the body towards the extended arm. Use the leg on the opposite side of the extended arm as a kick stand behind the straightened leg, roll onto the shoulder joint.
  • Repeat this on both sides and hold for at least 30 seconds.

Arm Across Chest

This movement is stretching the muscles in the opposite direction than the previous stretch “Laying down parallel arm stretch”. By performing both these stretches before and after weightlifting it will significantly help prevent the tightening in the chest muscles that can cause the shoulder to roll forward.

  • Extend both arms straight out in front of the body.
  • Bend one arm to 90 degrees and hook it around the elbow of the opposite arm.
  • Pull the straight arm across the chest with the bent arm.
  • Repeat on both sides and hold for at least 30 seconds.

Child’s Pose With Arms Extended On Fingertips

A traditional child’s pose would not stretch the chest muscles but when you extend the arms and come up onto the fingertips, the stretch will move into the chest area. Like the other two previous chests stretches it is best to perform this before and after. This will also stretch out other parts of your body, such as the muscles that run along the spinal cord and the hamstrings. 

  • Kneel and sit back onto the knees.
  • Bring the chest to your knees and extend the arms out in front, along the ground.
  • Either keep knees together or spreading knees but keeping the toes together. Spreading the knees will give more space to move further into the stretch.
  • Come up onto fingertips and actively move the head towards the ground.
  • Hold for at least 30 seconds.

Wrapping Things Up

Working the chest muscles does not just have cosmetic benefits, it also helps improve our ability to move around efficiently and reduces the chance of injury. It will make carrying and lifting in your day-to-day life much easier. 

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own chest workouts with Hevy, and track your progress.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

Create your own chest workouts with Hevy, and track your progress – for free.

To ensure the muscles do not get acclimatized, it is important to alternate between free weights, machine, and body-weighted exercise. Making sure you are incorporating compound and isolated exercises into a routine in order to ensure a well-rounded workout. Tracking your workouts with an app like Hevy, will help you stay on track.

  • A stronger chest wall will hold up the breasts more efficiently.
  • Strong chest muscles will help with heavy lifting and the ability to move your arms around more efficiently.
  • Two main muscle groups in the chest are pectoral major and minor.
  • Stretching before and after chest strength training will help prevent tightening in the muscles that can cause the shoulders to roll forward.
  • Alternate between body weight, machine, and free weight workouts.
  • Incorporate compound and isolated exercises.
  • Start at a low weight and work your way up, especially if you are new to exercising the chest muscles.

The chest is a particularly important muscle group for women to strengthen which we tend to neglect. Increasing the strength in the chest muscles will help improve your athletic ability, posture, and everyday activities. 

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