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Upper Chest Workout and 9 Exercises to Achieve Robust Pecs

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Upper chest workouts might seem redundant. After all, doesn’t the upper portion receive enough work from the many pressing and fly exercises we do? Must we give the upper chest special attention?  Yes and no.

No, because the upper chest does, indeed, work during chest and shoulder exercises. For example, if all you do is the bench press, you will grow your upper chest (1). Overhead pressing also works your upper chest, and so do most fly exercises (2).

Yes, because while most exercises target the upper chest, they rarely emphasize it. Doing a flat bench press mainly works the middle and lower pecs, while adding an incline will move the work into the upper pec. To develop the area, you need to give it enough special attention by incorporating the right exercises into your training.

Why does this matter? For one, training the upper chest allows it to develop well and leads to more balanced development – both in terms of aesthetics and strength. And secondly, this will enable us to add variety to our training, keep things fresh, and reduce the risk of overuse injuries.

Subjecting the same joints to the same type of stress can worsen their integrity. By varying the kind of stress we cause, we can keep them healthy and strong in the long run. If you are looking to create your own upper chest workout, try using Hevy.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

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

Chest Anatomy 

The chest, also known as the pectoralis major, is a large fan-shaped muscle that covers the upper front portion of your torso. It consists of two distinct areas: the clavicular and sternocostal heads.

  • Clavicular head:  it makes up the upper portion of the chest and originates from the clavicle.
  • Sternocostal head: it is much larger and makes up the middle and lower portions of the chest.
pec major anatomy upper chest workout

The two heads of the chest narrow down to a point that attaches to the humerus (upper arm bone), allowing the muscle to play a role in numerous arm motions.

All areas of the chest activate while doing the bench press, push-up, and cable fly. But, the exercises you do will determine what area is most active. The muscle fibers that make up the chest run in different directions, allowing you to preferentially target the three areas by tweaking the angle of attack.

Emphasizing the upper chest in your training is beneficial for developing balanced and muscular pectoral muscles. The simplest and most popular way to train the upper chest is by doing an incline press. 

According to research, an incline of 30- 45 degrees appears best for targeting the upper chest (source). You can perform the incline press with dumbbells, a barbell, or a Smith machine.

Other exercises that emphasize the upper portion of the chest incline the decline push-up, low cable fly, and reverse-grip bench press. Like the incline press, doing a decline push-up puts your upper chest at a mechanical advantage. 

The reverse-grip bench press is a less popular movement where you hold the barbell with an underhand grip (palms facing back). Doing so allows you to more effectively contract your upper chest at the top of each repetition.

9 Best Upper Chest Exercises

Exercise 1: Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press

Though a bit unconventional, the reverse-grip press is great because it emphasizes your upper chest and allows you to lift a decent amount of weight (5).

Muscle groups: Chest, Triceps, Biceps, Shoulders, Abs, Serratus Anterior
Equipment: Bench, Barbell, and Weight Plates

  1. Set the bench similar to how you would for a regular bench press.
  2. Lie down and grab the bar with an even, underhand (palms facing back) grip. Your grip should be slightly wider than shoulder level.
  3. Dig your shoulders into the bench, take a breath, unrack the bar, and bring it over your chest.
  4. Place your feet firmly on the floor and dig your glutes into the bench.
  5. Take a breath and lower the barbell – aim for slightly below your chest.
  6. Press the barbell in an arc-like motion, first going straight up, then pressing it back so it ends up over your chest. Exhale at the top.

Exercise 2: Incline Barbell Press

The incline press hardly needs an introduction. The exercise is effective, relatively simple to learn, and excellent for emphasizing your upper chest with significant loads (4). 

man incline bench press barbell half lifted upper chest workout

Muscle groups: Chest, Shoulders (mainly the front head), Triceps, Abs, Serratus Anterior
Equipment: Adjustable or Incline Bench, Weight Plates, and a Barbell

  1. Set the bar at a height where you can grab it without having to extend your arms fully.
  2. Lie on the bench and grab the bar with an even, overhand (palms facing forward) grip. Your grip should be slightly wider than your shoulder.
  3. Dig your feet into the floor and extend your elbows to unrack the barbell.
  4. Carefully bring it forward until it hovers over your chest.
  5. Bring your shoulders back, plant your glutes on the bench, and make sure your feet are flat on the floor.
  6. Take a breath and lower the barbell. Aim for your nipple line.
  7. Tap your chest lightly with the barbell and press it back to the starting position, exhaling on the way up.

Exercise 3: Low-to-High Cable Chest Fly

This particular fly is excellent for the upper chest because the motion of your arms is almost opposite to the fiber orientation of your upper chest. Plus, cables provide consistent tension and allow you to burn your upper chest out.

Muscle groups: Chest, Biceps, Shoulders, Serratus Anterior, Abs
Equipment: Cable Station, Pair Of Handle Attachments 

  1. Set the same amount of weight on both stacks of the cable station.
  2. Position both pulleys of the cable station to their lowest setting.
  3. Grab one handle, then walk over to the other side and grab the other one.
  4. Go back to the middle with your arms to your sides and elbows extended.
  5. Take a step or two forward to lift the weights off their stacks.
  6. Bring your shoulders back, stagger your stance, and take a breath.
  7. In one fluid motion, raise both arms from your sides to in front of your body. Maintain a slight bend in your elbows.
  8. Raise your arms until your wrists and elbows are at shoulder level, and hold the position for a moment.
  9. Carefully lower your arms to your sides as you exhale.

Exercise 4: Decline Push-Ups

The decline push-up is a fantastic bodyweight exercise that emphasizes your upper chest and is a great exercise to add to an upper chest workout. Also, because your lower body is at a higher position, you have to press a higher percentage of your body weight, making the movement more challenging.

man decline push up upper chest workout

Muscle groups: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Serratus Anterior, Abs, and Transverse Abdominis
Equipment: Plyo Box, Stool, Gym Bench, or similar

  1. Place your feet on a box, stool, bench, or another object.
  2. Extend your body and place your palms flat on the floor. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width.
  3. Straighten your arms, engage your abs, and ensure that your body is also straight as an arrow.
  4. Your shoulders, elbows, and wrists should be in a straight line. Your shoulders, hips, and knees should also be in a straight line.
  5. Take a breath and lower yourself until your face is a couple of inches from the floor.
  6. Press up, extend your elbows, and go back to the starting position. Exhale at the top.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

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

Exercise 5: Push Away Push-Ups

The simplest way to understand the push-away and push-ups are that you’re not pushing straight up and down. Instead, you’re pushing up and back, which allows you to emphasize your shoulders and upper chest more.

Muscle groups: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Abs, Serratus Anterior, Glutes
Equipment: none

  1. Go down and place your hands flat on the floor and roughly shoulder-width apart.
  2. Straighten your arms and body, assuming the typical push-up position. Your shoulders, elbows, and wrists should be in a straight line. Your body should also be straight as an arrow.
  3. Engage your abs, take a breath and lower yourself until your face is a couple of inches away from the floor.
  4. Now, instead of pushing straight up, drive through your palms and push back and up. This motion will bring your hips up and back while keeping your shoulders at a lower position.
  5. As you extend your elbows, take care you maintain a neutral spine and exhale.
  6. Take another breath and lower again by going forward and down.

Exercise 6: Incline Machine Chest Press

The incline machine press is a great assistance exercise for the upper chest. First, it’s easier to learn, which makes it great for beginners. Second, you don’t have to worry about balancing the weight, which allows you to put your entire focus on training your chest better.

Muscle groups: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Equipment: Incline Chest Press Machine

  1. Select your weight and adjust the seat of the machine. When you sit at the machine, the handles should be roughly mid-chest.
  2. Sit in the machine, grab both handles, bring your shoulders back, and plant your feet on the floor.
  3. Dig your shoulder blades into the back support of the machine, engage your abs, and take a breath.
  4. Press forward and up until your elbows extend fully.
  5. Hold the top position for a moment and slowly release the weight back to the starting position.

Exercise 7: Incline Dumbbell Fly

The incline dumbbell fly is a good isolation exercise for the chest. Similar to the incline press, the angle of your torso allows you to emphasize your upper chest.

man incline chest fly dumbbell upper chest workout

Muscle groups: Chest, Biceps, Shoulders
Equipment: Incline Bench and Pair of Dumbbells

  1. Set the bench at an incline of 30 to 45 degrees. You might have to experiment a bit to find your sweet spot.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells, sit down, and rest them on top of your thighs.
  3. While keeping the dumbbells close to your torso, lie back on the bench and extend your arms up.
  4. Bring your shoulders back, bend your elbows slightly, and take a breath.
  5. Gradually lower both dumbbells to your sides until you feel a stretch in your chest muscles.
  6. Hold for a moment and bring the dumbbells back to the top, tapping them gently. Exhale.

Exercise 8: Incline Semi-Pronated Dumbbell Press

The semi-pronated dumbbell press is a slight variation of the classic incline press. It’s not inherently special or unique, but it can help you feel your upper chest better.

Muscle groups: Chest, Triceps, Shoulders, Abs, Transverse Abdominis
Equipment: Incline Bench and a Pair of Dumbbells

  1. Set the incline of the bench at 30 to 45 degrees. Like with the fly, feel free to experiment a bit until you find your sweet spot for upper chest activation.
  2. Grab a pair of dumbbells, sit down, and rest the weights on top of your thighs.
  3. In one motion, thrust the dumbbells back as you lie down, extend your arms, and have both dumbbells over your chest and close together.
  4. Bring your shoulders back, place your feet flat on the floor, and rotate your wrists slightly until they are almost neutral (facing one another).
  5. Take a breath and lower both dumbbells to your sides.
  6. Press straight up and in to bring them back to the top and exhale.

Exercise 9: Pike Push-Ups

The pike push-up is a challenging and effective exercise you can do to emphasize your shoulders and upper chest even if you have no equipment available.

man pike push up upper chest workout

Muscle groups: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps, Abs, Serratus Anterior, Back, and Glutes
Equipment: none

  1. Begin in a standard push-up position with your body and arms straight and wrists directly beneath your shoulders.
  2. Engage your abs and bring your hips back and up until your body forms an inverted V shape.
  3. Keep your limbs straight and your back neutral.
  4. With your abs engaged, take a breath, and lower yourself to the floor.
  5. Go down until your face is a couple of inches from the floor and hold for a moment.
  6. Press through your elbows to get back to the starting position, exhaling near the top.

Upper Chest Workout

This workout is the perfect blend of compound and isolation exercises. We begin the training with a proven upper-chest exercise to lift more weight and cause significant mechanical tension. We then move down the list to another fantastic assistance movement for the upper chest.

Our goal is to use slightly less weight, focus on sound upper chest activation, and do moderate repetitions. We’ll be doing another fantastic movement that almost isolates the upper chest to finish the upper chest off. Here, we want to lift less weight, do more repetitions, and cause significant metabolic stress.

  • Reverse-Grip Barbell Bench Press – 3-4 sets of 6 to 10 reps
  • Incline Semi-Pronated Dumbbell Press – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
  • Low-to-High Cable Chest Fly – 3 sets of 15 to 20 reps

Tips to Get a Well-Defined Upper Chest 

1. Do incline pressing

Doing incline presses is the most obvious tip we can give you. Simply put, if you want to grow your upper chest, you need to do some incline pressing every week (4). 

2. Start some of your pressing workouts with the upper chest

Most people typically start their chest training with classic movements like the flat bench press. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but if you want to develop your upper chest, you need to prioritize it from time to time.

For example, start some of your workouts with incline pressing. By having your torso at an incline early on, you get to train the upper chest while you’re still fresh. 

3. Establish a mind-muscle connection

The mind-muscle connection might sound like a gimmick, but there is more to it (6). For instance, how can you ever hope to develop a muscle if you never feel it work? Each time you do an upper-chest-specific exercise, be conscious of the upper portion and try to activate and feel it work on each repetition.

incline chest fly upper chest workout
Image credit: Ryderwear

4. Do a variety of movements

Good upper chest development – and really, this applies to every muscle group – comes from a varied approach where you emphasize many exercises and train in various repetition ranges.

Myths About Upper Chest Workouts 

1. You Only Need to Bench Press For a Big Chest

We have nothing against the bench press. We consider it a fantastic exercise and recommend you do it if you can. It trains the chest well, builds pressing strength, and is fun to do.

Plus, how would you answer the question, “How much do you bench, bro?” if you don’t bench? With that said, the bench press alone is not enough to truly emphasize and develop your upper chest.

As discussed earlier, research shows that bench pressing at an incline allows for better clavicular activation (4). Plus, movements like the low-to-high chest fly also emphasize the upper chest better.

2. You Can’t Build a Solid Upper Chest At Home

Home training being ineffective is a general myth that doesn’t just apply to the upper chest. Prevailing wisdom suggests that the gym is where effective workouts happen, and home training is nothing but a poor compromise.

But here is the truth: Our muscles understand stress and tension; they don’t care where these two come from (8). Whether you’re doing a challenging push-up variation or a heavy bench press, your chest, shoulders, and triceps can’t tell the difference.

Earlier in this guide, we showed you three great exercises for the upper chest, with the only equipment being a resistance band. So long as you push yourself enough, stay consistent, and see incremental performance improvements, your upper chest will grow.

3. You Should Train the Upper Chest to Failure

Earlier in this guide, we alluded to the idea that the upper chest is smaller and more stubborn to grow. The problem is, many people correlate ‘stubborn’ with ‘I need to train that muscle to failure for it to grow.’ Often, people struggle to build up their upper chest not due to the lack of effort but because:

  • They’re not doing enough quality sets
  • They’re having a hard time activating the upper chest

Research shows that taking sets short of failure is better because the humerus portion stimulates our muscles without piling too much fatigue or stress (9, 10). So, instead of pushing each set to failure, do enough work (up to 5-8 weekly sets) and focus on the mind-muscle connection.


There we have it. Though often overlooked, giving the upper chest enough attention is vital for balanced development and strength. You might have an excellent mid and lower chest, but it will never look as prominent and developed as it otherwise can if you don’t work your upper portion enough.

The great news is, training the upper chest isn’t complex, and you don’t have to go out of your way to do that. Plenty of fantastic upper chest exercises blend seamlessly into your chest routine and result in significant progress.

Hevy – Workout Tracker

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

When asking yourself, “Am I training my upper chest well?” simply go through this checklist:

  • Are you doing an incline press variation?
  • Do you start at least some of your chest workouts with the upper pec?
  • Do you feel your upper chest activating well while training it?
  • Are you doing a variety of upper chest exercises?

Also, avoid the most common myths related to the upper chest:

  • Only needing to bench press to develop the upper portion well
  • Not being able to build an impressive chest at home
  • Having to train to failure to see positive results

Beyond training it with weights, your chest also benefits from regular stretching because that helps keep the muscle loose, promotes shoulder health, and prevents a rounded posture.

We recommend these three activities:

  • Doorway stretches
  • Wall angels
  • Overhead chest stretches

Frequently Asked Questions

How many times per week should I work out my upper chest?  

Here are some recommendations:

  • If you’ve been neglecting your upper chest, we recommend training it up to three times per week so it can catch up to your mid and lower chest.
  • If you’ve always trained it and it’s decently developed, train it twice per week, along with your mid and lower chest.
  • If you’re looking to maintain your results, you can train it once per week

What is the best workout for the upper chest with weights?

There isn’t a single best workout for your upper chest. You can pick from numerous exercises, so what matters more is that you enjoy your training, you can do the movements pain-free, and you feel your upper chest working hard.

What is the best upper chest workout without weights? 

As with gym workouts, there isn’t one best bodyweight workout you can do. With that said, it should include at least one of the three push-up variations we shared above: pike, push away, or decline push-ups.

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