If you’re trying to build a strong chest and pack on mass, it helps to need to know that some of your go-to moves may be terrible choices. On the flip side, there are some underappreciated exercises that every guy should be adding into his lifting routine.
That’s what Athlean-X founder Jeff Cavaliere C.S.C.S. is breaking down in this YouTube video. Cavaliere ranks 15 chest exercises from worst to best—and you may be surprised at the order of his picks and the reasoning behind them. He offers his guidelines and criteria on how he ranks each move, along with tips for how to integrate the exercises (or why you should leave them off your programming) so that you can have success in your chest day training.
Here are his picks from worst to best.
“I understand that Arnold loves these, but just because Arnold loves the fly (and I love Arnold), doesn’t mean that I have to love the fly,” says Cavaliere.
According to Cavaliere, doing this exercise in an unsupported way on a bench increases the risk of injury to the anterior shoulder capsule, and can also increase your risk of a pec tear.
Standing Cable Press
“The issue with the standing cable press is that it provides more of a challenge to your core than the muscles you’re actually trying to build,” says Cavaliere.
He notes that regardless of foot position and stance, you likely are using your core more than your chest.
60-Degree Incline Bench Press
According to Cavaliere, this move really shifts the work more to your front delts.
“The angle of the incline bench press matters, a lot. Taking too steep an angle on the bench shifts the majority of the work to the front deltoid rather than the chest,” says Cavaliere.
The WTF Blaster
“No…time hasn’t made it any better. It’s still f*cking stupid,” says Cavaliere. “This just needs no explanation. It was dumb then, it’s still dumb now.”
“The standard pushup is just not challenging enough,” says Cavaliere. “It’s simply not driving enough of a stimulus to cause change in the size of your chest because you can do too many of them.”
Compared to the Bench Fly, Cavaliere is a much bigger fan of the floor fly because it gives you a chance to have resisted adduction with the floor acting as a safety net, protecting your anterior shoulder. You can also increase your weight and create more overload.
Underhand DB Bench Press
This move is overlooked but deserves a second look, according to Cavaliere.
“The underhand dumbbell bench press gives those without an incline bench an opportunity to train their upper chest,” he says.
He notes you may not be able to load this move as much, but that shouldn’t deter you.
“Don’t underestimate the power of this move but you better have the shoulder mobility in order to do it right,” he says.
“This pushup variation gives you additional relative adduction to stimulate chest growth even better,” says Cavaliere. “Less pushups here, but more from it.”
“This gives you more adduction by getting your hands slightly across the midline, and also gives you peak tension where you lose it in flys,” says Cavaliere. “You can load it heavier, but balance might limit the amount of weight you can use.”
Bench Cable Press
When your goal is hypertrophy (and not strength), this is one of Cavaliere’s favorite moves.
“It provides you with a better strength curve with more resistance throughout because of the use of the cables,” says Cavaliere. “It maintains its perpendicularity throughout a greater range of motion than a typical bench press.”
DB Upper Chest Pullovers
This moves doesn’t just hit the lats, according to Cavaliere. You just need to position it right (low to high to activate the chest) with a squeeze of the elbows together (adduction) to light this up.
“The upper chest pullover is a unique chest exercise that you need to be sure to try at least once if you’re looking for better recruitment of the upper chest fibers and all you have is a flat bench,” says Cavaliere.
Dip (weighted optional and twisting optional)
“For me, the dip is the best version of a pushup,” says Cavaliere. “The dip is essentially a suspended pushup.”
He likes this because you can also easily load it for progressive overload. You can also add a small twist for a little extra adduction.
Heavy 1-Arm Crossovers
This unilateral version of the exercise offers much more stability.
“This eliminates balance limitations and allows your core to take a back seat to the muscle you’re actually trying to build,” says Cavaliere.
He encourages you to go heavy for this move.
30-45 Degree Incline Bench Press
“The perfect angle to engage the upper chest without over activating the front delt is going to be the 30-45 degree angle,” says Cavaliere. “It’s the chest you’re tryin got grow, not your shoulders.”
Barbell Bench Press / DB Bench Press
Cavaliere loves both of these moves.
“There simply is no better chest exercise for building a big chest than either version of the basic bench press. While they are limited a bit into adduction they still allow for the most weight to be lifted and the best opportunity for progressive overload and therefore reign supreme.”
He notes you can drive both strength and hypertrophy by overloading this movement. However, he has an even better way to maximize results with this move.
“If you want to make it even better however, combine the 1-arm crossover as a drop set after a set of either version of bench press to get that perfect compliment and take your chest gains to a whole new level,” says Cavaliere.
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