2 Chest Exercises That May Be Wasting Your Time and 7 to Try Instead

Choose wisely, and you could build a stronger chest with these expert-backed exercise picks.
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Whether or not your goal is to look like The Rock, everyone can benefit from building up the muscles in the chest. Not only does having a strong chest help with your posture, but it can also aid with overall upper-body strength.

Often referred to as the pecs (short for pectorals), the chest is made up of two primary muscles: the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. The major is the larger of the two, a fan-shaped muscle that makes up most of the chest wall. The minor lies underneath, and plays a huge role in functioning of the shoulder.

"Your pecs play a very important role in shoulder flexion, horizontal adduction and internal rotation," Nate Feliciano, owner and head of training at private fitness studio Studio 16 in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Having strong pecs is important because it's either a synergist or a prime mover in many pushing movements. The stronger you get in those pushing movements, the more muscle you build."

And the more muscle you build, the more calories you burn, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Plus, as you increase the amount of muscle you have, you'll also increase your resting metabolic rate, or the number of calories you burn each day outside of physical activity, since muscle is more metabolically active than fat.

So let's cut to the chase: We know your time is valuable, and you want to get the most bang for your buck if you're going to invest time in building your chest. That's why we tapped top experts for their feedback on the biggest chest-building mistakes and their top-rated chest exercises.

2 Chest Exercises You’re Probably Doing Wrong

There are several exercises that you can choose from when it comes to building a bigger chest. However, many of the most popular picks are executed in the wrong way, which may lead to injury.

The other issue is that you may not be fully activating the muscles of your chest, Prince Brathwaite, owner of Trooper Fitness in New York City, tells LIVESTRONG.com. Here are two chest exercises that you may be doing wrong (and thus, wasting your time), and how to fix them:

1. Dumbbell Chest Fly

  1. Lie face up on a weight bench. Holding a dumbbell in each hand, extend your arms straight up toward the ceiling. Bend your elbows slightly, palms facing each other.
  2. Keep a slight bend in your arms as you open your arms out and down, squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  3. Lower your fists until they're just above the height of your chest. Because the bend to your arm does not change, your fists should be very wide at the lowest point of the exercise.
  4. Slowly press the weights back up to the starting position.

The mistake: If you're not creating a wide enough arc, you could be achieving minimal chest activation at the top of the movement. This also challenges shoulder stability, Brathwaite says.

"If I'm working on my chest, I want to create as much time under tension throughout the movement on the targeted muscle," he says. "This doesn't do much of that, so typically I'll choose a different exercise."

2. Classic Push-Up

  1. From a high plank, keep your back flat, abs tight, butt down and shoulders rotated so that the crooks of the elbows face slightly forward. This position ensures that your core is engaged and that your shoulders are in the position that's the least likely to cause pain.
  2. Bend your elbows at a 45-degree angle from your torso and lower your chest to the floor, making sure to keep the body in one straight line from neck through spine to hips to heels.
  3. Push the floor away from you to come back up, keeping the body in one straight line.

The mistake: Taking the elbows out too wide to the point that they're parallel or anatomically higher than your actual shoulder joint, says Brathwaite. "This puts a very unnecessary strain on the shoulder." Instead, elbows should be pointing at an angle that is anatomically aiming downward.

Another common mistake? Jutting your head forward so as to restrict the ability for your chest to touch the floor for a full range of motion. Instead, look just ahead of your body (front of chin toward ground) to correct this position and allow for room to fully lower toward the ground during your push-up.

7 Other Great Exercises to Build Your Chest

Ready to get to work? Try adding these chest exercises into your regular routine. One note: Before you load up heavy with weight, make sure you get your form down first. This way, you'll be less likely to injure yourself and make bigger gains over time.

1. Close-Grip Incline Dumbbell Chest Press

  1. Lie down on a bench at a slight incline. Plant your feet on the floor, directly under your knees and point your feet straight or angled out at 45 degrees.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand above your chest, wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Contract your glutes (but don't lift them off the bench) and drive your feet into the ground as you press the weights up and slightly back toward your head. Press until your elbows are straight.
  4. Lower the weights back down to your chest with control.

Tip

Make sure you’re squeezing the dumbbells together while pressing up so that you get full activation of your pecs, Feliciano says.

2. Resistance Band Chest Fly

  1. Lie down on a bench (or the floor) with a resistance band folded in half. Grab each end with one hand.
  2. With a slight bend in your elbows, rotate your shoulders so your elbows point out to the sides and your palms face each other. This is the starting position.
  3. Lower the band to the sides of your chest in an arcing motion until you feel a mild stretch (not pull or pain) in your chest.
  4. Exhale as you reverse the motion and use your chest muscles to press the band back to start.

Tip

Make this the first exercise on chest day to fire up your pecs, Feliciano says. This will ensure your chest is engaged during exercises like the bench press.

3. Bench Press

  1. Place the bar on the racking pins and load it with the appropriate amount of weight plates. Add a weight collar on each end to hold the plates in place. (Alternatively, you can use two dumbbells.)
  2. Lie flat on your back on the bench, just short of placing your eyes underneath the bar. Ideally, your feet will rest flat on the floor to either side of the bench.
  3. Reach up and grasp the bar in an overhand grip and lift the bar from the rack. Keep your arms straight as you shift the bar so that it's directly over your chest.
  4. Keep your shoulder blades retracted (think "shoulders back and down") to form a stable base as you bend your arms, lowering the bar toward your chest. For a conservative range of motion, stop when your elbows break the plane of the bench you're lying on.
  5. Press your feet into the floor for stability as you press the weight back up over your chest, completing one rep.

4. Dumbbell Hex Press

  1. Lie down on a bench. Plant your feet on the floor, directly under your knees and point your feet straight or angled out at 45 degrees.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand above your chest. Palms should be facing each other and dumbbells should be touching.
  3. Drive your feet into the ground as you press the weights up. Press until your elbows are straight.
  4. Lower the weights back down to your chest with control.

Tip

Be sure to intentionally squeeze the dumbbells toward each other at the top for maximal pectoral activation, Brathwaite says.

5. Eccentric Incline Dumbbell Chest Press

  1. Lie down on a bench set to a 45-degree incline. Plant your feet on the floor, directly under your knees and point your feet straight or angled out at 45 degrees.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand above your chest, wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Contract your glutes (but don't lift them off the bench) and drive your feet into the ground as you press the weights up and slightly back toward your head. Press until your elbows are straight.
  4. Lower the weights back down to your chest with control. Focus on slowly lowering the weight for a count of 4 before pressing back up at your regular tempo.

6. Dumbbell Pullover

  1. Place a dumbbell on a flat bench, then sit down in front of a bench. Place your upper back on the bench, keeping your hips slightly flexed. Grab the dumbbell with both hands under the head of the dumbbell.
  2. Move the dumbbell over your chest and keep a slight bend in your elbows. This is your starting position.
  3. Keep your elbows slightly bent throughout and lower the dumbbell behind your head, until upper arms are in-line with your torso.
  4. Pull the dumbbell up and over your chest, back to the starting position.

Tip

Don’t go past your head when doing dumbbell pullovers, Feliciano says. "It’s not needed to engage your chest and it’s dangerous on your shoulders if you lack mobility."

7. Deficit Push-Up

  1. Set yourself up in a high plank at the top of a push-up position, with your hands on two raised platforms (like books, dumbbells or weight plates). Keep your back flat, abs tight, butt down and shoulders rotated so that the crooks of the elbows face slightly forward.
  2. From the plank, bend your elbows in toward your body and lower your chest to the floor, making sure to keep the body in one straight line from neck through spine to hips to heels.
  3. Push the floor away from you to come back up, keeping the body in one straight line.

Tip

Be sure to drop your chest below the raised platforms to actually get the extra muscle activation through a fuller range of motion, Brathwaite says.

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