For a stronger chest, it can be tricky to get the kind of isolation needed if you're relying on gym machines — but fortunately, a simple barbell can give you what you need, according to Joel Freeman, CPT, Beachbody trainer and creator of LIIFT4.
"Using a barbells allows specific isolation into the chest with heavier weights," he says. "However, the number one thing to remember is to make sure your grip is correct and your form is on point."
For that, it's helpful to start with an unloaded barbell or a PVC pipe and do exercises slowly and with control to get a feel for what's firing up and engaging. Freeman suggests keeping your hands in line with your shoulders or slightly outside so that your grip lines up with your elbows instead of flaring out.
"Target with the bar should always be the midline of the chest, away from your neck and shoulders, and range should stop when elbows are in line with your body," he says. "Anything lower increases the risk for shoulder injuries."
With that form in mind, grab your barbell and try these four chest exercises:
1. Incline Chest Press
- Lie on a bench angled to about 45 degrees and set your hands in line with your shoulders or slightly outside. Feet should be flat on the floor.
- Pinch your shoulder blades together and press them into the bench to create more stability.
- Barbell should be at mid-chest level but not resting on your chest.
- Press the barbell upward with control until your arms are straight.
- Inhale and unlock your elbows, letting the bar to descend slowly and with control in a straight line back toward your upper chest.
- Let the bar lightly touch the chest but not rest on it before going into your next rep.
“This move isolates the upper chest area, which will help give a fuller look,” Freeman says.
2. Decline Chest Press
- Lie on a decline bench and grip the barbell with your hands in line with your shoulders or slightly outside.
- Similar to an incline chest press, pinch your shoulder blades together and press them into the bench to create more stability.
- Make sure legs are in the proper position with knees bent over the decline bench pad and feet flexed under the roller. This will keep you from slipping backward.
- The barbell should be at lower-chest level but not resting heavily on your chest.
- Press upward with control until arms are straight.
- Inhale and unlock your elbows, letting the bar to descend slowly and with control in a straight line back to your lower chest.
- Lightly let the bar touch the chest but not rest on it before going into your next rep.
“With this exercise, you’ll be targeting the lower chest area, which will help give your chest a defined, well-rounded look,” says Freeman.
But because this can be a more challenging exercise to master than the incline chest press, definitely start with lighter weight or no weight on the barbell to first work on your form.
3. Bent-Arm Barbell Pullover
- Lie on your back on a flat bench and hold the barbell behind you and below your head level with elbows at 90-degree angles.
- Keep your feet flat on the floor and press your back into the bench to maintain stability.
- Raise the barbell and bring it over your chest while keeping the 90-degree bend in your elbows and your upper arms and elbows close to the body.
The unfamiliarity and surprising complexity of this move makes it another good candidate for starting with just the barbell and no weight. You can even use a light PVC pipe or a dowel until you feel comfortable with your form.
4. Alternating Landmine Fly
- Secure the barbell in a landmine attachment or any way that allows the barbell to be vertical and stable on one end while on the ground.
- Stand with feet in a comfortable stance and hold the top end of barbell in one hand.
- Step back so the barbell is at an angle that allows you to bring it halfway down to ground and to the side with a straight arm.
- With control, lower barbell toward the side, keeping your hand in line with your shoulder.
- Contract your chest as you bring the barbell back to its starting position, lined up the middle of your chest.
You can turn this into an alternating press by switching hands in the middle and bringing the barbell down to the opposite side or you can opt to do all your reps on one side before switching.