Last week I talked about the best exercise for triceps, so it makes sense for chest to be next. Chest is one of the more sought after muscles to put size on, as a small chest on a guy is like a small burger at a restaurant known for helping people when they’re bulking. Quite a few bodybuilders have very notable chest development, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s having been one of the greatest, in my opinion.
But back to the topic, the best exercise for chest development is the barbell bench press. This compound exercise allows you to hit the pectorals with heavier weight than other chest exercises, which is one thing that makes it so great. This is why in just about any workout program, you will find barbell bench press or some variation.
The setup for a barbell bench press is with your hands a little outside shoulder width apart, to the point where when the bar is almost touching your chest, your forearms are completely vertical, not bent inward or outward by much if at all. (Wider and closer grips will be discussed in just a minute.) Retract your scapula and push your shoulders into the bench. This may cause a slight curve in the lower back, but make sure it is not too high of an arc, maybe an inch off the bench. Keep your bum on the bench the whole time, and keep your feet flat on the floor for a strong foundation. Lower the bar toward the lower portion of the chest, almost touching it, but not quite. Unlike with the close-grip bench for triceps, you’re going to want to keep your elbows flared out more, but they do not have to be directly in line with the bar. Push the bar back up, focusing all of your energy on pushing through the chest and squeezing it at the top. Finish just short of lockout to keep the chest under tension rather than the elbows.
There are many different variations of the bench press. Close-grip variations can include having your elbows flared out to work a little more of the inner chest, but it also incorporates more of the triceps. Wide-grip variations may target more of the outer pecs and the front deltoids. Other variations can be made with the angle, including incline bench press for the clavicular portion of the chest, or decline bench, for the lowest portion of the chest. Dumbbells can also be used, although these are more used to working out muscle imbalances as they work each pec separately.
One of the downfalls to the bench press is the range of motion. With the chest function being pushing and reaching across your body (like in cable crossovers,) the bench press only provides for one of these functions, unless you have a special bar with handles that slide, which most of us probably do not. In order to get the fullest contraction with a bench press, even if it means lower weight, you can use dumbbells, which allow you to bring the dumbbells together at the top and provide a fuller contraction. But all in all, bench press is definitely the best exercise for developing a manly chest. (It’s also great for women, of course.)