Top 3 Exercises To Build Upper Chest Muscles

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

| Published on

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Developing strong, defined upper chest muscles is an admirable goal and can be achieved through proper exercise and form. 

With the right guidance, anyone looking to build their upper chest can do so with only a few essential exercises. 

In this article, we will discuss three highly effective exercises to build upper chest muscles, so you can complete your transformation.

Without further ado, let’s get into the sauce of this article!

Why Your Chest Matters

A strong and well-developed chest is essential to any physique for several reasons. 

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Having a wide, toned chest gives a person an overall more complete look and allows them to appear more physically fit and healthy. 

Additionally, having stronger chest muscles increases pushing power and provides greater stability for lifting heavier weights.

Not to mention, the upper chest is perhaps one of the most respected parts of the front portion of the body – this is simply because most people just don’t have it!

Chest Anatomy

To understand how to train your chest and target the upper chest more specifically, you need to first understand the anatomy of the chest musculature.

The chest consists of two major muscle groups: the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. 

Firstly, the pectoralis major is a large, fan-shaped muscle located at the front of the rib cage.

This superficial muscle group has 3 main zones:

  1. Clavicular – also known as the upper chest
  2. Costal – also known as the lower chest
  3. Sternal – also known as the mid portion of the chest

Now, though a single zone of the chest (or any other muscle group for that matter) can’t be isolated, there is a rule of thumb to remember – the different portions of the different muscle groups can be emphasized via a change in the working angle of an exercise.

The pectoralis major is mainly involved during pushing movements and also helps bring the arms closer to the center of the body.

On the other hand, the pectoralis minor lies underneath the pec major and is responsible for rotational movement and shoulder stabilization.

Developing both these muscle groups with exercises can result in an impressive upper chest definition.

Chest Synergists

Yes, the chest is quite big on its own, but it’s important to remember that it works as part of a chain of muscles.

The triceps and the shoulders work in synergy with the chest muscles, each contributing to an effective chest workout. 

This is just a hint here – including multi-joint movements for your chest, may just be the key to finding the best exercises to build upper chest muscles.

Because, after all… the more muscles work together, the more weight you can lift, and the greater the stimulus for growth.

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Upper Chest Muscle Building Fundamentals

Let’s be real now – building muscle is about taking simple concepts and pushing them to the extreme. 

It’s not about the next best exercise to build upper chest muscles, nor is there any secret to building muscle, as a whole. 

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It mostly means adhering to tried and tested principles, that most serious athletes utilize.

Taking these simple concepts to extreme lengths will lead not only to physical gains but also to a sense of mental satisfaction that comes when goals are achieved.

Let’s have a look at the 3 muscle-building fundamentals, which you can apply not to just exercises to build upper chest muscles, but to any and all exercises that you do in the gym.

Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is the number one principle of muscle building. It refers to increasing the tension on your muscles by steadily manipulating certain variables in a workout.

This is mainly done in a couple of ways:

  1. Adding more weight
  2. Doing more reps
  3. Increasing the number of sets
  4. Decreasing the duration of rest between sets
  5. Upping your training frequency 

By doing this consistently and gradually over time, you will provide a stimulus to your muscle which it needs in order to grow and become stronger. 

This is one of the most important principles to follow in any strength or muscle-gaining training program.

This is simply true because muscle growth is the body’s way of saying, “okay, I’ve never gone through this, so I might as well be prepared for more next time.

Rest Times

One of the most fundamental things for muscle growth is getting enough rest between sets. 

Shorter rest periods (less than 90 seconds) may quickly lead to a decrease in performance, while longer rest times of up to 3 minutes can delay fatigue and help you maximize your quality performance in each set. 

To ensure this is happening, it’s important to keep track of rest times and adjust if necessary. 

Taking sufficient breaks between sets will not only improve your performance in a single workout but also your overall progress over time.

Why? Because delaying fatigue and performing better means you will do more total work over time.

Recovery Windows

Last but not least, let’s talk recovery windows.

As you probably know, recovery is crucial for muscle gaining – in order for your muscles to rest and repair, it’s necessary to allow each muscle group at least 48-72 hours before training it again directly. 

During this time, your body will be able to make adaptations and increases in strength much better than if you were to constantly work out with minimal recovery. 

In addition, proper rest will also help decrease the chances of burn-out or injury over the long term.

In short, if you train your chest on Monday, you can do so again around Thursday – Friday.

3 Exercises To Build Upper Chest Muscles

Now that we have all the fundamentals out of the way, it’s time to move on to the 3 exercises to build upper chest muscles.

Because of how the chest functions during certain movements, we have two types of exercises – Presses and an exercise that involves bringing the arms closer to the center line of the body.

Note that the latter is especially important because you can’t completely rely on pressing to get a bigger chest!

In fact, if you’ve done cable crossovers or any other similar exercise where the arms come closer to the center line of the body, you know how pump-worthy these movements are!

Let’s have a look now, shall we?

Incline Barbell Presses

Incline presses are a great exercise for the upper chest, as they involve a large range of motion and emphasize the upper portion of the pectoral muscles.

When performing an incline press, the arms move further overhead than with other bench press variations. 

This forces the upper chest muscles to take on more of the load.

To maximize its effectiveness, proper form should be used throughout in order to ensure that all motion is being performed correctly.

Here’s how to do the exercise with a barbell:

  1. Lie down on the incline bench
  2. Plant your feet on the ground, comfortably 
  3. Grab the bar wider than shoulder width
  4. Un-rack the bar and keep your head on the bench
  5. Let the bar come down until it is above your mid-chest, closer to the upper chest
  6. Avoid flaring your elbows
  7. Push the bar back up without letting it rest on your chest
  8. At the top, avoid locking out the elbows and repeat the movement

Incline Cable Flys

Incline cable flys are an excellent exercise for targeting the upper chest muscles. 

Much like the previous movement, this exercise relies on an incline-angled bench.

As opposed to the incline press, though, this specific exercise utilizes the lesser-emphasized function of the chest – bringing the arms closer to the center line of the body.

Here are the execution steps:

  1. Place a bench in the middle of the cable machine
  2. Set the bench to an incline, 45-degree angle
  3. Grab the lower handles of the cable machine
  4. Lay down on the bench
  5. Open your arms out so that the palms are facing the ceiling
  6. Bring your arms up without bending the elbow (just keep the elbow slightly bent)
  7. At the top, squeeze the chest
  8. Come back down and repeat

Overhead Presses

Last but not least, we have the famous OHP!

The overhead press is predominantly a shoulder exercise, but it can also target the upper chest muscles. 

And let’s be real – there’s nothing that completes your upper body development better than a set of boulder shoulders and a well-developed upper chest.

This is why we advise most of our trainees to not just do their incline presses, but also focus on the OHPs.

Here’s how you do a proper OHP:

  1. Rack the barbell at the height of your shoulders
  2. Grab the bar at shoulder width, and bring your arms under it
  3. Make sure the elbows are in front of the line of the bar, and close to your torso
  4. Un-rack the bar, step back, and stand steadily on your feet
  5. Press the bar up and over your head, all the way up
  6. Come back down slowly to the initial position
  7. Repeat!


To sum up, the best exercises to build upper chest muscles are incline presses, incline cable flys, and overhead presses. 

When performing these exercises, proper form and posture are key to targeting the right muscles. 

With regular practice and dedication, you will soon have a strong upper chest to complete your physique!

So what are you waiting for? Get under the bar!

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