Chest Workouts for Women: Exercises for a Toned Upper Body

chest workouts for women

The chest can be one of the more challenging muscle groups for women to train, but it is key for developing a toned upper body. With the right training program, women can build a stronger chest and add shape and definition to their upper bodies.

The 11 best chest exercises women can do to build their chest muscles are:

  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Barbell Incline Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Bench Press
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press
  • Machine Bench Press
  • Push-Up
  • Deficit Push Up
  • Cable Crossover Fly
  • Low Cable Chest Fly
  • Dumbbell Flye
  • Hammer Strength Chest Press

I’ll explain how to perform each of these exercises correctly, what to consider for building an effective chest workout, and share two sample workouts that you can incorporate today.

If you want to build a stronger, more defined chest, let Fitbod help.  On average, a new Fitbod user who trains 3 times a week for about 45 minutes will see a 34% strength increase after 3 months. Try Fitbod for free.

Anatomy Of The Chest Muscles

anatomy of the chest muscles

The chest is made up of two muscles, the pectoralis major and the pectoralis minor. Each assists in pressing loads away from the body and contributes to overall chest strength and shape.

Pectoralis Major

The pectoralis major is the larger of the two muscles and spans the entire chest running from the shoulder joint to the breastbone. This large muscle runs on an angle, which is why we also are able to train it from various angles to develop the upper, middle, and lower pec major.

Incline presses and flies target more of the upper pec, whereas flat presses and flies target the middle pec. Exercises like low to high flies, dips, and decline presses and flies target the lower pec. 

That said, all three areas of the chest are active, regardless of the angle, but you can shift more emphasis to one region by changing the angle at which you perform an exercise.

Pectoralis Minor

The pectoralis minor is a smaller pec muscle that lies underneath the pec major and assists in all of the same movements the pec major does and therefore responds to the same exercises that target the pec major.

Related Article: Best Chest Exercises to Build More Muscle

Benefits Of Chest Workouts For Women

Below are three benefits women can expect when incorporating chest workouts.

Increased Upper Body Strength and Function

Training the chest will improve upper body strength, especially the ability to push and press loads. Not only does this help improve performance in gym exercises like the bench press, overhead press, and push-up, but it can also help out with everyday life movements.

Having a stronger upper body can make daily tasks easier, especially if you live an active lifestyle. 

More Shape and Tone

Training the chest will improve the muscle growth and shape of the pectoral muscles, triceps, shoulders, and even your back (which works to stabilize you in pressing movements).

As you train your chest, you’ll notice your shoulders and arms becoming more defined; especially if you’re losing body fat as you strength train.

Minimize Muscle Imbalances

Training the chest can help you minimize muscle imbalances, which occur when you fail to train muscles equally.

For example, if you train your back regularly but neglect your chest, then you might have very strong lats but very weak pecs, shoulders, and triceps.

Improving the strength of your chest and triceps can also help minimize shoulder injury, which could be caused by overexertion at the shoulders to compensate for your chest and triceps being unable to push and press like they’re supposed to.

Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for Free.

11 Best Chest Exercises For Women For A Toned Upper Body

Below are 11 of the best chest exercises for women.

Each of these exercises can be found in the Fitbod app.

1. Barbell Bench Press

The barbell bench press is a compound pressing exercise (involving multiple joints and muscles working at once) that can be used to develop strength as well as muscle. 

This exercise is the most effective for helping women gain strength in their chest because it allows you to use heavier weights than you would with other free-weight movements like dumbbells. 

If you’re someone who struggles to do push-ups then the bench press is a great place to start because you can build strength using the barbell bench press to improve your ability to do push-ups in the future.

How To Do It

  • Lie your upper back on a bench, with your feet on the ground so that your heels are under your knees (or even slightly behind). 
  • Grab the bar with a slightly wider (2-3 inches) shoulder-width grip, and push your upper back into the pad, making sure to not arch your lower back too much.
  • Drive the feet into the floor, and then take a deep inhale into the stomach to brace the core.
  • Unrack the weight and hold the barbell above the chest, and then pull the weight slowly towards the base of the chest, keeping the hips on the bench.
  • Touch the barbell to the base of the chest. The elbows should be 45-70 degrees flared out from the torso.
  • Press the barbell back over your upper chest/shoulders using your chest and triceps.

Pro Tip

You can play around with where the barbell touches your chest to find what feels best on the chest and shoulder. 

If you touch too high, you will feel it more in your shoulders and less in your chest. If you are too low (touching the abdomen), you may not feel your chest at all. There is about a 1-2” range you should be aiming for, so take your time finding what feels comfortable.

2. Barbell Incline Bench Press

The barbell incline bench press is a barbell press that targets the upper chest. This is done on an incline bench and can be helpful for those who want to build more definition in their upper chest and shoulders.

When doing this, you want to ensure you are pressing the weight straight up, rather than up and out in front of you. This is key to targeting the upper pec fibers while also minimizing shoulder stress.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on a bench that is set to a 25-30 degree incline angle, with your feet down on the ground and your head and shoulders touching the pad.
  • Grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip (2-3 inches outside), and unrack the weight, stabilizing it above your shoulders.
  • Lower the weight slowly to the upper chest. Touch the upper chest, right below the collarbone, and then push the weight back up above your shoulders/upper chest.

Pro Tip

Try to think about pulling the barbell apart as you lower the weight to your chest because this helps you feel more stable throughout the movement.

3. Dumbbell Bench Press

The dumbbell bench press is a good way to build strength and muscle in the chest while training both sides of the body separately. This allows you to address any muscle imbalances, while also increasing the need for the smaller muscles to help stabilize the loads.

Dumbbells also allow you to lower the weights an inch or two more than you can when using a barbell (as the weights go to the sides of the body than to the top of the chest), which can increase the range of motion of the exercise. 

This added range of motion can increase muscle activation and the amount of time spent under tension, which can help you grow and tone your chest.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on a flat bench with dumbbells in each hand, and your arms extended above shoulders.
  • With the dumbbells above the shoulders and palms facing your feet, slowly lower the weights so that the inside ends of the dumbbells land on the outsides of your middle to the lower chest.
  • Your elbows should be flared outwards 45-70 degrees and your wrists should be stacked over your elbows.
  • Once the weights touch the sides of the chest, press the dumbbells up and back to the start position.

Pro Tip

Make sure that you’re pressing back up so the dumbbells are in line with your eyes, rather than pressing toward your hips. Pressing toward your hips takes the emphasis off of your chest muscles.

4. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

The dumbbell incline bench press is the incline version of the dumbbell press and helps to target more of the upper chest muscle fibers and shoulders.

Performing the incline press with dumbbells will increase the range of motion of the movement compared to the barbell incline press, which offers similar advantages to the dumbbell bench press in terms of boosting muscle growth.

How To Do It

  • Lie down on an incline bench set at 15-30 degree incline.
  • Hold dumbbells directly above you with arms extended (above your upper chest/shoulders), keeping your lower back flat against the bench (don’t arch your lower back).
  • Lower the weights down to the sides of the upper chest.
  • At the bottom of the press, you should feel a big stretch on the upper chest. If you do not, make sure your lower back is on the bench.
  • Push the weights back up above you, and repeat.

Pro Tip

My number one tip when doing incline presses for upper chest development is to NOT arch your lower back, as this shortens the range of motion and can limit the amount of isolation you place on the upper chest. Keep the back flat against the pad and do not let your hips slide forwards.

5. Machine Bench Press

The machine bench press can help develop strength and muscle mass in a fixed range of motion, minimizing the need to stabilize the weights or coordinate your movement. 

This allows you to truly isolate the chest and train it until muscular failure, which is extremely beneficial for muscle growth.

The machine press is a great option for beginners who want to train their chest but struggle to do so with free weights because of the amount of coordination and stability required with free-weight training.

It’s also a go-to chest exercise for advanced lifters who want to isolate the chest without worrying about other muscle groups taking over or fatiguing before their chest.

How To Do It

  • Sit down on the bench, making sure the seat height is set so that the handles are in line with the middle of your chest.
  • Grab the handles and push your back into the pad.
  • Plant your feet in front of you so that your hips do not slide forwards, and try not to arch your back.
  • Push the handles away from you, keeping your chest up, head back, and lower back flat until the arms are fully extended.
  • Slowly lower the weights back to the start position, and repeat.

Pro Tip

When you set yourself up, try to have the handles set so that the hands are really pulled back towards your chest. The bigger the stretch in the “start position” of the press, the more muscle tension you can develop. 

6. Push-Up

The push-up is a bodyweight movement that you can train anywhere to target the chest. This exercise is a must-learn move, however, it can be challenging for some women (and men) when they are just starting their lifting journey. 

If you struggle to do regular push-ups, you can also do kneeling push-ups to build up upper body strength. You can also incorporate dumbbell, barbell, and machine presses to develop enough strength to do regular push-ups.

How To Do It

  • Lie down with your chest on the floor, feet together, and palms resting flat on the floor in line with the middle of your chest.
  • Squeeze your legs together, pull your ribs into the body, and take a deep inhale to fill the stomach with air.
  • Push through the palms to lift your chest and hips at the same time.
  • Fully extend your arms and make sure that your palms are still in line with your chest, not your shoulders.
  • Bend the elbows and lower yourself back to the ground. Repeat

Pro Tip

Keep your elbows at a 45-70 degree angle from the body to keep your shoulders in the safest and strongest position.

7. Deficit Push-Up

The deficit push-up is an advanced push-up that involves performing the push-up in a larger range of motion, which increases the difficulty.

By doing this deeper range of motion, you challenge the chest and triceps more than in a traditional push-up and target more of the inner chest muscles that create the highly sought-after “chest split”.

How To Do It

  • Lie down with your chest on the floor, your feet together, and palms on top of something that is 2-3’ tall (I use weight plates).
  • The palms should be in line with the middle of the chest.
  • Squeeze your legs together, pull your ribs into the body, and take a deep inhale to fill the stomach with air.
  • Push yourself up, making sure to lift the chest and hips at the same time.
  • Fully extend your arms and make sure that your palms are still in line with your chest, not your shoulders.
  • Bend the elbows and lower your chest all the way back to the ground.

Pro Tip

The lower you go into the push-up, the more you need to focus on pulling the shoulder blades together to ensure your shoulders are not slouching forwards. This is key to getting a big stretch in the chest while also protecting your shoulder joint.

8. Cable Crossover Fly

The cable crossover fly is a chest isolation exercise that can be used to target the entire chest without being limited by triceps strength, as you can be with presses.

This exercise should be done in a controlled manner to ensure you are isolating the chest and not placing too much stress or strain on the shoulder joints.

How To Do It

  • Stand in the center of two cables, each set at chest height
  • With a staggered stance (better balance and stability), grab the handles, and keep your palms facing forward.
  • Brace your core by taking a deep inhale into the stomach, without letting the ribcage flare upwards of the lower back arch.
  • Keep your arms straight (or a very soft elbow bend) to create a wide arcing motion with your palms until your hands come together in front of your chest. 
  • Reverse the movement by opening your hands up in an arcing motion and bring the hands back up until they are in line with your chest.

Pro Tip

It can be easy to want to roll your shoulders forward as you bring your hands down and together, but this will decrease the tension on the chest so ensure that you keep your shoulders back as you finish the fly.

9. Low Cable Chest Fly

The low cable chest fly is a chest isolation exercise that targets more of the upper chest fibers.

This targets many of the same fibers as an incline press, however, it takes out the shoulder and triceps from the movement, making it a good way to train the upper chest if you have issues feeling the upper pecs in those movements.

How To Do It

  • Stand in the center of two cables, each set at knee height.
  • Grab the handles and keep your hands laterally extended at hip height with your palms facing forwards.
  • While in a staggered stance, puff your chest toward the ceiling and rotate your palms upwards (supination).
  • Lift the palms upwards to face level, thinking about scooping the air in front of you in an arcing motion.
  • Lower the hands back so that they are in line with your torso, and repeat.

Pro Tip

As you drop your hands, make sure that you do not relax your body and let your chest drop and shoulders come forwards. At the bottom of the movement, you should be feeling a big stretch across the chest.

Related Article: 16 Best Cable Chest Exercises (With Sample Workout)

10. Dumbbell Fly

The dumbbell fly is a chest isolation exercise that can be done with dumbbells. 

While this is similar to the cables, it does require more stabilization and coordination, so it’s best reserved for those who are more experienced and those who don’t have access to cables.

Unfortunately, many lifters do these wrong, as dumbbells allow for too many things to go wrong if you are not trained properly on how to do them, but I’ll walk you through it.

How To Do It

  • Lie chest up on a bench with your arms extended above you, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
  • Turn your palms toward one another, and place a small but soft bend in the elbows.
  • Pull the hands apart in an arcing motion so that they are moving away from each other in opposite directions, making sure to keep the shoulders and lower back against the bench.
  • When the weights get to be in line with the torso, pause for 1-2 seconds.
  • Lift the weights back up in an arcing motion, and bring the palms back together. If you feel this in your shoulders more than your chest, try going lighter or adjusting your palms.

Pro Tip

I find that if I bring my hands all the way back together above me I lose tension in my chest and feel it more in the shoulders. This is why I typically do not touch the weights at the top. Try both methods and see what feels best for you.

11. Hammer Strength Chest Press

The hammer strength chest press is a machine that allows you to isolate the chest, similar to the machine bench press, but this one allows you to train each side of the body independently. 

Hammer strength machines are great because they help address muscle imbalances and require some coordination, but not too much where you may not be able to train hard if you struggle with form. This is a good hybrid exercise choice that takes the best of both free weights and machines.

How To Do It

  • Sit upright in the machine while squeezing your shoulder blades together and place your heels firmly on the run underneath your knees.
  • Push your back against the pad and maintain contact with the pad and your butt, shoulders, and hips at all times.
  • Grab the handles with an overhand grip, making sure that your seat height is set so that the hands are in line with the chest.
  • Deeply inhale to fill the abdomen, and then press the handles away from you.
  • Keep your chest up as you press, and fully extend the arms at the top, then slowly lower the hands back to your chest and repeat.

Pro Tip

I find it helpful to think about pushing myself into the pad (away from the handles) as I lift the weight. This helps me to stay back in the seat and not let my shoulders hunch forward as the weights get challenging.

Related Article: Best 3-Day COMPLETE Workout Program for Women

Chest Workouts For Women: 6 Considerations

Below are six considerations you need to be aware of to build the most effective chest workout.

Exercise Selection

When choosing exercises, you want to make sure that you are selecting compound pressing movements as well as isolation exercises. 

Compound pressing movements are ones that have you pushing loads away, bending at both the elbows and the shoulders. These would be your barbell bench press, dumbbell press, machine chest press, push-up, and dips.

Isolation exercises only train the chest and do not involve bending or extending from the elbows throughout the range of motion. Flys are the main isolation exercise for the chest.

Each chest workout should include at least one of each type of exercise (compound press and isolation exercise), but you can choose a third exercise based on what you feel needs more work.

If you lack general pressing strength and muscle mass, try adding another compound pressing movement. This is where you can also mix in training at different angles (flat, incline, decline). 

If you want more isolated chest work, you can add another fly variation from a different angle.


Aim to get a total of 12-20 total chest sets, per week. To achieve this, you will want to ensure that you do no more than 12 total work sets per chest workout, as any more than this may not result in more muscle growth (and may actually impair recovery and growth).

Most chest workouts should consist of 2-3 chest exercises, each being performed for 3-4 total sets. 

Each workout should have a total of 8-12 hard work sets (hard work sets mean that you are training with as heavy of a weight as you can within the rep range you are doing, leaving only one or two reps in the tank).


Your chest workouts should include a variety of rep ranges, based on your goals as well as the movements you are doing. 

Reserve lower rep ranges (4-8 reps per set) for your compound exercises, like the barbell bench press. You could also use lower rep ranges for Machine or Hammer Strength Presses too to help develop strength and muscles.

Moderate rep ranges (8-15 reps per set) are ideal for all types of chest exercises, as they allow you to train the muscles hard yet still be able to safely bail if you fail. This rep range is where most lifters looking to build muscles should train 50-75% of the time.

Higher rep ranges (15-25) can also be helpful, especially if you do not have access to heavier weights and your only way to progress is to do more reps. You can also do higher reps on more isolated exercises like flys to focus on isolating your chest.


Training the chest with both heavy and lighter loads is essential for overall muscle growth. 

The chest is a strong muscle, and therefore you want to make sure that you are training it with as much weight as you can for whatever rep range you are in. Most lifters should train the chest with heavy loads (4-8 reps) at least once per week to increase chest strength and recruit more muscle fibers.

As you approach the moderate to higher rep range (8-15, 15-25 reps) you still need to use as much weight as you can while still performing the reps you need to get in that set. 

Do not mistake high-rep workouts with ones that use light weights and don’t push the muscle to failure. One of the biggest reasons women (and men) don’t grow muscle is that they use too light of weights when training in the moderate to higher rep ranges.

Remember, loading is relative to your overall strength. If you are doing a set of presses that calls for 12-15 reps, use a load that you can barely get 12-15 reps with. You want to be training very close to failure, if not reaching it on your latter sets.

Exercise Order

When training the chest, you want to start with compound pressing exercises first to target the largest muscle of the chest, the pec major, when it is fresh so that you get the highest quality of work from your strongest chest muscle.

This is why you typically want to start a workout with a bench press, dumbbell press, or some sort of machine press for hard intensity sets in the 8-12, or even 4-8 rep range.

Training Frequency

Aim to do chest workouts twice per week, as this will allow you to train the chest hard while still providing enough rest and recovery to grow the muscle. The chest is a strong muscle, so it may need a few days to repair itself between sessions.

Training the chest once per week may be enough for some beginners, however, I recommend training the chest twice per week for the best results.

Some lifters could bump their chest training up to three times per week if they’re struggling to gain chest strength and size; however, this could lead to overtraining and do more harm than good.

Related Article: Best Upper Body Workout For Women (According To Trainer)

Sample Chest Workouts For Women

sample chest workouts for women

Below are two workouts you can do to train the chest (+ shoulders & triceps) to develop upper body strength and muscle.

The exact workouts below are not found in the Fitbod app, but you can use the app to search for specific exercises and build your own workouts within the app.

Once you do that, the Fitbod app will help you progress your workouts every week to ensure you are continually challenging your muscles and getting the most out of your workouts.

Workout #1: Become a Stronger Presser 

This workout focuses on developing upper body pressing strength and muscle mass by combining free weights and machines to help you train hard.

  • Barbell Incline Bench Press: 3 sets of 6 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets
  • Hammer Strength Chest Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets
  • Cable Crossover: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets
  • Machine Bench Press : 3 sets of 8-10  reps, resting 90 seconds between sets

Workout #2: Dumbbell + Bodyweight Chest Workout

This workout is designed to help you build general strength and muscle by combining body weight and dumbbell chest exercises. This will be your best option if you don’t have access to barbells or machines.

  • Deficit Push Up: 3 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 2 minutes between sets (regular push ups will work if you cannot do deficit)
  • Dumbbell Bench Press: 3 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 90 seconds
  • Dumbbell Incline Bench Press: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 90 seconds
  • Dumbbell Fly: 3 sets of 12-15 reps, resting 60 seconds between sets

Are There Differences In Chest Workouts For Women And Men?

There are no significant differences between chest workouts for men and women as strength training principles and upper body anatomy remain the same.

Research does suggest that men tend to have larger muscle fibers, more anabolic hormones, and more upper-body muscle tissue relative to women, but this simply means that they have the potential to use heavier weights than women.

When looking at building a more muscular chest, women may have slower progress based on the genetic differences between men and women (mainly men having more anabolic hormones and muscle mass in the upper body), but there is no difference in the approach that women should take.

Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try Fitbod for free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Chest Exercises Lift Breasts?

Most likely, yes. While there is no guarantee training the chest will lift the breasts, but we know that it helps build the chest muscles. By adding muscle mass to the chest, you can provide a shape that can help give the breast a lifted appearance. 

Do Chest Workouts Work On Women?

Yes! Building a stronger, more muscular chest will help women develop upper body strength and give shape and tone to their upper bodies. Women have pectoral muscles under the breast tissue, which can be trained and developed with chest exercises like bench presses, flies, and push-ups.

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.