Many lifters struggle to build the upper chest, mainly because they lack the proper understanding of what movements are best to build the upper pecs and how to use them in a training program.
Most lifters rely on chest training mainstays like the flat bench press, dumbbell press, and dips; however a more detailed approach is needed to truly build the upper pecs.
Building upper chest muscles takes a dedicated approach of training, one that includes heavier incline presses as well as incorporating upper pec isolation movements. Additionally, you will want to train the chest, specifically the upper pecs, two or three times a week in a variety of rep ranges.
Below, we will discuss reasons why it is hard to build the upper chest, offer tips to get the upper chest growing, and lay out a sample upper chest focused workout program.
If you are looking for a workout program to help you build more chest size, as well as increase the strength and size of other muscles, be sure to check out the Fitbod app.
Before we dive in, let’s first address the question of why it is so hard to build the upper chest.
Why Is It Hard To Build The Upper Chest (3 Reasons)
If you suffer from lack of chest size, specifically having no upper chest, then this section is for you. Below, we will discuss three of the main reasons why people do not have a more developed upper chest, despite training at the gym on a regular basis.
- Lifting TOO Heavy
Walk into most gyms and you’ll see people bench pressing.
You might even see people maxing out their bench, or asking one another “How much can you bench?”.
Despite what people think, you do not NEED to max out your bench press to get a huge chest… and in fact that MAY BE one reason why your chest size is lacking.
If you are spending all your energy and training time lifting very heavy weights, with little time under tension, you may be getting stronger without adding size.
If you are looking for a chest workout to help you build a bigger upper chest, join the Fitbod app and attack that goal today.
- Lack of Upper Chest Isolation Movements
Another reason why you are lacking in upper chest development is that you do not specifically train the upper chest with isolated movements or angles.
This may be as simple as adding more incline bench pressing and chest isolation exercises to your workouts for a few months.
The chest has three main areas; lower, middle, and upper pecs.
If you are looking to hit the upper pecs, you need to train specific angles that target the upper pec. Movements that have you press from an incline position do just that.
- Not Training with Enough Direct Upper Chest Volume
Most general chest building exercises will include movements from a flat, incline, and a decline position.
This will help you generally develop a balanced chest.
However, if you are lacking in upper chest development, then you need to prioritize upper chest building exercises in your workouts.
This may mean doing 2 upper chest, and 1 middle pec exercise in workout one, and then 2 upper pec and 1 lower pec exercises in workout two of the week.
Not training in high enough volume, and with intensity, is most likely the reason for your lack of muscle growth.
Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.
How To Build Your Upper Chest
Building an upper chest comes down to training the upper pec fibers specifically, using a variety of rep ranges and intensities and understanding how muscle growth occurs.
Below, we will discuss how to build an upper chest and modify your current training to maximize results.
Train in a Variety of Rep Ranges
When looking to build a bigger upper chest, you will want to train in a variety of rep ranges to maximize muscle growth.
The chest muscles are relatively balanced in terms of fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, which means that in order to train the chest properly, you want to include a variety or rep ranges.
Ideally, you would train the fast twitch muscle fibers with heavier loads in one session, and the slower fibers in another (and maybe a third session if you are more advanced).
Placing all your training into one rep range could be the reason you are not seeing the results you want.
Train the Upper Chest Specifically
If you are not training the upper chest directly, this may be one of the easiest ways to promote muscle growth to those regions.
Performing presses at the proper angles could help you target the upper pecs, which is why movements like incline presses and flyes are the basis for any upper chest workout program..
Train the Chest 2-3 Times a Week
Research has shown that increasing training volume can increase muscle growth. While it may not increase strength more than training less frequently, if your goal is muscle size, then training volume is something you need to address.
Training the upper chest at least twice per week ensures you are able to accumulate a ton of training volume and still allow for muscle recovery between workouts.
More advanced lifters may need to bump this up to training the chest three times a week as this will further allow them to increase training volume and even work various rep ranges every week.
Using advanced training techniques like supersets is one way you can add intensity and volume to your upper chest workouts in a time efficient manner.
Supersets can be done by pairing two upper chest exercises together to add intensity, such as incline chest flyes followed by decline push ups. Both movements target the upper chest, and allow to extend the muscle stress and stimulus when both are trained to failure.
While supersets can be a huge driver for muscle growth, it should not be done in excess.
Relying too much on special methods could distract you from the benefits of learning how to take one set to true failure instead of “pacing’ yourself to survive a superset.
In conclusion, user supersets to extend a set after you have already reached failure, rather than just adding more sub-failure reps.
Train in the Full Range of Motion
Muscular tension is a key driver for muscle growth.
Performing a movement in a range of motion can vary depending on the goal, however the greater the range of motion the more muscular tension exists when compared to the same loading at parietal ROMs.
When looking to maximize muscle growth and size, you want to make sure to train in the full range of motion, as this has been shown to promote muscle hypertrophy more than partial ranges of motion.
Control the Eccentric Phase
When lifting weights, it is important to focus not only on lifting them with control, but also lowering them with control and maintaining tension on the muscle.
Research has shown that in groups that only focused on lifting the weights (concentric) and not controlling the lowering phase (eccentric phase), muscle growth was less than that of groups who lifted the weights AND lowered them.
Making sure to lower loads and feel the stretch on the muscle (full range of motion) and not allowing the muscle itself to relax is one of the best ways to maximize your training if you are not doing so already.
6 Exercises To Grow Your Upper Chest
Below are six exercises that you should be doing to build your upper chest.
Each of the exercises below can also be found on the Fitbod app.
Incline Barbell Press
The incline barbell bench press is a bench press done on a slight incline.
By adding the incline, you shift the loading to the upper pec.
To do this, set an incline bench at a slight angle, usually between 15-45 degrees and perform a bench press, bringing the bar to the upper chest.
This can be trained in the heavier rep range (5-10) or higher rep ranges for muscle growth.
Dumbbell Incline Press
This is a unilateral variation of the barbell incline bench press, and can be performed with the same setup and rep ranges.
The only difference is the dumbbells move independent of one another, which can address muscular imbalances from one side to the other, as well as improve range of motion (if you lower the weights slightly past the chest).
Dumbbell Incline Flye
The dumbbell incline flye is an upper chest isolation exercise that targets the upper chest, without placing high amounts of weight and demands on the triceps (which are needed in the incline bench).
By performing the flye, you will be able to target the chest more especially, and often not have to do as much weight compared to the incline bench press.
Incline Cable Fly
This is done by performing a cable fly, either while sitting on an adjustable bench, or standing.
You want to start the handles in the low position, and lift them upwards on an upward angle.
If you are using a bench, you will set yourself up facing away from the cable stack (same with if you are standing).
This is a great exercise to target the upper chest fibers and train to failure in the moderate to high rep range.
Incline Plate Pinch Press
The incline plate pinch press is a unique upper chest exercise that forces a huge muscle contraction every repetition.
To do this, you want to lie on an incline bench as usual, and place two small plates (5lbs or so) together.
Perform a pressing movement, making sure to keep the plates pushed and treated as you press your hands out.
By using two smooth surfaces) plates, you will stress the upper chest and inner pec fibers. This is a great exercise to finish a chest workout in the higher rep range.
Decline Push Up
The decline push up is a push up performed with the feet on an elevated surface, such as a bench or step.
This push up variation places greater emphasis on the upper chest.
You can even do these with your hands on dumbbells to allow you to go lower towards the floor without hitting your chest.
This is a great exercise to do at home, or to pair with other movements on this list.
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 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Upper Chest Workout (Sample Program)
Below is a 2-Day Upper Chest Workout program that you can use to build a bigger chest, especially upper pecs.
The below exercises include the above six movements. Additionally, there is a third upper chest workout you can do if you want to train three times a week.
It is recommended that you prioritize Day 1 and 2, and if you have time, then do Day 3.
Day 1 – Heavy Upper Chest Workout
- Incline Barbell Bench Press: 4 sets of 5-8 reps, 2 second eccentric. On the last set, perform one drop set to failure, with 10-20% less weight. (use a spotter)
- Dumbbell Flat Bench Press: 4 sets of 5-8 reps, 2 second eccentric. On the last set, perform one drop set to failure, with 10-20% less weight.
- Cable Incline Flye: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, with 2 second eccentric and 2 second pause at the top of every rep. Superset with Decline Push Ups (see below)
- Decline Push Ups: 4 sets to failure, 2 second eccentric. Do these immediately after each set of incline cable flyes (4 sets total).
Day 2 – Medium Upper Chest Workout
- Incline Dumbbell Flye: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, 2 second eccentric, 2 sec pause at bottom of every rep.
- Weighted Dip: 4 sets of 8-12 reps, 2 second eccentric, 2 sec pause at bottom of every rep.
- Wide Grip Bench Press: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, with 2 second eccentric. Superset with Incline Plate Pinch Press (see below)
- Incline Plate Pinch Press: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, 2 second pause at top.
Day 3 – Light Upper Chest Workout (BONUS)
- Decline Push Up: 5 sets to failure, resting 30 seconds between sets
- Incline Dumbbell Flye: 4 sets of 12-15 reps, superset with incline dumbbell press (see below)
- Incline Dumbbell Press: 4 sets of 12-15 reps
Other Chest Training Resources
- How Many Chest Exercises Should You Do Per Workout? (Ultimate Guide)
- Should You Train Chest And Triceps Together? (Yes, Here’s How)
- The 7 Best Chest Exercises With Bands (Plus, Sample Workout)
- Can You Build A Chest Without Bench Press (Yes, Here’s How)
Building a bigger upper chest takes a dedicated approach to training, one that includes exercise that specially targets the upper pecs, and a workout program that delivers high amounts of volume to stiluar muscle growth. If you want to truly maximize your results and progress, then try out the Fitbod app to get a personalized workout experience.
About The Author
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.