Focus Physique
Upper Chest Workout for an Aesthetic Chest

The key to an aesthetic chest is for it to be developed in all parts and for some this means the need for a solid upper chest workout. This will create a full, powerful looking chest!

To bust the myth now, you unfortunately can’t train for a round chest, or a square chest. This is largely due to genetics and there’s a myriad of different chest shapes in between.

Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t build his legendary chest because of a certain exercise or secret chest workout, it’s because he had truly amazing genetics.

With this being said, you can do things to get the most out of your chest with the genetics you’ve been given!

Often times the upper chest is the key. Very rarely is the upper chest overdeveloped. For most, it’s underdeveloped and takes time and patience to develop. When it is developed properly though, you’ll have a full chest whether it be square like armor plating or round like Arnold’s!

That’s why we’re taking time to focus on building this area of the chest and considering it the final key to your aesthetic chest!

Anatomy

Let’s first talk about the location and makeup of the upper chest and the special characteristics of it that we need to consider!

The chest muscle as a whole is called the pectoralis major and can be separated into two distinct parts: The clavicular head and the sternocostal head. The clavicular head is what we consider to be the “upper chest”. It attaches at the clavicle and runs to the upper arm.

The upper chest is also known as the clavicular head of the pectoralis major
The clavicular head of the pectoralis major is highlighted in green.

What makes the upper chest so unique when compared to the middle and lower chest is that anatomically, it is its own separate entity. The upper chest has its own nerve supply and therefore a few different separate functions aside from the sternocostal head of the chest (middle and lower chest). This could be practical to know for advancing muscle growth!

When looking at functions unique to the upper chest, it’s the only part of the chest that helps to flex the shoulder (raise the arm up with the arm in front of the body) and internally rotate the shoulder (Barberini, 2013).

In comparison, the main function of the pectoralis major is to horizontally adduct the shoulder (bring the arms together from the side) and only the sternocostal head of the chest assists in shoulder extension.

Both the clavicular and sternocostal head of the chest are type II muscle fiber dominant and therefore heavier loads (70 – 90%) with an explosive concentric portion of the rep may be better for muscle growth in your upper chest workout or any chest workout.

Techniques to Bring up The Upper Chest

Before we even look at a solely upper chest workout or exercises, let’s talk about what we can do for a continued focus on the upper chest in the long run.

The upper chest workout given later in the article makes for a great tool in the arsenal, but unfortunately a month on an upper chest workout won’t make your physique dreams come true (this keeps the process fun though)!

For a great guide you can also refer to the article I wrote on developing lagging muscle groups.

1.) Put Upper Chest Exercises First

Exercise order is always important to consider but it’s especially important when working to bring up a lagging muscle group! If we are wanting to put a focus on the upper chest then an upper chest exercise needs to be the first exercise of your chest routine!

This allows you to hit it hardest because you’re fresh.

Even if the upper chest is no longer your top priority, you’ll want to add in an upper chest exercise to your chest routine to maintain symmetry and get the best muscle growth!

2.) Increase Upper Chest Workout Frequency

Instead of working chest once a week, work it twice, maybe even three times a week if you’re still a beginner! Just make sure you have at least one day of rest in between workouts.

3.) Apply Progressive Overload

A common mistake made by beginner trainees is that they think they need endless volume of endless different exercises. At the very basics, the real key is to become stronger on key exercises.

These “key” exercises are compound exercises, or multi-joint movements that involve many muscles and are highly effective for gaining strength and building muscle. Getting stronger on these exercises is vital for continuously advancing your strength and muscle gain!

For example, getting stronger on a low cable fly won’t be nearly as effective as building strength on barbell bench press.

Ultimate Upper Chest Workout

Below is an effective upper chest focused workout to create the full, powerful chest you’ve been looking for. I would recommend hitting this workout about every 4 – 5 days.

Do note that this routine is tough and should be cycled on and off of to prevent injury about every 4 weeks!

Low Cable Fly’s

3 x 8 – 10

Barbell Incline Bench Press

3 x 6 – 8

Slight Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

3 x 6 – 8

Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

3 x 6 – 8

Form Tips

Let’s breakdown this workout and the upper chest exercises to take a look at what we’re doing and why along with how to properly execute the movements.

Low Cable Fly

The low cable fly is a great upper chest exercise to target the upper chest
The low cable fly

The low cable fly puts a focus onto the upper chest and was placed in this routine to pre-exhaust the upper chest before going into barbell incline bench press.

Execution: Place the cables at the very bottom position of the cable machine. From here, grab both handles and step forward slightly. Bring your arms back while keeping a slight bend at the elbow. Go back until the arms are in line with body and using the chest, bring the handles together in front of the body.  

Barbell Incline Bench Press

The incline barbell bench press is one of the key upper chest exercises in an upper chest workout routine
The incline barbell bench press

The barbell incline bench press is a great upper chest exercise to overload the muscle and create size and strength gains.

Execution: Set up your bench to about a 45 degree angle if this is not already done for you. From here, put on your warmup weight and keep the following pointers in mind:

Grip

For normal incline bench and any other type of barbell bench press, in the bottom position you will want your forearm to be vertical creating a 90 degree angle with the ground.

Wrists

It’s critical that the wrists are aligned so that the force of the barbell is transferred down into the forearm. What you don’t want is to allow the barbell to roll back causing the wrist to roll back with it.

Tuck Elbows

Into the descent and ascent of the lift, it’s crucial that the elbows are slightly tucked and not flared out (commonly referred to as chicken winging).

When comparing incline barbell bench press to flat barbell bench press, it should be noted that the incline creates a natural tucking of the elbow but noticeable flaring should be avoided to protect the shoulders.

Keep Shoulders Down and Back

This is quite important to keep pressure off the shoulders and to properly engage the chest musculature. You will want to literally keep the shoulders down and slightly pinched back.

In addition to keeping the shoulders down, I commonly give the que to “keep the shoulder glued to the bench”. This ensures the trainee doesn’t lift the shoulders off the bench at the top end of the range of motion.

Beginner Tip: It’s common for a beginner trainee to overshoot the 45 degree angle and set the bench to a slightly higher angle if it’s not already set for you. In this case it might be wise to set the bench slightly lower than you might think. This will ensure a proper angle for good chest activation.

Also keep in mind elbow angle, wrists, grip, and shoulders. These can all be cause for common mistakes made by the beginner trainee.

Slight Incline Dumbbell Bench Press

Slight incline dumbbell bench press is a great follow up exercise to incline barbell bench press. It incorporates unilateral work to ensure even strength and muscle development, it’s easier on the joints, and it hits the chest from a slightly different angle when compared to incline barbell bench press.

Execution: Set up the bench to about 20 degrees. We’re looking for something in between flat and regular incline bench press. From here, we are going to keep the same general pointers as described in incline barbell bench press. This includes elbow tucking, grip, wrists, and keeping the shoulders down and back.

Beginner Tip: If possible, avoid dropping the dumbbells after your set to protect the shoulder and chest muscle. Bring the dumbbells back to your knees instead.

Flat Dumbbell Bench Press

Flat dumbbell bench press is less focused on the upper chest but was added in to promote even chest development. It incorporates the same benefits as slight incline dumbbell bench press.

Execution: Execution is essentially the same as slight incline dumbbell bench press. The only difference is the bench is flat and that you have to pay special attention to tucking the elbows. Keeping the elbows tucked to about a 75 degree angle is recommended.

Upper Chest Workout Explained

Is the upper chest the final piece of the chest you’ve been missing? If it is, give it time and be consistent. Be prepared to give time and dedication for months if not more than a year to get the desired results! 

Remember, in addition to the routine provided above, you need to focus your training on the upper chest consistently. For great improvements over time, use the tips given above and in my lagging body parts article.

The process takes time, but with smart training and the right mindset the process is fun and truly rewarding!


References:

  1. Bentley, A. and Beardsley, C. Pectoralis Major. Retrieved from https://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/muscles/pectoralis-major/#CONT

* This article is property of FocusPhysique.com. For questions contact us here.

 

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About Brennen Elboeck

I'm Brennen, the founder of FocusPhysique.com. I want to give hundreds of thousands of people science based, practical physique and life transforming information! To never miss a post or what's new make sure to sign up for our newsletter above!

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