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5 best chest exercises for a toned upper body

Whether you're on your first push-up or your thousandth, these moves will take your workout up a notch.

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close up of a man's muscular chest on a red background
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A strong chest is important for maintaining good posture and performing a number of day-to-day activities, such as opening or closing a heavy door, getting up from the ground or pushing a heavy object up onto a shelf. If you want to achieve a stronger or more toned chest, it's important to incorporate the right chest exercises into your workout routine. Here's all the guidance you need.

Read more: How to get toned abs

Choosing the right chest exercises

The best chest exercises will not only target your pectoral muscles or "pecs," but they'll also challenge muscles that support your pecs during movement, including your shoulders, core, triceps and some back muscles

Keep in mind that the best chest exercises for you might not be the same as the best chest exercises for someone else -- you should choose movements and weights that work with your current fitness level. While they should challenge you, your technique shouldn't falter to the point of being injury-prone. 

Best exercises to build bigger pecs

Building a bigger, stronger chest means hitting your pecs from all angles. In other words, while the bench press might be the most classic chest exercise, it should be far from your only one. And remember, studies show that slow, controlled reps build more muscle than fast, sporadic reps. You'll be well on your way to a stronger chest with these five exercises, especially if you practice good form.

Barbell bench press

The most well-known and probably the most widely performed pressing exercise, the barbell bench press is a staple in any chest workout routine. Done correctly, the barbell bench press poses a challenge not only to your pecs, but also to your triceps and latissimus dorsi, the long muscles that run from behind your armpits to your obliques

Try this: Warm up your bench press with an empty barbell. Experiment with different grip widths until you find one that feels comfortable -- for most people, the best grip is the one where the wrists stack directly above the shoulders. Perform three sets of eight to 12 reps, increasing in weight until your last couple of reps feel very challenging. 

Dumbbell bench press

Compared to barbells, dumbbells add an element of instability, especially in pressing movements like the bench press. The dumbbell bench press requires you to focus more on the eccentric portion, or descent, of the lift to avoid technique mistakes. Spending more time in the eccentric portion of exercises is shown to lead to greater muscle mass and strength gains

Try this: Start with a pair of light dumbbells to practice the movement. Slow down the descent and press upward with power, but be careful not to bang the dumbbells together at the top. Remember to fully extend your elbows with each rep. Perform three sets of eight to 12 reps, increasing the weight each time if you can. 

Push-up

Few exercises are as widely recognized as the humble push-up. Although it's a simple movement, push-ups are far from easy for beginner exercisers. Luckily, there are plenty of modifications beginners can use to reap the benefits of push-ups. 

Try this: If you can't yet perform a standard push-up, don't be afraid to drop to your knees. A perfect rep done with assistance is far better than an imperfect rep done without assistance. When practicing push-ups, ensure that you're getting the best workout for your chest by keeping your spine straight and core tight. This also prevents injuries.

Decline push-up

A more advanced version of push-ups, decline push-ups challenge your pecs from a different angle. This push-up variation recruits more power from supporting muscles, including your shoulders and lats, leading to well-rounded upper body strength and a balanced physique. If you can't do regular push-ups yet, don't try decline push-ups. 

Try this: If you can do regular push-ups, progress to decline push-ups. To do them, plant your hands on the ground and place your toes on a bench or other sturdy object a few feet behind your hands. Slowly lower your face toward the ground and press back up. 

Dumbbell fly

This dumbbell exercise puts your pecs through their full range of motion, thus challenging them from every angle possible. The dumbbell fly also targets the serratus anterior, a small muscle on the sides of your chest wall. 

Try this: Practice the movement without weights at first. Pay attention to your range of motion -- stop the descent when you feel tension in your chest muscles. This is vital in order to avoid tearing a muscle. Once you feel comfortable with the movement, perform a few sets of eight to 10 reps with light or moderate weights.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.