5 Best Barbell Upper Chest Exercises for Bigger Pecs

Are you looking to build a bigger, stronger, and more defined upper chest? If so, you’re not alone. There are many benefits of doing an upper chest workout with a barbell.

Barbell exercises, like the incline barbell bench press, work many muscles simultaneously, including the upper chest, shoulder, and tricep. They allow you to lift heavier weights than other equipment, such as dumbbells and cables.

A well-developed chest not only helps you look good, but it also helps you do many upper-body movements, like pushing, pulling, and pressing.

How To Train Upper Chest With Barbell

Understanding upper chest anatomy is essential for effectively targeting and developing this muscle group.

The pectoralis major muscle is a large, fan-shaped muscle in the chest region. It consists of two main portions:

  • The upper region is called the clavicular head or clavicular portion. The clavicular portion originates from the clavicle (collarbone) and is inserted into the humerus (upper arm bone).
  • The lower regions are referred to as the sternocostal head or sternal head because they attach to the ribs.

Here, we will focus specifically on the clavicular portion, which makes up the upper chest.

Upper chest Anatomy

But keep in mind: you cannot improve only this portion of the pecs directly, but because of the contrast this area provides, you can make it start looking better quickly if you do the right things.

Another important thing to consider when building a bigger upper chest with a barbell is doing both isolation and strength-building exercises.

The study found that the most activity for the upper part of the pectoralis major muscle occurred when the bench was angled at 30 degrees, like the Inline barbell bench press.

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5 Best Upper Chest Exercises With Barbell

Here is the list of the 5 best upper chest barbell exercises that help to train the chest at various angles and strengthen and build a well-developed chest.

1. Barbell Bench Press

The barbell bench press is a classic and popular exercise that primarily targets the pectoralis major muscles, including the upper chest.

It is the fundamental exercise for the upper body and should be a part of any best chest exercises regime. That’s why, for overall chest development, the barbell chest press always remains on the top of the list.

Barbell Bench Press

How To Do It

  1. Lie flat on a bench, with your feet firmly planted on the floor and your eyes directly under the bar.
  2. Grip the barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip, hands positioned about 1.5 times the width of your shoulders.
  3. Unrack the barbell and lower it slowly towards your mid-chest while keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle.
  4. Pause briefly at the bottom position, then push the barbell back up to the starting position by extending your arms.


  • Keep a controlled motion and avoid jerky movements.
  • Do not bounce the weights off the chest.
  • Avoid too much arching of the back.
  • For heavyweights, use a spotter.

2. Incline Barbell Bench Press

The Incline bench press is a variation of the traditional flat bench press, in which the lifter’s body is fixed in an incline position (typically set at a 30-45-degree angle).

Incline bench press exercise focuses on the upper chest more and, therefore, helps build massive upper pecs. It also trains anterior delt (front shoulder) and tricep muscles.

You could even try the incline Smith machine bench press for more stability. When an exercise is stable, you can use heavier weights, focus more on the muscles worked, and train closer to failure without as much risk of technique breakdowns.

Incline Bench Press

How To Do It

  1. Set an adjustable bench to an incline of around 30–45 degrees.
  2. Lie back on the bench with your feet flat on the floor.
  3. Grasp the barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  4. Take the barbell off and lower it towards your upper chest while keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle.
  5. Pause briefly, then extend the barbell to the starting position by extending your arms.
  6. Do 8–10 reps.
How To Do Incline Barbell Bench Press


  • Perform press in a controlled manner.
  • The bar should be lowered slowly until it reaches the upper chest and then pause momentarily.
  • Set a bench at about 30–45 degrees inclined. Do not go more upright as the stress shifts to the shoulders rather than the chest area.

3. The Landmine Chest Press

The landmine chest press is not a popular exercise, but it provides many benefits when it comes to building bigger upper chests.

The landmine attachment can rotate freely, so it’s easy to do pressing movements. This helps to reduce stress on the shoulders and wrists.

You can do this exercise while kneeling, which helps your core muscles work more and makes your abdominal muscles stronger and stable.

Landmine Chest Press

How To Do It

  1. Place a barbell in a landmine holder or set up a barbell in a corner.
  2. Then add weight plates to the free end of the barbell.
  3. Assume a half kneeling position with the knee under your hip, toes tucked, and rib cage down.
  4. Press the barbell up straight in front of you until your arms are extended, avoiding hyperextension at the elbows.
  5. Hold the weight for a second and focus on contracting your chest muscles.
  6. Slowly lower the weight back towards your chest and then repeat for the recommended reps


  • To secure the barbell, you can interlock your hands around the bar.
  • Lean your body forwards slightly and engage your core muscles to help with stabilization.
  • Exhale on pushing movement, inhale when returning to the starting position.
  • Contract the chest muscle at the top of the movement.
Know More: Landmine Exercises For Building Muscle And Strength

4. Incline Reverse-Grip Bench Press

Changing your grip from overhand to underhand has a profound effect on upper chest muscle activation. By changing your grip, you can get up to 30% more upper chest activation.

An Incline bench barbell press with a reverse grip actually shifts the most focus to the upper pecs. The reverse grip also activates the front delts and triceps to a greater extent.

Incline Reverse-Grip Bench Press

How To Do It

  1. Lying on a flat bench, grasp the bar with a supinated (reverse) grip, hands shoulder-width apart, and thumbs around the bar.
  2. With your elbows tucked in close to your sides, slowly lower the bar down to your lower pecs.
  3. Press the bar back up to the start position in a slight backward arc without letting your elbows flare out.
  4. Don’t lock out your elbows at the top of the rep; keep a bend in your arms.


  1. Start out light and make sure your thumbs are hooked around the bar for safety.
  2. Perform press in a controlled manner.
  3. Exhale on pushing movement, and inhale when returning to the starting position.

5. Barbell Pullover

If you’re looking for a way to get more creative with your barbell chest workout, why not try a barbell pullover exercises?

The barbell pullover is the best exercise to build a strong rib cage and build serratus anterior muscle to build a complete chest and back.

It provides a deep stretch to the upper chest muscles, promoting muscle elongation and flexibility.

Barbell Pullover

How To Do It

  1. Lie on a flat bench with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Grab a barbell with a wider grip than your shoulder-width, and place it above your chest with your arms straight out.
  3. Keep a slight bend in your elbows and slowly lower the barbell backward in an arc-like motion towards the floor until you feel a deep stretch in your chest and back.
  4. Pause briefly at the bottom position, then raise the barbell back to the starting position, following the same arc-like path.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps


  • Exhale while you exert.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged.
  • Maximum stretching ensures the greatest expansion of the rib cage.

Build Bigger Upper Chest With Barbell

1. Select Sets As Per Fitness Level

  • Beginners (with a year or less of training) should aim for about 12 weekly sets.
  • An Intermediate trainee (with two to four years of training) can increase the volume to 16 sets per week.
  • An advanced trainee (four or more years of training) may be able to get in up to 20 weekly sets.

When a certain amount of volume stops being effective and your progress stalls, you can add sets to increase volume and use that as a driver of renewed progress. 

2. Pick Reps Based on Goal

The best rep ranges and loads to work with.

  • 6–8 reps with heavy load for strength
  • 8–15 reps with moderate load for hypertrophy
  • 15-20+ with light load for endurance

The load should bring you to or near failure within the given rep ranges for the exercise to be effective.

3. Workout Routine

ExerciseSetsRepsRest (between sets)
Barbell Bench Press48-1090 seconds
Incline Barbell Bench Press3-410-1260 seconds
Barbell Pullover3-412-1560 seconds

*Remember, this is just a sample workout plan, and you can customize the sets, reps, and rest


Barbell chest exercises work multiple muscle groups at the same time, which makes it easy for the upper body to build mass and strength.

Find the workout that suits your experience level and goals. You’ll need to use a range of equipment (dumbbell, cable, bodyweight) and techniques if you want to effectively train the muscle group.

Chest Workout Using Different Equipment:

Perform a good warm up using a lower stress movement, such as the incline push, to prepare your body for heavier loads and decrease the risk of injury.

Be consistent and adjust the workload to what feels best for you.


  • Schoenfeld BJ, Grgic J, Van Every DW, Plotkin DL. Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports (Basel). 2021 Feb 22;9(2):32. doi: 10.3390/sports9020032. PMID: 33671664; PMCID: PMC7927075.
  • López-Vivancos, A.; González-Gálvez, N.; Orquín-Castrillón, F.J.; Vale, R.G.d.S.; Marcos-Pardo, P.J. Electromyographic Activity of the Pectoralis Major Muscle during Traditional Bench Press and Other Variants of Pectoral Exercises: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Appl. Sci. 202313, 5203. https://doi.org/10.3390/app13085203

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