Looking to build a bigger, stronger, and more defined upper chest? If so, you’re not alone. The Upper chest is one of the most coveted and admired muscle groups, and for good reason.
A well-developed chest not only looks impressive, but it also plays a critical role in many upper body movements, including pushing, pulling, and pressing.
While there are many different exercises you can do to train your chest, barbell exercises are among the most effective and efficient.
In this blog, we will explore a variety of topics:
- Anatomy of the upper chest
- Upper chest exercises with barbell
- Correct form and technique
Know More About Upper Chest
Understanding upper chest anatomy is essential for effectively targeting and developing this muscle group.
The pectoralis major muscle is a large, fan-shaped muscle located in the chest region. It consists of two main portions:
- The upper region is referred to as the clavicular head or clavicular portion because of its attachment to the clavicle.
- The lower regions are referred to as the sternocostal head or sternal head because of their attachment to the ribs.
Here, we will focus specifically on the clavicular portion, which makes up the upper chest.
The clavicular portion originates from the clavicle (collarbone) and inserts into the humerus (upper arm bone). When the upper chest contracts, it brings the arm bone closer to the clavicle, resulting in shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction.
Why Barbell Exercises are Great for Upper Chest Development
A strong upper chest not only makes your body look better, but also makes your upper body stronger and more stable. Barbell exercises are very effective for building up your upper chest for many other reasons.
1. Compound Movements
Barbell exercises like the barbell bench press and incline barbell bench press work many muscles at once, including the chest, shoulder and tricep.
This allows for efficient muscle activation and strength development.
2. Heavy Weightlifting Potential
Barbell exercises allow you to lift heavier weights, compared to other equipment, such as dumbbells and cables.
Putting more weight on your chest can help you build bigger muscles and get stronger.
3. Progressive Overload
You need to increase the intensity of exercises over time to make your upper chest muscles bigger. Barbell exercises are a good way to do this. They help your chest muscles get bigger and stronger.
4. Versatility and Exercise Variations
Barbell exercises provide a multitude of variations that are specifically designed to target the upper chest.
Incline barbell bench presses, for example, place greater emphasis on the upper chest fibers. Also, doing exercises like the reverse-grip bench press make your chest and tricep muscles look bigger.
5. Time Efficiency
Compound barbell exercises let you work multiple muscle groups at the same time, so you don’t have to do as many isolation exercises.
This saves time in your workouts while still providing effective upper chest stimulation.
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How To Train Upper Chest With Barbell
If you want to develop the upper chest to get more defined pecs, you need to read this whole blog. Here I’m going to show you the only way you can effectively improve the visual appearance of this portion of the chest muscle.
Here’s a twist, you cannot directly improve only this portion of the pecs, but because of the contrast this area provides, you can make it start looking better quickly if you do the right things.
One of the most important things you can do if you want to build a bigger upper chest with barbell is to remember to not just focus on strength-building exercises, but also need to focus on isolation exercises.
When you are trying to build the upper chest or any portion of your chest, really, you have to make sure you don’t forget to include some exercises that allow your hands the freedom of motion.
5 Best Upper Chest Exercises With Barbell
Here is the list of the 5 best upper chest barbell exercises which help to train the chest at various angles and strengthen and to 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.
How To Do Barbell Bench Press
- Lie on a flat bench with your feet firmly planted on the floor.
- Grasp the barbell with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip.
- Unrack the barbell and lower it slowly towards your mid-chest while keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle.
- Pause briefly at the bottom position, then push the barbell back up to the starting position by extending your arms.
- Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
- 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, where the lifters body is fixed in an incline position (typically set at a 30-45 degree angle).
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.
How To Do Incline Bench Press
- Set an adjustable bench to an incline of around 30-45 degrees.
- Lie back on the bench with your feet flat on the floor.
- Grasp the barbell with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Take the barbell off and lower it towards your upper chest while keeping your elbows at a 45-degree angle.
- Pause briefly, then push the barbell back up to the starting position by extending your arms.
- Do 8-10 reps.
- Perform press in a controlled manner.
- The bar should be lowered slowly until it has reached the upper chest, and take a pause for a moment.
- Set a bench at about 30-45 degrees inclined. Do not go more upright as the stress shifts more 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.
It can be performed in a kneeling position, which increases core involvement and can improve core stability and strength of the abdominal muscles.
How To Do Landmine Press
- Place a barbell in a landmine holder or set up a barbell in a corner.
- Then add weight plates to the free end of the barbell.
- Assume a half kneeling position with the knee under your hip, toes tucked, and rib cage down.
- Press the barbell up straight in front of you until your arms are extended, avoiding hyperextension at the elbows.
- Hold the weight for a second and focus on contracting your chest muscles.
- 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.
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 activates the front delts and triceps to a greater extent, providing a well-rounded upper body workout.
Start out light and make sure your thumbs are hooked around the bar for safety.
How To Do Incline Reverse-Grip Bench Press
- Lying on a flat bench, grasp the bar with a supinated (reverse) grip, hands shoulder-width apart, and thumbs around the bar.
- With your elbows tucked in close to your sides, slowly lower the bar down to your lower pecs.
- Press the bar back up to the start position in a slight backward arc without letting your elbows flare out.
- Don’t lock out your elbows at the top of the rep; keep a bend in your arms, maintaining control of the weight at all times.
- Hold a neutral spine throughout the movement to prevent injury.
- Perform press in a controlled manner.
- Exhale on pushing movement, and inhale when returning to the starting position.
- Contract the chest muscles at the top of the movement.
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.
The Barbell pullover provides a deep stretch to the upper chest muscles, promoting flexibility and muscle elongation.
How To Do Barbell Pullover
- Lie on a flat bench with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor.
- Grab a barbell with a wider grip than your shoulder-width, and place it above your chest with your arms straight out.
- 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.
- Pause briefly at the bottom position, then raise the barbell back to the starting position, following the same arc-like path.
- 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.
Sets And Reps For Upper Chest Workout
However, your chest training frequency also depends on your workout split.
Of course, the number of sets and reps will be determined based on your fitness journey, but here is a great starting point:
- 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.
The best rep ranges and loads to work with.
- 6-8 reps with heavy load
- 8-15 reps with moderate load
- 15-20+ with light load
The load should bring you to or near failure within the given rep ranges for the exercise to be effective.
Upper chest Sample workout plan
|Exercise||Sets||Reps||Rest (between sets)|
|Barbell Bench Press||4||8-10||90 seconds|
|Incline Barbell Bench Press||3-4||10-12||60 seconds|
|Barbell Pullover||3-4||12-15||60 seconds|
*Remember, this is just a sample workout plan, and you can customize the sets, reps, and rest
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:
- 10 Best Chest Workout With Dumbbells
- Best Cable Chest Exercises And Workout Routine
- Bodyweight Chest Exercises: Beginner To Advance
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.
Barbell chest exercises work multiple muscle groups at the same time, which makes it easy for the upper body to build mass and strength.
In addition to improving upper chest development, barbell exercises improve stability, core engagement, and functional strength.
Get the most out of your barbell workout and work on getting a bigger, more muscular chest.
15 Best Upper Chest Exercises To Build Bigger & Defined Pecs
Manish brings over 10 years of hands-on experience in weight lifting and fat loss to fitness coaching. He specializes in gym-based training and has a lot of knowledge about exercise, lifting technique, biomechanics, and more.
Through “Fit Life Regime,” he generously shares the insights he’s gained over a decade in the field. His goal is to equip others with the knowledge to start their own fitness journey.