The Little Black Book of Chest Exercises

Little Black Book of Chest Exercises

Everybody loves chest day, especially if it’s Monday. Break out of the bench-press pack with 6 variations of common chest exercises that’ll help add pounds of new muscle on your pecs.

By Bill Geiger, MA

If there’s one universal commonality among gyms worldwide it’s that chest day is on Mondays. No matter the training split, every workout seems to start on the bench press. No wonder there’s typically a line of people waiting to take turns on the bench, rotating in and out between sets. While the crowds congregate around the familiar exercises, one way to get away from the clogged benches and machines is to do exercises no one else is doing. Here are 6 variations of common chest exercises that may be altogether new to you. Avoid the masses while building mass of your own with our Black Book series, which offers insider’s tips and secrets that turns each of these exercises into powerhouse pec-building movements.

Smith-Machine Low-Incline Press


POWER POINTER: The problem with incline barbell presses is that the bench angle is locked at about 45 degrees so the point of emphasis on the upper pecs always remains the same. But an adjustable bench has multiple incline positions. Wheel it over to the Smith machine and you can do your barbell presses from a number of semi-inclined positions, including as low as 15 degrees, all just a little different from the steeper fixed bench.

TARGET AREA: Upper pecs primarily; front delts and triceps secondarily

IN YOUR ROUTINE: Do this movement in the first half of your chest workout. If you do it first, after warm-ups challenge yourself with a heavy weight for three sets of 6–8 reps. Toward the middle of your workout, instead go a bit lighter: three sets of 8–10 reps.

BEST SUBSTITUTE: The barbell version with its fixed bench works the delts too much in our opinion; a better substitute is the low-incline dumbbell press.

INTENSITY BOOSTER: Forced reps with a good spotter are always a good choice. With the Smith machine, it’s easy (well, no, it’s really not easy!) to do negatives in which your partner lifts the bar and you take up to five seconds to lower the weight.

SET-UP: Position the bench centered inside the Smith machine; you’ll want to do a few practice reps with light weight to ensure it’s in the right position; the bar should approach your upper pecs in the down position. Set the bench to a fairly low angle, halfway between flat and the usual incline position you normally do.

POSITION: Lie back squarely on the bench, feet flat and wide on the floor.

FORM: Keep a big chest throughout. As you lower the weight your shoulder blades should retract as your chest expands even further.

GRIP: Grasp the bar out wide; your forearms should be virtually perpendicular to the floor when the bar is in the down position. That grip width gives you the most powerful drive.

EXECUTION: Unhook the bar and lower the weight under control just short of the bar tapping your upper chest. Smoothly reverse direction and drive to full-arm extension without locking out your elbows.

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