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Upper chest exercises target the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, the upper portion of the chest muscles.
These exercises can help develop and strengthen the upper chest muscles for a more balanced well-defined upper body and appearance.
Best upper chest exercises for building upper body strength and mass
The upper chest muscles are collectively known as the clavicular head or the upper portion of the pectoralis major muscle.
The pectoralis major muscle is a large, fan-shaped muscle that spans the chest and has two parts: clavicular and sternal heads or the upper and lower portions.
The clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle originates from the clavicle bone or collarbone and inserts into the humerus or upper arm bone.
The muscle is responsible for flexion, horizontal flexion, and horizontal adduction of the arm, and also the internal rotation of the humerus bone.
The best upper chest exercises that can target the muscles in the area are movements involving flexion and horizontal flexion of the arm.
Such exercises involve higher shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction and emphasize the upper portion of the pectoralis major muscle.
If chosen carefully, upper chest exercises will allow you to focus more on the upper portion of the pectoralis major muscle, the major muscle group responsible for upper chest development.
Below are the best upper chest exercises that can help target and strengthen the muscles in the area
Incline bench press
The incline bench press is one of the most effective upper chest exercises for targeting the clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle.
You will usually perform the incline bench press with a barbell and a weight bench with an adjustable incline.
The movement involves pushing the loaded barbell from the chest toward the ceiling lying in an incline position on a bench.
This exercise allows you to lift heavier weights which can help develop strength and power in the upper chest muscles.
The movement requires extra stability and control. Thus it may not be suitable for beginners or those with shoulder or wrist issues.
The incline bench press places the chest muscles in a mechanically advantageous position for activating and targeting the upper chest.
By adjusting the angle of the bench, you can emphasize the upper chest muscles more effectively than you would with the flat bench press.
To get the most out of the exercise and help you target the upper chest muscles better, set the incline bench at an angle between 30 to 45 degrees.
Use a grip width that is slightly wider than shoulder width.
Lower the bar or dumbbells to the upper chest just below the collarbone.
Keep your elbows slightly flared out as you press the weight back up.
The incline bench press is one of the best upper chest exercises to include in your training regimen.
By performing the incline bench press with the correct form and focusing on the mind-muscle connection with the upper chest muscles, you can effectively target and develop the clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle.
Incline dumbbell press
The incline dumbbell press is one of the most effective upper chest exercises for targeting the clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle.
The exercise is similar to the incline bench press but uses dumbbells instead of a loaded barbell. You will also need an incline bench.
Dumbbells allow for a broader range of motion and can help improve shoulder stability and mobility. They also allow you to bring your hands closer together at the bottom of the movement, allowing you to increase the stretch on the chest muscles.
The incline angle allows you to emphasize the clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle, making it an effective exercise for targeting the best upper chest muscles.
Aside from the upper chest, the movement also engages the anterior deltoids of the shoulders and triceps to a lesser extent.
It also allows you to work each arm independently, helping to address any strength imbalances between the left and right sides of the body, making it one of the best upper chest exercises for building a balanced physique.
The incline dumbbell press requires more stabilization since you’re using separate dumbbells. That can engage the stabilizer muscles more and improve overall balance and coordination.
The exercise also allows for a more natural grip and places a slightly greater emphasis on the chest muscles.
Incorporating the incline dumbbell press into your chest workout routine can help develop strength, size, and definition in the upper chest muscles, providing a well-rounded upper body development.
Steps to follow
- Set an incline bench to a 30 to 45-degree angle.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand, sit on the bench, and rest the dumbbells on your thighs
- Lie back on the weight bench and bring the dumbbells to shoulder level with palms facing forward.
- Press the dumbbells upward simultaneously, extending your arms fully without locking your elbows.
- Lower the dumbbells back to your starting position in a controlled manner.
Incline cable fly
When performed correctly, the incline cable fly can target the upper chest muscles, that is, the clavicular head of the pectoralis major.
The movement involves shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction, essential for targeting the upper chest muscles.
The incline angle of the bench places greater emphasis on the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, helping to isolate and stimulate the upper chest muscles.
It is necessary to focus on maintaining proper form, controlling the movement, and feeling the contraction in your upper chest muscles as you bring your arms forward and across your body.
Ensure you adjust the cable machine’s height and use a weight that allows you to perform the exercise with good technique and range of motion.
Steps to follow
- Set the cable machine pulleys at the highest position.
- Adjust the weight bench to a 30 to 45-degree incline.
- Stand in the middle of the cable machine with feet at shoulder-width.
- Grasp a cable handle in each hand, palms facing forward.
- Step forward, ensuring a slight bend in your elbows and maintaining tension on the cables.
- Lean slightly forward, maintain a tall posture, and engage your chest muscles.
- Bring your arms forward and across your body with control and sweeping motion, allowing the cables to pull your hands apart.
- Squeeze your chest muscles at the top of the movement, reverse the motion, and slowly bring your arms back to your starting position, ensuring you maintain tension on the chest muscles throughout the exercise.
Incline push-ups are some of the best upper chest exercises that can target muscles in the upper chest area along with the anterior deltoids or front shoulder muscles and triceps.
You perform the incline push-ups with your upper body elevated and your feet on the floor.
Place your hands on an inclined surface, such as a bench, step, or platform.
The angle emphasizes the upper chest muscles while engaging other muscle groups in the push-up motion.
Raising your feet to a higher level activates the upper chest muscles much better, helping to isolate and target the upper chest and allowing for greater muscle recruitment in that area.
Focus on engaging the upper chest muscles by squeezing them at the top of the movement to help get the most out of the exercises.
Dumbbell squeeze press
The dumbbell squeeze press is an exercise that can target the upper chest muscles.
The Dumbbell squeeze press involves holding two dumbbells close to each other with a neutral grip and pressing them straight up toward the ceiling.
The squeezing action of the dumbbells requires you to use your chest muscles to keep the dumbbells together throughout the movement. That helps to target the upper portion of the pectoralis major muscle, making the dumbbell squeeze press one of the best upper chest exercises for your training regimen.
The movement can be challenging and requires high levels of stability and control. But they are one of the best dumbbell exercises for targeting the upper chest muscles.
Aside from being an effective exercise for building upper chest strength, size, and definition, the squeeze press with dumbbells can also help enhance shoulder stability and mobility.
Steps to follow
- Grab a pair of dumbbells with a neutral grip, with palms facing each other.
- Lie on an incline bench with your back flat against the back pad, and place your feet flat on the floor.
- Bring the weights over your chest, ensuring the ends of the dumbbells are touching each other.
- Squeeze the dumbbells tightly together to activate your chest muscles.
- With the dumbbells pressed together, slowly lower them towards your chest, ensuring your elbows stay close to your body.
- Pause briefly when the dumbbells reach your chest.
- Press the weights back towards the ceiling, ensuring they stay squeezed together throughout the movement.
- Repeat 8-12 reps for a set and 3-4 sets per session.
- Use a weight that challenges you but allows you to maintain form and technique.
- Keep your elbows close to your body throughout the movement to help target the upper chest muscles.
- Exhale as you press the dumbbells upward, and inhale as you lower them downward.
- Do not arch your back or lift your hips off the bench.
- Keep your neck and shoulders relaxed throughout the movement.
- Stop the exercise immediately and seek medical advice if you experience pain or discomfort.
Cable crossovers at shoulder level
Cable crossovers at shoulder level can target the upper chest muscles, specifically the clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle.
Performing cable crossovers at shoulder level allows you to achieve horizontal adduction and shoulder flexion, effectively targeting the upper chest muscles.
Crossing the cables in front of you emphasizes the clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle, moving one of the best upper chest exercises that get results.
You will need a cable machine with adjustable pulleys set at shoulder level for the movement.
Steps to follow
- Set the pulleys on the cable machine to shoulder height.
- Stand in the middle of the machine with feet at shoulder-width.
- Grab a pulley handle in each hand, palms facing forward.
- Step forward with one foot in front of the other, ensuring a slight bend in your elbows, and maintain tension on the cables.
- Engage your chest muscles and bring your arms forward and across your body such that the cables cross each other in front of you.
- Squeeze your chest muscles at the top of the movement.
- Reverse the motion slowly and return your arms to your starting position, ensuring you maintain tension on the chest muscles throughout the exercise.
Incline dumbbell fly
The incline dumbbell fly is another effective exercise that targets the upper chest muscles.
The incline dumbbell fly targets the upper chest muscles due to the angle of the bench.
The incline angle places more stress on the clavicular head of the pectoralis major, helping to develop and strengthen the upper chest.
Ensure you use a weight that allows you to maintain proper form and control throughout the exercise.
For best results, focus on feeling the contraction in your upper chest muscles and avoid using excessive momentum or allowing your shoulders to take over the movement.
You will need an incline bench and a pair of dumbbells for the movement.
Steps to follow
- Set an incline weight bench at a 30 to 45-degree angle.
- Grab a dumbbell in each hand and sit on the weight bench.
- Lie back on the bench and bring the dumbbells to shoulder level, palms facing each other.
- Engage your chest muscles and maintain a slight bend in your elbows.
- Lower the dumbbells to your sides with an arc motion, maintaining control and feeling a stretch in your chest.
- Pause when your arms are parallel to the floor or feel a stretch in your upper chest.
- Contract your chest muscles and return the dumbbells to your starting position, squeezing your chest at the top.
- Repeat 8-12 reps for a set and 3-4 sets to complete a session.
Benefits of upper chest exercises
Incorporating upper chest exercises into your training regimen can give you many benefits.
- Uniform Chest Development
Incorporating upper chest exercises that target the upper portion of your chest can help create a balanced and symmetrical chest appearance. That can lead to a well-rounded and aesthetically attractive physique.
- Better Muscle Definition
Developing the upper chest muscles can enhance muscle definition and separation in the chest area. A well-developed upper chest creates a more sculpted and defined look, particularly around the collarbone and upper chest line.
- Increase in Upper Body Strength
The upper chest plays a significant role in movements involving shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction, such as pushing and lifting. Incorporating upper chest exercises that help build strength and definition in the muscles in the area can help enhance your performance in many daily activities and other physical movements like bench presses, push-ups, and overhead presses.
- Improved Posture and Shoulder Stability
Weak upper chest muscles can contribute to poor posture and shoulder instability. Strengthening that upper body area can help improve posture and promote better shoulder alignment. That can reduce the risk of shoulder injuries and boost stability and functionality.
- Functional Performance
Upper chest exercises that help target the muscles can help improve your performance in various upper body activities and daily tasks.
A well-developed upper chest benefits exercisers in many activities, including those in sports, manual labor, or everyday movements, helping with actions involving pushing, pulling, and lifting.
- Prevention of Injury
Strengthening the upper chest muscles can help prevent injuries, particularly in the shoulder region.
Weak upper chest muscles can lead to muscle imbalances and compensations, increasing the risk of shoulder and upper body injuries. Upper chest exercise can help provide better support and stability to the shoulder joint.
- Physique and Appearance
A sculpted and defined upper chest can improve the shape and proportion of your chest muscles and enhance your physique for a more attractive appearance.
Final words from LiveLIfe
Upper chest exercises can offer several benefits, including helping you to build strength and definition in your upper body.
Such exercises can also help condition your upper body muscles and put you in a better position to do more demanding and challenging movements.
You can perform the upper chest exercises with different equipment, such as dumbbells, barbells, cables, and machines. That will provide a range of training stimuli and help prevent muscle adaptation.
While the listed upper chest exercises target the clavicular head of the pectoralis major muscle, they will also work the lower portion to some extent.
Ensure you incorporate different upper chest exercises into your training regimen for a balanced development of the chest muscles.
- ACE-Sponsored Research: Top 3 Most Effective Chest Exercises. American Council on Exercise (ACE)