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The Best Pecs Workout For Hitting Your Chest From All Angles

Dumbbell bench press
(Image credit: Getty Images / South_agency)

When you’re starting out in the gym, the bench press is the go-to exercise for building your chest, but after a while your body adapts and progress can slow. So what to do if you want prominent pecs? Turn to this workout by George Palmer, a London-based personal trainer and instructor. “An effective workout to target your pecs will challenge the muscles to work under loads from many different angles,” says Palmer.

Palmer recommends doing the following exercises using an ascending pyramid. Do four sets of each move but change the number of reps and weight you’re lifting with each set. Start with 12 reps, using a lighter weight. Then drop to 10 reps, eight and finally six. “As you work through your sets, increase the weight as you lower the reps,” says Palmer. Yes, you will be a weights-hogger, so maybe avoid peak times at your gym.

To take it to the next level, try our four week chest workout plan.

1 Dumbbell bench press 

Sets 4 Reps 12, 10, 8, 6

Use two dumbbells to ensure that if your body has a stronger side, you’re not relying on it. Lie on your back on a bench with your feet planted on the floor. Engage your core, slightly arch your back to raise your ribcage and shrug your shoulders down and back. Hold the dumbbells above your chest, with your arms extended and your palms facing towards your feet. The dumbbells should be closer than shoulder-width apart but don’t let them touch. This is your starting position.

Breathe in and lower the dumbbells to the sides of your chest until your elbows are slightly below your shoulders. Keep the movement slow and controlled with your core tight and your shoulder blades squeezed together. Breathe out and explosively push the dumbbells back up to their starting position.

2 Decline bench press

Sets 4 Reps 12, 10, 8, 6

Set a bench to a decline of between 15° and 30° underneath a barbell rack, secure your feet and lie down with your eyes directly underneath the barbell. Take the barbell off the rack and bring it over your shoulders with your arms fully extended. Breathe in as you slowly lower the bar until it is lightly touching your mid-chest without flaring your elbows. Pause for a moment, keeping your core tight. Breathe out and explosively push the barbell back to the starting position.

3 Decline press-up

Decline press-up

(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus / Georgiy Datsenko)

Sets 4 Reps 12, 10, 8, 6

Kneel, facing away from a raised surface such as a bench or box and plant your hands on the floor directly below your shoulders. Now, place your feet on top of the raised surface. Inhale as you bend your elbows to 45°, keeping this phase slow and controlled. Ensure your spine is neutral by squeezing your abdominals and glutes – if your hips begin sagging or sticking up in the air, this is a sign you are not bracing your core properly. Pause for a second at the bottom, then exhale and explosively push away from the floor back to the starting position.

4 Dumbbell pull-over

Sets 4 Reps 12, 10, 8, 6

Placing yourself side-on to your bench, lay your upper back and neck down on the bench, with your hips held at torso height and your knees directly above your heels. Extend your arms above your chest, holding the dumbbell by one end. Inhale and move the dumbbell behind your head. Keep your elbows flared out in order to engage your anterior muscles. 

The movement should come from the shoulder joint, rather than the elbow, so keep the same angle in your elbows throughout. Pause for a second at the bottom and exhale as you bring the dumbbell back into your starting position – ensure you keep the movement in a range at the top where you’re still feeling tension in your pecs. Keep your core braced throughout the movement. 

5 Dumbbell pectoral flye 

Dumbbell flye

(Image credit: Getty Images / JGI/Tom Grill)

Sets 4 Reps 12, 10, 8, 6

Lie on your back on a bench with your feet planted on the ground, and your head and shoulders supported by the bench. Hold the dumbbells directly above your chest with your palms facing. Inhale as you lower the weights in an arc out towards the sides of your chest, as far as you comfortably can. Keep a soft bend in your elbows and ensure your elbows don’t lower past your torso. Your core should be engaged so you don’t arch your back. Pause for a second and then exhale as you reverse the movement back to the start.

Lucy is a freelance journalist, and former health and fitness editor across various UK women’s magazines. She is also a level 3 personal trainer and is trained in pre- and post-natal fitness.